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Music Appreciation and Complex Music
‘Creative writing can’t be taught, but it can be learned.’ (I think this line about writing and teaching can be traced back to the Iowa Writers’ Workshop.) I feel the same way about music appreciation; it can’t be taught, but it can be learned. What (not who) teaches it? Music itself. I see my role as essentially a negative one, trying to remove barriers to appreciation. (I think these barriers are most often created by the easily absorbed corporate culture that saturates our world. Little kids listen so readily to anything; little kids love to sing; they do not care about being cool.) Having a narrow range of expectation for what music should be limits appreciation.
Pieces that push to the extremes in term of the amount of pitch information strike me as overwhelming the mind’s comfortable music-appreciation patterns, to get at a particular kind of expressive intensity. A series of examples:
Bach Little Fugue in G minor (links are YouTube clips)
smalin “music animation” (piano roll notation with sounding notes indicated)
Bach, Contrapunctus 9 from The Art of Fugue, performance, score and “music animation” (a fugue with two subjects)
Brass quintet playing Contrapunctus 5.
Further reading on fugue and its complexities:
Very interesting analysis and audio recordings of all the fugues in Bach’s Well Tempered Klavier (includes the score scrolling by and interesting comments on the cultural context of the music) (takes time to load)
In search of expressing the New
Schoenberg, Five Pieces for Orchestra
String Trio, 1995
Steve Reich, Music for 18 Musicians
Final essay Question for Music Appreciation
four pages, c. 1500 words. No final exam meeting; responses may be emailed and must be received by me by 8:10 a.m. Wednesday, Dec 16. I will acknowledge receipt via email by Wednesday noon. Hard copy responses are due Thursday, Dec 17 10 a.m. in my faculty mailbox (Bldg 3-206) or my office (Bldg 3-242).
What information is useful in appreciating a particular piece of music? Define what you mean by appreciation. Specify the different kinds of information that might be significant – the experience of listening (the music IS the information); technical explanation of the processes (sonata form) or musical materials (scales, harmony, rhythm, meter, phrase length, etc.), historical context, and the publically known intentions of the creators. (By “historical context, and the publically known intentions of the creators,” I mean the stuff that was discussed in the Keeping Score programs, the Alex Ross article, or program notes.) Discuss lyrics as part of the music and separate from the music; what does close attention to the lyrics bring to your appreciation of the music?
Specifically mention your experience of listening to each of the classical pieces or composers (Tchaikovsky, Beethoven, Stravinsky, Mozart) covered in class, the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band album, your lyrics project, and the concert you attended.
The purpose of this assignment is to prompt you to reflect on the many pieces of music presented in class in the course of the semester, demonstrating that you listened to the music and thought about it.
35% -- thoroughness/coverage: 5 points each for discussing Tchaikovsky, Beethoven, sonata form, Stravinsky, Mozart, the Beatles, and lyrics.
65% -- content & writing
A+ = engaging, vivid, personal; a novel or surprising creative approach
A = well-organized and thorough; unique personal observations; a good mix of big ideas and supporting details
B = good content but not well-organized or with several incorrect uses of music terminology
C = too short; lacking in personal points of view; few details, few works named; many incorrect uses of music terminology
D = poor writing obscures whatever point you are trying to make; not internally consistent (self-contradictory) but at least some evidence that you did listen and think!
F = much better for your average than a zero.
Edit & revise your work. Pay extra attention to the first sentence of every paragraph, and to the first and last paragraph of your essay.
The question to answer: What of Mozart's view of the world, his feelings about the human condition, and his personality can we detect in his instrumental music? (Due 8 Dec.)
(“Instrumental music” means music without words or singing.)
Reserve (in library) optional reference reading on Mozart in Listen (title) by Kerman & Tomlinson, Brief 5th ed. See page 184 for a one page bio on Mozart; the opera Don Giovanni is discussed starting on p. 207).
