zompist bboard

A quick intro to Classical Music
Page 1 of 2

Author:  Salmoneus [ Sun Aug 06, 2017 6:43 pm ]
Post subject:  A quick intro to Classical Music

Intentions and Terms

I thought I’d write a brief introduction to Classical Music, because... well, I didn’t really get that far into the thought. I guess because lots of people ask where to start and what they might like – and maybe some people here might appreciate a few words of guidance. If not, maybe writing it will clarify my thoughts for the next time someone does actually ask me. It seems that there’s a lot of curiosity about classical music these days, but not a lot of remaining knowledge in the general community, so...

To be clear, I’m not a professional musician, critic, music historian, music theorist, or anything along those lines. I’m just a lifelong classical music fan, and I probably know a lot more about the subject than the average non-expert person these days does.
And to begin with, we need to define ‘classical music’. For some people, that means anything ever written that doesn’t have a popstar singing in it (and maybe some things that do). For others, it means specifically music composed by the artistic establishment of western Europe between 1730 and 1820 – or possibly only 1750 to 1792.

For my purposes, I’ll split the difference, and identify “classical music” with what normally springs to mind with those words: music of the so-called “Common Practice Period”, which is to say approximately AD 1600 to AD 1900 in Europe, and to a lesser extent in European colonies, particularly in the New World. [There are no exact dates; some people would push the beginning up to 1650, for example]. Almost all the composers or pieces you might think of as “classical” fall within this period, or is later music consciously imitating it. I’ll also, however, make some remarks on earlier and later developments.

My original intention here was to write a few brief words on the background leading up to the Common Practice, write a brief description of the three Eras within this Period (Baroque, Classical and Romantic (note that ‘Era’ and ‘Period’ can sometimes be swapped, as terms), followed by a brief explanation of the major genres of Common Practice music, and then a rough run-down of some major names to look out for in approximate tiers of importance.
However, my initial brief words have turned out... not to be. So... it may take me a little while to get through this. Nonetheless, I’m still hoping for it to be pretty brief, rather than an in-depth description. [this will necessitate some unfair simplifications along the way, needless to say]
In the meantime, if you have any questions about anything (that I’ve said, or that you’d like me to say), or want to correct me, or just have anything to add yourself, please do.

[Oh, and to get it out of the way, the #1 shibboleth for classical vs pop fans: if in any doubt at all, call it a “piece”, not a “song”. This may not be objectively important, but it’s the easiest way to signal that you’re actually taking the genre seriously (and avoids triggering the PTSD of all us poor classical music fans who have been repeatedly asked “what’s your favourite song?” and have had no idea how to answer...)]

Anyway, because things rarely make sense unless you know where they came from, I’ll start with a little narrative explanation of how we got to the point where classical music started...

Author:  Salmoneus [ Sun Aug 06, 2017 6:48 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: A quick intro to Classical Music

Before the Common Practice: The Mediaeval Period
More: show
The music of Europe in the 1st millennium AD was, so far as we can tell, both simple and, in a way, unremarkable. It was structured around a system of modes – sets of pitches that defined not only the permissable pitches in each octave (a scale) but also gave certain pitches designated functional roles (specifically, an initial tone, a ‘reciting tone’ and a final tone). These modes imposed a basic structure, upon which melodies were created. In this respect, European music of the time was unremarkable – the same broadly modal approach was found in Byzantium, and in the music of the Arabs, the Persians, and the Indians. European music was also simple, however, as it represented one of the least sophisticated implementations of this approach. The number of possible tones in the octave, the number of modes, and the degree of sophistication in how a mode dictated the contours of a melody, all seem to have been considerably less complex than in many modal musical cultures. That simplicity was amplified in one respect around the time of Charlemagne, when the Emperor and the Church together attempted to reduce the already limited permitted variation in music by replacing local chant systems (i.e. different repertoires of melodies) with a single, centrally-imposed list of permissable tunes – Gregorian Chant. As the name suggests, these melodies were sung, without accompaniment.

However, around the same time, things were beginning to change, not in the repertoire but in the performance. The practice of allowing men and boys to sing together required two vocal lines – one an octave above the other. By the later years of the 1st millennium, a practice had become established of instead allowing one line to sing a fourth or fifth above or below the other, in parallel, in a process known as (strict) organum. [the fourth and the fifth create particularly clear, consonant sounds]. This in turn was further loosened by allowing the secondary voice to take evasive action to avoid forbidden notes, creating ‘free’ organum. Gradually, the rules governing the secondary voice relaxed, developing the ‘florid’ organum of the School of St Martial, in which one voice might sing multiple notes for each single note held in the primary voice.

The first known named composer of importance in Europe was the Parisian, Léonin (living approximately 1150-1200). Léonin worked primarily in this form of organum, in which an old chant melody was slowed down considerably to allow a second voice to sing a more ornamented accompaniment to it (although he alternated this with other styles of organum). However, Léonin also contributed, seemingly, two great musical innovations: first, a cohesive, architectural approach to musical structure, in place of the rather free-form, rhapsodic structures that had gone before, giving his pieces great coherence and direction; and, second, the concept of the ‘rhythmic mode’, a finite number of fixed rhythmic patterns, that would give his free and florid organum greater cohesion and less apparent randomness. He may have been the first composer to devise a scheme for the notation of rhythm, which previously had been unrecorded. Léonin was also notable for the scale of his output: rather than contributing occasional adaptations of particular chants for a given occassion (as previous composers had done, often anonymously), Léonin systematically reconfigured a large body of music, and published it. What’s more, he extracted particularly interesting passages of organum for publication, allowing them to be inserted into many different chants where appropriate by any choirmaster. Léonin thus created a sort of modular system of music, in which his small-scale elements, his clausulae, could be mixed and matched to fit within the imposed framework of the Gregorian chant melodies – or, indeed, performed as small pieces in their own right. Léonin’s successor, Pérotin, further enlarged on Léonin’s advances, creating a denser texture of sound, and as many as four voices. The works of Léonin and Pérotin – the Notre Dame School – were published in a great Magnus Liber. At this time, however, composing was not a path to immortal fame – although their music was amply preserved, the names of Léonin and Pérotin survive only because of a description written by one of their students, ironically himself known as Anonymous IV.

The organum of Léonin and Pérotin involved multiple voices, but it is not considered “polyphonic”. Instead, it is often termed ‘heterophonic’, a style in which multiple voices run independently, but all are broadly following or elaborating a common melody. This, again, was and is common in modal music across cultures.

But in the early 14th century, things started getting weird. In a style known as ‘ars nova’, in contrast to the older ‘ars antiqua’, composers began to give their voices increasing independence. Not only would they sing with different rhythms, they would sing with different mensuration (the division of beats – equivalent to a modern composition having one singer in 4/4 time and another in 9/8 simultaneously Not only would they sing different melodies, they would even sing different lyrics – particularly popular was the simultaneous singing of sacred and secular texts. The concept of the rhythmic mode was extended to its logical conclusion by allowing the repetition of melodic and rhythmic sequences of different lengths – in other words, a “colour” of pitch sequences was superimposed onto a “talea” of rhythmic patterns, in such a way that the talea was repeated while the colour changed, and, eventually, so that the length of the colour was not a multiple of the talea, resulting in the same colour being repeated with differing taleae. This process – a sort of templatic morphology for tunes – is known as isorhythm.

[In the middle ages, music was typically considered a branch of applied mathematics, and sometimes it shows]

The early part of this era was the time of composers like Philippe de Vitry and above all Guillaume de Machaut. Machaut was the ultimate musician of his day, penning everything from the most sombre sacred music through to popular monophonic love songs, with a range of increasingly complex works in between those two extremes: and, unusually, he also wrote his own lyrics, attaining fame both as a composer and as a poet. [he’s considered a major influence on both Froissart and Chaucer]. He is also particularly noteworth for the first complete, coherent musical setting of an entire mass by a single composer – effectively the first large-scale musical composition of European civilisation. This in turn was a part of the era’s shift away from the composer as the mere practical elaborator of the established works toward the composer as innovator and artist in his own right.

The later part of this era is sometimes divided out as “ars subtilior”, more sophisticated and impenetrable than ars nova, marked in particular by its extreme complexity of rhythm. Ars subtilior was complex, sophisticated, and largely remote from the comprehension of the ordinary listener. It was also widely condemned for the sexual immorality implicit in its musical structure – and the general elitist arseishness of its hipster fans. Ars subtilior composers sometimes used pseudonyms, and often turned the notation of their songs into an art form in its own right, depicting the music in the shape of hearts, harps and infinite loops.

Recap and audio links
More: show
To demonstrate the arc of history in this era, we can start with the plain Gregorian chant, Viderunt Omnes, and move on to Léonin’s far more ornate two-voice rendition, Viderunt Omnes, before arriving at Pérotin’s more sophisticated still four-voice Viderunt Omnes. All three, theoretically, have the same tune, but by the time of Pérotin it’s been almost entirely obscured!

A century or more later, Machaut set a different Gregorian chant for his mass in even more refined fashion, as his ornate and somewhat distant four-voice Agnus Dei. Machaut, however, was also happy writing pop songs, in the form of monophonic virelais like Je vivroie liement, Douce Dame jolie, and Quant je suis mis au retour. Between these two extremes are things like his sophisticated ballad, Hont, Paour, Doubtance, which is rather less immediately understandable to the common ear.

The generation that followed, however, took Machaut’s avant garde side as a challenge, progressing through works like Senleches’ La Harpe de melodie (yes, beautifully notated in the form of a harp), to Trebor’s Quant joyne cuer en may est amoureux (yes, he called himself “Trebor”; it’s thought he was really Robert, and he may also have gone by “Trebol” and “Borlet”), until arriving at the downright perplexing Fumeux fume par fumée, by Solages. Not only do we not know who Solages was (that’s not a surname, just a one-word pen name), but we also have no idea what his poem was about – we literally do not know what he was smoking when he wrote that. Since this was a generation that had tuned in, turned on and dropped out, one theory is that the song is about how cool heroin is (well, opium back then); alternatively, the ‘smoke’ (mentioned in several ars subtilior songs) may have been a metaphorical fog cleared by heavy all-day drinking.

There is certainly something peculiarly magnetic about a piece like Fumeux fume par fumée. But it should be no surprise that the general public was not entirely enamoured of such works, or the whole of the ars nova in general. By the early 15th century, people had largely had enough, and the fashion turned in a very different direction. At this point, “mediaeval” music is commonly said to come to an end, replaced by the “renaissance”.

Author:  masako [ Mon Aug 07, 2017 9:46 am ]
Post subject:  Re: A quick intro to Classical Music


Author:  Salmoneus [ Tue Aug 08, 2017 9:18 am ]
Post subject:  Re: A quick intro to Classical Music

Before the Common Practice: the Renaissance
More: show
In the simplest terms, the early renaissance (in music) was marked by a return to simplicity. Not the simplicity of Gregorian Chant, to be sure, but a retreat from the intellectual convolutions of ars subtilior. Perhaps it would be better to say: a turn toward gracefulness. A large part of this was a steadier approach to rhythm, reducing the syncopations and cross-rhythms of the earlier era; at the same time, vocal lines generally became smoother and more singable, without the angular leaps and turns of earlier music. Along with that singability came a greater interest in the text: where mediaeval music sometimes deconstructed the text to the point of creating, in effect, a wall of sound in which singers were mere instruments, renaissance music generally stressed the role of the music in suplementing the text, with both the composer and the singer striving to express the meaning – and particularly the sentiment – of the words in sound. Later in the era, “word-painting” was frequently employed, in which key words in the text were “illustrated” with symbolic or evocative musical elements. The ideological basis for this turn came from the rediscovery of classical Greek and Roman culture, in which music was spoken of in emotive terms, particularly in relation to the augmentation of drama and poetry. Music came to be seen less as an extension of mathematics, and more as an extension of literature.

But while composers cut back on some forms of complexity – in melody and rhythm – they were willing to introduce others – in harmony. Medieval music was dominated by the unison, the octave, the fourth and the fifth, with all other intervals regarded as discordant and used only for special effect (albeit sometimes a very frequent special effect in ars subtilior). The renaissance gently began to explore more harmonies, incorporating them into the concept of consonance, beginning with, and most importantly, the third. Use of the major and minor third, and, as a result, the triad (a note accompanied by the notes a third and a fifth above it), gives the music a distinct harmonic feel known at the time as “English countenance”, but today recognisable as modernity (children learning chords and harmony today begin with the triad). Effectively, this makes the music warmer and denser in feel, in contrast to the sparse, cold harmonies of the mediaeval era. These harmonies, first popularised in England, became famous through the work of English composer John Dunstaple. The pre-eminent composer of the era, however, was Guillaume Dufay, who wrote in a style that owed much to the preceding era (particularly in his religious music), while also incorporating innovations.

The gracefulness of the era also did not mean a reduction in the number of vocal lines: songs for three or four voices (sometimes performed by instruments) remained the norm. Indeed, the renaissance marked a turning away from the heterophony of the middle ages – in which multiple voices followed variations, more or less elaborate, on the same melody – toward a genuine polyphony, in which different voices followed separate but complementary lines. Particularly common was ‘imitative counterpoint’, in which one voice would enter with a melody recently heard in another (while the first voice continued with other material). An early master of this technique was Dufay’s successor, Jean de Ockeghem.

Along with the greater melodic independence of voices came, to compensate, a greater homogeneity of role and texture: that is, there was a trend away from the old style of highly distinguished voices with different functions (ultimately originating in organum’s duality of slow ‘tenor’ and elaborating second voice) toward a denser texture in which the voices approached equal importance (and were typically closer together in pitch).
These trends all came to fruition in the work of Josquin des Prez (in the late 15th and early 16th centuries), which combines counterpoint (handled with subtlety and variety) with singable melodies, rich harmonies, and affecting sensitivity to the text, with evident genius.

However, in the 16th century, people began to be worried about Josquin’s style of polyphony. If the point was music was to accompany the words, wasn’t it counterproductive to have four or more voices zipping about singing words at different times with different melodies? The question was particularly pressing in the case of church music. Between the Reformation and the Counterreformation, Christianity was undergoing a drive toward greater accessibility and transparency, and it was hard to have the flock concentrate fully on the sacred words when they were intertwined the way Josquin placed them. Composers began to head in a more understandable direction for a while; and then the pressures on them got even greater, as the Council of Trent actually debated banning polyphonic music altogether and going back to the days of plainchant. The clerics backed down in the end, but, for a while, they got their point across: music could be beautiful, but it also had to be intelligible. It must also be stripped of its ‘lascivious’ elements, such as the creeping danger of syncopation, and improper harmonic relationships.

The result of this was a boom in composition, as composers, set a new challenge, rushed to find way to fill it. Composers of this era included Orlando Lasso and William Byrd, but paramount – and in later history generally considered the pinnacle of the renaissance in music – was the Pope’s personal composer, Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina. Indeed, over the following centuries his reputation as the ‘saviour’, ‘prince and father’ and ‘celebrated light’ of all music – virtually a demigod – continued to rise over the following centuries, until his name became synonymous both with counterpoint and the renaissance. Palestrina was able to synthesise the competing demands on music, producing something polyphonically complex for the connoisseurs, and filled with impetus and variety, and yet textually and melodically clear for the common man (and the priests). In Palestrina, polyphony sounds less like a cluster of competing voices, and more like a single, physically impossible human voice emerging out of the collectivity – following a melody that is continually but organically changing, while seeming all of a part. At the same time, his sophisticated handling of discords creates a music of continual, almost imperceptible stress and release, which helps to drive the music foward in a way that contrasts vividly with the mediaeval tendency toward stasis and repetition – and yet without indulging in disturbing or unpleasant sounds.

But the composers of the era were not to be held back forever, and experiments both in texture (with increasing use of discord) and scale. Competing with Palestrina’s relatively austere Roman School was the more progressive “polychoral” Venetian School, which had evolved to fill the huge space of the San Marco Basilica, and which utilised multiple choirs, soloists, and even musical instruments. Instrumentation had, of course, been used for centuries, but the composers of the Venetian School were among the first to write specifically for instruments – rather than instrumentation being provided by the performers to substitute for missing singers, or to support a vocal line, or to perform in large open spaces where voices would not carry. Composers like Giovanni Gabrieli, however, intentionally incorporated instruments as an independent element in their ensembles, with “choirs” of brass instruments and a powerful organ.
(Part of the gradual introduction of integral instrumentation over the course of the renaissance was the development of new instruments. Most mediaeval instruments were primarily designed for outdoor performance, and have a powerful, often coarse timbre ideal for cutting through a windy day, as typified by the shawm (much like a weaponised vuvuzela) and the bagpipes – the harp had long existed, but harps of the era were far more primitive than the modern equivalent. During the renaissance, the lute rose to prominence (it had been introduced in the Ars Nova period, but primarily in southern Europe, and primarily plucked by a quill, which prevented virtuosity), and later the vihuela, the ancestor of the guitar (and, in later bowed form, of all modern European bowed instruments). Similarly, experiments were yielding new more gentle wind instruments, which would go on to develop into the modern instruments we know today. By the end of the renaissance, the virtuoso instrumentalist had risen almost to the level of prestige of the singer (though these were often the same people), and some music for private patrons was being written entirely for instrumental ensembles.)

