Click Play (>) to hear the audio tracks of the recent compositions. See the column on the right for more information on Ralf's most recent works, and use the I<< and >>I controls on the music player to scroll between these works. Alternatively, just sit back and enjoy the music!
Ralf started composing at the age of eight years old. Since then he has studied classical composition at degree and masters degree level (studying with Philip Cashian for two years). He has recently completed a PhD in Jazz Composition and has set up the New Jazz quartet Snappersnipes as a vehicle for his jazz compositions (https://snappersnipes.com/about). He is also very active as a classical composer and is very interested in composing for the screen as well as orchestral arranging/composing for commercial and pop music sessions.
Being an active performer as well as a composer, Ralf is very interested in writing music which is playable, well-written and effective. More than 90% of his pieces have received public performances and/or have been recorded, over the last 40 years.
His works have been performed at venues such as the Purcell Rooms, London and St Georges, Brandon Hill, Bristol as well as at Cheltenham Jazz Festival and live performances have been recorded and broadcast on BBC Radio 3.
In August 2021, he won the Prima La Musica prize in the Ruzickova Composition Competition 2021, with his piece, Jigsaw Jig.
In October 2021, he was awarded an Honorary Mention in the Oberton International Composition Competition 2021, for his piece, The Hippo Dances.
Please contact Ralf to discuss any composition commissions or arranging work that you may be considering...
Tangle (2023) - This short piece is written for a solo oboist who accompanies themselves by tapping their foot to the written rhythmic ostinato pattern. The title has two sources: Firstly, the struggle of the player to tap the rhythm whilst playing an independent melodic line. Secondly, many of the initial sketches used Argentinian tango rhythms. In the local Bristolian dialect, ‘Bristow’ became ‘Bristol’ so ‘Tango’ becomes Tangle!
Encompassing the Lowlands (2023) - This composition was inspired by the folk tune ‘The Lowlands of Holland’ which was collected in Hampshire, UK, but is thought to have Irish roots. The rhythmic freedom and unusual melodic intervals of the original tune are fascinating and provide much of the source material for the piece. My composition is scored for flute, clarinet, bassoon, violin, cello and piano and combines folk music elements (often written in heterophony) with more contemporary elements.
The Song of the Small Owl (2022) - A tune written for my partner (a saxophonist) for us to play together. It combines jazz, folk and classical influences. I should have written this years ago!
Grotty Gavotte (2022) - This short piano piece was written for a friend in the Lake District (with a nice piano). She is a grade 7 pianist. I'm definitely not!
Fanfare for a Festival (2022) - This brief fanfare for brass quintet develops material that combines traditional brass fanfare techniques (such as double and triple tonguing) with a more contemporary harmonic language.
The Film of the Book (2022) - This composition, for chamber orchestra, was inspired by the ways that filmmakers transition between very different scenes of a film. The piece explores abrupt cuts, gentle fades and overlapping transitions between sections. The musical material itself is not particularly difficult but the structure of the piece is very complicated and unpredictable.
Of Socks and Clocks (2022) - This is a composition for SATB choir setting the words of Bristol-based poet Alice Ewens taken from their poetry collection Fear Country. The lyrics for this 'song of the introvert' are:
This world is too bright, too harsh, too raw for me.
It stings like a grazed knee.
Let me curl up in the safe warm tea-and toast,
Make the most of warm socks and steady clocks
My barefoot soul is bruised,
Second-hand and used,
Dirt ground into all the swirls of my identity,
Waiting for a summer storm to wash it clean.
Tell me it is OK to wait and breathe and just…be.
This world is too bright, too harsh, too raw for me.
Dancing on the Shoulders of Giants (2022) - This saxophone quartet (soprano, alto, tenor and baritone) is completely notated but the 'solos' for each player are strongly informed by the improvisational styles of well-known jazz players of each instrument (such as Charlie Parker, John Coltrane and Mike Brecker).
Flying over Cuba (2022) - The title of this duet for cello and piano is a reference to the Cuban-inspired rhythmic material (mostly in the piano part) above which the cello serenely sings. This piece is also an exercise in modal writing with every note deriving from the G major scale but with G only rarely being the tonal centre of the music. This melody is very catchy (you have been warned!) and the piece has been described as my 'hit single'!
All About Mercury (2022) - This chamber work for flute, clarinet (doubling bass clarinet), piano, violin and cello is a very fast, volatile, single-movement piece in 7/8 throughout. There are several thematic ideas that reappear in various guises and combinations throughout the roller-coaster ride of the piece. The most obvious of these is the unison melody line that opens the piece. I hope that you enjoy the ride!
Suite for Solo Bassoon (2021) - This suite was written for (and dedicated to) the now-retired internationally-famous bassoon soloist Roger Birnstingl as a surprise early 90th birthday present. I first met him a month ago when I joined the village walking group that meets every two weeks to walk local footpaths. On a 5-mile country stroll, I discovered that he lived about five minutes down the road in the same village! The four movements are named after streets in 'our' village and all develop elements of the chord progressions introduced in the first movement.