While the play and the film Amadeus are full of invention and are not documentaries, I feel the segment of the film that I showed probably is a fair representation of Mozart's personality, given the historical record. The cackling laugh and scatological humor perhaps deflected attention away from his serious political and social feelings. Evidence of these ideas is found again in his opera The Marriage of Figaro. (Shown in class: the opening scene from The Marriage of Figaro, video of staged production.)
Are those feelings encoded in his instrumental music? My example is the opening of a string quartet (a composition for two violins, viola and cello) known as the Quartet in E-flat Major, K 428. This is one of the group of six string quartets that Mozart published with a dedication to Haydn, and so they are sometimes referred to as "the 'Haydn' quartets." (Obviously this is potentially confusing since Haydn himself wrote many string quartets.) Mozart had already written a good number of string quartets, but he was very impressed with the level of accomplishment in quartets by Haydn, and Mozart worked hard to incorporate Haydn's level of sophistication in his own music. Later, Beethoven was particularly influenced by these six quartets by Mozart.
For many people today, all Mozart is easy listening or even boring background music. This is the attitude that Robert Levin so vigorously argues against. (Robert Levin film shown in class on the early Mozart Piano Sonatas.) In his day, some of Mozart's music was considered very difficult listening, and some pieces were even regarded as incomprehensible. When I first heard these quartets, so highly esteemed by musical scholars and string quartet players, I must confess that I found them rather boring and impenetrable. What was so special about these pieces? They didn't seem to have any hooks to draw me in. I don't know what changed in me, but one day, when I put these pieces on as background music, something in my brain clicked and I suddenly had a sense of the complex web of thematic connections in the music. It is this density of ideas that was off putting to audiences then, and it was something I didn’t initially catch.
Does this music and its webs of musical signification have any relation to Mozart's feelings about society? I don't know and I don't think anyone ever will really know. But I do feel that Mozart is saying something about the complexity of life and how he said it did make some audiences uncomfortable. For me, it is worth the effort of close listening to many of Mozart’s complex pieces. For a very different opinion, see this commentary by the critic Norman Lebrecht: A dissenting opinion about Mozart
· “Catalog” aria from Don Giovanni, Joseph Losey film version (unfortunately no subtitles)
· Marriage of Figaro, Act 1 opening duet (with subtitles)
· Mozart, Quartet in E-flat Major, K 428 (nothing of visual interest, but the audio is there. Initially too polite for my interpretation of the piece, but some fire shows up in their playing eventually)
return of intro phrase
interpretation: no bridge; Miss Rigby and Father McK don’t get out much; they certainly don’t travel far
simple, static harmony (just 2 closely related chords, not even tonic-dominant)
interpretation: Miss Rigby and Father McK don’t get out much; they certainly don’t travel far
simple, square rhythm in the accompaniment.
interpretation: Miss Rigby and Father McK are square
small group of string instruments as only accompaniment – no typical rock/pop instruments. chamber music feel from a double string quartet (4 violins, 2 violas, 2 cellos – a string quartet is 2 violins, 1 viola, 1 cello) which notably does not include the lowest string instrument, the bass.
interpretation: not just “old” instruments, but old instruments in an old-fashioned, ‘classical’ texture = Miss Rigby and Father McK are old.
unusual phrase length in the verse (5-bars)
interpretation: there is something not right about this isolated, lonely life; there is something wrong with a society that lets people fall through the holes of the social net; the music is alienated from normal 4-bar phrases (which we get in the chorus)
syncopation in the melody – emphasizes key words in the lyrics;
interpretation: as subtle as it is, this is a protest song (protesting the deadening effects of conventional society) and the melody – and The Beatles – resist those deadening effects
An unusual phrase length (something other than 4 bars) can have a subtle and captivating effect.
Example: “Kahalu’ Nyuhe.” Performer: Joanne Shenandoah. CD title: Matriarch -- Iroquois Women's Songs. Her record label’s webpage list of her CDs.
