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Composer’s Corner: Themes of Fireside

Hello, and welcome to Composer’s Corner. Today I present to you the themes of my last YouTube music animation, Fireside, a piece of joy and goodwill that fills every listener with happiness and purity of spirit. Sit thee down and take a listen…

6/8 time, B-flat major, the piece opens with the somewhat playful yet mysterious theme 1 on celesta:

This is repeated immediately with a counter melody in the clarinet:

Theme 2 then begins, with oboe and clarinet exchanging phrases:

In measure 6 of this of the melody, one can see that I have the IV chord descend to the iii chord rather than rising to the V again. I’ve been doing this quite a bit lately, using iii as a substitute for V. I may have only just started doing it last year, especially in Fairytale’s End. Love the sound of it.

After a repeat of theme 2, we come to a melody with a borrowed chord! I had heard film composers use these chords a lot, and if you’re listening for it, you can definitely hear it in quite a lot of scores, to the point that, in my opinion, it’s kind of cheesy and annoying sometimes. Two major chords, a major second apart. Of course, we could stay in key and just use IV-V, but what fun is that? If we start with the tonic I, we can descend to bVII (bah, I can’t figure out how to use a flat symbol with this font, the letter b will have to suffice). B-flat major to A-flat major in our case, like so:

Ah, how nice. The last measure is overlapped with a repeat, and then theme 4 begins:

Rather than changing chords every half measure, we only change them every measure here, providing some contrast to our previous themes. (Well, except in the last two measures. Having the chords progress more rapidly at the end of a theme is a common practice.) Also, notice the use of IV-iii again. Because it’s so good.

This melody is repeated with an overlapping counter melody:

After a repeat of theme 1 and its counter melody, we get a variation of theme 2 on piano (which Overture 4 does not make very pretty notation-wise, but what can you do…):

As dedicated and astute listeners may notice, I often employ triplets of some sort or another into my melodic variations, especially on piano. Because 3 is a magic number.

The orchestra then swells into a repeat of the original theme 2, which serves as the piece’s climax, but not before leaping up a major third in key (my favorite sort of sudden modulation), from B-flat major to D major. After this climax, we settle down again with a repeat of theme 4, but this time with a different counter melody (because the original counter melody broke its leg and had to be put down). This new counter melody goes something like this:

This is played by the piano, celesta, and piccolo, which all go nicely together, and the tune sounds especially nice with the timpani and tambourine accenting the half-beat, in my humble yet biased opinion.

By the way, check out my attempt at voice-leading in the cello and viola at this part:

Actually, I’m not really sure if it’s all that great or not, but as voice-leading is my weakness, I actually spent quite a bit of time on this part, simple as it is, and I’m pleased with how it came out. Of course, I’m sure a professional orchestrator could come up with something better. Here’s how just this harmony sounds:

I think it’s pretty OK… for me…

Anyway… After a repeat of this melody and counter melody (remember: ctrl+c and ctrl+v are among the greatest tools in a composer’s toolkit), we wind down with the oboe, the harmony once again shifting between two major chords a major second apart, I and bVII (in this case D major and C major), before shifting to V and ending on the tonic…

And thus the piece ends, leaving the audience to sit in a stunned and profound silence, having beheld much awe and wonder, before dabbing the tears from their eyes and thanking God they lived to experience such rapture… yes? Right? Yes? Maybe?

And such are the themes of Fireside.


In other news, due to some security setting my webhost must’ve recently changed, I can longer edit my “hanniwiki” mediawiki, where I keep track of my works. So at some point I’m going to try recreating the wiki with WordPress, which is much easier to work with and edit anyway. It’s become more and more powerful over the years.


I also recently uploaded a YouTube video about how to use my open-source MIDI animator:

If anyone out there ever actually uses it, let me know; I’d be interested to see what someone else might use it for.


Finally, on a completely unrelated note, I recently created a Letterboxd account, where I can keep a “film diary” of the movies I watch throughout the year; my profile is here.

