MUS202 music appreciation



assignment 1

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Week 1, Meeting 1, 23 Aug 2007


 adding information to listening

The point of a music appreciation course is to add information to the listening experience, thereby improving it in some way.  


context today, in class

First, we can look outside the piece and consider the context.  Initially, we can consider the context of Robert Johnson's “Crossroad Blues” being an example in the textbook, and the fact that the author chose to put it first.  Why?  Could it be that when you're at the beginning of things you are at a crossroad?  This crossroad idea possibly reflects deeper cultural connections in African, and African-American, culture.  Compare it to the invocation to Elegua from Cuba with which I started the class.


context of creation – who?

Knowledge of the artist may help connect you to the music.  Our celebrity-driven culture overdoes this, ignoring musical specifics almost totally.  Nevertheless, the Robert Johnson story is intriguing.  He died young, when he was only __; he was murdered by ____ ; he only made _____ recordings; he was said to have sold his soul to the _______. (Answers on p. 53).  Read Chapter 7!


context of creation – when and where?

Knowing the time and place of creation can connect us to emotions about history.  Associating this music with the Mississippi Delta brings up the question of what was so special about that place that this music was born there?  Read Chapter 7.


going inside the music

A piece of music (a “musical object”) has particular internal details independent of its context.  Once we start taking apart the musical details of this musical object, we can start relating it to other musical objects in the same style, and then contrast the style with other styles.  (We go inside to go outside.)  What a sort of internal facts might we recognize?  We can listen carefully and figure out the words in the lyrics.  The pattern in the lyrics point out a particular AAB form.  When we listen to this piece and compare it to other blues examples, we can have a sense of the blues form and how expressive Robert Johnson is.  We can consider rhythm and rhythmic feel.  We can consider scales and the way he bends notes.  Harmony can be understood very nicely through the blues progression.


many types of music are organized by scales

Scales underlie the construction of melodies and harmonies.  Even if we’ve never been trained to play or sing scales, we recognize them because we have heard so much music that uses them.  I presented 2 types of scales – the pentatonic (the black notes on the piano) and the diatonic (do-re-mi, the white notes).  The blues are defined by the characteristic blues scale.  


Week 2, Meeting 2, 28 Aug 2007


Assignment #2

Listening Activity 7.1.  Due Thurs, 8 Sep.  


why start with the blues?

The blues are the basis of much of jazz and American popular music.  The blues can be used to demonstrate common key music concepts such as phrases and form, scales, meter and subdivision, and harmony and chord progressions.


Levels of time in music

Chapter 2 presents time in music.  Read Chapter 2.  A series of pulses (beats) can be faster or slower than our pulse.  This is the tempo.  Tempos cannot be happy or sad.  People can be happy or sad.  Tempos merely are fast or slow or moderate, with “moderate” felt as our average pulse or heartbeat.


“The beat” is a grid of pulses in time that exists in our listening mind.  We can count beats right through silences in the music.  TEXTBOOK EXAMPLE:  “Hoochie Coochie Man. 

Beats are grouped into measures (the same as saying “bars”).  This grouping is the sense of meter (“time signature is an equivalent term).  Most of the meters we encounter are duple, an even feeling, or triple.


Beats are also divided, usually into duple or triple subdivision.  This is an important general style difference between rock and blues.



Examples played

Stevie Ray Vaughn, “Ain’t gonna give up on love,” blues.  Slow tempo, triple subdivision, accent on beats 2 & 4.


B.B. King & Albert Collins, “Stormy Monday,” blues.


Chuck Berry, “Johnny B. Goode,” duple subdivision in rock’n’roll.


Little Richard, “Godd Golly Miss Molly,” duple subdivision in rock’n’roll.


Radiohead, “2 + 2 = 5,” alternative, in 7 for the 1st 2/3rds of the song.


Persian music in 5.


The Beatles, “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,” change in meter, triple to duple and back again.


Gabrieli, late Renaissance, change in meter, duple to triple and back again.


Drumming from Burundi.


Mozart, Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, movement 3, in 3.


[this list is not in the order played in class]



Week 2, meeting 3, 30 August


In-class listening activity (assn #3)

Identify the meter of these examples.  Will be collected, counted and a grade recorded, but I will not count off for wrong answers.  