Melodic pattern: AABA 3 times. The “A” unit is 6 bars; the “B” unit is 4 1/2 bars
In case you are doing rap:
A nice history about form in American popular music and the formal significance of the first rap hit on radio, “Rapper’s Delight” – no chorus! The same author also offers this perspective on Beethoven in American culture. The author’s blog is Soho The Dog.
Read the Lyrics Assignment first. This will be due around 3 Nov (group presentations and papers).
Long quote read in class & so on:
Time to talk about lyrics!
In an introductory chapter of their textbook history of rock 'n roll, Stuessy and Lipscomb write in a section called "A Word about Words,"
Technically speaking, the lyrics of a song are not an integral part of the music. Thus, although "Yesterday" by the Beatles certainly has words (lyrics), there are many purely instrumental arrangements that are entirely recognizable, even though no lyrics are sung or spoken. Nevertheless, lyrics are intimately associated with the music of most popular songs.
People are funny where lyrics are concerned. Many people say, "Oh, I don't really pay attention to the words; I just like the music (or the beat)." Yet they can often sing the words along with an instrumental arrangement or mouth the words as the song is being played on the radio. If the music suddenly stops, they continue singing the tune by themselves, words and all. [From Stuessy & Lipscomb, Rock and Roll: Its History and Stylistic Development, 6th ed.]
Oliver Sacks has many interesting stories about how the brain deals with lyrics, music and words of ordinary language in very separate ways. (See Oliver Sacks, Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain, 2007)
Stuessy and Lipscomb continue,
Too often, we think only of lyrics and forget about the music. For example, if asked to write a paper about the music of the 1960s folk singer or group, one usually tells all about the protest songs, the antiwar sentiments, the pleas for racial equality, the love songs, the symbolism, and so on. Often, little is said about the melodic lines, harmonies, forms, and other musical elements.
Lyrics are, of course, verbal expression; music is nonverbal expression. Frequently, we listen closely to songs with lyrics but find our minds wondering when listening to pure instrumentals. Perhaps this is because the average nonmusician understands the verbal language of the lyrics but does not understand the nonverbal language of the instrumental. Similarly, we can usually identify groups by ear one when one or more voices are singing words. But it is more difficult to identify purely instrumental groups.
Indeed, researcher Daniel Levitin has shown that we recognize artists and songs with sound samples as short as one second or less. That is not enough time to recognize a melody or harmony, but it is enough time to recognize the vocal timbre of a famous singer.
Stuessy and Lipscomb continue,
However, music, too, is a language. The trained musician has learned to communicate using that language. It is just as intelligible, and probably more powerful, than verbal language. . . . comment on the verbal aspect of [music] as one part of the total picture . . . .
Class lecture then went on introduce general ideas about song lyrics and specific ideas about textpainting.
Metallica, “The Shortest Straw” (YouTube clip) -- quite a focus on vowel sounds!
Read the Alex Ross article “Why So Serious?,” in the New Yorker magazine, 8 Sep 2008. Answer these questions, 2 pages, due 15 Oct.
1. Why are audiences today quiet for most performances of classical music? Why don’t they clap between movements of symphonies and sometimes even concertos?
2. What, according to Ross or the authors he is discussing, is the advantage of this?
3. What, according to Ross or the authors he is discussing, is the disadvantage of this? (You get to express your opinion on #2 & #3 in your concert review assignment.)
4. Think for a moment about the audience for this article. What level of music interest, education or experience is assumed? Give specific examples.
Note: this article was written for a magazine, The New Yorker. An article in Wikipedia suggests some things about the audience for that magazine:
According to the Audit Bureau of Circulation, The New Yorker has 1,011,821 subscribers in 2009. Subscribers have been increasing at about 6% over the last several years. In contrast to its title, The New Yorker is read nationwide with 53% of its circulation in the top ten U.S. metropolitan areas. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_Yorker_Magazine
Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring
We watched Keeping Score: Revolutions in Music, Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring in class. DVD now on reserve in the library. The Keeping Score Rite of Spring website has additional features, such as how the choreography was reconstructed for the Joffrey Ballet company.