The extreme of renaissance “challenging” music, however, came from a movement known in hindsight as ‘Mannerism’, and in particular from the pen of Prince Carlo Gesualdo da Venosa. Gesualdo was an odd man, and, particularly after murdering his first wife and her lover, spent most of his time in his castle, where, obsessed with music, he wrote madrigals and motets for his servants to perform for an audience of him alone (his second wife being often absent). Perhaps this insularity helps explain his music, which, while respecting the rules of counterpoint, veers so far into chromaticism that it at times seem to be seeking out dissonance, and intentionally disturbing the listener.

Eventually, as with Ars Subtilior two centuries earlier, it all got a bit too much for people. Sure, this music might be emotive, but wasn’t it also decadent, elitist, and divorced from the understanding of ordinary listeners? Throughout the later part of the renaissance, there was a strain of more personal, less complicated song, as perhaps most famously seen in John Dowland, whose “Flow my tears,” or “Lachrymae”, became the ultimate pop song of its day, surviving in over 100 instrumental arrangements (and in the modern era has been covered by Sting...)

But Dowland, for all that he could write quite singable tunes, was still writing them polyphonically – his lute accompaniment is in fact two independent vocal lines, which is why the piece can be arranged with anything from three singers through to three instruments. At the end of the 16th century, however, some people began to wonder the unthinkable: would it be possible to have a song with only one melodic line?
Thus, the Common Practice Era began...

Recap and audio links
More: show
First, though, let’s recap. We left the middle ages with music like “Solage”’s Fumeaux fume par fumée. We move into the renaissance with the “Contenance Anglois” of Dunstaple’s Beata mater. It’s clear that this is in some ways a simpler, ‘cleaner’ piece: although it’s written for multiple voices, who move in quite complex ways, it manages to retain much more clarity. You may also notice that Dunstaple’s use of innovative intervals, and particularly the third, gives the singing a richer, warmer sound. In a different way, Gilles Binchois’ Dueil angoisseux (an arrangement of Christine de Pizan’s lament on her bereavement) marks a clear change in style from the middle ages. The solo vocal line here is highly complex – Binchois eschews the strophic form of the popular virelais of Machaut and the like in favour of never-repeating ‘through-writing’, but it also feels natural and directly expressive.

By the time of Ockeghem’s S’elle m’amera/Petite camusette, we still see traces of the past – the concept of overlaying two songs is distinctly mediaeval, and the opening of the song seems chaotic (part of that is the wide range of pitches – renaissance music tended toward narrower pitch-ranges than the middle ages, giving a more controlled feel). But there is also a lot of (relative) modernity here: the voices do not merely stack upon each other ornamentally, but imitate and follow each other in a genuine polyphony; the harmonies are more varied, and the feel of the piece is varied to match the sentiments of the texts. Something similar can be seen in Dufay’s Ecclesiae militantis, which seems to be trying to combine the freedom of ars subtilior with the greater coherence of what came before, along with a few more recent tweaks in terms of harmony.

This trend toward interweaving voices in a more coherent way flowers in pieces like Josquin’s Ave Maria (virgo serena), as serene as anything mediaeval, despite all the activity taking place beneath the surface. Josquin didn’t just do placid beauty, however, as seen in his late Huc me sydero, a musical depiction of the Crucifixion. Here, Josquin unites and separates and contrasts his voices in a way that conveys the painful sense of his text powerfully, even if the words of the individual lines aren’t always clear – and that, by providing continuous interest, stretches out the scene without becoming repetitive.

And if you’re wondering where the real moral decay was, have fun with Willaerts’ Vecchie letrose, a scandalously “lascivious” piece denounced by the priests as being only suited for the houses of prostitutes. [not entirely an insult in those days: renaissance courtesans were significant patrons of the arts, and the houses of rich prostitutes were pretty up-market places].

In any case, leading the way in solving the twin problems of obscurity and fun, there was Palestrina, as seen in his famous Stabat Mater, a magnificently coherent piece for eight voices that somehow never wearies despite a continually transcendent mood. Perhaps less musically inspired and more repetitive, but awe-inspiring in its scale and beauty nonetheless, is the similarly transcendant, and astonishing, Spem in Alium, by Thomas Tallis, for no fewer than 40 vocal lines (the video visualises the various lines graphically) – the original performances divided the choirs in a circle around the audience, and the sound rotates around the listener, or washes back and forth over their heads, in a way that modern audience are almost never able to experience in the way intended – it’s an extrapolation from the polychoral techniques of the Venetian School. And we probably shouldn’t leave the era without mentioning perhaps the century’s most famous single piece, Allegri’s Miserere. The Vatican was so pleased by the piece and its – they thought – unearthly perfection, that they ordered it imprisoned in the Vatican: to maintain the unique majesty of the Vatican, they ensured that no copies could be printed of the piece, so that visitors would encounter it, and hence God, only within the Sistine Chapel. Even attempting to smuggle out a copy was punishable by excommunication. The scheme was succesful for nearly two centuries, until their world collided with that of a different era, and a different interpretation of divine inspiration: a 14-year old brat named Wolfgang Mozart was unwisely allowed to listen to the divine music one Wednesday morning. That afternoon, he transcribed the entire 12-minute, 9-voice piece note-for-note from memory, and gave it away to a publisher. The stunt helped Mozart become famous, and, faced with the direct challenge, the Pope was forced to recognise his superior in God’s affections – rather than excommunicating the boy, he knighted him.

[the story isn’t entirely true. While it’s true that he jotted it all down from memory on a Wednesday afternoon, he actually had to go back on the Friday to hear it again and make one or two minor corrections.]

Anyway, while Palestrina and Allegri were still exploring transcendance, Giovanni Gabrieli in Venice was aiming for something a bit more dramatic with pieces like In Ecclesiis – more dramatic, more ornate, and with an organ, and trumpets – much more Baroque, to be honest, but we’ll come back to that. And at the same time, at his castle in Campania, Gesualdo was writing things like Moro lasso and Se la mia morte brami.

But change was aleady in the air. Here’s John Dowland’s Flow my tears in traditional (though non-original – the earliest version was an instrumental dance, to which he added the words later) configuration with one line sung and two in the lute. Demonstrating the still-polyphonic nature of the piece, however, here’s a version for two singers and single lute line, showing how the original “accompaniment” is in fact two independent melodic lines: Flow my tears (two singers).
In fact, by the time Dowland was writing, the renaissance in music had already ended – he just didn’t know it yet. In 1584, a small group of aristocrats and intellectuals gathered in someone’s living room to hear the next big thing: Galileo’s dad, chanting. Twenty years later, someone told people about it, and the Baroque – and the Common Practice era, was born.

Author:  Salmoneus [ Wed Aug 09, 2017 11:56 am ]
Post subject:  Re: A quick intro to Classical Music

The Baroque

More: show
When the clique of local elites known (in hindsight) as the Florentine Camerata met one afternoon to listen to Vincenzo Galilei chanting, they probably didn’t realise they were witnessing a revolution. For one thing, nobody knew that this was going to become a Thing: it wasn’t until twenty years later, when one of them published a book about the group, that their ideas swept over Italy. But more importantly, from their point of view, they were not going forward, but backward: back to the heart of the renaissance, and, beyond that, to an idealised Classical world.

The renaissance had always been a fundamentally incoherent musical world, because its stated aims – clarity, and emotional amplification of the text – were inherently at odds with its chosen methodology, polyphony. Repeatedly throughout the renaissance, composers attempted new ways to produce “clearer” polyphony; eventually, they realised that the clearest polyphony was not polyphonic at all. In particular, the Camerata believed, as many did, that the high point of music, as of all culture, had been in ancient Greece – they’d read the Greek philosophers discussing how music could move men into overwhelming passions, and they felt short-changed by the inability of the music of their own era to provoke such responses. This much was typical – it was perhaps the underlying tension in renaissance music culture as a whole. But the Camerata approached the problem in a new, more scientific way: if Greek music was best, wasn’t it best to try to directly replicate Greek music? Of course, the problem here was that virtually nothing was known about Greek music, but with a little research and a whole lot of imagination, that was a surmountable obstacle.

Galilei’s innovation was the so-called stile recitativo, in which he would chant a text, half singing and half speaking, with a rhythm close to the natural rhythm of the word, with little or no actual melody, and very minimal accompaniment – the occasional plucking of a lute. His friends picked up the style and experimented with it, quickly adding more melodic content to prevent what would otherwise become repetitious, and particularly to emphasise the emotional content of the text – of particular importance in development of this new style was Giulio Caccini. In the following decades, Caccini and his rivals of began to put on performances around town of their idealised replication of Greek theatre, as they imagined it, in which this plain “recitative” constituted the bulk of the action. Perhaps surprisingly, the audiences seemed to like it. Recitative might be dull stuff compared to the heights of contemporary polyphony, but seen from the opposite direction it was a way of livening up a play, having the actors half-sing their lines and periodically giving the audience a nice song to break up the action. Over time, and particularly after the publication of Caccini’s Nuove musiche, a compendium of his songs (called ‘monodies’) in the new style, in 1602, the new approach became the next big thing in popular music.

The key feature of the new monophonic approach was not really the absence of polyphony, but what was provided to supplement it: harmony, and in particular tonality. In European music to that point, the primary foundation of music was melody: one, or generally more, melodies sounding at once. The ways that melodies could interweave provided interest, change and development throughout the piece. The interraction between melodies at any given point in time was of much less significance. At first, the intervals between notes were observed only to the extent of avoiding unpleasant dissonence. Later, a wider range of intervals were permitted, and attention paid to the interesting effects different intervals could produce. Later still, composers incorporated more and more intentional dissonance to create a structure of tension and release. This was typified by the “suspension”: when two voices sounded in a consonant interval, one voice was made to move away before the other, creating a brief period of dissonance before the second voice (which had temporarily been ‘suspended’) was allowed to follow. Yet the suspension was a matter of intervals, gaining its broader meaning from its place in the melody. The radical invention of the Baroque was the concept of harmonic progression, in which intervals were not merely classed as consonant or dissonant, and related only to the intervals immediately before or after, but were given particular significance based on their relationship to the final ‘destination’ of the music.

This development went alongside the collapse of the old modal system into a much simpler system in which only two “modes” were used – what we now know as the ‘major’ and ‘minor’ ‘keys’. Within each ‘key’, ‘chords’ could be defined as triads built upon each note in the key – seven notes, seven triads, seven basic chords. Further chords could be defined by extensions in thirds to the basic triads, or as dissonant “suspensions” that “resolved” into the basic chords. Occasionally some chords could even be “borrowed” from some other, otherwise moribund, mode. A piece could seem to move from one “key” to another by changing the notes in the chords from those appropriate to one key to those appropriate to another (changing a major to a minor, for instance). Different chords within the key were given, over time, different ‘functions’ – the chord built on the fifth note of the scale, for instance, frequently immediately preceded a chord built on the first note of the scale, because it was discovered that the movement from the ‘dominant’ fifth to the ‘tonic’ first (particularly if the dominant was augmented by a dissonant further third above, creating a previously-forbidden ‘dominant seventh’) was particularly fulfilling and conclusive. Over time, this concept of functional harmonic progression and tonality (progression from and toward a “home” tone) completely reversed the understanding of music: where previously music had been structured around melody, with harmony the more or less peripheral byproduct of melody, now music could be defined as a series of harmonic progressions, of which the melody was merely a pleasant consequence.

Perhaps, at heart, this is the definition of the “Common Practice” or “Classical Music” era: music that is primarily structured around tonal harmonic progression. [this is also true of many styles of modern popular music. “The Blues”, for example, is an entire genre defined principally by a pre-determined harmonic progression.]

Of course, all of this was not figured out overnight by the Camerata. Greater attention had been being paid to harmony in the later renaissance; and in the early baroque, the stile moderne (or seconda pratica) coexisted with the polyphonic stile antico (or prima pratica), even within works, for some time. Indeed, at first the harmonic style was still thought of as a modification of polyphony: harmonies were conceived of as the result of a certain melodic line in the base, augmented with consonant intervals. Over time, it was realised that what mattered was not the melody of the base, but the chords that it formed. Eventually, it was even realised that “harmony” did not strictly require simultaneous notes – instead, a single melodic line could “imply” a harmony. Most straightforwardly, this can be seen in the arpeggio, a pattern of notes that sounds all the notes of a chord, but non-simultaneously. The mind nonetheless recognises the sequence of notes as conforming to an underlying implied harmony.

To modern ears, however, the striking thing about Baroque harmony is often just how much of it there is. The Baroque inherited the perception of harmony as the result of the interactions between melodic lines with similar tempos: the ‘basso continuo’ conception, in which the harmony was seen as elaboration of a base line, perpetuated this. As a result, there was a tendency for harmony progression to occur at the pace of the melody, every beat or two bringing a new chord. In uninspired hands, this rapid change could become tiring and repetitive, as the composer cycled through a small range of options; in the hands of a master, it can result in continually intriguing explorations of a surprisingly large and experimental harmonic realm.

Nonetheless, polyphonic techniques never died out entirely, particularly in sacred music, and even in secular music they would often be peripherally incorporated into fundamentally tonal-harmonic works.

Along with the development of a new musical language founded in harmony, the early Baroque saw the birth of a new genre: the music-dramas put on by the Florentines grew in popularity, become what we now know as “opera”.

The first great master of opera, and chief establisher and populariser of the new styles, was Claudio Monteverdi. An accomplished composer of renaissance madrigals and sacred motets, he became famous when he was attacked by conservatives for the suspicious harmonic tendencies increasingly found in his work around the turn of the 17th century; he responded, in 1607, with the production of his first opera, “L’Orfeo” – not the first of all operas, but the earliest opera still part of the modern repertoire. Monteverdi’s operas, accompanied by his eight books of madrigals, did not reject the Renaissance, but decisively moved beyond it in establishing his new ‘seconda pratica’ as the style of popular music.

It’s hard to really define what made the Baroque ‘baroque’. The etymology helps, perhaps: a baroque is a misshapen pearl. It was first applied to indicate something grotesque, misshapen, strange, irregular or unique. These qualities do tend to typify the Baroque as a whole, in contrast to the more orderly Renaissance. The early Baroque tended away from the control and uniformity of the Renaissance: diversity became part of its identity. The musical style of conservative sacred and popular theatrical music diverged considerably, as did that of the increasing number of private ‘chamber’ concerts. A division further arose between approaches based on the naturalistic rhythm of the voice – in opera, the recitative and the more melodic ‘arioso’ – and those based to a greater degree on the rhythm of the dance (in opera, the ‘aria’ sections). Dance music in general – though it had gradually established a place in private concerts through the latter half of the renaissance – took on a much greater significance. One of the distinctive genres of the era is the ‘dance suite’. Regional musical styles also began to develop.

Just as stylistic variety increased, so too did emotional intensity. The renewed emphasis on the emotive power of the text – even when the text was imaginary – developed into a musical culture of extreme joys and extreme griefs. Emotions might be juxtaposed brusquely, but there was often relatively little in the way of nuance of feeling.

As time went on, stylistic experimentation with the new palatte of tonality decreased, while ornateness continued to increase. A large part of this was, again, the emphasis on emotional affect: in order to prolong an emotional passage, it would be augmented through multiple repetitions, and lengthy and varying ornamentation. This facilitated an unprecedented emphasis on virtuoso performers, both vocal and instrumental – this was the age in which the ‘virtuoso’ and the operatic ‘prima donna’ first developed. This emphasis on the soloist was also a reflection of the Baroque’s taste for variety: in place of the relatively cohesive sound world of most renaissance music, the Baroque frequently delighted in contrasting sound profiles, particularly between a full ensemble and a soloist or group of soloists. This was in turn assisted by a trend toward diversifying the functions of different parts of the music: where the renaissance had generally strived to give equal importance to all the parts, the Baroque tended instead to privilege a high-pitch vocal line (in vocal music, often performed by a castrated man), give command of the harmony to a bass line, and reduce the other parts to harmonic filler with little independent significance.

Throughout the era, there was also a trend toward instrumentation. In the latter half of the renaissance, instrumental ensembles were common, but performed much the same music as singers, and generally in a different context. Only at the end of the period did composers explore the idea of intentionally combining instruments and voices, and to give the instruments not merely supportive roles. In the Baroque, this trend continued, as did the trend toward intentionally writing for specified instrumental ensembles, rather than merely writing music that could be performed by whichever assembly of instruments happened to be at hand.