Examples for In-class Listening Activity: 

Ø      The Clash, “London Calling”

Ø      Tito Puente, “Mambo Gozòn” (TEXTBOOK CD)

Ø      Haydn, third movement from a string quartet 

Ø      Beethoven, Symphony No. 3, 3rd movement

Ø      Take Five, a jazz piece by Paul Desmond




 class notes

discussion of subdivision (beats divided into 2 or 3 or 4 parts).


Ex.:  La Llrona” (the weeping woman) – duple meter, triple subdivision.


not every beat has to be subdivided for subdivision to be present. 


Pieces generally stick to duple or triple subdivision but some shift easily back and forth between the two.  Ex.: Jack Johnson, “Better Together”.  


 Words competing with music

The relationship between words and music is interesting.  There is scientific proof that different parts of the brain process language and music.  (Of course it is even more complicated than that -- different parts of the brain process different parts of language, and different parts of the brain process different parts of music.  Some of these areas overlap.)  Some songs seem to be composed with the intent to keep musical details simple, in order to allow more attention to be paid to the words.  This seems to be borne out by two examples from the meter listening exercise.  The Clash's "London Calling" seems to keep things simple, especially the rhythm, in order to focus attention on the words.  The opposite seems to be the case in the rhythmically complex "Mambo Gozòn” by Tito Puente, which has very simple almost nonsense lyrics.  Rhythmic complexity is not always in opposition to intelligibility of words, however.  The Jack Johnson example, “Better Together,” is rhythmically complex in the melody because of the naturalistic speech-like text setting, something that aids intelligibility.


 week 3, meeting 4, 4 Sep


In-class listening activity (assn #4)

Identify the meter and subdivision used in these examples.  Will be collected, counted and a grade recorded, but I will not count off for wrong answers.  


Examples for In-class Listening Activity: 

Ø      “Jesusita en Chihuahua,” mariachi

Ø      “El son de la negra,” mariachi

Ø      Kurt Weill, “Youkali Tango” 

Ø      Sarah MacLachlan, “Stupid” 

Ø      Dave Brubeck, “Blue Rondo a la Turk”




 more on meter & subdivision

Subdivision in 3 – “The Jovial Tradesmen.”  Not every beat has to be subdivided for a general sense of the prevailing subdivision.  Some beats have all 1-2-3 subdivisions, but some beats just have 2 notes, long & short (“dah-di”).  The long note is twice as long as the short note; since 2+1=3, the beat is still divided into 3 parts.


 the meaning of subdivision

Subdivision can be more than just a musical fact.  The exclusively triple subdivision in medieval music can be related to medieval theology..


 shifting between duple & triple

Spanish and Central American music often shifts between a measure of 3 beats of duple subdivision and a measure of 2 beats of triple subdivision.  Example: “America” from Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story (DVD shown in class).  (West Side Story is a Broadway show created in 1957.  The film version was released in 1961 and was quite successful.)


 just because it is fun

The young star conductor Gustavo Dudamel leads the Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra in Leonard Bernstein’s  Mambo! from West Side Story.


 shifting between grouping in 3 & 4

“Los Arrieros,” by Nati Cano is an example of rhythmically sophisticated mariachi music, regrouping 3 beats in fast 4-subdivision into 4 beats of 3-subdivision.  Meaning?  A result (and artifact) of the change from a free-lance style of musical organization to standing ensembles (stable bands) that rehearse a lot?


week 3, meeting 5, 6 Sep

assn 2 (7.1)

DUE today


meter and subdivision continued

“Arirang,” a Korean folk song example in triple meter, that mixes duple and triple subdivision.  Notice the even, almost jerky feel of duple subdivision compared to the smoother, flowing feel of triple subdivision.


The significance of meter and subdivision

Sometimes we can make significant observations about the distinctiveness of meter and subdivision.  In this Korean example, the use of triple meter and triple subdivision is a significant way of distinguishing this music from Chinese or Japanese music.  “Arirang” is regarded as the most famous Korean folk song. 