* This suite is published by Portus Press. https://portuspress.com/
** See the News section of this website for a review of the Suite by Graham Sheen, principal bassoonist of the BBC Symphony Orchestra.
Rustic Music (2021) - This piece is written for a piano quartet (piano, violin, viola and cello). Rather than building on the Classical and Romantic traditions of Western Art music, this composition is heavily influenced by folk and world music, such as Indian tanpura drones, West African polyrhythmic drumming and Gambian balafon music. This is combined with melodic writing reminiscent of British (and American) folk music.
The Hippo Dances (2021) - This piece is scored for the unusual combination of a string octet (or double quartet). It is in 5/4 strict tempo throughout and plays with subdividing the rhythm in a variety of different ways (eg: 3+2+2+3) to produce a complex rhythmic web of dance music. The piece also responds to criticism that my music lacks interest because it doesn't change time-signature every other bar 'like contemporary classical music is supposed to...'. Judge for yourself...
* This piece was awarded an honorary mention in the Oberton International Composition Competition (2021). If you are interested in performing it, please contact me.
Distant Misty Mountains (1998, revised 2021) - This solo piano piece was originally written as part of a portfolio of pieces written for my MA in 1998. It was substantially rewritten in 2021. The piece explores the piano textures which can be built up using the sustain pedal and is based around a melodic phrase that is heard in different versions, gradually dissolving over time into silence. Chinese and Japanese traditional visual art was very influential in its use of space and the way that the viewer's mind is allowed to fill in these spaces (or silences).
Jigsaw Jig (2021) - This piece is written for a baroque string quartet (but would work equally well on modern instruments). The piece is a contemporary take on baroque dance music with a groove to nod your head to and 8-bar sections familiar from hip-hop! The title is based on the fact that that none of the instruments has the main melody, but all the parts interlock to create the overall picture - like a jigsaw. The form is similar to a rondo but the opening section is often varied on each return. Enjoy!
*This piece won the Prima La Musica prize in the Ruzickova Composition Competition 2021.
It is published by Prima La Musica here: http://www.primalamusica.com/contents/en-uk/d884.html
If you are involved with a string quartet interested in performing this piece, please contact me.
An Experiment on a Bird in the Air Pump (2021) - This piece for unaccompanied flute is a musical drama reflecting the various reactions to the early scientific experiment shown in Joseph Wright of Derby’s 1768 oil painting. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/An_Experiment_on_a_Bird_in_the_Air_Pump
The view of the scientist is represented by the opening ‘thoughtful’ meditative music. The various onlookers, who gradually come to realise what is happening in the experiment, are represented by the ‘like a dance’ tune, and the bird is represented by the fluttering and chirruping melodic material. As the piece goes on, and the situation of the bird becomes more life-threatening, the three types of musical material are intercut and combined in a way that is reminiscent of cinematic techniques. The performance should be quite spontaneous and free with the only hints of a clear pulse in the dance-like sections. Otherwise, the performer should try to portray the unfolding drama in an improvisatory way that reacts to both the feeling of the moment and the acoustics of the performance space. Every performance can be different. The midi performance is only a guide. (NB: The bird survives!)
Godric's Song (2021) - This work for unison voices, soprano saxophone and organ is a reworking of a very early English religious song from the 12th century. The computer version obviously does not allow the words to be heard.
The Last Pipistrelle (2020) - This electroacoustic work features recordings of pipistrelle bats slowed down considerably to allow them to be heard in detail. These are placed against a backing of treated string and piano samples. The piece was written as part of a wider project in support of Sustainable Warminster's bat conservation work.
Three Monk Tunes for Trombone Quartet (Thelonious Monk arr. Dorrell (2021)) -
1. Off Minor, 2. Ruby, My Dear, 3. Straight, No Chaser.
This suite of three varied jazz compositions by the pianist Thelonious Monk attempts to show off both the variety of the compositions and the various characters of the trombone quartet. All four of the players get some time in the spotlight at different times during the suite. All 'improvisations' have been written out to allow classical players access to the works of this unique composer.
Rondo the Cat (2021) - This piece was written for the junior woodwind group run by my partner (a sax player/teacher). The music uses only scales and arpeggios available to grade 1 and 2 level clarinet, oboe and saxophone players. The piece tells the story of a day in the life of the cat, Rondo, and each section is titled appropriately! (Sleepy cat, bye-bye cat, etc...)
Zebo Sketches (2021) - This suite of seven short unfinished sketches, each in a different mode of G major, was written as the starting point for new pieces to be developed in rehearsal by the band Dr Zebo's Wheezy Club (fiddle, acoustic guitar and double bass). Ralf is the bass player in the band and wrote them partly to explore different ways that the bass and guitar could work together, partly as an exercise in modal writing, and partly as a 'quiet rebellion' against having to play too many 'um - chug - um - chug' accompaniments!