By the early decade of the 18th century, a musical style that had begun with simple single singers with minimal instrumental accompaniment, singing short songs, had become something even more ornate and extravagant than the Renaissance excesses it had begun by reacting to. A late Baroque opera might have half a dozen expert, renowned soloists, singing vocal lines of such... well, baroque... ornamentation that they almost resembled songbirds rather than people. It might be supported by a choir, and by a sizeable orchestra – which in addition to supporting the action might also provide its own entirely instrumental music, particularly at the beginning of the work. It would doubtless feature great highs and lows of emotion, agonisingly expressed at considerable length, and be livened up by a few dance-like sections. It would feature sung but speech-like recitatives and elaborate arias; it would barrel through many predictable harmonic progressions and a few odd ones along the way, and that wouldn’t stop it from also showing off the techniques of counterpoint and imitation inherited from the Renaissance. And unlike the sombre sacred works, or popular theatrical works, that began the era, an opera of the Baroque might well be aimed at the Prince, King, or Emperor sitting in the astonishingly gold-festooned royal box, as the rise of centralised monarchical power went hand in hand with the rise in importance of royal patronage and the pleasure of the Court. The opera would be, in short, not merely affective, but positively affected. Toward the end of the era, attempts were made to recalibrate: audiences becoming sated were offered new and plainer diets of comic opera, and oratorio (non-acted narrative-dramatic works in a semi-operatic style, typically with religious themes, which were considered more down-to-earth than the extreme conventions of sophisticated opera).

But, just as around 1400, and around 1600, by around 1750 it was clear that things needed to change – and, indeed, that they already were.

Recap and audio links
More: show
We ended the renaissance with pieces like the spectacular but basically conservative Spem in Alium and the simpler but more challenging Moro lasso. The Camerata responded with pieces like Caccini’s monody Amarilli, mia bella, showing both the transparent emotional style and the single vocal line, giving relative clarity despite the ornamentation. It’s not a thousand miles, to be frank, from the Binchois song we had at the beginning of the renaissance, two centuries earlier. More radically, a song like Vi ricorda, o boschi ombrosi, from Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo shows many themes of what is to come: the dance-like rhythm of the aria (here made clear by actually having people dance around the singer), the simple clarity of the melody, the uncomplicated emotional jolliness (“Now fortune has changed her tune and turned my griefs to joy!” runs the libretto) drawn out by the strophic (repeating with each verse) structure that had been rare since the middle ages. It also shows a weakness of the style: doesn’t that get a bit repetitive by the end? [to be fair to Monteverdi, it’s not even the best song from L’Orfeo, but it demonstrates my points].

Surely, it sounds a little more modern than what has gone before! Perhaps not as modern, though, as a piece like Pur ti miro, Pur ti godo from Monteverdi’s later L’incoronazione di Poppea. Take out the vocal ornamentations and that sappy main tune could almost fit in a Disney film. But this time, Monteverdi manages to combine a recurring main tune with greater variety through a more complex middle section. He also manages to combine (rather saccherine!) fashionable tonality with elements of imitation and polyphony, to produce something both very accessible and surprisingly sophisticated. [Background: Emperor Nero is horny, and wants to have sex with Poppaea. But everyone disapproves! This song comes at the end of the opera: Nero has ordered his wise philosopher Seneca to kill himself (and celebrated this is a drunken song contest), and has set his own wife adrift in a boat, so now they can have sex! The ironic twist here, not present in the opera but understood by most of the audience, is that Poppaea then (historically) got pregnant so Nero kicked her to death, then a few years later he kills himself and the whole city burns down. The Baroque was sometimes... complicated.]

Monteverdi, it should be said, did not just do opera. He did everything from conservative polyphonic masses through to.... well, pieces like Zefiro torna. Here, Monteverdi adopts a slightly risqué form – the chaconne, a not-entirely-respectable Latin American dance that will go on to become, at least in name, a major genre later in the Baroque – and produces a song that is immediately understandable for the general audience, while also, in those final arpeggios, showing off the considerable virtuosity of the singers. Oh, and near the end it suddenly breaks into an entirely different mood for some reason for a while, because... Baroque.

The next giant figure of the Baroque was Jean-Baptiste Lully, who bought a monopoly over opera in France, and also produced a very large number of ‘court ballets’ for the King, featuring both songs and dances. In opera he was influential, and in dance he popularised many new, particularly faster dances; collections (by others) from his ballets and operas provided an entire genre of dance suites. In his Ouverture to Le Bourgeois gentilhomme, we see his, and the later Baroque’s, characteristic style: lively, loud (almost military), dramatic, ornamented but clear, and deeply indebted to its roots in dance. His role as a source for compilations we see in this Courante (a type of rapid dance), originally by Lully but here re-arranged for harpsichord from a collection by d’Anglebert, a relatively minor composer but influential harpsichordist. The harpsichord is perhaps the most distinctive instrument of the Baroque: both easy to play (allowing the amateur enthusiast to play entire orchestrated pieces on his own) and capable of displaying immense virtuosity, it quickly became popular, both in its own right and as a supporting part of an ensemble.

Even more capable of delivering a performance of orchestral scope was the organ, and many organist-composers arose in this era, particularly from German territories – as church employees, their style often tended toward the conservative, with extensive use of counterpoint. However, their work also often included considerable virtuosity, and included many pseudo-improvised “preludes” and “toccatas”, like Buxtehude’s Praeludium in D Minor, BuxWv 140, which makes full use of the organ’s awesome range and power. These organists also contributed to other genres, as seen in, for example, the Canon and Gigue in D (only the Canon shown here). The Canon is a minor masterpiece of the era: as a ‘canon’, it is a piece of very strict conservative counterpoint (the three upper voices simply repeat one another in sequence); but that polyphonic canon is overlaid on an ‘ostinato’ bass (a bass line consisting of a short phrase continually repeating), a common feature in the Baroque; together, the effect of the canon over the base is to create a long series of variations on a theme, another popular Baroque format, and to do so in a way that is tonally compelling (the harmonic progression created drives it on); specifically, the genre of variation over a short ostinato is known as a ‘chaconne’, and although it’s progressed considerably from the original Latin dance form, the piece retains something of the original dance-like character, as did so much Baroque music. The music of these Germans was not, however, greatly popular in their day except among serious music enthusiasts (like the Baroque's greatest composer, J.S.Bach, who once walked 250 miles on foot to listen to Buxtehude perform); this canon, for example, was virtually unknown for the following 270-odd years, until a local San Francisco radio station happened to play a recent orchestral version of it in 1970. Since then it has gained considerably popularity.

Moving into the later Baroque, we see again a martial (yet dance-like) vigour, and the format of the set of variations, in the Marche pour les Matelots from Alcione, by overlooked composer (and Lully student) Marin Marais. It’s not far away from Lully, or even a more powerfully orchestrated Monteverdi; but it’s harder to see earlier composers attempting something like the Tempête from the same opera – conventional in orchestration and fundamentals, but far more passionate and frenzied and individual, showing how later Baroque composers attempted to break out of the formulaic structures in which they had found themselves – and indeed a growing interest in characteristic pieces intended to portray a particular event. Perhaps nothing better displays that latter tendency than Marais’ Description of Bladder-Stone Removal Surgery for harpsichord and viol (the spoken descriptions are present in the text, but it’s not clear whether they were intended to be spoken out loud or were merely for the performer’s information. Marais was himself a famous viol player, and today is primarily remembered for virtuoso viol work like his meditative Les Badinage. [and, just because nobody else is ever going to link you to Marin Marais pieces, let’s throw in the delightful Sonnerie de Sainte-Geneviève du Mont-de-Paris, another chaconne, combining the sounds of viol and violin (plus harpsichord).
That final Marais piece was composed two years before the publication of some of the most famous Baroque works: violin concerti RV 269, RV 315, RV 293 and RV 297, better known collectively as “The Four Seasons” (another work that has exploded in popularity in recent decades, having been recorded only twice before the 1950s). Vivaldi was an innovative composer and a virtuoso violinist; the concerti offer not only the opportunity for instrumental showboating, but also an unusually extreme (for the era) example of programme music, with each movement accompanied by lines from a poem, which it represents in some detail. In the first movement of Winter, for example, the sharp, harsh strings we begin with may relate to the chattering teeth and stamping of cold feet in the accompanying verse.

If instrumental had become virtuoso, it was nothing compared to the heights of vocal music, particularly in opera. In Da tempeste il legno infranto from Händel’s Giulio Cesare in Egitto, for example, the singer flutters through ornament after ornament, on top of scintillating arpeggios – compared to the early Baroque, the actual tune, buried under ornament, is distinctly less obvious. Audiences of the time were willing to accept the loss of clarity in exchange for... well, that sound, which frankly human vocal apparatus shouldn’t be able to produce. Meanwhile, while “Da tempeste” shows the emotional highs, the same character’s earlier aria, Piangerò la sorte mia displays the grief and fury that the Baroque was equally keen on exploring (and equally ostentatiously) – and, indeed, how comfortable the era was at juxtaposing such extremes of emotion, as Cleopatra leaps from suicidal despair to fury and back again.

Perhaps the best place to leave the era is with Händel’s Zadok the Priest. Written for the royal coronation, there is no doubt about its emotion: proud jubilation. It begins with a long section with no melody at all, but only tonal harmony, through the medium of arpeggios, demonstrating how, even without a singable melody, tonality is able to impart a sense of driving motion. The arpeggios end with a crushingly dramatic choral entrance that makes poor Giovanni Gabrieli back at the end of the Renaissance look decorous. Being the Baroque, it then switches time signature and breaks out into spontaneous dancing (reflecting the lines “and all the people rejoiced”), before hammering back in with a few memorable “God Save the King!”s (does anybody NOT know the tune for that bit?) – and notably that passage, “God Save the King! Long Live the King! May the King Live Forever!” is, like any good recitative, closely tied to the natural rhythm of the language. [Though Händel was German, he spent much of his career in England; his Messiah in particular often displays a remarkable appropriateness of the music to the prosody of the words]. For good measure, we get some gratuitous alternation between choir (long live the king!) and soloist (may the king live forever!). Then we’re into the sacred business of saying “Amen”, which goes on for a good long time with operatic runs for choir and soloists.

We don’t really get a lot of counterpoint there, though. So for a bonus let’s have one of my favourite fugues, And He Shall Purify the Sons of Levi from the Messiah. Here, not only does Händel manage to make the polyphony itself exciting (complete with vocal extravagance), but, in capping fugal sections with homophonic conclusions, he demonstrates the power that can come from such a fusion.

And yet... in the later 18th century, power was not in fashion. What the courts of the newly centralised Enlightenment monarchies wanted was not bluster and bombast, nor performing excellence, nor emotive highs and lows. They did not (at least outside opera, for a while) want drama. What they wanted, instead, was style. Grace. Elegance. And that, the contorted and wide-eyed oddness of the Baroque could not offer.

Author:  Pole, the [ Wed Aug 09, 2017 12:55 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: A quick intro to Classical Music

What is Common Practice?

Author:  Ser [ Wed Aug 09, 2017 2:34 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: A quick intro to Classical Music

Pole, the wrote:
What is Common Practice?

Read the third paragraph of the intro post.

Author:  Raphael [ Wed Aug 09, 2017 3:02 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: A quick intro to Classical Music

Salmoneus wrote:
lem here was that virtually nothing was known about Greek music, but with a little research and a whole lot of imagination, that was a surmountable obstacle.

Galilei’s innovation was the so-called stile recitativo, in which he would chant a text, half singing and half speaking, with a rhythm close to the natural rhythm of the word, with little or no actual melody, and very minimal accompaniment – the occasional plucking of a lute.

Was that the Galilei, or someone with the same name?

Interesting to learn that Baroque started out as something very simple compared to the previous period, and only became complex and elaborate afterwards - after all, these days, when the word "baroque" is used as an adjective, it's basically synonymous with "elaborate".

For me, Baroque music is probably the earliest musical style that I can actually relate to, but that might be because I'm used to it - you don't hear Baroque music as often as pop these days, but still a lot more often than earlier music.

I think you need to correct a few of your links - syntax errors.

Edit: And thanks!

Author:  Raphael [ Wed Aug 09, 2017 3:25 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: A quick intro to Classical Music

Salmoneus wrote:
[and, just because nobody else is ever going to link you to Marin Marais pieces, let’s throw in the delightful Sonnerie de Sainte-Geneviève du Mont-de-Paris, another chaconne, combining the sounds of viol and violin (plus harpsichord).

What I find interesting about this particular piece is that there are several points in it where the notes, to me, sound like something you'd expect to hear shortly or inmediately before the end of a piece, but each time, the piece simply goes on.

Author:  Salmoneus [ Wed Aug 09, 2017 5:29 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: A quick intro to Classical Music

Pole, the wrote:
What is Common Practice?

Broadly speaking, it's diatonic tonality with functional harmonic progression. In essence, music between ~1600 and ~1800 usually conforms to the conceptual framework of dividing the octave into 12 tones, of prioritising 7(ish) of those tones during any part of a piece of music, of allowing two formulas for producing the prioritised 'scales' for each tone of the octave (which we call 'minor' and 'major'), of juxataposing notes (usually from the prioritised scale) in space or time to create "harmonies", and of creating patterns in which harmonies are followed by which, with a particular emphasis on starting and ending the piece with the same harmony, and on "returning" to that harmony through commonly recognised pathways.

This all seems pretty obvious to us today - to pop music fans more than to modern classical fans, in fact (because while classical music of the 20th century frequently violates the rules of common practice in all sorts of ways, popular music is more conservative and is more likely to obey the traditional rules, with some variations (like using slightly altered 'blue' scales in some genres, some changes in which harmonic transitions are permissable, etc)). However, before 1600 much of that was not the case, and in some other culture none of it has been the case.

It also includes stuff about rhythm, I guess, though that's less often mentioned: common practice music generally has multiplicative metre (pulses can be evenly and symmetrically divided into sets of sub-pulses), and is based around the grouping of sets of two pulses, with sets of three pulses also found but usually only at the highest level. [i.e. triplets are much less common than non-triplets, and quintuplets, for example, are extremely rare]. It also generally has the same metre shared in all voices. These things contrast with some non-European cultures, and occasionally with some mediaeval music. And there are other minor things, like common practice tunes almost always end with a note beginning on a stressed beat.

You might also say that it also typically involves the use of certain families of European instruments, though that might be called more a historical accident than a core part of the practice.

Author:  Salmoneus [ Wed Aug 09, 2017 5:40 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: A quick intro to Classical Music

Raphael wrote:
Salmoneus wrote:
lem here was that virtually nothing was known about Greek music, but with a little research and a whole lot of imagination, that was a surmountable obstacle.

Galilei’s innovation was the so-called stile recitativo, in which he would chant a text, half singing and half speaking, with a rhythm close to the natural rhythm of the word, with little or no actual melody, and very minimal accompaniment – the occasional plucking of a lute.

Was that the Galilei, or someone with the same name?
Vincenzo Galilei - father of Galileo Galilei. Ironically, the man whose sermon accused Galileo was Tomasso Caccini, presumably (given the surname, the common time period, and the fact that everyone involved lived in Florence) a relative of VG's Camerata colleague Giulio Caccini, though not an immediate relative so far as I'm aware.

For me, Baroque music is probably the earliest musical style that I can actually relate to, but that might be because I'm used to it - you don't hear Baroque music as often as pop these days, but still a lot more often than earlier music.

Perhaps because you're used to it, but it's also because we still live in the shadow of the Common Practice - not everything conforms to it now, but it's still, as it were, the default. If you listen to pop music, you're familiar with the fundamentals of Baroque harmonic progression. [sometimes exactly: Ralph McTell's "Streets of London", Kylie Minogue's "I Should Be So Lucky" and Oasis' "Don't Look Back In Anger", among others, are, for example, heavily indebted to the ostinato bass from Pachelbel's canon.] Mediaeval and renaissance practices, however, are almost entirely dead today outside of some modernist classical music, so most people today cannot understand them. We can think they sound pretty enough, to be sure, but we don't really "get" them in the way the original audience would have, because they're written in a musical language that's foreign to us.

Author:  Salmoneus [ Wed Aug 09, 2017 5:45 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: A quick intro to Classical Music

Raphael wrote:
Salmoneus wrote:
[and, just because nobody else is ever going to link you to Marin Marais pieces, let’s throw in the delightful Sonnerie de Sainte-Geneviève du Mont-de-Paris, another chaconne, combining the sounds of viol and violin (plus harpsichord).

What I find interesting about this particular piece is that there are several points in it where the notes, to me, sound like something you'd expect to hear shortly or inmediately before the end of a piece, but each time, the piece simply goes on.

It's probably because of the form of the piece. It repeats on two levels: it's a series of melodic variations, and they're built over a repeating harmonic pattern (and bass line); both the bass line and the variations come to a natural conclusion, so yes, it sort of sounds like it's ending all the time. Because in a way it is: rather than being a continual tonal arc, it's a series of complete tonal arcs strung in order, hanging together mostly on the development of rhythms, timbre and volume.

More generally, the Baroque can sometimes sound either longwinded or repetitive because its syntax was not as regularised as it became in the succeeding Classical era (when more care was taken about things like questioning and answering phrases).

