Well, I certainly have composed short pieces of music, such as the various themes I used for my radio program, in particular the little march with which I ended the show each week. But that little march was based on a fragment I remember from when I was a kid, and, as I said, I found the original thing on YouTube, sung by the late famous Richard Tauber: Starlight Serenade. Other things I have written are a little more original, but enough of that.
I had always wanted to write an extended piece, that is, something that is more than a few minutes long, perhaps in multiple movements. I thought hard about what sort of thing I could write, and I decided to write a String Quartet.
For those who aren't acquainted with the genre, a String Quartet is sort of a sonata (an essentially stand-alone instrumental piece, typically in three movements) for a string quartet. This is a group (or ensemble) consisting of two violins, a viola, and a 'cello. Because the instruments have such similar construction, the combination sounds very homogeneous, in other words, there is little contrast in the tones of the four instruments, which is in some ways a good thing (but in others not, because sound variety does help to relieve the boredom).
I decided to write the First Movement of the string quartet first. (I need not have; it is quite possible some people write other movements first.) I needed the so-called first theme, which is just a tune, or even a tune-fragment. When the first examples of this sort of First Movement was written back in the 18th Century, this first theme was called the masculine theme. First themes are vigorous, energetic things, and, incidentally, tend to be the tune that everybody remembers as the one that represents the entire sonata, or symphony, or whatever, like The Theme of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony.
Well, as much as I would have liked to invent a theme as memorable as that one, I realized that this was my first effort at this, and I would be lucky to write any useful theme at all. It only must be highly recognizable, because when anyone hears it, they have to go "Aha! I know that tune from somewhere!") Somehow, I wrote one. Instead of a short little tune, I wrote a whole, complete tune, with accompaniment and everything, in fact, it contained what I could have used as my first theme several times, in different instruments. (I get into minor trouble with this departure, but, I hope, not so much trouble that a real live set of string quartet players will refuse to play the thing.)
The next thing to do is to write a second theme, which, as you might guess, would be the feminine theme. By this time I had forgotten all about this gender stuff, and I wrote a fairly generic theme, but shorter than the first theme. I had learned my lesson. But then, I got carried away, and repeated this second theme at a number of different pitches, and brought things to a sort of temporary close with a few big chords. Actually, enough big chords for the end of a movie. I told myself: I have to re-use this bit as the ending of the whole movement; it was almost like sailing off into the Grey Havens.
What usually comes next is the development section, where the two themes are combined in various ways, creating more and more excitement, like the middle part of a novel, where the villains take over and mess up everything. But, to my dismay, I had already developed the first theme right at the beginning, and when I was introducing the second theme, I couldn't resist putting the first theme in the bass, and so I was baffled as to what to do.
I took a deep breath, and started off with the second theme, and alternating it with another little fragment from somewhere, and at different pitches (which implies different keys), and somehow led up to: stating the first theme again. This is correct; this is called the recapitulation section. Both themes must be stated.
An interesting twist that the First Movement Founding Fathers had strongly indicated is that the first theme and the second theme had to be in different keys. I had done this: the first theme was in C major, and the second in A minor. Now for the second part of the twist of the Founding Fathers: in the recapitulation, the two tunes must be in the same key. Now, it isn't difficult to do this, especially with short themes, and I did it. But, what comprised my second theme was this long story that wandered all over the place! So I was forced to modify the whole thing, to satisfy at least the letter of the law of this twist of the Founding Fathers, and it happened that this resulted in a much more complex development section (built into the recapitulation, I realize; but others have done it, so why not me?) and I realized that this twist of the FF's had a purpose, namely to give deadbeats such as myself an opportunity to redeem themselves by requiring some creativity in handling the keys of the themes. (For those who want details: the second theme started off in A minor, and then wandered into C major. In the recap, it starts out in C major, and found itself subsequently in E minor. That was interesting.)
I'm still tinkering with it, but this is how it sounds at present:
|String Quartet, 1. Allegro|