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Eric Sweeney in OR


Peter Clark
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What did members who subscribe make of the Eric Sweeney piece featured in the latest OR? I have played through it a couple of times now - certainly minimalist, it reminded me of Philip Glass but with a more prominant dissonance (though mild it must be said) than is generally found in Glass. I see that one of our coillegues is doing an article on the composer in the next issue.

 

Peter

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What did members who subscribe make of the Eric Sweeney piece featured in the latest OR? I have played through it a couple of times now - certainly minimalist, it reminded me of Philip Glass but with a more prominant dissonance (though mild it must be said) than is generally found in Glass. I see that one of our coillegues is doing an article on the composer in the next issue.

 

Peter

 

I have played this piece a couple of times in recitals and it always goes down well, I also played it during communion at church and then also there was interest. The shifting 'in and out of phase' of the harmony I find particularly effective especially at a relatively low dynamic level and relaxed tempo. Another piece that has a simiar effect though in a different way is Iain Quinn's Continuum. Both have 'minmalist' tendencies but with some 'awe and wonder' present - to their advantage. I find Eric Sweeney to be an extremely engaging and many faceted composer - I also have to admit to be the one preparing the article mentioned above. Do please read the article if you can but also get hold of the CD of his organ (including The Secret Rose) and choral works CIRCLE OF LIGHT prepared under the auspices of the Dublin Choral Foundation - this can be purchased via Sweeney's website. There is some very interesting music there.

 

A

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I had heard Eric Sweeney's name before, but I have to confess that the piece in OR is my first encounter with his music. He has clearly made a name for himself, but his website is not all that forthcoming about his background. So I am taking what I see at face value.

 

When I was younger I had composition lessons from three doctors of music, two of them D.Mus. (Dunelm), the other a D.Mus. (Oxon). One had been a pupil of Vaughan Williams, another of Stanford, while the third had got his Durham D.Mus. by undergoing a postal tuition course :D with Dr Frederick Wood, organist of Blackpool Parish Church. They all knew what they were taking about. Despite all their encouragement, the main thing I ended up learning from them was that I am no composer - but at least I understand why I am no composer! So I would not for a moment pretend to be able to do better than Mr Sweeney. It is rather presumptuous of me to comment at all, but in the great scheme of things I am of no consequence so it doesn't really matter what I think.

 

What I can do is try to imagine what my teachers would have said had I presented this piece to them as one of my efforts. Two would certainly have pulled me up for inconsistency of harmonic style (they were both adamant that you have to decide what harmonic style you are going to use and stick to it), while the third, when I once asked about precisely this issue, replied noncommittally, "Well yes, but perhaps harmonic inconsistencies are your style." I have often thought about this over the years and have come to the conclusion that this last person was just plain wrong. This isn't the place for a composition lesson and, in any case, there must be other forum members far better qualified to give one, but suffice it to say that it simply isn't good enough to claim that rules don't matter. Unless you want an incoherent stylistic jumble, rules always matter. They might not be the conventional rules of four-part harmony, but there will be rules nonetheless. I have no doubt that the mismatch of styles between certain sections of Mr Sweeney's piece is entirely conscious and deliberate, but for me it doesn't work. Also on this issue of consistency, his chords at many phrase ends seem thin and weak to my ears (due to the lack of the sustained third present consistently elsewhere); I am fairly sure all three of my teachers would have censured this. On the other hand he does do this consistently, so it does have some logic. I guess it depends on whether it actually sounds weak to your ears. To mine it does. These technical issues apart, I would not disagree with AJJ's assessment of the overall effect of the piece.

 

I readily concede that all of this is a product of the way my teachers taught me to think about music. Those who are blessedly free of such worries will think me anally retentive. They're probably right. It is entirely possible – in fact, I am quite positive – that I am entirely missing the point of this piece. If anyone wants to explain where I have gone wrong I am more than happy to be educated.

 

A black mark for the computer setting (whoever did it). Crude slurs colliding with notes on other staves, or arching grotesquely when they start at the end of a line; text colliding with notes; accidentals colliding with notes; badly positioned bar numbers (on all three staves too!); wrong type of double bar at the end (there is a convention about this). Clarification of the left-hand manual is needed at bar 43: is a "Swell" direction missing? (I am not sure what is meant to happen in the left hand at bars 6 and 12 either.) All this may seem over-picky, but sensible publishers make their scores as easy on the eye and as hassle-free as possible. That said, there are far, far worse examples on the internet. So many self-produced scores there (on CPDL in particular) are disfigured by an inept presentation that could so easily be avoided if people just took the trouble to master their notation programmes. It's lazy, slapdash and speaks volumes about the originators. Try this for starters: http://ancientgroove.co.uk/essays/engraving.html. (Sorry for the rant - this is a bit of a hobby horse of mine.)

 

For all my nitpicking, I am genuinely delighted to see this piece in OR. The really nice thing about it is that it is very easy and readily playable by anyone who can play a simple hymn tune. (Did OR commission the piece? Was this part of the brief?) I do very much hope we will get more like it in future issues.

 

AJJ: I confess I do not understand your reference to the harmony shifting "in and out of phase". Do you refer to the way the discords resolve onto concords or to some other feature?

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I had heard Eric Sweeney's name before, but I have to confess that the piece in OR is my first encounter with his music. He has clearly made a name for himself, but his website is not all that forthcoming about his background. So I am taking what I see at face value.

 

The article will fill in about his background and current work.

 

I would not disagree with AJJ's assessment of the overall effect of the piece.

 

Thanks Vox!

 

I readily concede that all of this is a product of the way my teachers taught me to think about music. Those who are blessedly free of such worries will think me anally retentive.

 

Not at all!

 

A black mark for the computer setting (whoever did it). Crude slurs colliding with notes on other staves, or arching grotesquely when they start at the end of a line; text colliding with notes; accidentals colliding with notes; badly positioned bar numbers (on all three staves too!); wrong type of double bar at the end (there is a convention about this). Clarification of the left-hand manual is needed at bar 43: is a "Swell" direction missing? (I am not sure what is meant to happen in the left hand at bars 6 and 12 either.) All this may seem over-picky, but sensible publishers make their scores as easy on the eye and as hassle-free as possible.

 

A space became avalable for a 'pull out' piece late on in the publishing schedule for the August OR - my article is due next issue but this was an opportunity....

 

For all my nitpicking, I am genuinely delighted to see this piece in OR. The really nice thing about it is that it is very easy and readily playable by anyone who can play a simple hymn tune. (Did OR commission the piece? Was this part of the brief?) I do very much hope we will get more like it in future issues.

 

The piece has been around for a while - I play it frequently....I approach this and other music by ES with open ears and no preconceptions - it sounds good and people seem to like to hear it!

 

AJJ: I confess I do not understand your reference to the harmony shifting "in and out of phase". Do you refer to the way the discords resolve onto concords

 

Exactly - also it 'feels' at times as if temporarily parts are maybe a bar out from what they were/should have been - resolving in the end though.

 

Interestingly - I wondered whether when Sarah Beedle from OR asked for a piece of ES's music to go in as an insert there might be some comments on here!

 

A

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