Author:  So Haleza Grise [ Thu Aug 10, 2017 5:52 am ]
Post subject:  Re: A quick intro to Classical Music

I was kind of hoping this would be a link to Britten's Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra :P

Author:  Salmoneus [ Mon Aug 14, 2017 6:49 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: A quick intro to Classical Music

Sorry to disappoint.

The Classical Era
More: show
As with the Baroque, and as with the Renaissance, a driving impetus for the development of the Classical was the rediscovery of the aesthetics of the ancient world, and an urge to recreate something resembling the art of the original ‘classical’ era. This time, however, the focus was not on the semi-historical reconstruction of what Greek music actually sounded like; instead, the emphasis was on recapturing the classical spirit – a world, as particular portrayed through its architecture – of clean lines, precise angles, symmetry, proportion, and suitability for function.

To this end, the Classical style evolved along lines that might broadly be described with three maxims: to display good taste by exercising restraint and avoiding excesses of ostentation and emotion; to perfect form by imposing symmetry, and more generally a sense of connectedness and logical coherence (what Mozart termed “the thread” of the music that could be followed through the entire piece); and to fulfil function by writing music that people genuinely wanted to listen to. The Classical era was, as a later critique explained, “not afraid to be pleasing”.

The early Classical emerged out of the shadow of the late Baroque (there is considerable overlap) through transitional styles known as ‘Galant’ or ‘Rococco’; in general, these imposed more symmetry and filed off the rough and complicated edges, but at the cost of often seeming rather trite. Triteness is a constant threat in the Classical: where the Baroque sometimes seems like composers struggling to write Great Music that the masses would pay them for, the Classical seems like composers struggling to write popular and profitable music for the masses that doesn’t make them look like total sell-outs. Mozart himself explained the problem of the day with, unsurprisingly, an allusion to Aristotelian classical ethics:
“But what is to be done? The golden mean of truth in all things is no longer either known or appreciated. In order to win applause, one must write stuff which is so inane that a fiacre could sing it, or so unintelligible that it pleases precisely because no sensible man can understand it...”
The twin perils of Galant triviality and Baroque opacity posed a difficult quandry for composers.

The Classical developed in several places – particularly, early on, in Mannheim, and also to some extent in Milan, where Giovanni Sammartini was a particularly important progenitor. The sons of Baroque master J.S. Bach – particularly C.P.E. (“Berlin” or “Hamburg”) Bach, but also W.F. Bach, J.C.F. (“Bückeburg”) Bach, and J.C. (“London”) Bach – played a prominent role, particularly in developing “Empfindsamkeit”, a style that tried to minimise the ornamentation of the galant and introduce a “natural” fluidity of emotion. [Mozart found this, and its later manifestation in “Sturm und Drang” music, as laughable in its exaggerated, affected sentimentality]. Of huge influence particularly in the realm of opera was Sammartini’s pupil, C.W. von Glück, whose campaign for ‘natural’ opera involved stripping away not only vocal extravagences but also the absurdities and formulae of “Metastasian” opera. Although Glück later moved to Paris, he spend much of his career in Vienna, helping to establish it as the capital of European music.

[A vast percentage of operas from the Classical era were to librettos (words) by the poet Metastasio, who tended toward melodramatic plotting]

The central figure of the era’s development, however, was Joseph Haydn. Banished from a choir and thrown out onto the streets, an ill-fed young Haydn taught himself composition from the works of CPE Bach, and the Baoque counterpoint manual of Fux, and worked his way up to become chief of music for Prince Paul II Anton Eszterházy de Galántha, the greatest landowner in the Austro-Hungarian Empire . He spent the next thirty years, incongruously, at a grand palace in the middle of nowhere in Hungary with little knowledge of the outside world, all the while gradually becoming the revolutionary and most popular composer of his era. As he put it, he was through isolation “forced to be original”. Haydn did not definitively invent very much of the Classical style, but he developed it so conclusively that some writers limit the term “Classical” just to Haydn, and to his friend and protégé in Vienna, Wolfgang Mozart – and, sometimes, to Haydn’s erstwhile (they did not get on) pupil, Ludwig Beethoven. Beethoven’s position is tendentious, but it may fairly be said that throughout his music his soul is fundamentally Classical – yet he pushed against the boundaries of that style so thoroughly that, in the process, he created a new style of music that was to last for hundred years.

The Classical, as Haydn developed it, was to an unprecedent degree associated with abstract instrumental music (though of course operas and masses continued to have great significance), of multiple linked movements. The idea of the “movement” arose out of the natural tendency of composers to place their compositions together in their publications, and often in their concerts, in what seemed like pleasing orders. The “ballets” of Lully and the “suites” of dances that followed can be seen rather like modern albums: made up of independent songs, but arranged in an order that seemed to complement them. In the later baroque, these developed into what might be considered ‘concept albums’, in which the individual pieces were so closely tied together that they gained much of their significance from their placement within the whole. But during the Classical, Haydn (and others) worked to further join the ‘thread’ of the disparate movements into a single, harmonious whole.

The most distinctive part of this new practice came to be known (after the fact) as ‘sonata form’. This owed something to the old Baroque aria, in which a big singable tune would be followed by a more difficult, contrasting section, followed by a powerful return of the main theme. In the classical sonata form, the “big tune” is instead two melodies in succession, with the second in a different key from the first (generally the dominant, the key of the fifth note of the home key) in its initial introduction (the “exposition”), but in the same key (the tonic) in its re-entry (the “re-capitulation”). The more challenging central section is now a “development”, which features tunes from the exposition played around with – put together in the wrong order, broken into their elements and rearranged, expanded, subverted and so on. There may also be new tunes introduced in this part. This is all melodic cover for an underlying process of relatively rapid harmonic roving between keys, returning to the tonic just in time for the re-entry of the opening theme.

[This form developed naturally and with considerable variation. There might be more than two melodies, for instance, divided into two (or more rarely three) “subject groups”. Various elements of the harmonic progression could also be altered, particularly in pieces in the minor key]

This process harmonically allowed composers the interesting and emotionally tense process of exploring new harmonies, while allowing clear and simple melodies – in particular, the Classical cracked down on the speed of harmonic transition, with bar after bar in a single key. Melodically, the technique of deconstructing the melody in the development allowed the piece to be extended without having to introduce new material, and providing a continuous melodic “thread” throughout the piece, creating a greater sense of coherence and logical process.

Emotionally, the structure works to juxtapose order with chaos, and to create a compelling “narrative”: the melody enters like a hero, undergoes various traumatic travails in the development, and emerges wiser and stronger and not infrequently louder in the recapitulation. Indeed, later critiques sometimes retrospectively attached narratives to particular works. Then again, perhaps that’s a Romantic way of seeing it: perhaps it’s better to see sonata form as a domestic argument, in which the two partners enter in conflicting keys, argue for a while, and come out in harmonic agreement...

With the (relative) ‘chaos’ confined to the development section, the exposition and recapitulation could be perfectly, Classically ordered. Symmetry was a huge concern in the Classical. Rambling, meandering melodies from the Baroque were out: pithy, fractal melodies were in. Motifs (small melodic units) were paired into phrases, and phrases were themselves paired in question and answer. These pairs were then paired, or repeated with slight variation, and so on. Rhythm was constant, and melody was always polite.

The sonata (or sonata-allegro) form was not what defined the Classical: lots of music didn’t have it. But the sonata became a near-constant feature of the key instrumental genres of the era: the symphony, the string quartet, the concerto, and, yes, the sonata. It was generally found as the first movement of the piece, and typically at a brisk, “allegro” pace (hence the name ‘sonata-allegro form’ – the form of the allegro movement of a sonata). It represented the emotional and intellectual struggle of the piece, though in a very refined and restrained way. In the late Classical symphony, it was then typically followed by a more reflective, pretty, slow movement, and then by a faster, gently pleasant dance movement, typically a minuet (with contrasting livelier ‘trio’ section in the middle), which was the epitome of Classical symmetry and grace (in the galant era, people even wrote rulebooks to allow these movements to be generated automatically through dice rolls, the rules were so predictable). The piece would then be rounded off with a brash, confidant finale. Other genres tended to unite the slow and dance central movements into a movement that could be either slow, dancelike, or slow-dance-like.

All of this may sound like it was gear to produce a petty routine and uninspired music, and you wouldn’t be wrong. Composers in this era were anxious to please, and pleasing the public generally is more about avoiding errors. Hence Mozart’s concerns quoted above about finding the golden mean between the trite and the recondite. The secret of great Classical music is to find a way to sound continually fresh despite (relatively) strict conventions, and to sound emotional despite intense restraint. This may be why there are very few good Classical composers: only mediocre ones or great ones. To be any good at all required genius.

Recap and audio links:
More: show
The late Baroque saw such concert pieces as Vivaldi’s Concerto Grosso in D minor RV 565] (first movement here), published in 1711. It’s an impressive and vigorous work that has a lot in common with later masterpieces by Bach and Händel (whose careers overlapped the dawn of the Classical). But it’s also very clearly Baroque – although it breaks away into a miniature, tuneful slow movement in the middle, it’s driven more by harmony than by melody: there isn’t really a singable “tune” at all in the opening and closing allegro (fast) sections. Instead, ornate arpeggios define a harmonic progression; and in the final section in particular, that harmony is progressed through counterpoint, instruments seeming to enter over the top of one another. The sound texture is sharp, and a harpsichord is still being used as a ‘basso continuo’.

By contrast, here’s the beginning of Sammartini’ [url=
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yZFdtrqxqvw] Sinfonia in F, J-C 32, from (I think?) sometime in the 1740s or 1750s: there’s a clear (if not that catchy) melody, repeated to the point of exhaustion. The over-excited arpeggios have been cut out, as has the counterpoint, while the harmony has been rendered extremely simple. [Harmonically, the galant may be seen as in some ways prefiguring the “punk rock” movement: it did its best to stick to just three chords]. The same tendencies in style can be seen to have continued by the time of Sammartini’s much later Symphony in A, J-C 60, from the early 1770s, by which time the Classical is well and truly underway. The primary mood here is good-natured insouciance.

Indeed, an echo of that insouciance can even be heard in CPE Bach’s Empfindsamkeit, as in his Symphony in E-flat major Wq 179, with its over-caffeinated string section (which unlike in the Vivaldi piece here merely dramatise the underlying melody rather than replacing it). Bach here wants to convey storms and passions, and to some extent does, but there remains a core of reasonableness, and formal balance. Note, however, the rapid changes in affect typical of this transitional era. Similar energy, but less drama and a bit more tune, can be seen in his brother W.F’s Symphony in D major Fk 64.

By contrast, a popular early symphony by Haydn, such as his Symphony no. 36 shows plenty of energy from the start, but rather less pomposity, preferring a statelier, less brash style. Haydn went through his own “Sturm und Drang” period, but these works eschew big displays in favour of a more intimate and sincere emotionality, as in the creeping disquiet of La Passione, with its bizarrely (for the time) slow and quiet first movement (Haydn borrows this structure from the then-long-obsolete Baroque sonata da chiesa). An oddity like this was par for the course with Haydn, who combined a willingness to experiment with a sharp wit (or what a German critic called “what the English call ‘humour’”) and a love of irony (it’s even theorised that that dark opening to La Passione was originally intended as ironic, a pop-culture reference to an over-negative religious character in a popular play of the day). Many of his works feature unusual, sui generis features, which is why many of them have acquired nicknames over the years. The Hornsignal symphony, for example, written to celebrate his boss belatedly hiring two more horn players, is named after its ribbing of his employer with an absurdly dominant brass section (a quarter of the orchestra) and military horn signal theme. The Surprise is named for its own second movement, which begins with a very quiet and simple rendition of (a slight variant on) “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star”, until this is punctuated with a sudden fortissimo clang with accompanying drumbeat, just to make sure the audience is paying attention. (As the audience will be expecting it from then on, the thunderclap is never repeated; instead, Haydn goes on to turn out a whole set of “twinkle twinkle” variations, ending in imperial grandeur).

The celebrated Clock symphony is nicknamed for its second movement, which ironically juxtaposes a delicate tip-of-toe dance theme with an incessent pendulum of strings (and comic bassoon) ticking off the beat (and then swerves unexpectedly into high drama for a while) – and while the symphony was written for an adoring London public, it’s also an in-joke for his friends back home, as he’d originally written the tune for a musical clock he’d given his boss before going on tour. (The third movement features similar humour, with an imitation of a local village band getting the music wrong). This sort of technique helped late Haydn to be effortlessly popular – which in turn allowed him to be more structurally and musically adventurous than his rivals. The Clock, for instance, begins like this, a long way from Sammartini in its at first aimless, homeless wandering (until suddenly reaching harmony). Effectively it’s a very short adagio movement placed at the head of an unusually fast (Presto) first movement, but linked thematically to what follows – which is a movement that makes extensive use of counterpoint in its development, as does the final (and equally unconventional) movement.

Even more surprising may be the second movement of the “Military”: a serene pastoral scene unexpectedly invaded out of nowhere by the Turkish army. It seems like a quick joke, but it’s more than that, because of the way Haydn was working toward symphonies that worked as wholes, all their parts flowing one into the next: the Turks, repelled in the second movement, suddenly return for a final showdown in the fourth.

Haydn’s continual inventiveness in form and structure, and the consensus body of practice that was established implicitly in the process, established the basic conventions of the high Classical – and of the Romantic that followed (if then respected more in the breach than the observance). Despite his genius, historical importance (he has been known affectionately for the last two hundred and more years as “Papa Haydn”), however, he is only the third best composer of his very short era, thanks to his immediate followers: Mozart and Beethoven.

Mozart, despite his own diversity and experimentation can be seen largely as a perfector of Haydn’s style: in place of Haydn’s wordy, rhetorical working out of themes, Mozart offers an often unimprovable perfection, a sublime coherence in which every note seems inevitable. He is also – despite his distate for Empfindsamkeit’s affectations of sentiment – able to produce more profound and nuanced emotional affects; and he’s among music’s most memorable tunesmiths. Haydn’s themes are generally pleasant, but Mozart’s fell considerably more natural, and quotable; as a result, he’s able to achieve everything around the tune with more grace and fluidity. His most famous popular symphony may be No. 40 in G minor, K. 550 (though no. 41, known for its imperious brilliance as “Jupiter”, is more renowned among serious fans). In the “Great G Minor”, Mozart’s talent for melody is obvious from the opening bars – the theme is so simple, and yet memorable, and drives through the whole of the first movement, which fluctuates between passion and grief. Perhaps most impressively, he is able to create the impression of a light and ‘popular’ symphony despite (most unusually) three of the four movements being in (emotionally and intellectually complex) sonata-allegro form.

Mozart’s greatest skill, however, is his ability to imbue the Classical idiom with intense emotion – in particular, many of his slow movements convey a unique feeling that has variously been described as a sense of longing, of loss, or of resignation – something, at any rate, much more sincere than the emotional blustering of many earlier composers, as seen in, to pick just one example, the adagio from his Serenade no. 10, K. 361.

Mozart died young, and thus the task of completing the Classical era passed to Ludwig van Beethoven, a young man who arrived in Vienna, and began his studies with Haydn, only months after Mozart’s death. Groomed from infancy to succeed Mozart – first as a child prodigy, with little success, then as a pianist with a little more success and finally as a composer – his music was at first very much written in emulation of Mozart (and Haydn). Gradually, he began to evolve in a way that amplified the emotionality of Mozart, with rawer and barer emotions (increasingly declining to wear the masquerade mask that Mozart tended to slip on whenever things got too real), while largely retaining his restraint, as seen for instance in his Sonata no. 8 (the “Pathetique”, middle movement shown here). It was an approach both challenging – critics were struck by his originality (and craft) – and popular, as audiences loved the unprecedented nakedness of his music, not to mention its catchy tunes.

Following a psychological crisis and thoughts of suicide in 1802, however (exacerbated by his growing deafness), Beethoven took a distinct turn for the progressive, as most prominently marked in his third symphony, the Eroica. Emotionally, the music became a little wilder and blunter – Mozart would probably have laughed at the Eroica for its unrefined thumping (Beethoven was always striving to be louder, to the point of breaking his pianos) – and the palette employed by the composer swelled, with greater use of dissonance, harmonic colour and syncopation (one particularly egregious moment of novelty was continually “corrected” by well-meaning conductors and publishers for most of the following century). But just as important were the changes in form. For a start, there was the orchestra: the Eroica increases the size, and in particular throws in a pair of trumpets and a set of kettledrums. But then there’s the sheer length! Early symphonies might run to a quarter of an hour, all told. Haydn and Mozart pushed that up to nearly 30 minutes. But the Eroica takes, in some performances, nearly 20 minutes... for its first movement alone. The whole thing is about twice the length of a Mozart or late Haydn symphony. This allows Beethoven much more room to explore his themes, both intellectually and in terms of emotional range. The ‘transitional’ material in the exposition, for example, is given much more attention than usual, to the point where some suggest it’s actually meant to be a second main ‘theme’ – the transitional motifs, for example, feature not only in their own fugue at one point but at another juxtaposed against the primary theme. When an ordinary development section would be ending, Beethoven’s instead veers off, melodically and emotionally, into an entirely new and unexpected tune, which recurs again in the coda to the movement. The movement isn’t just longer than any predecessor; it fundamentally rebalances it. Where Mozart and Haydn wrote sonata-allegro movements with substantial expositions and recapitulations, brief developments in between, and tiny little flourishes of codas, the Eroica elevates the development and coda to the same importance as exposition and recapitulation – indeed, the development is the longest part of the movement. Fundamentally, this began the Romantic reassessment of the nature of great music: rather than the Classical ideal of music as presenting its themes as scenes, and cunningly connecting them with transitions and developments, the Eroica, and music that followed, saw music as essentially and increasingly about progress and change, with static starting and finishing points only the embellishments to that process.

