Lost Horizon (classical / symphonic poem)

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Rainmak3r
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Lost Horizon (classical / symphonic poem)

Post by Rainmak3r »

Hi all,

after The Wind and the Lake, I'm sharing my efforts on yet another attempt to score a late romantic symphonic poem. This time, it's based on "Lost Horizon", a novel by James Hilton and a personal favourite of mine: if you've never heard of it, it's the novel that originated the myth of Shangri-La, and is a fascinating read. I always loved the mood, the dialogues and the story, and after re-reading it recently I thought it would be a perfect theme for the music I was working on.

You can listen to it here:

https://soundcloud.com/lminiero/lost-horizon

Once again, I uploaded the whole score (that can be played and followed using the MuseScore soundfont) as well:

https://musescore.com/lminiero/lost-horizon

It's explicitly dedicated to Lennie Moore, as he's a composer that has had a HUGE influence over my music taste and style. He's mostly known as the author of the Outcast soundtrack, which completely blew my mind at the time, and still does. While I had appreciated classical, soundtracks and orchestral music in general before, it was Outcast that sparked the flame for me, and made me want to experiment with orchestral scoring of my own as well. This poem is dedicated to him also because of his incredible kindness to a humble fan: I knew my work would musically be partly inspired by the Ranzaar theme from Outcast, so I contacted him to ask if the score was available for sale anywhere, so that I could study it as I also do with classical scores; he just sent me, without asking for anything in return, the complete and annotated score for the whole piece, with a detailed analysis of the different parts, choices and everything, which as you can imagine was amazing to look at! A great composer and a great human being too.

Coming to the work, besides the above mentioned Ranzaar, the main musical influences were John Williams' main theme for "7 years in Tibet" (since Lost Horizon is set in a lamasery on the Himalayas and I wanted the same "vibe"), the usual Tchaikovsky with his 1st symphony "Winter Daydreams" (in particular for some texture choices, like flute and bassoon skething a theme), Rimsky Korsakov's Antar symphony (again, just because it's so mysterious!) and, in part, Holst's "Neptune" from The Planets (mostly for how magistrally it makes use of harp and celesta to create a unique atmosphere). Not sure if the piece ended up sounding more like a soundtrack than a poem (a friend told me it reminded him of Danny Elfman), but I definitely approached it as a classical piece, or at least tried to: of course I love soundtracks too, so if it sounds like one I'm happy as well!

From a composition point of view, there are a few themes that recur in the work. If you're interested, this is basically the process I used to compose them:
  • The main theme, the one the piece starts with, is what I call the "Shangri-La" theme. It's supposed to be airy and (mostly) uplifting, but inspired by Wagner I decided not to let it "resolve" until the very end: before that, any time it appears it's "interrupted" by more or less dissonant choices. The theme itself I had in my mind for a very long time, and its origin is actually a bit silly: if you watch this old SNL clip, you'll notice it's similar to the theme for Simon's TV show :mrgreen: I remember liking the way the simple tune sounded like, and it must have been in my head long enough that it became what you can hear in this piece instead (and a bit more unsettling, perhaps!).
  • The second theme, which follows the first attempts of the main theme to resolve, is what I thought of as "The Mountain" theme. The main backdrop for Lost Horizon is this hominous mountain in the Himalayas, called Karakal, and so I wanted it to be an important part of the piece too. It starts slow and then grows, only to come back at the very end (if you can spot it). This theme I had in my mind for a long time too, and is actually directly inspired by Outcast: I think it's the first theme I ever wrote that used the chromatic mediants Outcast used so perfectly, and that I fell in love with right away.
  • The exposition is made of basically two different themes, who are similar and yet different, and are both meant to represent the mystery that Shangri-La is for the main characters, and the different impact/effect it has on each of them. Any time the mystery seems to be unveiled, it becomes clearer that there's more to uncover, and that not everything is at is seems. For the second theme in particular, I liked the idea of a modulation that seems to go higher and then always stops, up until the very end.
  • As anticipated, the climax is indeed the main theme coming back and finally resolving in a "triumphant" way, just to become a whisper once more, where eventually the Shangri-La and Karakal themes merge together and slowly fade out. If you're wondering why I chose to end it that way, it's mostly because of how the book final chapters end and my perspective of it: if you haven't read it yet, I won't spoil it for you.
Themes apart (the skeleton for the different parts was the very first thing I completed soon enough), I struggled with orchestration more than I did with "The Wind and the Lake": all those influences, and the availability of their scores, helped a lot with some of the challenges, but I still often had a hard time finding the right textures, not to mention the balance which probably would be completely off if handed to a real orchestra. As such, it took me much more time to complete the scoring process, but hopefully I managed to make it sound good enough: I think it's a bit more consistent overall than "The Wind and the Lake", even though I'm not sure I can call it actually "better" in terms of orchestration.

