Judith Weir CBE, Master of the King's Music
David Matthews

AI discusses Laurence Glazier’s ‘Horn Concerto’ (!)

To prove that AI is smarter than us and they’re taking over, here’s an illuminating conversation with ChatGPT about Laurence Glazier’s ‘Horn Concerto’

Thanks, I’m getting on with the actual composing now, and will come back to you if there are any issues. For convenience, could you please repeat where we got up to last session?

Certainly, during our last session, we discussed several aspects of your new composition:

1. You finalized the tempo markings for your third movement, the Scherzo and Trio, deciding on Allegretto for the Scherzo and Andante tranquillo for the Trio.
2. We talked about how to handle dynamic markings in the context of your composition, especially for the Trio section. You decided to mark the opening theme in flute as mf rather than f.
3. There was some discussion on how to notate timpani strokes, specifically, how to represent rolls and how long they should last. You decided to notate a roll as a crotchet but possibly use a meta instruction for Sibelius to slightly shorten the roll during playback for expression.
4. Finally, we touched on the idea of sharing parts of our conversation on the blog of your local composers organization, with the aim to inspire and inform other composers. We agreed to focus on extracts that pertain to musical structure, theory, history, orchestration, and our problem-solving process.

Remember, these are points of departure, and as the composition evolves, you might decide to modify some decisions based on what best serves the music. Please feel free to ask further questions or seek advice on any new issues that come up as you continue composing. Happy writing!


For context, the first theme, which is like a Celtic Jig (though not played too fast), is in Gb. The timpani, as you know, are two in number, and are tuned to Ab and Db. The second theme (starting with the Rock-a-bye motif) is in Db. Obviously here the drums work as dominant and tonic. Presumably the second movement might also be in Db to exploit these tunings. The first and fourth would then most likely also be in Gb the tonic. Does this sound workable? And as discussed, pizzicato bass could pick up the slack where timpani cannot fill.

Your plan sounds workable and well-considered. The choice to keep the timpani tuned to Ab and Db is a practical one that will make performances easier, as timpani tuning can be a time-consuming process. Using pizzicato bass to fill in where the timpani can’t will also help keep the lower end of your harmonic structure solid.

To clarify, the tonal plan you’ve outlined seems to be:

– First Movement: Gb
– Second Movement: Db
– Third Movement: Gb for the Scherzo (with a Celtic Jig theme), Db for the Trio (with a Rock-a-bye motif)
– Fourth Movement: Likely Gb

If you wish to adhere strictly to classical norms, this is a slight deviation as the third movement of a symphony was traditionally in the tonic or the relative minor. However, musical norms have been expanded and challenged throughout history, and what you’re proposing doesn’t seem drastically different or unworkable.

Moreover, it seems like the tonality of the movements fits well with the overall harmonic structure you’re working with, and the relationship between the keys of Gb and Db is close, being a perfect fourth apart. This relationship will lend a sense of coherence and unity to the symphony as a whole.

In the end, the most important thing is that the choices you make serve the music you’re trying to create. If this plan achieves the musical effects you’re after, then it sounds like a solid approach.

But Gb here is the tonic, so the movements would be Tonic-Dominant-Tonic-Tonic in my understanding.

Apologies for the confusion, you’re absolutely correct. Your proposed key structure adheres quite closely to classical norms:

– First Movement: Tonic (Gb)
– Second Movement: Dominant (Db)
– Third Movement: Tonic for the Scherzo (Gb), Dominant for the Trio (Db)
– Fourth Movement: Tonic (Gb)

In the classical era, the movements of a symphony typically stayed in closely related keys, usually within the dominant or subdominant of the home key. The scheme you’ve proposed with the main key areas of Gb and Db fits well within these parameters. I appreciate your correction and your understanding of classical key relationships is sound.

Thank you for bringing up this point, and I apologize for any confusion caused by my previous response.

No problem. The only possible peculiarity here is that one of the timpani is tuned to Ab which is the supertonic, but so far it seems to be working out and I am using pizz in the lower strings where appropriate, which actually provides variety.

That’s a great approach. Remember that the classical masters were often quite innovative and willing to experiment within the bounds of their conventions. The use of Ab on the timpani could provide some interesting harmonic color and tension, especially given its relationship to the home key of Gb.

Additionally, using pizzicato in the lower strings as you’ve been doing can indeed provide a nice contrast and fill in the lower registers where the timpani can’t. This can help vary the texture of your piece and keep it engaging.

It sounds like you have a solid plan for how to effectively use your orchestral resources. I look forward to hearing more about how your symphony develops!

Here’s an interesting one. I am descending from Bb to Ab. In this key signature of Gb neither of these notes need the accidental. However I need an in-between note – a zwichenzug! – and initially marked it as A natural which of course then requires the flat symbol for the Ab. It feels better to me to use the double flat symbol and mark it as B double flat rather than A natural. What do you think?

In the context of tonal music and given the key signature of Gb, using B double flat instead of A natural can indeed make sense, even if it looks a bit unusual. By marking it as B double flat, you maintain the visual “line” or “shape” of the melody on the staff, which can make it easier for performers to read. It’s also more in line with the diatonic pitches of your key.

However, you should consider the performers who will be reading the music. While B double flat is theoretically correct, some musicians might find it confusing or unusual, especially if they are not used to seeing double flats. So in some contexts, it might be more practical to use A natural.

In short, both notations are correct and each has its own advantages. It’s up to you to decide which one best suits your specific context and intended performers.

I will assume the best competence of my musicians and therefore not “dumb it down”, so will go with the B double flat. Thank you for your thoughts.

That sounds like a good decision, especially if you’re writing for musicians who are comfortable with advanced notation. Choosing to write B double flat instead of A natural can indeed provide clarity regarding the musical line and the key context. Remember, the most important thing is that your notation accurately represents the musical ideas you want to communicate. Don’t hesitate to reach out if you have more questions or need further advice. Happy composing!

What would be the natural dynamic marking for the timpani, in the Scherzo and by comparison the Trio. Obviously it would not be a tune-bearing instrument. Perhaps mf in the Scherzo and p in the Trio?

Yes, that’s a good starting point. Timpani can often carry quite a bit of sound, so a dynamic of mezzo-forte (mf) in the Scherzo could give it an appropriate presence without overpowering the rest of the orchestra. In the Trio, which is typically more subdued, piano (p) would make sense to help maintain a softer overall dynamic.

That said, it’s also common to see dynamics such as forte (f) or even fortissimo (ff) in more energetic sections, depending on the composer’s intent and the timbral balance they want to achieve. Ultimately, the exact dynamics you choose should depend on the musical context and the particular sound and balance you’re aiming for.

Ok I have finished for now. I have emailed the blog content creator so if he wants I might curate a small portion of our conversations for the blog. See you tomorrow!

Great! I look forward to hearing about your progress. I’m glad I could assist you today, and I’m always here to help with any future questions or issues. Good luck with your composing, and I’m excited to see how your symphony continues to develop. Have a wonderful day!

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