Composition Exercise – Storm episode

Your brief is to write an episode of music for orchestra that represents a storm. You should use a range of the following features, that can be heard in the Storm movement from Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony (listen on YouTube) and Tchaikovsky’s overture The Storm (listen on YouTube).

Excerpts referred to below:

Orchestration and texture features

  • Tremolo / repeated semiquaver strings (see first few pages of Beethoven 6 and page 9 of Tchaikovsky)
  • Loud tutti chords (second page of Beethoven 6)
  • Rumbling semiquavers etc. in double basses (see page 2 of Beethoven 6)
  • Rising and falling chromatic scales (see page 9 of Beethoven 6)
  • High ‘flashes of lightning’ in upper woodwind/strings alternating with low ‘rumbling thunder’ in lower strings/timpani (see page 9 of Tchaikovsky)
  • Unison woodwind versus unison strings playing contrapuntally (see page 16 of Tchaikovsky)
  • You can see some slightly more advanced uses of semiquavers on this page

Harmonic features

Storms tend to use lots of minor chords and diminished sevenths, of which a few examples are given below but practically the whole of the Beethoven is a good example!

In this example from the opening of the storm from Beethoven 6, the bass creeps up with each diminished seventh resolving to the minor chord a semitone above:

Underlying Chord Progression
Actual music

In this more complicated example, Beethoven has descending chromatic bass line with alternating augmented sixths and diminished sevenths. This is right on the edge of being functional!

Underlying chord progression
Actual music

Adding melodic ideas to chord progressions

Apart from loud chords with lots of tremolo you can add some melodic interest.

A simple way of doing this is simply to have arpeggios but in this example from Tchaikovsky’s Storm you can see how the underlying E sharp diminished seventh chord (the full score is on page 16):

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