From a technical point of view, as last time I scored everything with MuseScore first, and only at the very end I imported it in Ardour to work on the virtual orchestration. Once more, I used @Michael Willis' amazing orchestral template for Ardour, and followed pretty much the same approach as last time: that is, using my modified Virtual Playing Orchestra SFZ files that use the MIDI CC 14 to change articulation depending on the context, and automating everything else as needed (e.g., volumes for crescendos, diminuendos and overall balance). I won't bother you with too many details on this, as it was pretty much the same effort I did on "The Wind and the Lake": you can refer to that post if you want to dig deeper on exactly what was done there.

There are a couple of things I really don't like, though: french horns and clarinets are worse than my previous effort... Horns for some reason sound quite bad at low velocities (which is such a pity, as they're among my favouite instruments in the orchestra), while clarinets in VPO have a very long attack that you can't get rid of even when playing with the modwheel CC; I tried to mitigate both issues, but I still don't like how they sound in the VPO version. Weirdly enough, they both sound much better in the MuseScore version, which is supposed to have a much lower quality soundfont. Anyway, I recently managed to get access to a free copy of the BBC Orchestra by Spitfire Audio: in the next few weeks I may try to play with that one too, to see if the outcome is better.

Anyway, apologies for the once again incredibly long post...
Hope you'll enjoy this as much as I did working on it, and looking forward to your feedback!
Last edited by Rainmak3r on Sun Dec 13, 2020 5:33 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Rainmak3r
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Re: Lost Horizon (classical / symphonic poem)

Post by Rainmak3r »

One thing I forgot to mention... there's a good chunk of the second part that I too late realized should have been 12/8, and not 4/4 (you'll notice a ton of sextines, if you check the score). Unfortunately I was quite ahead with the scoring when I realized this, and MuseScore has no way to easily copy/paste the notes to accomodate the change... and I really didn't feel like rewriting everything from scratch. Maybe I'll do that in the future, but right now I'm just too tired :lol:
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Re: Lost Horizon (classical / symphonic poem)

Post by jeanette_c »

First of all this is impressive! I listened to it before reading your full post, though it made more sense afterwards. There is a definite film score atmosphere to it. Also the composition itself sounds more like a score, which is fitting I suppose. One thing that stuck out, especially with this orchestra, which can't hide that it's a "MIDI orchestra" in a full composition like this: there was a lot of unison, or what composers call monophony. From bitter experience I know how hard it is to break that and how easy and appealing it is, especially with such a big task ahead.
That aside, it is a very expressive piece and I did enjoy it. Thanks for sharing!
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Rainmak3r
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Re: Lost Horizon (classical / symphonic poem)

Post by Rainmak3r »

jeanette_c wrote: Mon Dec 14, 2020 8:33 am First of all this is impressive! I listened to it before reading your full post, though it made more sense afterwards. There is a definite film score atmosphere to it. Also the composition itself sounds more like a score, which is fitting I suppose. One thing that stuck out, especially with this orchestra, which can't hide that it's a "MIDI orchestra" in a full composition like this: there was a lot of unison, or what composers call monophony. From bitter experience I know how hard it is to break that and how easy and appealing it is, especially with such a big task ahead.
That aside, it is a very expressive piece and I did enjoy it. Thanks for sharing!
Thanks for listening and for the nice words!

On unison, yes, I'm afraid I do have a tendency to double too much, which is a habit I'll indeed have to break. I recently watched the video of an accomplished composer and orchestrator that warned exactly about this, explaining that, while it does have its place, it's otherwise one of the common mistakes most newcomers make when abused, since it can make some parts feel heavier than they should. I tried to mostly use doubling on the loudest parts, but I realize it's still too much in some places. Hopefully my next effort will improve this, as I'm learning as I go :mrgreen: Thanks for the feedback!
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Re: Lost Horizon (classical / symphonic poem)

Post by Michael Willis »

Add me to the list of people who feel like this is like a soundtrack! In a good way, like when theatrical soundtracks sounded more like romantic era classical music. That's pretty amazing that Lennie Moore sent you the score! Of course on a forum of musicians who use Linux we like to practice sharing our work with each other, but I'm not used to that kind of openness from just anybody.