Assignment #4 – Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring. 2 pages, due 8 Oct.
1. Name at least 3 new music ideas or techniques that Stravinsky used in Rite of Spring, and describe their effect.
2. Subjective response to Rite of Spring: What is your reaction to the Rite of Spring? Is it ugly? Is it beautiful? How do you listen to it – do you imagine a story (such as the original story of a ritual sacrifice or Disney’s dying dinosaurs in Fantasia) or do you react primarily to the stuff of the music itself?
Note: although composed for a large orchestra, this piece is NOT a “symphony,” so don’t call it that. What is it? It can be called a ballet, since it was music composed for a ballet, but since it is usually performed without any dance, “music of orchestra” or “orchestral music” might be our best choice. If it is done without dance yet is still thought of as telling a story, we could consider calling it a “tone poem,” a term for programmatic music. You can also refer to it as a piece, a work, or a composition. It is not a song, of course.
New Techniques in Rite of Spring [notes from class lecture]
use of instruments in new ways; use of the less known, more rarely used instruments; unusual combinations and voicings (such as the high clarinet paired with the bass clarinet in double octaves).
2. Harmony (pitches in combination). Leaving behind 300 years of functional harmony, Stravinsky devises a new approach that is in some ways unique to this piece; in other ways, much 20th century will share aspects of the approach.
a. DISSONANCE (pitches that seem to clash) created and organized by combining common chords in clashing combinations (polytonality) and a recently invented scale (the octatonic scale, explored by Stravinsky’s teacher, Rimsky-Korsakov)
b. Non-functional harmony – chords do not necessarily progress one to the next; dissonance is not resolved in a functional way
3. Thematic development – folk-like melodies tend to circle around themselves; they are not developed in the usual ways (extension through fragmentation and sequencing through a scale and contrasting harmonies related to a sense of key). Cut & paste mosaic technique shuffles small ideas around, rather than transitioning and changing keys and so on.
4. Rhythm – three broad approaches
a. Layering different rhythmic values (different in speed & length of notes) in huge orchestral swells of sound
b. Changing meter rapidly (as conductor Simon Rattle explains in the first several minutes of this clip)
c. Regular meter disrupted by unexpected accents
Sonata form examples
o Mozart, Symphony No. 25 in G minor, 1st movement, (Salzburg, 1773). Angry, driving 1st theme; goofy 2nd theme; repeat of exposition comes as a bit of a surprise. Exciting early-instruments performance by Le Cercle de l’Harmonie, conducted by Jeremie Rhorer.
o Beethoven, Sonata in C Major, Op. 2 No. 3, 1st movement. A vehicle for Beethoven to show off both his piano skills and compositional sense of humor. Performed by Garrick Ohlsson. The PowerPoint slides used in class are online. (Also known as Sonata No. 3, as it Beethoven’s third published sonata.)
o Beethoven, Symphony No. 5 in C minor, 1st movement. Graphic notation video clip.
o Beethoven, Symphony No. 6 in F major, “Pastoral,” 1st movement. Performance: The London Classical Players, Roger Norrington, conductor.
o Beethoven, Symphony No. 3 in Eb Major, Op. 55, “Eroica,” 1st movement. Norrington.
Is sonata form the meaning of a piece? Or is the meaning more in how the form is used? A great discussion of sonata form has been posted by composer/critic Greg Sandow, focusing on Beethoven’s 5th & 6th symphonies. My own (much less useful) graphs comparing the relative amount of time spent presenting themes to the relative amount of time spent in transitions are here in powerpoint. For more on sonata form, see Listen (title) by Kerman & Tomlinson, Brief 5th ed. See pages 178-181. This is a standard music appreciation textbook that is on reserve in the library. The discussion of Mozart and his Symphony No. 40 is also relevant (pp. 182-185). Ask for music reserves in the library, either under "music" or my name.
Assignment #3. Due 29 Sep 2009. 2 pages.
1. What is sonata form? What is it
for? How is sonata form different from other forms (old dance forms like the
minuet or the AABA hybrid form used in popular songs)?
