Musical riddles

The second song in the cycle is Three Riddles – effectively three art songs in one. As each section has its own riddle attached, I felt it necessary to consider a separate musical riddle to attach to each section too.

As it happens, my musical past happens to include a few oddities that don’t crop up in your standard composer’s biography. One of those is that from 2010 to 2014 I did quite a bit of church bell ringing. This all came about because my husband is a ringer (and a good one at that!), and his tower needed learners for their trainee teachers to practice on. I was never particularly good, especially as I couldn’t attend practices regularly after my daughter was born, but I’ve always found method books fascinating. For those who are unaware of these, they are books full of lots of numbers and squiggly lines, such as this: 

A while ago while perusing ringing methods (as you do!) I stumbled across Royston Delight Major. Ringing methods have quite strict nomenclature – Royston is the name of the method, while Delight specifies the way the method is called and Major means eight bells are used. Eight bells you say? In a major scale? That seems like a perfect opportunity…

Keep your ears peeled for this appearing in a clarinet part sometime in March 2018! There’ll also be another bizarre reference in the third of the Three Riddles..

From ringing methods to some music theory (less odd). I’m a fan of theory, and I love going a bit mad over it with my students (though they don’t often share my enthusiasm!). To be brief: A fifth is the interval between a C and a G on the piano, and is the most consonant and pure interval other than an octave. The most common modulation (key change) is that of a fifth. If you move around the scale through fifths, it creates a closed circle and you arrive back where you started:

D – A – E  – B  – F# – C# – G#(Ab) – Eb – Bb – F – C – G – D

Often a piece will use a section of the circle of fifths, or modulate one way or the other. In my organ piece Circular Musings I modulated through the whole circle in one piece, in four/eight bar chunks. For the riddle, I wanted some accompaniment to juxtapose a section of text talking about footing being sound, trembling foundations and rebuilding. When you only take one or two steps along the circle of fifths, it can sound very strong, but to continue moving round it continuously can feel a little unsettling until the music pauses and grows some roots.

Here’s the bass line of the piano for this section of the piece, which starts on D and cycles round the fifths (well, in this case, inverted fifths!) until it arrives back at D:

As to what the right hand and baritone are up to at the time.. you’ll have to wait and see!

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