For what it's worth, as an amateur clarinetist I didn't think your clarinet parts sounded too bad, but I think I understand what you meant about the horn parts. It's so hard to get just the right brass sound from the free samples that are available. I'm curious how it will turn out if you do try using the BBC Orchestra for some of the parts.
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Re: Lost Horizon (classical / symphonic poem)

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Michael Willis wrote: Mon Dec 14, 2020 5:30 pm Add me to the list of people who feel like this is like a soundtrack! In a good way, like when theatrical soundtracks sounded more like romantic era classical music. That's pretty amazing that Lennie Moore sent you the score! Of course on a forum of musicians who use Linux we like to practice sharing our work with each other, but I'm not used to that kind of openness from just anybody.
Thanks for listening! Yeah, considering the direct influences I guess it was inevitable that it would sound less like a classical score. But good to know it does still sound like an old-fashioned soundtrack anyway! I'm a sucker for those works, and I'm quite saddened with the state of theatrical soundtracks right now (my excitement for Dune went out of the window when I found out Hans Zimmer would score it :mrgreen: ). I recently watched a panel hosting Seth MacFarlane and the composers of the Orville soundtrack (which is fantastic), where Seth shared my same grievances, and explains why it apparently is like that right now (mostly directors being "scared" of music taking over). Good thing there's still people like him pushing for memorable tunes out there.
Michael Willis wrote: Mon Dec 14, 2020 5:30 pm For what it's worth, as an amateur clarinetist I didn't think your clarinet parts sounded too bad, but I think I understand what you meant about the horn parts. It's so hard to get just the right brass sound from the free samples that are available. I'm curious how it will turn out if you do try using the BBC Orchestra for some of the parts.
Yep, and in general I do like VPO a lot: I think that horns themselves sound quite nice when you use a higher velocity for the note (and in fact the way I "fixed" it was by increasing the velocity and decreasing the volume for those horns that sounded bad).

About BBC Orchestra (the Discover version I have), the plan is to actually use it for all of the parts next, as an alternative rendering of the same score: not sure how heavy it will be, considering it will mean 20+ LinVST instances in Ardour, but hopefully my new laptop will be able to handle that. One of the downsides is that apparently all the instruments are sections, not solo, which as explained in this review I watched can make it sound less realistic: he makes the example of flutes, where each sample is actually three flutes playing together, so in my work where I have two flute parts, it would actually sound as 6 of them. That said, it does sound quite nice, so I'm looking forward to at least play with it a bit!
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Re: Lost Horizon (classical / symphonic poem)

Post by spamatica »

Wow, I liked this.

I feel I don't have the vocabulary or Know How to really comment on the composition or production but it was very nice. One can hear artifacts of the sample library at some points but that has already been discussed.

Since it was quite long I put it on as background music to my new hobby of watching some painters channel on youtube. It was delightful and the painting became so dramatic at some places! :D
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Re: Lost Horizon (classical / symphonic poem)

Post by Rainmak3r »

spamatica wrote: Tue Dec 15, 2020 7:04 pm Wow, I liked this.

I feel I don't have the vocabulary or Know How to really comment on the composition or production but it was very nice. One can hear artifacts of the sample library at some points but that has already been discussed.

Since it was quite long I put it on as background music to my new hobby of watching some painters channel on youtube. It was delightful and the painting became so dramatic at some places! :D
Thanks for listening! I don't think I ever heard of my music being used as a background for that, but I love how it made it a more dramatic experience :lol:
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Re: Lost Horizon (classical / symphonic poem)

Post by folderol »

Excellent work here. Very convincing orchestration.
Oh, and yes - seems like soundtrack to me as well :lol:
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Re: Lost Horizon (classical / symphonic poem)

Post by sunrat »

Wonderful work! Definitely shades of Holst in there.
I agree with you about James Hilton's book too, one of my favourites. 8)
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Re: Lost Horizon (classical / symphonic poem)

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folderol wrote: Tue Dec 15, 2020 9:06 pm Excellent work here. Very convincing orchestration.
Oh, and yes - seems like soundtrack to me as well :lol:
Thanks! I'll have to watch the 1937 movie to see if it might sound good as a soundtrack there :mrgreen:
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Re: Lost Horizon (classical / symphonic poem)

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sunrat wrote: Tue Dec 15, 2020 9:09 pm Wonderful work! Definitely shades of Holst in there.
I agree with you about James Hilton's book too, one of my favourites. 8)
Thanks, and glad to find another lover of the book! I love Holst so if something is here that reminds of his work, it's definitely a good thing :D
Relistening to it myself I realized Herrmann might have been a subconcscious influence as well (which confirms the soundtrack oriented approach even more, if anything).
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