In-Class Activity

ASSIGNMENT #5 -- Chords


chord – simple definition

The simultaneous sounding of three or more notes.  (Textbook, p. 24.)


chord –a better definition

A recognizable group of notes in a system of harmony.  Example: JS Bach, C Major Prelude from the Well Tempered Clavier, Book 1.


 the blues progression

I    I    I    I

IV  IV  I   I

V   IV  I   I


many variations are possible  


recognizing different chords

Just for fun and as a form of self-knowledge, I played examples in class to see if students could distinguish between the I, IV, and V chords.  (I used dominant seventh chords in all examples, in the blues fashion.)  Some musicians respond to chords more than other components of music.  For example, Professor David Clay is an excellent jazz pianist.  He teaches English here.  Often he may not be able to remember a song’s melody, but he easily remembers chord progressions.


Recognizing levels of complexity

It is more important to recognize complexity or simplicity in harmony rather than recognizing individual chords.  For your midterm song analysis project, try to assess how simple or complex the harmony of the song is.

Examples played in class:

Ø      The Beatles, “Eleanor Rigby”

Ø      Green Day, “St. Jimmy.”  

Ø      John Coltrane, “Giant Steps” 

Ø      Ali Farka Toure, “Ai Bine”  .  


Interpreting levels of harmonic complexity

After assessing if something is simple or complex, can you imagine the artistic choices involved?  Often, an idea in the lyrics will suggest choices of harmony.  Eleanor Rigby doesn't get out much, so the harmony stays put on only two chords.  The main character in Elton John's song "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road" wanders far and wide, so the harmony wanders far away from the home key.  (This last example was not presented in class.  We will get to it later in the term.)  "Giant Steps" is deliberately complex as a way of challenging the listener and fellow musicians.  More often, we can't say too much about a musician's choice of harmony.  For example, if a musician chooses to play the blues, he or she pretty much has signed on to playing the core blues progression simply because that defines the style.


week 4, meeting 6, 11 Sep 2007






As meter is a mental projection of a grid in time, scales are a mental grid of possible pitches to which our minds compare the actual musical sound we hear.


Ø      scale construction may vary from culture to culture, but the idea of a consistent reference of pitches occurs in nearly all cultures

Ø      scales or fragments of scales often are used in melodies

Ø      scales depend on a pattern of larger and smaller intervals in order to be recognizable.  Example:  the rising major scale has a smaller interval between the 3rd & 4th notes and the 7th and 8th notes.  The whole tone scale is made of equal size intervals and it is easy to “get lost” and not know which note of the scale you are hearing.  The chromatic scale presents a similar problem.  That is why the chromatic scale is slippery, maybe even sexy . . .


 chromatic scale = sexy?

Sometime a scale can have a particular meaning or use.  The chromatic scale sung by the sexy Carmen is contrasted by the diatonic (major scale) scale used by Don Jose and his soon to be forgotten fiancé.  Carmen, an opera by George Bizet. (DVD).  The opera is from 1875.  This film version was made in 1984.




 melodies built on scales

Ø      "Norwegian Wood" (The Beatles)

Ø      “Joy to the World”


 melodies built on outlining chords

Ø      Beatles, “Got to Get You Into My Life.”  (big intervals, chord tones)

Ø      “Star-Spangled Banner” (National Anthem)


a melody that unfolds the tones of a chord (spreads it out in time) uses arpeggios.


week 4, meeting 7, 13 Sep 2007


Blues History


Blues Assessment Assignment (20 points, due 20 Sep)


LISTEN to the 4 blues examples on the textbook CD and READ Chap 7.  For each example, describe a musical fact, observation or detail that you feel is significant to a potential listener.  Explain why you think it is significant.  Then describe something about the context of the music (where & when it was made, social conditions, the artist’s biography, explanations of the meanings of the song lyrics, etc), and explain why you think it is significant.


1. Robert Johnson, “Crossroad Blues”
Musical fact:
Musical fact significance:
Contextual fact:
Contextual fact significance:

2. Bessie Smith, “Poor Man’s Blues”

Musical fact:
Musical fact significance:
Contextual fact:
Contextual fact significance:

And so on for 3. Muddy Waters, “Hoochie Coochie Man” & 4. Keb’ Mo’, “Am I Wrong?”


You may use complete sentences or bullet point format.  The results of this assignment will be raw material for a question on the final exam, which will ask for answers in fully developed paragraphs.  One point off if not typed.  Stumped about what musical facts might be relevant?  Do the listening activities for each example.