The second movement is just as extraordinary. It seems to begin as a parody – a funeral march stuck in the middle of a symphony – and the presence of a suprisingly military brief march in a major key as the contrasting second section of the movement doesn’t necessarily undermine that. But when the primary theme returns, it is quickly detoured into a lengthy, terrifying fugue that mounts to heroic brass shaking their fists at the heavens – and when, again, the theme returns, this time in a tense and unexpected key, it is quickly interrupted by what sounds like the trump of doom, full fortissimo. A very traditional structure underlies the movement – a ternary ABA structure, in which a main section of two themes is followed by a contrasting section and is then repeated – but the music seems to be constantly struggling to escape, having to be repeated reined in. When the conclusion is finally reached, it’s followed by a coda that unexpectedly brings back some strangely, tragically jaunty material from the B-section, before a final rendition of the funereal theme that... well, dissolves! It’s taken apart into disjointed fragments, its voice dying away into silence, before a final defiant flourish.

The Eroica stunned its audiences – at first, reaction was mixed, to say the least, but within a few years it was recognised as a work of epochal genius. It was originally dedicated to Napoleon, and the Eroica seemed to have performed in music both a French Revolution and the erection of a new Emperor all in a single work – generally considered the single most revolutionary and historically important piece of music in history. Indeed, some people date the Romantic era in music specifically from the Eroica (technically first performed in August 1804 in the living room of Prince Lobkowitz, Beethoven’s patron at the time; but first publically revealed on the 7th April 1805).

Note to self: "recaps" shouldn't be longer than what they recap...

Also, a note on the weird letters and numbers in the titles of pieces...
Composers wrote lots of pieces of music, which makes it hard to identify which piece is meant (particularly when translating between languages, and particularly when many 'names' are taken as descriptions that are partly subjective). This was particularly a problem in the Classical, when composers were insanely productive, but mostly in a small number of genres. Haydn has at least 104 symphonies, for example. "Symphony in A" isn't enough to identify them.
One way to deal with that is to number the symphonies. But early composers tended not to number their symphonies themselves, and as symphonies reached different publishers and concert halls in different orders, there was no definitive, objective order to number them in. Composers didn't set out to write, nor did impressarios advertise, their "fourteenth symphony" - they just advertised "so-and-so's latest symphony!" Later scholars can number the works, but sometimes doing so conflicts with an existing established numbering. Haydn's symphonies, for instance, are numbered, but the traditional numbering is not chronological - because, as the privately-employed composer grew more famous, he published "new" symphonies that were actually things he'd written years or decades earlier but that hadn't previously been performed publically. Some composers/publishers even, duplicitously, published the same work twice with different names or numbers. Besides, numbering within a genre runs into the problem of defining genres - is it a sinfonia, or a symphony, or sinfonia concertante, or a concerto grosso, or a concertante symphony, or...?

So, scholars of particular composers went back and constructed would-be comprehensive catalogues of exactly what was written, attaching a number to each work. Most of these catalogues are chronological, or attempt to be, but some instead categorise by genre. Unfortunately, different scholars came up with different catalogues - a new piece was discovered, or an old piece realised to be misattributed, or, in chronological catalogues, a piece realised to be associated with the wrong composition dates, and so forth. [originally, these catalogues were drawn up ad hoc by biographers as appendices; later, writers had to include not only lists of works but also complicated conversion tables to explain how their list corresponded to all the lists in all the other biographies]. To make things slightly clearly, catalogue numbers are therefore accompanied by an abbreviation to indicate the catalogue. Fortunately, for most composers a particular catalogue has achieved predominance.

So, for instance, there are half a dozen modern ways of counting Bach's works (and thus working out which "Toccata in D" or "Prelude in E" somebody means), but in practice one virtually only ever sees things listed with a "BWV number" (Bach-Werke-Verzeichnis). Similarly, Mozart's works are almost always identified by their K-number (for Koechel). More obscurely, for example, William Friedemann Bach gets Fk (Falk) numbers, while CPE Bach gets Wq (Wotquenne) numbers. Vivaldi gets RV numbers, for "Ryom-Verzeichnis".

This tends to only be an issue in the Baroque and the Classical. Before that, nobody cares enough, and not enough is really known, so things tend to be identified by what book they were published in originally (so far as we know). Kind of like referring to pop songs bytheir name and what album they first appeared on. During the Classical, publishers began attaching "opus numbers" - their own numbering of published works. Opus numbers, written "Op.", have two potential problems - first, not everything got formally published; and, second, things aren't always published in a logical order, or may even be published with two numbers. However, as time went on, opus numbers got to be a more and more reliable way of identifying works, so they're the default for Romantic, and many modern composers. [later, Op numbers stopped being tied strictly to publishing schedules, and composers assigned their own Op. numbers, effectively as part of the name of the piece]. Beethoven straddles that line, so most of his works get an opus number, but there are enough that he never published that there are also many works with "WoO" numbers instead (Werke ohne Opuszahl), referring to a scholarly catalogue of unpublished works (Fuer Elise is WoO 59 (and occasionally Bia 515)). Schubert didn't publish much while alive, so he gets D numbers. Dvorak didn't publish all his stuff, but more particularly his publishers really dicked everyone around with what numbers they gave things, so his works are often known by B numbers. Debussy was all hipster and didn't like labels man so he refused to give his works opus numbers, so now everything has to be labelled with L numbers. Etc. But for most composers, it's "Op."

[notably, opus numbers don't always refer to a single piece, when several pieces were published in a single omnibus edition, in which case the pieces are known by "opus" and then "number".

Thus, one sonata by Beethoven may interchangeably be known as "the Moonlight" (nicknames were a common early way of being clear which piece you were talking about), the "Quasi una fantasia" (the subtitle he gave the piece, but confusingly also to another piece, so this is ambiguous, but everyone knows which one you mean), "Piano Sonata in C# minor" (or C#-moll), "Piano Sonata no. 14", "Opus 27, number 2", or any combination of the above. Probably ideally "Piano Sonata no. 14 in C#-minor "Quasi una fantasia", Op. 27 no. 2 ("Moonlight")". ]

Author:  hwhatting [ Tue Aug 15, 2017 9:02 am ]
Post subject:  Re: A quick intro to Classical Music

Thanks for posting this!
C.W. von Glück

Do you mean Christoph Willibald Gluck? There's no umlaut ü in his name; is that hypercorrection or an early case of Heavy Metal umlaut? ;-)
EDIT: BTW, at least in Germany it has become the norm not to use von with artists (musicians, writers) who were not born with this predicate of nobility; I assume the thinking is that while an earlier, class-based society may have seen ennobling them as a necessary sign of respect, our current society is able to appreciate them without giving them an aristocratic title. If you'd refer to CWB as "von Gluck" or to, say, Schiller as "von Schiller" in intellectual German society, you'd be regarded as an old fogey in the Jacob Rees-Mogg vein.

Author:  Raphael [ Tue Aug 15, 2017 11:49 am ]
Post subject:  Re: A quick intro to Classical Music

Oddly enough, for some reason, I've always thought of Beethoven as von Beethoven, but I've always thought of Schiller just as Schiller.

Author:  Salmoneus [ Tue Aug 15, 2017 12:06 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: A quick intro to Classical Music

hwhatting wrote:
Thanks for posting this!
C.W. von Glück

Do you mean Christoph Willibald Gluck? There's no umlaut ü in his name; is that hypercorrection or an early case of Heavy Metal umlaut? ;-)

Hypercorrection. Although since I always pronounce it without the umlaut, I'm happy enough to have gotten it wrong! Thanks!

EDIT: BTW, at least in Germany it has become the norm not to use von with artists (musicians, writers) who were not born with this predicate of nobility; I assume the thinking is that while an earlier, class-based society may have seen ennobling them as a necessary sign of respect, our current society is able to appreciate them without giving them an aristocratic title. If you'd refer to CWB as "von Gluck" or to, say, Schiller as "von Schiller" in intellectual German society, you'd be regarded as an old fogey in the Jacob Rees-Mogg vein.

Hmm. I'm afraid I'm rather uneasy about this. Isn't it incredibly elitist, to retrospectively strip titles from people who weren't "entitled" to them by birth, saying that only birth titles should be accepted? Stripping all of them and pretending Germany has never had aristocrats or an honours system would be one thing, but going through and selectively de-grading only those whose titles weren't from blood seems... distasteful.

More generally, I think it's respectful to at least attempt to refer to people by the names they themselves choose to go by, within reason. Gluck chose to be known as "von Gluck". He was generally known, during the period of his fame, as "von Gluck", and was legally recognised by that name. If he, his friends, his family, the general public, and the legal and administrative system of his time all consider his name to be one thing (and something that doesn't degrade anyone else - it's not like "King", which you could at least argue was insulting to non-kings by asserting a ruler-ruled relationship), I don't see what moral position modern Germans are in to retrospectively change the man's name for ideological reasons! [let alone if the ideology is really that only those born with 'von' in their names should be allowed to have it].

There's also an additional complication here, in that Gluck's title isn't even German (or Austrian). It was bestowed by the Papal States. So I don't think even the German government has the authority to retrospectively strip him of that title. [As I understand it, Austria has legally stripped the "von" from people's names, but Germany hasn't; but even so, I don't know if the Austrian laws apply to dead people, and presumably they cannot apply to the title awarded by other countries?] I suppose anti-Catholics might argue there was a moral duty to oppose the Pope in this regard (would I call someone 'sir' if they were knighted by Mugabe?), but given that everyone involved is dead and buried centuries ago, that seems a little bigoted.

Does this extend to non-Germans? Are French names, for instance, stripped of the 'de'? Are English knights not called 'sir' on German TV, or by German interviewers? What about English aristocrats, or royals? [it seems so bizarre that awards of merit should be censored, while privileges of birth should still be displayed - this seems so backward!] Would it be OK to, say, refer to "President Clinton" in Germany?

Also, just in pratical terms: does this only apply to the abbreviated "von", or does it also apply to the full "Ritter von"? That is, can the fact of the title be discussed (but not respected in the name), or is it not to be mentioned at all?

What about Germans who were just born with 'von' in their names, but have no claim to any titles? Are they treated as pretenders? And what about people like Lars von Trier, who simply added the 'von' to his own name - is he "Lars Trier" in Germany? (Likewise von Stroheim?)

It seems easier to just be an old fogey on the issue, I think, and stick with just using people's real names...

Author:  Salmoneus [ Tue Aug 15, 2017 12:12 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: A quick intro to Classical Music

Raphael wrote:
Oddly enough, for some reason, I've always thought of Beethoven as von Beethoven, but I've always thought of Schiller just as Schiller.

Which is actually relevent to the plot! (so to speak). As it happens, Beethoven did exploit the tendency for Germans to mishear his name as 'von Beethoven', or to make a false equivalency between 'van' and 'von'. In his custody battle with his sister-in-law, he attempted to have the case heard in the court of nobility (where he had friends), hoping people would think his name either was, or was equivalent to, "von Beethoven". Unfortunately, his sister-in-law was wise to the trick, and had him cross-examined to make him prove his nobility - and of course his 'van' was neither a sign of aristocracy nor a title granted to him, but just an old part of his name, 'van' being more common among commoners in the Netherlands than 'von' was among commoners in Austria. As a result, the case was redirected to the magistrate's court, where he lost.

So keeping his "von" when taking it from, say, Gluck, is ironic - because Gluck really was legally the Ritter von Gluck, whereas Beethoven only ever pretended to be "von Beethoven"...

Author:  hwhatting [ Wed Aug 16, 2017 4:27 am ]
Post subject:  Re: A quick intro to Classical Music

@Sal: Honestly, I don't care either way on the "von" issue, I just wanted to inform you about current attitudes in Germany. Part of that attitude is "if you were born into that silly caste, have fun with it, but any self-respecting non-aristocrat should reject being coopted into that caste". Anyway, nobody is stripping any titles from anyone officially, it's about how people usually refer to those artists and writers. As I said, Gluck is normally referred to as Gluck or Christoph Willibald Gluck, without "Ritter" or "von".*1)
There's the added complication that "von" may not always be a predicate of nobility; like the "van" in Beethoven's name (who is either "Beethoven" or "Ludwig van Beethoven", but rarely "van Beethoven" and almost never "Ludwig Beethoven"), there is also "von" as an indicator of origin in commoner names. Anyways, Lars von Trier is usually reffered to either by his full name, by "von Trier" or by "Trier" (the last may be a rarer due to the possible confusion with the city of the same name, which also makes it difficult to compare Google hits). As French de has the same issues and people often don't know whether de is or isn't a predicate of nobility in a specific case, it's all over the place.
Concerning titles, the line between what is seen as either respect of titles or as fawning spittle-licking, depending on your viewpoint, is addressing people with "Herr / Frau" plus title (e.g. Herr Baron = respect / fawning) or "Herr / Frau" plus last name (including any von's) - e.g. Herr von Münchhausen = disrespect / the normal way to address anyone).
Talking about knighted Brits, Germans may or may not use the "Sir", but people would normally leave it out - it's mostly e.g. "Richard Attenborough"; if a German uses "Sir Richard Attenborough", it's a sign of a certain anglophilia or showing off one's knowledge of the English title system (these two reasons may overlap). As for American presidents, my (non-verified) impression is that the usage of "Präsident Clinton" / "Bill Clinton" / "Clinton" is distributed the same way as their English equivalents.
*1) Additional note: if you look at German sources from the 19th / early 20th century, you'll notice that in aristocratic circles it was usual to drop the "von" - it was understood. An aristocrat would use it only when introducing himself in circles where his status was unknown. Insisting on the "von" in your name among nobles marked you as an upstart, using the "von" referring to nobles marked you as a commoner.

Author:  Ryusenshi [ Fri Aug 18, 2017 4:14 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: A quick intro to Classical Music

Thank you for this great series! I've been thinking about getting into classical music for ages, but never really managed to do it... maybe this will help me.

Salmoneus wrote:
We can think they sound pretty enough, to be sure, but we don't really "get" them in the way the original audience would have, because they're written in a musical language that's foreign to us.

Funny, that's exactly what I feel about classical music.

Author:  mèþru [ Fri Aug 18, 2017 4:49 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: A quick intro to Classical Music

Thanks for posting this! I learned a lot.

Author:  Raphael [ Mon Aug 21, 2017 12:11 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: A quick intro to Classical Music

mèþru wrote:
Thanks for posting this! I learned a lot.


Author:  Salmoneus [ Tue Aug 22, 2017 2:25 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: A quick intro to Classical Music

Thank you.

Note that I've decided to put the next split in possibly the "wrong" place, a bit early, so at to be able to do the end of romanticism and modernism all together.

The Romantic

More: show
The Romantic era did not begin by rejecting the Classical; quite the contrary. The works of Haydn, Mozart, and above all Beethoven were enshrined, in the Romantic, as classical models of excellence. The Romantic can therefore be seen not as a rejection of the Classical, but as a development of it in a new direction.

The earliest composers of the Romantic were contemporaries of Beethoven, who composed relatively little in his later years, and whose “Late Period” became increasingly idiosyncratic and experimental – works such as his late quartets have gained an iconic place in the repertoire, but did not enthuse the mass audience of his day. This generation of composers had respect for Beethoven as the foremost composer of their day, but their attempts to emulate him were tempered by their Classical upbringing; while more harmonically and structurally experimental than Mozart, they retained an instinct for concision, consonance, and appealing melodies.

Following generations, however, moved forward more dramatically in their idioms. Generally, “serious” music became longer, and more complex in structure, and increasingly eschewed over-popular melody in favour of teasing misdirections; it also became more chromatic and dissonant, with more and more formerly unacceptable chords coming to be allowed. This was not simply a relaxation of ‘rules’, however. Instead, there was a general drive to ‘incorporate’ new harmonies within the existing system of music – to break new ground, like imperial explorers bringing musical light and civilisation into the hithertoo unknown backwaters of sound. In other words, composers did not merely want to through in new sounds, but to make them “understandable” to their audiences, by giving them a clear function in the music. This was accomplished by more wideranging harmonic progression and modulation (moving from one key to another). The effect for the general listener is to move from relatively simple, “clear” sounds to increasingly “foggy”, “indecisive” sounds that drift with more subtlety and less direction. The ideology of the time – in all arts, not just music – emphasised the importance of the organic over the artificial, and indeed the mutations and development of the Romantic do feel much more organic than the neat, proportional conventions of the Classical.

