C.88 - "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland - Chapter 6/7"

Composed: 10th to 14th November 2015

    The 11:8 variation is divided awkwardly into a ‘4, 4, 4, 2, 4, 4’ group beating – 22 beats which jump around in a bizarre syncopated rhythm which hopefully reflect the madness of the March Hare character. To exemplify this, the variation is coupled with a sudden increase of tempo.


      By bar 12, the “Alice key” of A major is reached with simple diatonicism, and her first motif itself appears (figure 2):

Figure 2:

     As the narrative takes place in Wonderland – a world that isn’t quite right – so too (hopefully!) does the music. Thus I have employed a heavy use of the Lydian mode throughout the entirety of the piece, highlighting the tritone interval and contributing to the subtle sense that something about this world isn’t quite right (figure 3):

Figure 3:

     As the character of the Hatter had supposedly killed ‘Time’, I have given his statements a plethora of time signature changes (figure 4), contrasting to the March Hare, whom is metrically more stable:

Figure 4:

     To further illustrate this killing of ‘Time’, I later used implied metric modulation to suddenly shift the tempo whilst keeping an ongoing ostinato (the ostinato of which is a variation of the “Alice in Wonderland” motif, an important figure of the entire piece), almost as if ‘Time’ was against the Hatter. As a result of (ironically) having little time to compose this, I coupled this implied modulation with the narrative about an impossible riddle; ‘why is a raven like a writing-desk?’ (Figure 5). As a result of using this metric modulation, a natural polyrhythm was created which differentiates between two separate pulses, highlighting that the Hatter and Alice are not on the same page, colloquially speaking.

Figure 5:

     This ‘Impossible Riddle’ motif repeats transposed up one semitone on each respective entry, as the characters quarry around what the answer could be.


     Towards the end of the piece, I employ the use of chordal parallelism, though not simply with regular triads but with augmented 5th chords and modulating up the whole-tone scale (figure 6):

Figure 6:

     In honesty, this passage doesn’t truly reflect any event of the narrative – if anything, it reflects the end of the chapter (the middle of the chapter is missing) as Alice is leaving the Tea-Party in anger.


     A final concept I explored was with regard to Slonimsky’s thesaurus of scale construction. Simply, I constructed a scale with a fundamental of B-F-B (another tritone) and explored interpolation, infrapolation, and ultimately infra-inter-ultrapolation around those fundamentals (figure 7):

Figure 7:

     The mad-tea party. An interesting jump in Carroll's chronology. As this was for the 'Composition 2A' module, I wrote a commentary accompanying this, and here it is (written on 16th November 2016):

Composition 2A – CW1 – Commentary



     Ever since I attended a performance earlier this year which portrayed Lewis Carroll’s “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” for an instrumental duo, I was heavily inspired to have a go at scoring the classic book for a larger ensemble, not only as a tribute to the narrative, but as a personal exercise in learning idiomatic (and to some regard, unidiomatic) orchestration. Thus, it was a great delight when I found a matching chapter that would allow me to explore some of the concepts we explored in lectures whilst also continuing the early sketches of the piece. The chapter in question was chapter 7 – ‘A Mad Tea-Party’ which involves a quirky but logical conversation, including a passage about having killed ‘Time’ (a perfect place to experiment with metric modulation and time signatures) and an all-round mad passage.


     With regard to the actual composition process, I have taken a heavy influence from the works of Stravinsky and Holst, mainly in the use of motivic writing by assigning each character their own motif (which recurs accordingly with the narrative). Of course, the other main influence is the text itself, which I have tried to follow as closely as music can allow (though not to the best of my ability – more on that later).




     The piece begins with the ending of the previous chapter, narratively dealing with Alice’s decision on whether to visit the ‘March Hare’ or ‘Hatter’. To reflect this, I attempted to use the module concept of metric deception to open the piece, which hopefully mirrors her thoughts in deciding which character to visit. Coupled with this is a peculiar shift in time signature and tempo to detail the differences between the two characters. Here I have also introduced the motifs of these two characters through melodic variations (figure 1):

Figure 1:


     The first major ‘no-no’ was only starting the coursework six days before the deadline; as a result, many of the criticisms I will now bring attention to were as a result of that time constraint.

     Thus, the latter half of the piece is significantly rushed (likewise this commentary, as I write three hours before the deadline!), not only skipping out an abundance of dialogue from the source text, but completely disregarding it in some areas (which I detest greatly), such as the absence of the third ‘mad’ character – the Dormouse. It was also rushed to fit in as many extra module concepts towards the end as possible, which I doubt will work to its advantage.

     Similarly, I feel I missed several opportunities for using more module concepts; particularly the potential metric reinterpretation of the motifs I used, as well as a possible additive meter to further illustrate the killing of ‘Time’. Further, there is a distinct lack of concepts from week 3 – particularly as I felt atonality, or rather the obscuring of tonality in general, was not entirely fit for the text I was composing from – Wonderland is a distant place, but it is not too distant.


     For the majority of concepts that I did include, I felt they were used successfully (although the metric modulation was tricky – I am not entirely sure if it was correct), and for the little time I had, I thoroughly enjoyed writing it, even if not nearly to the standard I had expected, but at least it will give me a draft to work with when I finally get down to composing the entire chapter, and eventually, the entire piece.


Appendix A – Other Information

  • The final word count for this essay is 995.

    • This excludes the main title, all text in the appendices and all text within a graphic/figure.

    • This includes all other text within the essay, including subtitles and figure numberings.

  • There are 4 files together within the .zip folder:

    • The commentary as a word document entitled ‘Composition 2A – Commentary – Jonathan Feasey’

    • The score of the piece as a pdf file entitled ‘Composition 2A – Score’

    • A recording of the composition as an mp3 file entitled ‘Composition 2A – Recording’

    • A recording of an earlier composition entitled ‘Appendix B – Chapter 1’ as an mp3 file


Appendix B – Chapter 1

  • I have attached for your own interest, a recording of the composition I submitted for the Composition 1 module in Year 1 – it just so happens to be the draft of the first half of Chapter 1 for this piece, and similarly includes motifs and ideas that can be found in this latter composition (chapter 7), just in case you need more context on how the motifs were originally sounded in comparison to how they sound in this latter composition.

     That commentary rather nicely sums up the context surrounding this piece. You might remember from "C.85 - Metric Deception and Modulation" that I had previously experimented with metric deception and modulation and claimed that these would be used for a later piece – well, this is that later piece.

      I started writing it on the 10th November 2015 and finished it by the 14th November, and you can note that I have now given the piece its full title, matching that of the book: "Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland" as opposed to simply "Adventures in Wonderland". This is because I realized that this piece is not simply an anonymous person’s experience of Wonderland, but rather it is Alice’s herself. And as I was attempting to stay close to the book, why should the full title not be used?

     Nevertheless, I was happier with the outcome of this piece than with "C.79 - Adventures in Wonderland - Chapter 1 (Partial)" and "C.84 - Adventures in Wonderland - Chapter 1 (Full)", but of course, it is very unfinished and rushed. The two main character motifs I employ here are far too quirky and whimsical for me to deny enjoying them, particularly bars 79 to 86 – there is something about that passage that makes me jump for joy out of whimsy, it is mysteriously delightful and playful – even with all of the dissonance!

     The mark in the end was 73%, which was far better than the disastrous 60% with "C.79", and the maker noted an “infectious enthusiasm for the project” which sounds about right.

Reminiscence written on 22nd July 2016

Last updated: 20th October 2018

© 2019 Jonathan Shaw