(To review song forms, see this webpage. You may answer this question about sonata form strictly with information presented in lecture, but don’t just draw a chart and leave it at that. Explain it! If you use the Internet or other reference sources, cite your sources and explain why you agree with the information and definition you have chosen. How does it square with your own experience? What or who is the source? Is it reliable and is it useful?)
2. How does knowing about sonata form influence your experience of the first movement of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3? (We will listen to it a second time in class.)
The idea of form in music is usually based on recognizing large-scale repetition. Repetition occurs on many levels and time-scales in music. Beats and rhythms repeat, suggesting groups of beats called bars or measures; melodies are usually heard as phrases lasting for several bars (usually 4). Phrases are often repeated exactly or repeated with variations within a section of music. One section of music is often followed by a contrasting section of music, and then the first section returns. We would chart this as ABA. (This is known as “ternary form,” musical jargon that really doesn’t add much to our story.) More poetically, we may experience this as
Simple forms in classical music include the minuet and the rondo. These were common in pieces such as symphonies at the end of the 1700s and gradually fade from use in the 1800s.
The minuet is graceful dance music in a triple meter at a moderate tempo. It is usually very easy to count 1-2-3 in a minuet. (The waltz is also a dance in 3, but at a faster tempo. The waltz became popular in the 1800s.) The form is usually ABA. In the example we listened to, the minuet from Mozart’s Eine Kleine Nachtmusik (‘A Little Serenade’), the A section was made of two smaller 8-bar ideas, each immediately repeated. So the big A section could be charted as aabb. The big B section has the same structure: two smaller 8-bar ideas, each immediately repeated. Since we have already used lower case “a” and “b”, we’ll move on and call it ccdd. As performed, the pattern is
In many four-movement forms, such as symphonies, the minuet is the 3rd movement, and the rondo is the last movement. (Big exception – Beethoven’s 3rd!)
Rondos are usually fast, fun and in 2 (duple meter). A second contrasting section is added, so the pattern is ABACA. The example we listened to was Haydn’s (pronounced HIGH din) rondo from a 4-movement composition for piano, violin and cello (this chamber music group, a standard combination of instruments, is somewhat confusingly called a “piano trio”), Piano Trio in G, No. 25 H. XV, “The Gypsy” (1795). The “B” and “C” parts feature more syncopated rhythms and chromatically altered scales for a stereotypical “gypsy” musical style.
For me, the intellectual satisfaction derived from closely following these simple forms is marginal. Pop songs are often a bit more interesting. For more on song forms, see this webpage. A common song form is usually casually called AABA form (actual AABA form is the 32-bar plan of many songs in the 1st half of the 20th century). A more precise term would be “hybrid AABA form” or “compound AABA form.” It goes like this:
verse 1 – chorus
verse 2 – chorus
verse 3 – chorus
In class, we listened to
Prince, “Diamonds & Pearls.” Hybrid AABA form as architectural metaphor in a music video.
“I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles),” The Proclaimers – very square, predictable use of 4, 8 and 16 bar phrase units in the hybrid AABA form – very square and true.
“Fantasy”, Earth, Wind & Fire (1977) – effective expressive departure from the expected formal pattern.
“You Belong With Me”, Taylor Swift (currently on the charts) – a grand use of the form with two verses, a “rise” or “pre-chorus” and the chorus in each A section. The final statement of the A section elides the verse subsection. This works very well (in my opinion) because the bridge’s vocal melody is closely related to the tune of the verse, and the chorus gets restated with some of the textural elements of the verses.
Conscious appreciation of form requires listening with memory and with anticipation. Do we appreciate form unconsciously?
3 & 8 Sep – Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3
Class activity: watched Keeping Score: Revolutions in Music; Beethoven’s Eroica, documentary and performance.
1. What do you think of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3? Comment on the overall impact and the individual movements (and perhaps even sections within movements). Compare it to Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4 in terms of your taste. Do you like it more or less?