Meanwhile, while the length and palatte of the music grew, so too did the orchestras, and so too did the richness of the timbre. Technological advances greatly improved the instruments used, both in adding more power and richness (the piano is the best example, being transformed from a relatively delicate wood-and-gut instrument into a giant metal beast (veiled for decency in pressure-warped laminates) with high-pressure steel strings, far larger and louder than its predecessor), and particularly in the case of woodwind and brass instruments simply in adding versatility, with elaborate systems of keys and valves to allow the performer to work in more keys and with more ease. Later, a range of new instruments, like the tuba and the saxophone, were invented to fill out gaps in the orchestra’s sound, particularly in the lower brass (most of these proposed new instruments were swiftly forgotten – sudrophones, lupophones, ophicleides – or cling to existence in niche environs, like sousaphones, helicons and baritone horns). Along with more types of instrument – and more things recognised as instruments, with later composers incorporating such things as alphorns and wind machines – there was a dramatic increase in the sheer scale of the orchestra. An early Haydn symphony orchestra – whomever he could scrounge up around the estate for a performance in the living room – may have had under two dozen performers. A later Classical orchestra might have had 30-40, or even 50-60 performers. By the end of the Romantic era, orchestras could have 100-120 performers. Mahler’s 8th symphony, of 1910, nicknamed the “Symphony of a Thousand”, calls for 120 instrumental performers, plus two full adult choirs, a boy’s choir, and 8 vocal soloists; the following year, Schoenberg’s Gurrelieder demanded 144 performers (plus narrator, vocal soloists, and two choirs). To house these huge orchestras, large public concert halls were erected across Europe and the Americas – at first opera houses (though the earliest opera houses date from the Baroque, and the most famous Italian theatres, like La Scala, date from the Classical, the spread of large opera houses to every city of importance was a Romantic phenomenon), and in the second half of the century dedicated concert halls (a very small number of these had been erected in the Classical, seating up to a few hundred; in the late Romantic, dozens of halls were built with capacities running into the thousands). And to get such large orchestras playing in harmony, specialised conductors were introduced (guidance having previously been provided by a member of the ensemble – originally the harpsichordist, later the senior violinist).

This growth in the power of instruments, and in the size of orchestras, has created a dilemma for later music fans. Is it better (as was thought well into the 20th century) to produce music, even early music, with the best resources available (a giant orchestra with modern instruments), or is it preferable to use an ensemble closer to that originally envisaged by the composer? As a result, it’s now often possible to find two conflicting styles of recording and performance of, in particular, Baroque and Classical music: one with “Late Romantic” instruments and ensembles, and one with period instruments and smaller orchestras.

The rapid development of music in the middle of the 19th century caused a bitter schism, particularly in Germany (then the capital of music). Both sides agreed on the necessity of taking Beethoven as the ideal: but should that be done by building on the language of Mozart and Beethoven, organically progressing it while remaining true to its general approach, or by respecting Beethoven’s radical nature and seeking continual revolution? The former was associated with the devotees of Brahms, and the followers of the deceased but influential early Romantic composers Schumann and Mendelssohn; the latter, with the followers of Liszt and Wagner, who continually pushed not only for far more experimentalism in harmony and structure, but also for a turn away from conventional “abstract music”. Liszt argued for a turn toward more programmatic music, in which even major pieces intentionally depicted or evoked particular scenes or events (previously a technique largely reserved for small curio pieces, often comic, although Classical composers did often evoke scenes impressionistically, and Beethoven’s 6th symphony is considerably programmatic) – supporters of programmatic music often even drew up suggested programmes, retrospectively, for Classical works not originally furnished with them. Wagner went further and demanded a return to opera (or, as he called it, “total art work”, a pure synthesis of drama and music that avoided the fripparies of earlier opera).

This schism was often given a fanatical, even religious force. When Schumann first met the young Brahms (years away from his first published music), he announced him in the press as “The Chosen One” who would save music; influential conductor Hans von Bülow declared, “I believe in Bach, the Father, Beethoven, the Son, and Brahms, the Holy Ghost.” Liszt’s will called for some relic of his to be sent to his disciples, exhorting, “May they continue the work we have begun! This cause cannot be lost!”. Wagner, meanwhile, went full-on cult founder, and demanded that everyone, including his mistresses, refer to him as “The Master”. This religious significance heightened after the adoption by Wagner (and others) of the philosophy of Schopenhauer, in which the Artist was elevated to the level of a priest, providing the only true contact with the transcendant divine that lay behind pain-filled physical existence.

The public, meanwhile, began to show even greater devotion, less to the composers (though they were fêted as geniuses) than to the performers. In the Classical, performers had risen to the status of minor stars; in the Romantic, they rose to the status of demigods. The violinist Paganini was perhaps the first – rumoured to have sold his soul to the devil in exchange for his supernatural musical abilities, while imprisoned for murder, and accompanied everywhere by a strange Englishman thought by some to be the devil himself, he wore white face paint and black clothing to exaggerate his strange appearance (he may have had Marfan’s Syndrome), and filed through his strings before performances so that they would break, one by one as the audience gasped, leaving him furiously playing on a single string. Due to the Satanic myth he built up around himself, the Church did not consent for his body to be buried in consecrated ground for more than three decades after his death. But Paganini’s mystique paled in comparison to that of the pianist, Liszt, whose slightest sighting occasioned the serious medical condition of “Lisztomania”: fans, particularly young women, suffered palpitations, hallucinations and fainting, and lost control of their bodies, shaking and weeping. Women fought each to grab used cigar butts and coffee dregs, mounting them in phials and lockets as holy relics.

Meanwhile, the century moved on, generally in a direction of increased harmonic and structural complexity, though certain composers, particularly those on the periphery of the German world, attempted to return to a degree of the melodic clarity of the Classical and early Romantic. Others abdicated from “serious” music altogether – with the demands on performers and audiences of the most prestigious music growing, a demand grew up for more disposable genres. The Romantic still largely preserved a single community of tastes – the same composers who wrote the giant symphonies also appreciated the waltzes, and vice versa, and similar approaches were used in both, on different scales – but it saw increased specialisation both in performing groups (the orchestras appropriate for a Bruckner symphony were no longer appropriate for after-dinner light entertainment in a minor aristocrat’s ballroom) and in composers, in a way not really seen in the day of Mozart. Famous Romantic composers from outside the ‘prestigious’ mainstream include figures like Sir Arthur Sullivan (a composer of comedic light operetta), John Philip Sousa (a composer of marches and other pseudo-military music for small ensembles), Francisco Tárrega (who popularised a niche instrument, the guitar, often incorporating Spanish folksong elements, and who also wrote the Nokia ringtone), and the Strauss family of Vienna, most notably Johan Strauss II (who wrote waltzes).

However, the trend toward increasing liberty – more freedom in harmony, in melody, in structure, and eventually in rhythm – could only be short-lived: when everything was possible, there were no longer any rules to break. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, therefore, the entire edifice of the Common Practice began to break down, as composers explored a variety of different responses to the crisis.

More: show
The early Romantic era, following the eclipse of Beethoven, was the age of Rossini, the most famous and popular composer in history to that point. Nicknamed “Signor Crescendo”, his music likened to champagne, Rossini proudly displays his Classical roots. In a piece like Barber of Seville Overture, it’s easy to hear the echo of Mozart (and of the many children’s cartoons that still borrow its main tune), merely augmented somewhat with greater drama (indeed, the Barber of Seville is a prequel to Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro (or rather, Mozart’s opera is adapted from the sequel to the play from which Rossini’s opera was adapted decades later). At the other end of the popularity scale was Schubert, whose music, heavily influenced by Beethoven, was far more forward-looking, though he may have been an even greater tunesmith than Rossini (indeed, he’s often considered the greatest ever writer of melodies). Though a great writer for the orchestra (his Great symphony is a masterpiece of the repertoire, though it took two decades to find a first performance), his genius was mostly directed to smaller forms: chamber ensemble pieces like the “Death and the Maiden” quartet and the “Trout” quintet, and ‘lieder’, songs for solo singer and accompaniest. A short song like Ständchen, written shortly before his death, shows the direction of travel. There remains a fantastic melody (the song’s been arranged hundreds of times, for everything from a complete orchestra through to an array of 20th century crooners and pop divas), and a certain Classical sense of restraint. The harmony, though, is much more adventurous – not because of any dissonance, but because of the way Schubert modulates unexpectedly, including at one point an abrupt volte face from the minor into the major of the same tonic, a powerful but jolting shift. These modulations allow Schubert to vacillate between emotions, turning one direction and then another. It’s also worth noting that the melody is rhythmically adventurous two, its principle motif relying on triplets (that is, the melody sings three even notes during the time it takes the accompaniment to play only two, a kind of delicate syncopation). A more complex and dramatic song, like Erlkönig, shows how the subtlety of Schubert’s style enables him to depict an entire dramatic tale, covering a range of emotions and in which the singer must distinguish the voices of three different characters plus a narrator, while maintaining a Classical sense of coherence. A decade later, a minor but popular piece by Schumann, Träumerei shows the era’s continued expansion into the realm of fluffiness.
Fluffiness, however, was not the only mood on offer. In a piece like Denn alles Fleisch, es ist wie Gras, from his German Requiem, Brahms deals in dread, and in spine-chilling awe. The attempt to imitate Beethoven’s power is clear here, but Brahms isn’t just repeating the master, employing rather more circumspection than perhaps Beethoven might have used. Particularly notable is the way he teases the audience: offering the fix of that “Denn alles Fleisch” theme, he immediately pivots away, and the powerful tune seems to get lost in the following line. The next section takes a certain turn into sad but sweet, before we eventually work our way back, via an amazing crescendo, to the stunning, though unquenching, reprise of the theme. But then! Brahms give the sudden turn in the lyrics (“But the word of the Lord endures for all eternity”) an equivalent turn in the music, in a wild swing from despair to triumphant joy that would have seemed entirely incoherent only a few decades earlier. Brahms respects the rules and the conception of music of his forebears, and any few bars might well be Beethoven, but the overall result is a more complex and unpredictable piece.

On the other side of the War of the Romantics, Liszt’s Totentanz shows remarkably experimental elements, right from its opening thunderous discords (personal favourite: those weird, shimmering glissando-esque runs up and down the keys around three and half minutes in). The Totentanz (Dance of the Dead) is a series of variations depicting all the different sorts of people who are all going to die. It’s based on the mediaeval Gregorian chant melody, “Dies Irae”, about how everybody’s going to die horribly. It kind of displays the Romantic aesthetic, and particularly that of the progressive Berlioz-Liszt-Wagner side of the era, which sort of starts off at “heavy metal band who are massively high on opium” and gets more morbid from there (particularly in the case of Liszt, who used to go on trips to death row for entertainment). His Dante Symphony, for instance, comprises two ‘symphonic poems’ (his own genre) depicting the two parts of the Divine Comedy: Hell and Purgatory (because Paradise wasn’t metal enough to be worth depicting).

[The Dies Irae tune has long been one of the most famous in classical music. Liszt probably encountered it in the “Witches’ Sabbath” movement of Berlioz’ Symphonie Fantastique, but it had already featured in Haydn’s Symphony 103. Casual audiences may recognise it from the scores to The Shining, Star Wars, Star Wars: Rogue One, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, Jason and the Argonauts or Sweeney Todd; it also features in Holst’s The Planets and Gounod’s Faust, and in symphonies by Mahler, Saint-Saëns (who also quoted it in his Dance Macabre), Shostakovich and Tchaikovsky, as well as in three symphonies by Rachmaninov, who also included it in his Isle of the Dead and Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini.]

Speaking of the Dies Irae, Verdi uses a different tune for his version (recommended volume: maximum!), but the passion is just as great, and Verdi brings a more populist flair, essentially turning what is theoretically a solemn religious occasion (a requiem mass) into an extension of the opera. He also, incidentally, brings a really, really big drum, which in consequence has become known as the “Verdi Gran Cassa”, an example of how 19th century engineering and hysteria could work in unison – although the ‘gran cassa’ generally used (often a 66-inch drum) is no match for some contraptions of the era, such as the 7-foot drum patented in England by H. J. Distin. Even that, though, is rather in the shadow of the percussion section demanded by Tchaikovsky in his crowd-pleasing 1812 Overture: church bells, and... well, here’s the finale of the piece as performed by the Japanese Ground Self-Defence Force... it’s not a great performance, but they get the percussion right, at least, if only on a small scale.

The trends of the Romantic finally came to a head in, it’s sometimes said, the work of Mahler. In his most famous work, the Adagietto from his 5th symphony we see some of his style: although melodious, its melody is far longer and less artificially ‘neat’ than those of the Classical or early Romantic, and its harmony drifts continually through complex realms, mostly maintaining an unbroken organic line, but interrupted in one or two places by sudden shifts in mood. The movement is actually Mahler at his most conventional – but that’s not saying much. Looking at the wider context, the symphony is in five, rather than four movements, and is not in a single key (the fifth movement does not return to that of the first); the 4th movement Adagietto (written by the near-death Mahler as a love song for his new wife; it was a troubled relationship – for one thing, he was a Jew, and she was an anti-semitic Fascist) is strangely performed only by the strings, while the rest of the orchestra looks on. More
More difficult is something like Das Lied von Der Erde, his unofficial ninth symphony (unofficial because, for superstitious reasons, he refused to call it his symphony, scared to reach the same total as Beethoven; instead, he called this by another name, called his tenth symphony his ninth, and promptly died). It’s written in six movements, and each one features a solo singer as well as an orchestra, creating the new genre of the ‘song-symphony’. The lyrical content is typically Romantic in nature – the first movement, The Drinking Song for the Misery of the Earth has lyrics like “When the sorrow comes, blasted lie the gardens of the soul; all joy and singing wither and perish; life is dark, death is dark!”, and features a symbolic ape howling insanely in a graveyard because, well, that’s Romanticism for you. [Even Mahler had doubts about the content. He never arranged for the piece to be performed, worrying “Won’t [the audience] go home and shoot themselves?”] Unusually, however, the lyrics derive not from Romantic German poetry, but from German translations of the Chinese poetry of the Tang dynasty (showing the modernist taste for globetrotting), and it’s thought that Chinese influence may be felt in the music as well. The song grows and turns organically, yet the melody is so contorted as to be hard to recognise, and the voice is intentionally strained and forced into shrillness (the tenor soloist is at the top of his natural range and having to compete against a full orchestra, making his part exceptionally difficult). The result is a piece that retains tonality, and constantly flirts with the edge of a comfortable rhythm and melody while remaining continually challenging and emotionally distressed (ironically relaxing into something like contentment only with the exclamation “Dark is life!”). Near the end of the movement, a passage drifts into the whole-tone scale.

The whole tone scale had by then long been used, particularly in Russia, to symbolise the mystical or strange. As such, it’s found commonly in the works of Rimsky-Korsakov, who also popularised the symmetrical octatonic or ‘Korsakovian’ scale (when used in jazz, it’s now called the ‘diminished scale’), which prevents conventional harmonic progressions by disbarring their most powerful element (the movement between two chords whose root is separated by a fifth). Rimsky-Korsakov’s oeuvre is particularly concerned with fairy tales, ancient national myths, and tales of the Orient (particularly Arabia), though actual non-European musical elements are fairly rare (though occasionally present). This is clear even from a very early (1860s) work like Sadko, Op.5, the work that led him to turn professional. A “musical tableau”, the piece eschews conventional form, instead featuring numerous repetions of eight different themes, with a few additional non-repeated sections, arranged in various orders, to create an evocation – rather than a strict narration – of the key incident from an 11th century epic poem. The relative lack of development and emphasis on repetition and interweaving of themes creates a relatively dreamlike atmosphere, amplified by its disconcerting themes (the opening evocation of the sea) and flirtations with unusual scales (such as the octatonic descending passages around three minutes in, depicting Sadko’s descent into the realm of the Sea King, inspired by Liszt’s Mephisto Waltzes. [the story in brief: Sadko the sailor is hit by a storm, is forced overboard by his crew, waking up at the bottom of the sea. There is a feast, Sadko plays his gusli and the guest dance, but when the Sea King joins the dance the sea grows wild, and to protect the ships on it Sadko has to smash his gusli. He wakes up on the seashore].

