Archiving the work of British composer Nigel Morgan (d. September 2017)
for solo guitar
Dreaming Aloud is Nigel Morgan’s most ambitious work for solo classical guitar to date. Like his composition Array for solo violin this score looks back to the form of the Baroque suite and forward to new structures only possible through the new tools of algorithmic composition. This five-movement score lasting about 10 minutes uses source material from Nicholas Slonimksy’s Thesaurus of Scales and Melodic Patterns (1947), a collection of several thousand examples much used by jazz musicians and composers. John Coltrane is said to have learnt them all! John Adams recently celebrated their use in his orchestral work Slonimsky’s Earbox. It is one of a number of significant compositions written since 1991 that use Slonimsky patterns as both starting points and structural devices. These include the concert length Schizophonia, Conversations with Magic Stones for double bass and ensemble, Interactions for piano (left-hand), Rising Falling for solo violin and Slonimsky Studies: Set 1 for piano.
Dreaming Aloud is similar in some aspects to Array for solo violin. Elements of the Baroque instrumental suite are present in both works as is the creation and modification of melodic and rhythmic material using fractal and wave-form generation. In Array each movement is based on a different algorithmic process whereas Dreaming Aloud is defined throughout by a specific pitch series found in Nicholas Slonimksy’s Thesaurus of Scales and Musical Patterns. The series used is a sequence of six four-note Ultrapolations of One Note within a Tritone Progression.
Slonimsky patterns used in Dreaming Aloud
There is an extended notation for time-signatures used throughout this piece:
The example above uses a conventional time-signature with an extended notation for grouped phrases. These may be treated as free rhythmic expansions, contractions and variants within the duration of the grouped phrase. The grouped phrase shown in the second bar of the example has duration of three quarter beats, although the rhythmic grouping of the notes is free. The time signatures in other sections, such as those to the right, show just the denominator. This indicates the underlying reference pulse, not the metre. The bars in these sections are often of varying lengths and arranged as a guide to clarify the musical structure.
Here is a synopsis of the five movements:
I – an extended Prelude in three distinct parts: the first part is a play of pitches across the whole compass of the guitar; the second part explores chords (and their potential within a limited pitch series for transposition) in a context of short ostinatos and additive rhythms; the third part is a mosaic of tiny motifs derived from the first pattern of the series and structured using the pattern of a modulated sine-wave.In the third section rasgueado patterns may be applied to the chords. Also note that the groups of three notes are not to be played as triplets but as full sixteenth notes, in keeping with the 16th note pulse running through the latter part of this movement.
II – a slow reflective and rhapsodic movement in a palindromic form. The focus here is the algorithmic exploration of chords and arpeggios based on a partial inversion of the symbolic
mapping of the second pattern of the Slonimsky series.
Original Slonimsky pattern and its symbolic inversion, with material algorithmically generated from the patterns.
III –a very slow Sarabande-like movement. Three rhythmic quotations from sarabandes in J.S.Bach’s solo suites and partitas are used to frame two extended and rhythmically complex variations. The rhythmic ‘play’ of these variations is the result of neural processing operations on the melodic material derived from the third pattern of the series in conjunction with evolutionary algorithmic generation.
Tonality derived from Slonimsky pattern 55.
Sarabande from Bach cello suite (BWV 1011) and corresponding rhythmic quotation.
IV – a Courante-like movement that emphasises the running quality associated with early forms of this dance. The texture is sparse in comparison to the previous movements but resonant in pedal and tremolo effects from the use of open strings. The music expands the tonality derived from the fourth pattern of the series into full-blown octatonic scales.
‘Running’ sequence, resonant interlude and tremolo passage from movement IV.
V – This is an intense and dramatic finale, part Gigue, part Toccata: it is a very final statement. The fast rhythmic opening and closing sections maintain an angry dialogue between treble and bass voices.
They frame a long declamatory passage, which gradually transforms itself into a retrograde of the opening music. The melodic and rhythmic organisation of the movement is generated from the Mandlebrot-like Hopalong algorithm.
Segmented tonality used in movement V.
A quotation from the opening bars – note use of first tonal segment in bass voice and second in treble voice.
Dreaming Aloud was written in 2000 for the remarkable American guitarist Alan Thomas. Its composition directly follows that of the Four Preludes for electric guitar and tape commissioned for Huddersfield’s Electric Spring Festival as an upbeat to Alan’s celebrated version of Steve Reich’sElectric Counterpoint. In 2006 Nigel Morgan returned to writing for Alan with a three-movement homage to Gyorgy Ligeti. Continuum with Blues for electric-guitar and Active Notation system was the composer’s first work as composer-in-residence at Plymouth University’s Future Music Lab. Find out more about this radical new piece and listen to a performance by Alan Thomas here. The five movements of Dreaming Aloud were created with the interaction of the Symbolic Composer software, an application co-developed by the composer. The intention was, in the making of the work, to mimic certain aspects of free improvisation through the application of particular algorithmic routines. To find out more about this aspect of the composition download the Symbolic Composer score-files annotated by Phil Legard. You can also hear Alan Thomas playing Nigel Morgan’s Four Preludes for electric guitar and tape here.