Some time ago I started writing pieces of music which reflected my love of the cosmic, of science fiction. I chose as my theme the Moons of Jupiter. I don’t intend to write music for every single one of them, as there are about 79 at last count. However, I added a new moon fairly recently – Thebe. Thebe is again one of the larger moons, and I wrote a piece which is full of mystery and changing moods. Have a listen:
This week I completed the fourth in my series of pieces inspired by the idea of the Moons of Jupiter. The introduction to this opus can be found here
So here is the next instalment – Europa. This one is the biggest of the pieces, not just in length but also in breadth of sound. I’d just like to share with you the process i went through to arrive at the finished piece.
So first, the melody. For me, that’s where it all starts. Yes, I may start with a chord sequence, but that is simply my entrance into creating the melody. So with this piece, I was playing around with the juxtaposition of D major and F major chords, but it just opened the door for the melody which grew out of that idea.
The melody needed to be expansive, creating a sense of wonder and of distance. So the intervals are large. Within the first three notes I have travelled over an octave. Once the basic melodic elements are in place the piece goes through a process of variation; mainly here of instrumentation, but there are also variations on the endings of phrases within the main melody itself. And believe me, creating the melody to be just so is what takes the time – changing one single note can transform a piece entirely. As John Williams has said, he spends longer creating the simplest of melodic ideas such as the five note sequence from Close Encounters than much of the action music – it has to end up feeling right, inevitable. Not predictable, mind you – that’s not a great musical trait!
So the piece undergoes this process of changing instrumentation, so the first iteration on piano, accompanied by a bed of string harmonics and harp, is followed by woodwind accompanied by surging tremolo strings. In the third iteration, the brass come to the fore. There is a brief second subject, but this soon gives way to a repetition of the first.
It all builds in a series of waves, until the melody becomes a sparkling brass ostinato, played in canon by the trumpets and the trombones, with a crashing descending bass line. This paves the way for the penultimate triumphant statement of the main melodic idea, realising its full potential with cascading piano arpeggios. After a brief restatement of the second subject, the melody enters it’s final repeat, this time pushed up three semitones. It seems to end too early, and returns to the briefest quotation of the hushed piano beginning.
The point is that this piece perhaps sounds more complex than it is. It is built mainly around a single melodic idea, but because said idea is treated in a variety of ways, the effect is of an ever-changing landscape, building up to a climax as if one were climbing a mountain on this moon of Jupiter, to stand at the last on the summit, gazing in wonder at the huge gas giant which fills the skies above.