Rimsky-Korsakov returned to the story three decades later for his opera-bylina, Sadko, further illustrating formal tendencies: this “opera” is not structured in the conventional way, through division into acts, but rather through division into seven large “scenes” illustrating key moments in the tale (the nationalistic-folklorist source material allowing the audience to fill in the blanks from their own knowledge of the tale) – again, the structured narrative form has been replaced by evocation and dreams. [most dreamlike of all may be his famous “Song of India”, here in orchestral arrangement. Rather than referencing India specifically, the song evokes a fantastical, decadent world of the east, filled with gold and phoenixes (in the opera, it is contrasted with songs of civilised Venice and wild, harsh Varangia, as three foreign merchants attempt to persuade Sadko to visit their homelands). There’s a famous jazz arrangement by Tommy Dorsey – a natural fit, given Rimsky-Korsakov’s pioneering work developing harmonies and rhythms that would become commonplace in jazz]. Similar large-and-small tendencies are seen in his later Scheherazade – here, the Tale of the Kalandar Prince, in which woodwind solos imitate the semi-improvisatory style of Arabian music (the whole piece is arranged as four symphonic movements, but rather than being arranged conventionally they are instead four evocatively- but non-specifically-titled tone poems recalling the tales of the Arabian Nights). Rimsky-Korsakov is able to replace formal structures of development in part because he is playing with a more interesting orchestra than Mozart, and hence is able to use changes in volume and timbre, as well as rhythm, to give variety and a sense of progress even to highly repetitive music.

Following in the footsteps of Rimsky-Korsakov is a piece like Rachmaninov’s Isle of the Dead, in which the forboding motif of the beating of the oars pervades almost the entire piece – there are also fantastical passages in the octatonic scale, and a fugal treatment of the Dies Irae theme. It also displays the increasing willingness of the Romantic to play in irregular metres, here 5/8, mostly arranged as 2+3. [Rimsky-Korsakov had already gone further in experimenting with irregular and additive rhythms, inspired by Slavic folk music].

(NB - Mahler and Rachmaninov should chronologically go in the next post, but I mention them here as, as it were, late culminations of earlier trends)

Author:  Salmoneus [ Sat Aug 26, 2017 12:32 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: A quick intro to Classical Music


More: show
One approach, particularly in France, was to embrace the lush, vague soundscape of the late Romantic, but drop its heroic scale and attempts at progress – to abandon harmonic development as a large-scale principle, and concentrate on short works, or longer works that showed only repetition, rather than development. Earlier moves in this direction came with the early works of Gabriel Fauré and Erik Satie, though both moved in different directons later on; the “Impressionist” movement of Debussy and Ravel developed this approach further. Part of this was the movement away from the traditional diatonic key system, toward the “symmetrical” octatonic and whole tone scales (which had previously been developed as special effects by Russian composers) – in these, the absence of the distinctive interval patterns of the diatonic scales fatally weakens the understanding of a tonal centre, and so music its inherent harmonic direction. These scales were also experimented with by the Russian Scriabin, who in general, however, attempted to maintain tonality and a sense of movement while reducing the rest of the tonal system to its absolute skeleton, creating harmonies that continually resolved while continually remaining in need of further resolution. Stravinsky, on the other hand, drove the Russian style toward a more expressive idiom, most famously marked by his elaborate and unexpected use of rhythm.

In general, the 20th century was a century in which ‘classical’ composers, having lost their ‘native’ language, looked abroad for inspiration. Futurists and the avant garde looked to technology – in particular, ‘musique concrète’ embraced sound recording and replaying technology, particularly the manipulation of tape, while ‘elektronische Musik’ turned to the purely electronic production of sound. Many composers looked to the east, incorporating pentatonic scales like those found in China; Ravel was fascinated by Indonesian gamalan music. Others looked to the past, and mediaeval heterophony; in particular, ‘Minimalism’ looks to return to many of the techniques of mediaeval church music, either transformed into an industrial guise (as in the original American minimalists) or in overtly hyper-conservative religious settings (as in the ‘Holy Minimalism’ often associated with Orthodox composers). Others still looked ‘inward’, to European folk traditions, with results that ranged from the comfortable to the, in the case of Bartok’s extensive studies of Hungarian and Balkan traditions, downright weird. Similar movements in the Americas incorporated elements of the practice of African-American (as well as Jewish, Roma, Arabic and eastern european) musicians, through composers like Scott Joplin, George Gerswhin and Duke Ellington in the north, and Amadeo Roldán, Heitor Villa-Lobos, and Astor Piazzolla in the south.

The single most influential approach in the early part of the century was probably the “Second Viennese School” of Schoenberg and his followers, who expanded the palette of usable notes to include all twelve notes of the Western octave. At first they practiced ‘free atonality’; but later, following the ‘parametrization’ experiments of Messaien, himself following in the footsteps of the ancient Ars Nova and Ars Subtilior, they developed an approach known as ‘serialism’ (in its strict forms ‘integral serialism’). In serialism, the twelve available tones are arranged into a ‘tone row’, and all subsequent melodic material is provided by this row, or by mathematical developments (augmentations, inversions, etc) of it. In its stricter forms, serialism comes to embrace all aspects of music: not only pitch, but also volume, timbre, rhythm and so forth are set into pre-chosen sequences (an extension, in other words, of mediaeval isorythm).

Against all this revolution, however, there was also a backlash, particularly associated with musical “nationalism”. Nationalism was a thread running through the whole of the Romantic, but it became particularly significant in the music of the 20th century. The nationalists were not afraid of writing challenging music, but felt strongly that it should be grounded in the musical language of the public, so that it could appeal to and be understood (with varying degrees of effort) by the general public, not merely an academic elite; and in particular, they often tried to incorporate elements from the traditional musical styles (including folk music) of their own areas. The movement was particularly strong in areas that had been at the periphery of 19th century Romanticism: southeast Europe, Spain, Scandinavia, and Britain (as well as in the new world). Something analogous occured, for different reasons, in the Soviet Union, where the sophistication of Russian modernism, and the experimental exuberance of the revolutionary period, collided constructively with a Stalinist political ideology that expected music to help to energise and organise the people, and to avoid the “decadence” of Western academic music. Soviet composers were quitely literally commanded to write conservative music on pain of death, and the resulting tension between progressive instincts and regressive demands led to a flowering of music. Most prominent among these composers were Prokofiev and Shostokovich, who combined modernism with traditionalism, and often made great use of irony and coded symbolism to simultaneously exalt and protest the regime. In the West, similar if less fraught negotiations between populism and sophistication are seen in the works of composers like Vaughn Williams in England and Sibelius in Finland.
However, the dominant theme of the 20th and 21st centuries has been the failure of any strain of ‘classical’ music to establish itself as the unquestioned musical language of the new era, while all have lost ground to new “popular” music styles, primarily centred on short and simple vocal pieces, but which have themselves failed to agree on a single language, and which exist in a relation of both tension with and dependence upon the “classical” tradition. Whether we are living beyond the end of musical history, and no further musical traditions will arise or gain general currency, or whether we are merely in a prolonged interregnum of experimentation spurred by the massive technological, sociological and geopolitical changes of the 20th century, remains to be seen.

More: show
The dreamlike and fantastical effects Rimsky-Korsakov had aimed at, however, had already been pushed forward further by the French. Satie became famous for such 1890s works as Gymnopédie no. 1 and Gnossienne no. 1, relying on suggestive, haunting repetitions and hints of novel and Oriental scales and harmonies; the latter is even written without a time signature or bar lines, to encourage freedom of interpretation for the performer, who is prompted now and then with suggestions written above the notes like “Wonder about yourself”. Even more radical is some of the work of Debussy, such as his 1894 Prélude à l’Après-midi d’un faune – this does feature considerable motivic development, but does so in a way that gives the appearance of improvisation, and the harmonic contour of the piece is largely static, rather than progressive, with extensive use made of the whole-tone scale, smooth variation between 9/8, 6/8 and 12/8 metres, and continual changes in timbre, which in addition to adding colour and variety also helps obscure the melody, by passing melody and accompaniment from instrument to instrument to declarify each line. This piece is often considered the symbolic beginning of Modernism in music.

This use of timbral variation as a substitute for harmonic progress is perhaps nowhere better seen than in Ravel’s 1928 Boléro. This controversial piece (Ravel was deeply insecure about it, and worried that orchestras would refuse to perform it) provides a rhythm (played continually throughout the piece), a repeating accompaniment pattern, and two simple melodies, each of which are repeated eight times, followed by a slight variation in the final bars of the piece. However, each repetition (and the finale) is given its own orchestration, yielding 17 different timbral soundscapes in total, and this variation in timbre, combined with insistent rhythm and a gradual crescendo is able to produce around a quarter of an hour of thrilling music out of the rote repetition of a few bars of tune. Although the harmonies and melodies are conventionally Romantic, the piece represents, structurally, a point at which the structural thinking of the last 300 years has been set aside.

A parallel end-point can be found in the works of Scriabin, who pushed tonality as far as it could go. Here, there is no lack of progress, but it’s such a pure and contextless, directionless, form of progress that he finds it hard to sustain for long. Among his most accomplished works are his late (single-movement) piano sonatas, like the Black Mass (Sonata no. 9), in which (as is typical for the composer) yearning unease mounts from quiet dread up to full-blown panic attack.

I’m not going to attempt any grand narrative of the 20th century. However, following Debussy, Scriabin and Mahler, a key early point of divergence is early Stravinsky, and in particular the revolutionary The Rite of Spring, his 1913 ballet, which provoked a riot on its debut. It begins with the relatively peaceful, if disconcerting and discordant, Introduction, but mounts to numbers like Dance of the Earth, with its manic energy, overwhelming trumpets, and earthquake-effect percussion. Though the pounding rhythms (often involving shifting accents to force the appearance of syncopation) and grinding harshness of the sound in some places suggest a mechanised world, the scenario for the ballet (a series of scenes illustrating a fantasised “Pagan Russia”) is overtly atavistic, and that indeed is how critics reacted, one rival composer despairing that “all human endeavour and progress are being swept aside”. It’s not truly atonal, but it is discordant, and has been analysed as ‘bitonal’ – frequently, two different keys are being used simultaneously. In any case, its terrifying energy and defiance of conventional norms turned it into a historical punctuation mark, the most important and (for a while) famous piece of music of the 20th century. His style can also be seen in smaller pieces like the following year’s Three Pieces for String Quartet, which make clear why musicians were immediately seduced by Stravinsky’s heresies: while little of the sound produced may be considered “harmonious” or “tuneful”, the energy and passion (particularly in the first movement with its irregular accents creating a pulsating rhythm) are undeniable.
While Stravinsky was breaking things, Schoenberg (who had begun his career as a reasonably conventional Late Romantic composer) was building them up, essentially throwing away almost all the Common Practice and reconstructing music from the ground up according to mathematical principles. Having passed through a period of “free atonality”, he and his followers developed “serialism” (specifically, the form known as “dodecaphony”). This too provoked riots – one particularly contentious concert, having been interrupted by repeated fistfights in the audience, had to be entirely abandoned (the concert organiser was prosecuted for assault; testifying, one witness congratulated him on the punch, as it had yielded the most harmonious sound of the evening). The result of Schoenberg’s experimentation is... often surprisingly inoffensive, actually, as in Klavierstück Op. 33a, which beneath the atonality retains some good appreciation of rhythm and texture. His followers took the method in more confrontational directions, as in Webern’s Variations for Orchestra, Op. 30.
Despite these and other experiments, the early 20th century is associated with some of the most popular ‘classical’ music, as ‘nationalist’ composers combined late romantic techniques and orchestras with a commitment to approachability. In the Classic FM Hall of Fame, for example (a UK-wide listener-voted ranking of popular pieces), the first four most popular pieces were all composed betwen 1899 and 1914. [the top-ranking pieces are currently by Vaughan Williams (twice), Rachmaninov, and Elgar; Sibelius, Holst and Shostakovich all have works in the top 20]. Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No. 2, for instance (here the second movement) displays a talent for lyrical melody that wouldn’t shame Schubert, and is unabashedly tonal, yet is also unmistakably modern, particularly in its rich harmonies and long, flowing melody that continually strives for something it can’t attain. An even longer melodic line is found in probably the world’s most popular piece of ‘classical’ music, Vaughan Williams’ The Lark Ascending. Here, Vaughan Williams looks to new scales, in this case pentatonic scales, and experiments with breaking down the traditional language of music – the violin solos in this piece are notated without mensuration, encouraging a freer, more individual performance. Yet these innovations are yoked to a conservative, even neoconservative language that locates the music within a conventional, and specifically British, musical tradition. Similarly, his Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis is rooted in a national tradition of music, reaching back to borrow a 16th century tune by Tallis (author of the Spem in Allium), and orchestrating it in a peculiar fashion that seems to harken back to the Baroque (there a three groups of different sizes, from a string quartet up to an orchestra, and they are intentionally seated apart from one another to augment the passing of music from one to another). And yet the piece could not possibly have been composed in either the 16th or 17th centuries, or even the 19th.

The reactionnary movement in music was particularly good at turning out energetic concert pieces, like Vaughan Williams’ English Folk Song Suite (the first movement here turning an old song about a soldier sexually propositioning a teenage girl into a fine imperial marching tune), or Sibelius’ tub-thumping Karelia Suite (intended to imitate something of the feel of folk music, though not actually drawn from folk tunes), or Soviet film music like Shostakovitch’s Finale from the Gadfly Suite, or the spine-chilling cavalry charge of The Battle on the Ice, from Prokofiev’s Alexander Nevsky. Yet these composers were also capable of more serious and challenging music. Sibelius’ Symphony No. 7, for example, is a masterpiece of continuous melody that defies formal description, combining intense organic development of motifs with seemingly liberated shifts in emotional direction – indeed, it was originally described as a “Fantasia sinfonica”. The final movement of Vaughan Williams’ 6th symphony is remarkarble for its bleakness, extremely quiet throughout and commanded to be “without expression” – it’s commonly been interpreted as a response to Hiroshima, although the composer himself suggested a broader theme of the smallness of human life. Shostakovich, in works like his Concerto for Piano, Trumpet and Strings combined modernism with populism, with a hint of the jazz that frequently attracted him; but he was also capable of greater brutality, as in the 2nd movement of his 10th symphony, widely considered a musical portrait of Stalin, or in his harrowing 8th string quartet (here, the 2nd movement), believed to have been originally intended as a suicide note, and prominently featuring a knocking motif that is widely thought to represent the NKVD disappearing so many of his friends and family (and his own arrest).
Other composers drifted further from the conventions of ‘classical’ music to embrace folk traditions. Béla Bartok, in addition to collecting many genuine folksongs, often combined elements of modernism with elements of folk music, such as in his “Dances in Bulgarian Rhythm”, demonstrating, for example, Bulgarian (4+2+3)/8 time, and Bulgarian (3+3+2)/8 time. In the US, composers like Gershwin (for instance in his pentatonic opera aria Summertime, or his Piano Concerto (here, the 3rd movement)) and Ellington (as in his ballet suite, The River (here the 4th movement)) synthesised the classical tradition of their teachers with the music of the cosmopolitan professional musicians of the American cities (which in turn drew from African-American and Eastern European folk traditions). More authentically “African” styles of classical music, however, could be found in Latin America, as in Roldán’s Two Ritmicas, which looks to Afro-Cuban polyrhythmic traditions.

After WWII, there was a second wave of avant-garde modernism, which particularly involved extensive development of serialism, increasing the rigidity of some aspects (making more and more of the music automatically generated from algorithms) while broadening the definitions in other ways (retreating from strict twelve-tone composition into compositions composed from smaller sets). Pierre Boulez’s Structures Ia displays an extreme serialism, in which both pitch and note-duration are governed entirely by pre-determined structures, and the composer’s contribution to the mathematical calculations that produce the composition are extremely limited. Stockhausen’s [url=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cjKVJ2z66fk[/url]Kontakte[/url] attempts to go further, reducing dynamics and timbre to similar mathematical sequences, as well as pioneering the use of electronically-generated music. Stockhausen’s work in turn gradually turned toward the inclusion of stochastic calculations, a direction known variously (depending on your sect) as aleatory, aleatoric, aleatorial or indeterminate music. For example, John Cage’s Music of Changes was composed by using the I Ching as a random number generator. His HPSCHD is more brutal in effect – theoretically the result of using computer algorithms to randomly select notes from pre-existing classical works using an I Ching random number generator, I can’t but wonder whether it’s really an experiment to see whether harpsichords can induce epilepsy. (The original 5-hour performance was also accompanied by continually changing flashing images). Xenakis’ Pithoprakta represents a different sort of randomness: it is ‘composed’ as a stochastic chart of probabilities, the actual realisation of which in sound is not determined ahead of time, so that each performance is unique. Cornelius Cardew’s Treatise is even more extreme – a purely visual composition, each performer must determine for themselves on each occasion how they wish to ‘interpret’ the piece. The highlights of the genre may be Cage’s “4’33”, in which the performer is silent and the random coughing and fidgeting of the audience provide the content, and “0’00”, the original version of which simply instructs: “In a situation provided with maximum amplification, perform a disciplined action.” Later versions made clear that the one disciplined action that could not be tolerated was the performance of any piece of actual music.