Robert Johnson comparisons

Robert Johnson, “Hellhound on my trail” – an eerie wail of a voice

Leadbelly, “In the Pines” – not blues, but a singer/song-creator from the same era.




MONOPHONIC – one melody by itself, without accompanying parts.  Ex:, “Barbry Allen” sung by a solo voice, Jean Ritchie; a single line sung by a group of men, Gregorian chant example.

POLYPHONIC – “many” voices. Special case: IMITATIVE POLYPHONY Josquin, Ave Maria, 1500.  Bach “Little Fugue in G minor,” TEXTBOOK CD

HETEROPHONY – “mixed” voices – different instruments play the same melody at the same time in different ways.  Ex. “Tiger Rag” TEXTBOOK CD; Chinese Silk & Bamboo music.

HOMORHYTHMIC – different parts perform different pitches with the same rhythm.  Ex.: 4-part harmony, “Chester

MELODY PLUS ACCOMPANIMENT – very common.  Examples:  Robert Johnson “Crossroad Blues” and Keb’ Mo’s “Am I Wrong?”  TEXTBOOK CD.  Beyond identifying the texture, we can talk about the relationship of the accompaniment and melody.


What is important in a piece of music?  While it is full of lovely melodies, the Josquin Ave Maria seems to be more “about” texture than melody, rhythm, harmony, etc.



Week 5, meeting 8, Sep 18, 2007


 Class notes

Reviewed the 4 blues recordings featured in the textbook. 


Note the propulsive quality of the duple subdivision in Keb’ Mo’s “Am I Wrong.”


Professor miscounted the 16-bar structure of “Hoochie Coochie Man.  His mojo was not working. 


In particular, the concept of SWING was introduced, using the Bessie Smith example.  Swing -- that expressive quality of rhythms that are between even (duple) or triple subdivision of the beat.


Sandow on knowing the blues

Greg Sandow writes:


. . . there . . .  are crucial American musicians like Robert Johnson, the most powerful and forlorn of the Delta blues singers, whom many of us aren’t likely to understand without some preparation.  For one thing, he mumbles his words, which first of all makes it hard to understand his songs, but also makes it seem, from a refined perspective, that he can’t be taken seriously. Why isn’t he just some bumbler from the depths of rural Mississippi, who couldn’t even speak, let alone sing or write music?


 . . . Blues, as it happens, is a very formal music, in which nearly every song has the same structure, built from the same simple chords repeated in more or less the same simple patterns. Its sophistication, therefore, comes from what each blues musician does with this more or less unchanging form, in which the “more or less” (along with the unique sound each singer has) can be a home for art.


 Johnson’s habit is to smudge the formal patterns, to apparently evade them, to slide away from them with his voice, just when the chords might be finishing their sequence. So we get distracted from the sequence, even though it’s clearly there. If we know the blues, we can follow this, and find it haunting, as if Johnson’s lost inside the standard ways of life, and might either be despairing, or be trying to escape.


 But if we don’t know the blues, he might simply sound chaotic . . .



why this quotation?

Greg Sandow is a composer and critic with experience in classical and popular music.  He teaches at prestigious music schools in New York, Juilliard and Eastman.  Notice how he relates structural or formal meaning and expressive non-verbal communication to context and interpretation.  Very nice – proof that it is possible to write meaningfully about music!  His bio (pdf) has links to his blog on the future of classical music and other websites.  I enjoy his comments immensely, although I sometimes disagree slightly with his perspective.


Why the fine print?  I am experimenting with including supplemental background information, but I don’t want to distract you from the main points.  Skip the fine print when you are catching up on class notes in a hurry.



The Blues in American culture 

The blues are a foundation of much jazz and rock music.  The blues are a complete transformation of distant European and African sources, so much so that I feel they are something totally new to the world, an American creation. 


Enjoying knowledge of the blues

The Coen Brother’s movie, O Brother Where Art Thou, is fun even if you don’t catch all the cultural references, but so much better if you do.  Take pleasure in knowledge!






Week 5, meeting 9, 20 Sep 2007





Your song analysis project

Step 1 due 27 Sep – 10 pts – choose a song, write down the title, artist, and a hunch why it is going to be a good choice for analysis.  (Handwritten OK).


Guidelines on Steps 1, 2 & 3 handout (.doc) – Step 3 – Data Collection -- due 4 Oct.