Categories: Composer's Corner

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S P Hannifin

3 replies

  1. Hi,

    Thank you very much for this post, it was very helpful. I really enjoy being able to see the music for the themes, especially the chords, while listening to the song. When analyzing your previous songs I’m able to identify the themes and structure by ear, but I couldn’t identify the chords by ear.

    I’m curious if you started with the chord progression or melody when composing each theme? I have the impression you started with the melody and then chose chords to harmonize the melody. I don’t recognize comment chord progressions, to the contrary when playing just the chords on a piano the progressions sound strange. But when listening to the song the harmony is more subtle and seems to fit the melody quite nicely. So I’m puzzled. 🙂

    I’m using the structure of your song as a template for writing my own. And I was just debating if I want to use your chord progressions or not. I think I’ll try it both ways, starting with melody and doing another theme starting with the same progression (and maybe tweaking it or the melody).

    Thanks for taking the time to post the music for the themes, I really appreciate it. I showed your post to a coworker at lunch (he composes too) and he enjoyed it as well.

  2. Thanks for the comment, I’m glad the post was helpful!

    I’m curious if you started with the chord progression or melody when composing each theme?

    For this particular piece, I mostly started with the melodies, but there was some back-and-forth.

    With the first theme, I started with trying to compose something for a simple vi-iii-vi-iii progression (tonic and dominant in minor mode), and after the first half of that melody was composed, I found that sticking the IV chord between vi-iii sound quite nice. Then I finished composing the melody by ear and found appropriate chords.

    For the rest of the themes (well, except for the counter themes), I pretty much composed them by ear and found appropriate chords afterwards.

    But that’s perhaps a little misleading because after composing for a while you can sort of know what chord you’ll need while you’re composing the melody. A bit like how if you’re writing a song you may think up the lyrics and melody together. You can get a feel for your chord preferences, so while you’re composing the melody, you have in mind what chords will go with them, or at least what chords will work with certain parts. For instance, as you may be able to tell, I love ending themes on the supertonic with the V chord (as unoriginal as that may be), so when I compose that final phrase, I know it will go with a ii-V or IV-V progression, and can hear it in my head as I compose. After composing for a while, you get a sense for a number of patterns that you like, a sort of “vocabulary”, so the chords and melodies may come together, and the process of “finding” chords becomes more intuitive. Of course, I may still fool around with them afterward; I want to build my “vocabulary” so my work doesn’t sound too similar all the time (at in according to my subjective sense of “similar”).

    Like I said in an earlier post, I used to always start with chords first. It took me some time to get a more intuitive sense for them, and I still don’t have a great sense for borrowed chords. For example, those melodies for the I-bVII-I-bVII progressions, I definitely had those chords in mind first and composed the melodies to fit them, rather than hearing those melodies in my head first, so it served as a nice “chordal vocabulary extension” exercise for me.

    when playing just the chords on a piano the progressions sound strange. But when listening to the song the harmony is more subtle and seems to fit the melody quite nicely. So I’m puzzled.

    I know that feeling! I think it’s just a matter of experience. I was looking at some chords for a Nightwish song that sounded bizarre on their own, but sound perfectly natural in the song. It also sometimes happens when I listen to karaoke versions of songs.

  3. Hi Sean, I’m still studying your fireside. This was really cool, I played Across the Kingdom and after the first few notes of the melody my daughter sang the rest of the phrase. I was shocked how she could do that. I asked her, my wife said “that song is famous”. She thought it was from a movie or something. I guess I play it a lot at home. My wife said your music would be good for movies. I agree.

    In an earlier post of yours I was asking about chord progressions. I was analyzing Across the Kingdom and I didn’t know the chords so it was difficult. Tonight I found out Riffstation has a free beta of their web version which detects the chord changes. I was a little skeptical of this working, but it works beautifully in fact. It analyzes you tube tracks, so I plugged in Fireside and you can see the results:

    https://play.riffstation.com/?v=A0vGrk-Inr4

    And here is Across the Kingdom:

    https://play.riffstation.com/?v=fMpd9bUJ0wo

    I’m doing a trial of their windows app which seems to work even better. This is going to be very useful for analyzing songs and their chord progressions.

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