These directions in music were controversial. Even early serialism raised serious questions as to whether audiences could really distinguish the result from random notes; post-war serialism seemed to make that possibility vanishingly small, to which aleatoric (etc) music responded by embracing the randomness. Indeed, composers like Boulez intentionally aimed at producing music that showed no pattern or repetition of any kind. This, however, doesn’t really matter, because Modernism inverts the traditional narrative of composition: no longer is the work about the audience – how they feel, whether they like it – but rather the thing of importance is the composer, and their struggle to create the work. If the work is unlistenable cacophony, that does not matter, so long as the composer has followed some (ideally scientific and mathematical) process in producing it. This is, in a way, the end result of the revolution brought about by Beethoven, who reframed the composer from being a skillful craftsman to being a spiritual hero – freeing the composer from all necessities of craftsmanship is the natural conclusion of that process. It also, conveniently, removes the burden from the composer of possessing any sort of talent, skill or imagination, and reconfigures the artist as a celebrity. It did have the downside of destroying almost the entire audience base for ‘classical’ music (composers like Vaughan Williams and Sibelius remained incredibly popular through the first half of the century, but faced such condemnation from the artistic community that few were willing to risk the ostracism that would come with following in their footsteps), but that wasn’t seen as necessarily a bad thing: an artist who could only be ‘understood’ by a tiny clique of other artists was surely far more artistic than one so base and passé as to be enjoyed by the multitude – who, around this time, largely headed over to new forms of popular song genre popularised by the new recording technologies. The last ‘classical’ music to hit #1 (for a record 9 weeks!) in the charts in the US was Max Steiner’s 1959 Theme from ‘A Summer Place’.

A further significant development occured, however, in New York in the 1960s, when a group of young American composers – chiefly La Monte Young, Terry Riley, Steve Reich, John Adams and Philip Glass – revolted against what they interpreted as the un-Americanism of the European-derived avant-garde, a horrified, traumatised music of the post-Holocaust continent that they saw as unrepresentative of modern American life. With some inspiration from Cage and his more extreme indeterminate experiments, as well as from earlier experiments in electronic and tape music, the new cohort, dubbed ‘Minimalists’ attempted to strip away both the layers of complex theory and the hugely complicated soundscapes that the avant-garde were producing at the time, producing a music of small ensembles, simple harmonies, stasis (in place of the constant change that came before), and obsessive repetition. Young, the most avant-garde was particularly associated with drone music, often with a Middle-Eastern inflexion, as in The Fire is a Mirror by Young’s Theatre of Eternal Music collective (the extent to which this was the product of Young himself, rather than his collective as a whole, is apparently a matter of debate), or even more radically The Second Dream of the High-Tension Line Stepdown Transformer or Trio for Strings. His magnum opus, however, was the epic Well Tuned Piano (a piece that changes with each performance), which, while pleasantly listenable-to (a prepared piano, rather than high power electric wires screaming), concentrates the listener intently on each note. Terry Riley went further in bringing minimalist and avant-garde procedures to the realm of attractive sound: In C returns, in a way, to tonality, the entire piece being written statically in C Major – except that, rather than being ‘written’, In C is created from a bit over 50 pre-written modules, which the performers select from according to certain guidelines. Unlike much earlier aleatoric music, however, In C is able to sound both pleasant and coherent, because its randomised elements do not disturb its constant C Major tonality (or its obsessive pulse, a common feature of minimalism).

Steve Reich began with a focus on tape music and ‘phase shifts’ (playing the same phrase in two instruments at slightly different speeds, causing the music created by their interaction to slowly shift). An early, extreme form of this is seen in It’s Gonna Rain, Part II; a later instrumental example is Electric Guitar Phase (a re-orchestration of Violin Phase from the ‘60s). His later works include such things as the magnetic Eight Lines, and the remarkable Different Trains, a three-movement work for live string quartet, recorded string quartet, tapes from real interviews, and recorded train sounds, in which melodies for the instruments are directly derived from the natural intonations of the recorded interviews (a technique called ‘speech melody’); the piece begins with reminiscences of train travel before the war, moves to recollections of the trains of the Holocaust, and returns to America with the words of Holocaust refugees mixed with those of Americans (Reich spent long hours riding trains during WWII, travelling between his separated parents; being Jewish, in hindsight he was haunted by how different those journeys might have been for him had he been born in Europe rather than America). The piece is weird at first, but, like much minimalism (originally known as “the New York Hypnotic School”) becomes surprisingly addictive. Alternatively, a piece like Music for a Large Ensemble shows Reich in a shallower but more immediately attractive mode.
Adams and Glass moved further beyond strict minimalism, returning to the incorporation of more tonality into their music. Glass’ Violin Concerto (yes, here transcribed for saxophone, because sue me) was intentionally written to be popular (and has succeeded) – brooding and agitated, yes, but basically harmonious; the Prelude to Akhnaten shows his trademark nauseous arpeggios, but the Funeral of Amenhotep III from the same opera conveys a scene of situation and emotion that would be recognisable to the Baroque, even if his complex drumming rhythms would not be. Akhnaten and Nefertiti develops into a genuinely moving and passionate love duet (the lyrics, incidentally, were found within a royal mummy from the Amarna period). There is perhaps a sense that while this music would have seemed odd to Mozart, it might have made more sense to Machaut. Similarly heartfelt is Adams’ aria, Batter My Heart, from Doctor Atomic, while Short Ride in a Fast Machine hints at a reunion of minimalism with conventional music – it has the repetitions and pulse of minimalism, but it also has a form of tonality and harmonic progression... not, perhaps, conventional tonality, but a definite sense of movement from one chord to another (what Adams does is gradually add and subtract notes to a chord until it has mutated into an entirely different chord); there is also a functioning fanfare near the end, and something approaching a traditional cadence to end. Meanwhile, as though trying to have things both ways, there’s Adams’ Grand Pianola Music, and particularly its final movement, On the Dominant Divide – composed, ostensibly, as an “ironic” parody of traditional music, filled with over-the-top musical clichés like honest-to-goodness actual emotional harmonic resolution, it has become un-ironically popular among a general audience that doesn’t really understand that it’s the butt of the joke... and yet one wonders, given just how whole-heartedly (and succesfully) Adams throws himself into the “irony”, whether a part of him might actually, terrible as it may be to suggest, might himself enjoy it!
An even more neo-conservative (musically!) form of Minimalism has come to be known as “Holy Minimalism”, as most of its composers are of a deeply religious or mystical disposition, particularly associated with the Orthodox churches (although Eastern European Catholics and Baptists, pagans and mystical agnostics are also found). Holy Minimalism (as with Minimalism in general, most practitioners deny the validity of the label) tends to re-introduce more melodic and tonal elements, while keeping characteristic features of Minimalism (simplicity, repetition, a constant pulse (though typically much slower than in America), a kind of hieratic stasis), and being more open in recognising the similarities between their Minimalist practices and those of the Middle Ages (sometimes even reintroducing polyphony). Its chief practitioners are held to be Arvo Pärt (Estonian Orthodox), Henryk Górecki (Polish Catholic), and John Tavener (English in nationality, Greek Orthodox in religion, and not to be confused with John Taverner, a late Renaissance composer); all three have achieved immense commercial success, with Górecki’s Symphony of Sorrowful Songs (2nd movement, a setting of a prayer scrawled on the walls of a Gestapo prison by a teenage girl) mysteriously, 14 years after its composition, becoming probably the best-selling contemporary classical composition ever, reaching #6 in the UK pop charts (not bad for 55 minutes of slow repetition of chords). [Others held dissenting views – it’s believed that the avant garde composer Pierre Boulez sat next to Górecki for the symphony’s premiere, and loudly shouted “SHIT!” at the end.] Similarly, Tavener’s The Protecting Veil achieved considerable fame in the 1980s and 1990s, while his more Byzantine-influenced Song for Athene (a memorial for a young friend killed in an accident) shot to fame as part of the funeral service for Princess Diana. Pärt, the world’s most performed living classical composer, is particularly known for his religious choral works, like The Deer’s Cry, but his best-known work is probably his early instrumental Spiegel im Spiegel.

If Minimalism shows some signs of returning at least some way in the direction of the common practice fold, it’s also – and perhaps not coincidentally – perhaps the area of contemporary ‘art’ music that comes closest to contemporary ‘popular’ traditions (‘not coincidentally’ because pop music is generally much more conservative, and conventionally Common Practice, than much 20th century ‘classical music’ became). The “Electronic Dance Music” genre is at least parallel to much Minimalism, and has at times acknowledged a debt to Reich, in particular. Two disciples from La Monte Young’s collective (John Cale and Angus MacLise), in their spare time, helped found an influential rock band named ‘The Velvet Underground’ – songs like Venus in Furs and Heroin clearly show the influence of Young’s drone music. Brian Eno, originally a follower of arch-avant-gardist Cornelius Cardew, was converted by Glass, and on a more technical level by Riley’s invention of a tape-delay feedback system (and his practice of playing all the parts in his music himself, playing the tapes simultaneously and taping the result to produce the finished product), and shared his enthusiasm with David Bowie, as seen in the latter’s Berlin albums in particular – a song like Weeping Wall could almost be an Adams or a Glass. Indeed, Glass reciprocated the interest, writing two symphonies based on Bowie’s work – Bowie’s Warszawa becoming Glass’ Warszawa, for instance. For full Minimalception, Bowie’s ‘Heroes’ become Glass’ ‘Heroes’ became this, a work by “Aphex Twin” that superimposes and recombines elements from the Bowie and Glass versions. A little earlier, Terry Riley himself had achieved a degree of cross-over success with A Rainbow in Curved Air and its synthetic organ; this proved a big influence on bands like The Who, who homaged the composer with both the opening solo and indeed the title of Baba O’Riley. A few years later, a teenager named Mike Oldfield, using Riley’s tape methods and inspired by A Rainbow in Curved Air, wrote and performed a half-hour classically Minimalist instrumental piece, Tubular Bells, and managed to make it a massive pop chart success by cunningly not mentioning that it was classical music.
More recently, a band named ‘Muse’ seems to have made a career imitating Glass – compare, for example, Truman Sleeps and Japurá River with “New born”, or Prophecies with Take a Bow. Indeed, this trailer for the film ‘Watchmen’ amusingly lampshades these ‘borrowings’ by juxtaposing Glass and Muse in such a way that you’d have to really know one or the other to spot the seams...
Nor, for that matter, is it only the American minimalists who have approached the popular tradition. Tavener's Prayer of the Heart, for instance, was written for and performed by Icelandic pop singer Björk Guðmundsdóttir.

Anyway. It may be noticed that those last Glass pieces all derive from film scores, and it’s worth mentioning that throughout the decline in prestige of ‘classical’ music in the 20th century, the film score, with its demands for large-scale composition (to unite the music of a long film), instrumentalism (to avoid lyrics clashing with dialogue) and emotional range (to fit all the circumstances of the film’s plot), was for long a natural refuge for the classical tradition. The first film score was arguably Nathaniel Mann’s set of cues for 1908’s “The Fairylogue and Radio-Plays”, an adaptation of the Oz stories, although this was weird, perhaps better scene as a theatrical performance (it was a touring show starring Baum himself, interleaving hand-illuminated film, magic lantern, and live acting), so the honour should perhaps go instead to revered French composer Camille Saint-Saëns and his score for The Assassination of the Duke of Guise, four months later. In the first half-century of film scoring, the style was generally a simplified high romantic, sometimes enlivened by musical amplifications of events in the film (e.g. in “King Kong”, in one scene the heavy footsteps of a character creeping forward are magnified by orchestral hits for each footfall). This music tended to be highly melodramatic, with big brass fanfares and soaring (but, thanks to budgest constraints, small!) string sections creating a distinctive period sound. The dominant figures in this music were Erich Korngold, Alfred Newman, Miklós Rózsa, Franz Waxman, and above all Max Steiner, composer of such scores as King Kong (1933), Now, Voyager (1942), Casablanca (1942) (not including the “As Time Goes By” tune, written a decade earlier) and Gone With the Wind (1939), as well as “The Big Sleep”, “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre”, “Arsenic and Old Lace”, and about 300 other films. Gone With The Wind features over 90 different musical cues to fill it’s two-and-a-half-hour running time – Steiner didn’t follow the example of Satie, whose score for “Entr’acte” (1924) prefigured aleatoricism by providing a series of short cues that the performers could swap in and out throughout the film as they felt the occasion demanded – a strategy still widely employed in video game scores.

The same sort of music generally continued during and after WWII, but with increasing subtlety and variety, perhaps in part thanks to greater knowledge of Soviet film music from composers like Prokofiev and Shostakovich, who seem at least to me to write with a richer palette. A key figure in this regard was Dmitri Tiomkin, born and trained in the Russian Empire (he studied under Glazunov, the same composer who taught Prokofiev and Shostakovich), before he emigrated to Berlin, then Paris, then the US, where he combined work as a concert pianist (he premiered Gershwin’s Piano Concerto) with work as an accompanist on the vaudeville circuit, before finally ending up in Holywood, breaking his arm, and being forced as a result to concentrate on working as a composer. Tiomkin’s Russian sound (often dramatically reducing or removing the string section, adding in folk ‘colour’ instruments, percussion and choral backing) and formal elements common in Russia such as basing an entire score on a folk-like song yielded such Soviet-tinted works as High Noon, Rio Bravo, Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, The Alamo, Wild is the Wind, The Guns of Navarone, Giant and, from TV, the unashamedly Cossack Rawhide. Tiomkin’s oeuvre didn’t just expand the scope of film scores and establish a definitive sound for the American West on film – it also altered the economics of film composition fundamentally. High Noon was the first film known to be released solely for the sake of its soundtrack (initial test-viewer response was so poor that the film was not distributed, until the theme tune hit the charts), and Tiomkin’s habit of headlining his films with an ear-catching melody (sometimes instrumental, sometimes vocal) that would later be released as a single changed what studios demanded from a film.

From the late 1950s, film scores became far more diverse, incorporating serialism (as in Rosenman’s Fantastic Voyage), jazz (as in Ellington’s Anatomy of a Murder, and, in the case of Shire’s The Taking of Pelham One Two Three, both jazz and elements of serialism at the same time. Over time, however, while composers have become more at liberty to vary their scores to match the particular requirements of the film, there has been a trend away from these experiments back toward a form of conventional tonality, either neo-Romantic (as heard in Williams’ Star Wars: The Force Awakens), or Minimalist (as in Jóhannsson’s The Theory of Everything. Or, you know, sometimes just someone elses’ work slowed down a lot, as in Zimmer’s Dunkirk (yes, that’s Elgar’s “Nimrod”, played really, really slowly). In many ways the new trend (slowed-down romantic melodies with ornamentation) pretty much brings us back to where we (nearly) started, with the heterophony of Leonin and Perotin, and the mediaeval cantus firmus tradition.

well that was longer than I expected.

Author:  Salmoneus [ Sun Aug 27, 2017 3:30 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: A quick intro to Classical Music

So, to recap:

Split between very simple popular music and polyphonic religious music; over time the polyphone comes back into the popular stuff and it gets really complicated. Other common features include strong, but unnuanced emotions (very happy happy, very sad sad), vocal virtuosity, rapid harmonic progressions, long melodies. Tend to be small ensembles, with weaker instruments (if you're hearing a period instrument performance).

Emphasis on symmetry. Simple harmonies; short, 'balanced' melodies. Generally 'modern' instruments and ensembles (though the harpsichord is still around at this point alongside the early piano), but everything is smaller and weaker.

Becomes 'richer'. Bigger ensembles, richer timbres. Increasing use of more unusual harmonies.

I also thought I'd share a couple of amusing youtube clips that seem relevent. First, this and even more so this seek to demonstrate that if you re-orchestrate Shostakovich for electric guitars, what you get is kind of death metal.

More seriously, this and this are pleasant little mash-ups of around 100 classical tunes (or bits of them) in a bit over 10 minutes, playing over the top of one another. It seems like a fun and quite impressive little bit of messing about, but it actually demonstrates something very serious. The reason you can superimpose fragments of everyone from Pachelbel through to Scott Joplin over the top of one another and still have something that sounds nice is because they are all following the Common Practice. What they're all doing is building a harmonic progression (sometimes very simple indeed) according to certain rules, in a certain given set of scales and rhythmic patterns, and then finding melodies that fit within and define for the listener (in mandated ways) those harmonic progressions. This means that you can pretty easily match up snippets of harmony between composers, and the chances are good that the melodies will harmonise with one another (since they're harmonising with the same harmonic framework). Sure, you may have a bit of a different rhythm when Joplin comes in (likewise a lot of early Baroque composers, absent here, from an era when syncopation was also fashionable), and you may need to throw in more accidentals (deviations from the normal keys) for the Romantics, but all of these guys are basically playing by the same rules. You could also add in tunes from most modern popular music, and a lot of jazz. Notably, however, you couldn't combine this music anything like as easily with mediaeval or (for the most part) renaissance polyphony, or with 20th century modernism; you also couldn't do it with, say, Indian or Chinese or Indonesian traditional music - because there again we're outside the Common Practice.

Page 1 of 2 All times are UTC - 6 hours [ DST ]
Powered by phpBB® Forum Software © phpBB Group