Song Forms

See Handout on Song Forms. 


Examples played:

  • “Barbry Allen,” traditional folk ballad, sung by Jean Ritchie; strophic form
  • “Let Yourself Go,” Irving Berlin, music & lyrics, 1936; AABA
  • video, Prince, “Diamonds & Pearls.”  Hybrid AABA form as architecture!  
  • “Fantasy,” Earth, Wind & Fire, (Maurice White, Eddie del Barrio & Verdine White), 1977; formal expectations disrupted
  • “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles),” The Proclaimers; wordless singing on the bridge


Week 6, meetings 10 & 11, 25 & 27 Sep


Text Painting

Detailed notes in .doc format [not all examples were played in class].


Week 7, meeting 12, 2 October 2007


Some Principles of Design in Art


BALANCE – symmetry/asymmetry






Contrast can be the simplest structuring of material possible: this is not that.  Musical example: Native American lullaby; one note higher in the melody, one note lower in the melody.  Contrast can be opposition; it can be a happy marriage of complements, ying & yang.  Contrast can conceal hidden connections and repetitions.


In music, contrast can be across time or it can be simultaneous.  Example: "Tonight" quintet from West Side Story.  The gangs sing of their coming fight in a punchy melody; the two lovers sing of their anticipated romance in a soaring lyrical melody.  The two ideas are combined in counterpoint.


Contrast does not have to be abrupt.  Some music transitions from one contrasting section to another, particularly in classical music.  Example: Ravel string quartet.


Example of a work that uses many kinds of contrast:  Confutatis movement from the Mozart Requiem.


Film excerpt: Confutatis dictation scene from Amadeus.


Help in analyzing melody for your project. 


Music as Design in Time

Giving/Withholding – Music exists in time; elements are “deployed” or arranged in time.  Performers/composers may give you everything right away, or withhold it. 

Ø      The Finnish folk-rock example withholds the bass until the “gossip” spreads through the band (village).  (Group: Värttinä.  Song:  Katariina.  CD title: Aitara)

Ø        The Macy Gray song, “Why Didn’t You Call Me," delivers everything -- register, imaginative context, story -- in about 45 seconds. 

Ø      The Radiohead  song, "2 + 2 = 5,” withholds a straight-ahead 4/4 rock beat for over two minutes in a three-minute song. 


Week 7, meeting 13, 4 October 2007



Song analysis project notes due today.  



Emotion in music

As you do your song analysis, consider the song’s emotion impact and how that effect is created.


Introducing David Byrne (b. 1952)

Recreating a nervous geek performance style in Stop Making Sense (concert film), on the song “Psychokiller.” A clip currently on YouTube. 


Near the end of the full Levitin/Byrne interview, Byrne talks about music having healed him.  He certainly evolved into a charismatic front man.  Ex.:  “Take Me to the River,” from The Name of this Band is The Talking Heads.  When he discusses ‘knowing what buttons to push’ in the interview, I find him quite credible!


Levitin/Byrne interview excerpt

  • Science & music
  • Language & music
  • Buttons to press  -- Emotional effects predictable

Mirror neurons, mirror emotional states?


Screaming [a button to push]

Fresh Air interview with Terry Gross:  “Vocal coach Melissa Cross is known as the "Scream Queen" for her work teaching metal, punk and hardcore performers how to use their voice without ruining their vocal chords. She teaches them how to growl, bark, bellow and scream. Cross is classically trained and has her own instructional DVD titled The Zen of Screaming: Vocal Instruction for a New Breed.”


“Keeping it real” – really?  How soon does it become theater, and is theater really not real?


My upcoming 6 Oct concert – pressing disconnected buttons; flexible tempo & Chopin 


Week 8, meeting 14, Tuesday, 9 Oct 2007


Jazz assignment


Read the chapter on jazz, Chap 8, and listen to each of the 5 examples on the textbook CD. 


For each of the five examples of recorded jazz on the textbook CD, describe specific musical characteristics that make it jazz.  Describe specific characteristics that make it a particular type or style of jazz, and name that style.  (musical facts).  What other historical significance (context) may we associate with each of these recordings?


Typed.  Answers may be in paragraph form or bullet format.


Due 23 Oct, but do it this week in class!  



