A little while back my wife Cathy asked me to write a song for her. My main art is instrumental piano so what I took from her request was that she wanted me to create a piano piece dedicated to her. I tried and failed for a few days and then remembered something from music history class where the professor briefly told us of one way composers used to make a special piece for someone. They would derive a motif from the person’s name and build from that.
The way this is done is to take the vowels from the person’s name and apply that to the solfeggio we know today as Do-Re-Mi-Fa-Sol-La-Ti-Do. Instead of “Do” we use “Ut”, pronounced “oot” rhyming with “root” (this is the original “Do” and allows for the vowel “U”). In the chart below I list the vowels of Catherine’s name across the top of the grid, and the note names in C Major and the corresponding solfeggio in the two left columns. This is all cold science, or music theory, if you will.
In the vowel columns I place an “X” in the possible options for a note taken from each vowel. Note the vowels “A” and “I” have two possible options. I experimented with the possible permutations and settled on “La-Re-Mi-Re” or the notes “A-D-E-D”. To extend this into a larger idea I repeat the motif twice in a row with first the “A” above and then the second “A” below thusly:
Playing this repeatedly in just the right way gives me the impression of a bird in flight.
So with the thematic material in place I could now start building the piece. Suffice it to say that the theme is just about everywhere, in the middle section after the two descending runs down the keyboard the motif hovers up high below a trill and continues on as if there is a new beginning after some powerful event. And after that we return to the original theme and end with a very gentle placid landing (a final restatement of the original idea).
I will spare you any deep theoretical meanderings. Intuitively I intend this to be a very romantic piece. While playing I imagine a broad-winged bird flying fearlessly through a thunderstorm, the middle section after two bolts of lightening continues on to an eye in the storm (or a new beginning after a difficult part in the relationship) and then we return as before, with a new perspective on where we began, finally ending with a gentle loving caress.
It was a pleasure writing and performing this for you, my love.
Serenade in D Minor is easy to find in one of the players in the right hand column.