2. How does knowledge of history, composer biography and social context influence your experience of this piece? Discuss a couple of what you consider to be the most interesting or important facts presented in the documentary Keeping Score: Revolutions in Music; Beethoven’s Eroica.
This piece is a symphony, not a song or four songs; it is in four movements (individual pieces that make up a symphony). Over the course of about 120 years or so (1770-1890), the usual pattern for symphonic movements was
I. Longest; usually fast, often a slow introduction. Most complex; full of transitions and contrasts
II. Usually slow & lyrical (emphasizing melodic beauty)
III. Dance-based; initially a minuet, and later a scherzo
IV. Fast & fun
· Baseball – long term tensions/pay-offs? 18-minute rollercoaster ride?
· Short attention span myth
Meaning? (no words, no images)
· MTT words of use?
· Disembodied aesthetic view of music – sounds, not images; sounds, not bodies
· Embodied emotions not your own
· ‘Fidelity to emotions’? (non-specific)
Multiplicity of emotions different from most music (popular, rock, movie music)
On the assignment
· As a professor, I don’t care what you think, I care that you think (as a person I care about honesty, and I do hope that you enjoy the symphony )
· “teaching you how to think" pretentious!
· I’d like to make you aware of your choice of what to think about (these last 2 points are adapted from a David Foster Wallace commencement address)
Anyone from any background, ethnic, cultural, or economic, can appreciate this music. Gustavo Dudamel leading a youth orchestra in an exciting performance of a movement from Shostakovich’s Tenth Symphoy.
Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 4 and Keeping Score: MTT on music, the first in the series of Keeping Score documentaries.
A good recording by a student orchestra is available on the web; scroll down to the 2001-2002 season.
Opening vocal melody of “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on it),” recorded by Beyoncé, considered as fanfare; sampled trumpet sound reinforces the idea. Compared to fanfare in Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4 as an example of dissimulation – suggesting or distorting one of MTT’s ‘primal moves.’
Meter examples, mariachi music: “Son de la Negra” in 3; “Jesusita en Chihuahua” in 2.
The ambiguous meter of the ‘waltz’ melody in the first movement of Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4 is, to me, an interesting example of dissimulation. Notated examples (pdf) of the melody; corresponding audio.
Scherzo [scare-tzo] – “joke” – a light or humorous musical piece, usually the 3rd movement in a 4-movement symphony or string quartet.
Pizzicato [pits-i-ca-to] – plucked strings, rather than bowed strings
Ostinato – short repeated musical idea, usually and accompaniment figure
Write about your personal experience in listening to the Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 4 and the "Keeping Score" documentary. One to two pages, double spaced. In your paper, include specific observations, make comparisons, and evaluate the relative importance or significance of facts and your observations.
Ideally, your writing will focus on the music itself. Suggested topics or questions to answer: was the documentary interesting? What specifically was interesting about it? Was the documentary helpful or not helpful in your experience of listening to the symphony? Describe the various emotions or thoughts that came to you while listening to the symphony. Describe the evolution and changes those thoughts and moods might have gone through. Describe some of the musical details that you perceive and their describe emotional effect on you. Evaluate claims made by Michael Tilson Thomas. Does this music really engage questions of ‘how life is’? Do the emotional states and meanings ascribed to the music by Michael Tilson Thomas, such as fate, resignation, suffering, alienation, joy and so on, correspond to your own personal feelings and interpretation of the music? Rate the individual movements as to their interest to and describe the way in which the four contrasting movements work together across time. Negative critical comments about the documentary or the music itself are encouraged if they are supported by specific observations.
Purpose of this assignment: to promote thinking and reflecting about the experience of listening to this piece. There is no right answer -- any thinking is encouraged.
A = a good mixture of specific details and observations with interpretations and conclusions; personal.
A+ = well written and engaging.
B = good details or overall comments, but lacking in interpretation or specific details
C = some good comments but also confused or incorrect information
D = poor writing obscures any point being made
F = no personal reaction described
zero = plagiarism