A young composer reflects on where he finds his inspiration, and why live music is best
Joe Berry won the under-18 category in the inaugural Benslow Music Young Composers Competition for his piece, A Train Ride. Joe's piece will be premiered in a concert to be given by the Coull String Quartet on Friday, November 1, 2019 at Benslow Music in Hitchin.
I joined the Capriccioso String Quartet in December 2017. The quartet is made up of students who are members of the Wessex Youth Orchestra in Poole and we decided we’d like to try playing some chamber music as well as orchestral music. The first two pieces we performed were Haydn’s Emperor Quartet and Dvořák’s American Quartet. Both pieces inspired me to write string quartet music, especially the Dvořák. The fourth movement of the American Quartet is based on a train ride that Dvořák had when he travelled to America. I really enjoyed playing this as you could imagine the scene, and this inspired me to try and compose my own version of a train journey.
I started composing by thinking of the motor that a train has, and the different rhythmical sounds it creates, and I tried to put that into the music. First there was a theme in my head and then I recorded myself improvising with that theme on the piano. I then notated my ideas and expanded them using Sibelius software.
The piece starts with a big repetitive motor in the cello line and then the upper strings reflect the fast-moving train. This is in Bb major. After this is established the viola comes in with a little counter-idea that adds more excitement to the motion. I chose the viola to do this as I am a viola player myself, and it is good to get some interest in the middle range of the string quartet sound.
The piece then modulates into a different key (Eb major). For me this feels like someone’s attention being quickly drawn to something else whilst travelling on the train. After giving the rhythmic motor to all four instruments the music slows down, just like a train might, and I move the music into a more minor-key tonality. This is portraying a more serene landscape – the train almost grinds to a halt but then picks up again and jolts back into motion with the original idea. The final section moves forward to a jubilant conclusion.
Having had two orchestral pieces performed (one in March this year) I am very aware of how different a piece can sound live compared to on music software. The software is extremely useful, but it really cannot replicate the feeling of live music. I am very much looking forward to hearing a professional string quartet play my piece to bring out the detail of the music. It is very humbling and inspirational to know that when I write music it will be played live instead of just pressing play on the computer, especially by a fantastic professional quartet.