Composition Class


City College of San Francisco


William Severson

San Francisco

 Note: I noticed that none of the pieces would be presented to you to listen to. I have corrected that. 12/23/2007.

This fall of 2007, I am taking a composition class. I am doing all of my assignments on the music publisher program Finale 2006 from Coda Music.

So here are the completed assignments. Of course I will add to this as I complete the assignments. And I might just make this a record of the compositions that I have done. The great question is whether I should take the course next semester (Spring 2008) or not. I haven't decided yet.

I apologize for the not very good synthesizer, but that is what you get when you get it free. Free here means without additional cost for the synthesizer essentially comes with Finale. To hear what they sound like cick the name of each movement. You must be able to play mp3's with your browser except for the file named "Please Don't Ask Me To Leave You" which requires QuickTime obtainable from Apple. This composition is the only one that was not written specifically for this composition class.

Also I usually compose using fairly dissonant harmonies, but to me my compositions are always interesting to hear.

Assigned Week III - Due Week IV

The assignment is write a piece with three individual and independent sections or movements, each capable of standing on its own. Each section or movement should be at least 16 measures long.


A Simple Trifle, A Sonatina for the Piano.

A Trifle Crazy - Movement I

This is a two part polyphonic piece like the two part inventions of Bach, but that is about all it shares. The form is simple sonata form.

A Trifle Sad and Wistful - Movement II

This is three part polyphony, but the second part you hear is usually uses the same rhythms. It is simple song form, or the ABA form.

A Trifle Dance- Movement III

This uses more parts and is very dancey because it is quick and mainly in 10/8 time. It is in rondo form, or ABACABA. The C part is in 4/4.

A Trifle Dance - Movement III with a brass ensemble

I added this on hearing the third movement with a synthesized brass ensemble.

Assigned Week V

While looking over my odd papers, that is, compositions that I have from my past, I found a fragment of a string quartet I started some 45 years ago when I was 21. I was lucky in knowing this as I had date stamped the fragment September, 1962. I looked it over and said to myself that this has possibilities. So I completed it. This is really a difficult process as I have had 45 years to grow and learn as a musician, my style as a composer is quite different now. I called the compostion, "The Voice From The Past," and it certainly is that.

A Voice From The Past

The fragment is about the first 30 measures of the composition.

The composition is in sonata form conforming to the romantic and clasical traditions of symphonies. The style is quasi-early romantic. I have taken some liberties with the form. (Don't all composers take liberties with forms.) The second subject is a fugato passage when first introduced is in G minor which is the subdominant of the piece which is in D minor. But each succeeding entry of the second subject is a fifth lower than the previous. But in the recapitulation the subject is introduced in the tonic and dominant only.

At this point the schedule sort of went out of the window. There were four more assignments.

Assigned: Write a popular song.

Please Don't Ask Me To Leave You

This exists as as song for voice, and as a choral piece for either SATB or TTBB. All with piano accompaniment with another instrument. In various versions this instrument has been a viola or an A Clarinet.

This was written circa 1979 and represents my first foray into composition after I had been severely discouraged by the composition Professor at the University of California, Berkeley in the early '60's. But that is another story. I was allowed to use previous pieces in this composition class. This is by far the most conventional and beautiful piece that I have written. This recording is from a public performance of a chorus probably about 1990. 

It's almost common practice harmony except for occasional quartic harmony and one very noticeable example of parallel fifths. The parallel fifth is very integral to my conception of the piece. To me the composition would be very pedestrian except for the violations of common practice harmony.

Assigned: Write a piece to accompany an image or film scene,

I am in San Francisco, so I wrote a piece to accompany seeing the Golden Gate Bridge approaching it from the ocean,

Golden Gate  for two pianos. This was an exercise is writing quartic harmony as the quartic harmony foggy sound seems the most appropriate for the foggy Golden Gate.

Assigned: A piece using unusual anything, scale, form, instrumentation, etc.

So I wrote a piece using a complex rhythm in the Oriental scale - no, not the pentatonic scale, but a minor scale with a raised 4 and 7 giving augmented second intervals between steps 3-4 and 6-7 in the scale.

Peasant Sounds for piano. The name comes from its sounds which are like a folk song or dance from Eastern Europe.

Assigned: a piece for the final.

So I wrote:

Rhapsody for flute and piano. It is called Rhapsody as it has no real form as it is just melodies strung together very simply. Here there are only two sections in very contrasting styles.

I did it again! I am taking Composition again in the Spring of 2008. Same teacher, but a chance of doing something new. 

And here is what I have done so far.

Threnody is a duet for violin and viola. It an introspective piece. Threnody is a lament for the dead. I chose to dedicate it to all those who have died of AIDS. I ended it with a dissonant tonic major-minor chord to protest the shameful tepid response our government has had to the AIDS epidemic.

My midterm composition is String Quintet in the Key of X. After I composed it I thought about the connection of computer programming and composing. I was a computer programer for about 40 years, and I believe it prepared me for composing. I remember taking a workshop from the Employment Development Department of the State of California. One of the things discussed was basic talents required to be successful in various jobs. They had a big book of job titles from the Federal Government. They classified the jobs in three main categories, people, data, and things. I looked up computer programmer and composer of music, and was amazed that the amount skill required in these categories was very similar. They required people skills say about 6 our 10, and working with things was less, say about 4 out of 10. But the data skills, what is, working with large constructs of data was about 9 out of 10. When I thought about, computer programs and compositions of music are large constructs of data and they require similar skills to deal with them. Well, I wouldn't say that I am a composer because I spent 40 years as a computer programmer, but being a musician certainly helped me as a computer programmer. Oh yes there is the key of X. When joking about music occasionally I would hear people say it is in the key of X meaning that the key can't be determined easily. However, my piece here though it goes far afield is firmly in the key of C. I have also submitted this to a modern music festival here in San Francisco. So maybe I will get it performed and recorded.

My friend the violist has a lot of string friends, one of which likes to present cello ensembles at a workshop in the summer. So my friend asked the cello ensemble guy if I could write a cello piece for four cellos. I did it, and called the resulting piece "For Cellos, or What Color Cello is it?"  As is true for most of the pieces on this site, it is synthesized by computer and generated by Finale using GPO. This was used for class. I am working on getting this piece performed and hopefully recorded.

I also presented in class a piece  which I wrote an arrangement for from a lead sheet. It is a klezmer tune which I arranged for flute and piano. Flute was popular in klezmer music in the late 1800s and early 1900s. It is called Freylach #18. This is a live performance.

I also arranged a tune presented by my partner a year after we moved together. I was given harmonic outline and some added material more than the melody line. I added the more pianist material in the arrangement. It is called Be Mine. This is a synthesized performance with clarinet on the voice parts.

We are about to the end of this semester. Here is the piece for my final. It is a Brass Quintet. This is my first time writing for any Brass Ensemble. It is quite a bit different then for say strings.

If you have made down to this point in the web page, I would love to have a discussion about the music presented here. My email is 


And use a subject of "About Compositions" to start the ball running. I have a high spam load and I have to have some way of getting your messages through the SPAM filters.