Stephen Foster, “I Dream of Jeannie”

John Phillip Sousa, “Stars & Stripes Forever” – the hot band of the day comes to town!

Victor Herbert, “Ah, Sweet Mystery,” from Naughty Marietta.  Note flexibility of tempo, semi-operatic singing. 


Pre-jazz: Africa

Nhemamusasa (title, "cutting branches for shelter") note buzzy, complex timbre, polyrhythm, ostinato.  Instruments:  mbira, gourd rattle. 


“Marilli,” vocal solo from Ghana.



Scott Joplin, “The Easy Winners,” genre: ragtime.  Very popular sheet music.  Millions of copies of ragtime pieces were sold.


Mozart, Symphony No. 25 in G minor, 1st movement


Jazz examples

“Tiger Rag” (TEXTBOOK CD)

Louis Armstrong
West End Blues (TEXTBOOK CD)
I Gotta Right to Sing the Blues

Duke Ellington
It Don’t Mean a Thing . . . (TEXTBOOK CD)
Harlem Airshaft

Ø      orchestral & harmonic color; a balance between soloist and the band



Week 8, meeting 15, Thursday, 11 Oct 2007


Swing or jazz?

Glenn Miller
In the Mood


Swing’s pervasive influence (plus the impact of the microphone) create a new way of singing.  Example: Fred Astaire in the film Top Hat.  Note the quick but smooth transition from speech to song in “No Strings,” the 4th scene on the DVD.


Jazz evolves: bebop, cool and beyond

Body and Soul
Billie Holiday
Coleman Hawkins, recorded 1939

Charlie Parker
Koko (more representative – really fast)

Miles Davis

So What – “cool,” no complex chord progression, just two scales a half a step apart.


Milton Babbitt, composer

from Three Compositions for Piano, 1947

Ø      complex classical music to which certain jazz players might be hip


Cecil Taylor (composer, band leader, pianist)

composition: Rick Kick Shaw

Ø      complex head, complex solo.   More generally, an example of the experimental spirit in jazz.


John Coltrane (composer, leader, saxophonist)

composition (and album name):  Ascension, 1965


Diana Krall

song on TEXTBOOK CD:  Straighten Up And Fly Right

DVD played in class:  Diana Krall, Live in Paris, “I Love Being Here with You.”

Ø      representative of popular, conservative, mainstream jazz today


Jazz starts on the margins of American society; becomes the popular music of the Jazz Age and the Swing Era, and fragments into many artistic trends after WWII.  


Week 9, meeting 16 & 17, Tuesday, 16 Oct 2007 & Thursday, 18 Oct 2007



Chaz H.

Cory G.
The Gap Band, “Outstanding”

David H.
”Caravan” – two recordings

Cristian P.  
NAS, “One Mic”

Mark & Claire
Whitney Houston, “Exhale (Shoop)”

Samantha L.
Metallica, “No Leaf Clover”

Ashley J.

Midori K.
Israel Kamakawiwo'ole, ”Henehene ko aka”

Sarah B.

Ray A.
Mike Stern, “Language”


Week 10, meeting 18, Tuesday, 23 Oct 2007


Jazz assignment




Music has its own chunk of the brain

Scroll down to get to the video interview clip promoting Oliver Sacks’s Musicophilia.  


What is “classical music”?

In-class writing assignment:  3 words you associate with “classical music”

Can we define it?


Stockhausen, Kontakte, c. 1960

Messiaen, Vingt Regards sur l'Enfant-Jésus, 1944, mvt 10

Glenn Branca, Symphony No. 6, 1st mvt.



Strict: c. 1770-1825 Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven

Common (sloppy): European art music from c. 1600 - c. 1940; Baroque, Classical, Romantic

Broad: the tradition of notated music that began c. 1000 in Europe and is practiced worldwide today


What kind of listening is a piece asking for?

Examples from the mid-1700s.  C.P.E. Bach

  • last movement of Orchestra-Symphony No 4.  Mindless listening fun? 
  • First movement of Orchestra-Symphony No. 1: mindful listening fun?  Much less predictable, encouraging active listening.  

What modes of thought are being engaged?

What kind of listening is a piece asking for?

          Unproblematic (easy)

          Engaged (memory, prediction, conscious/unconscious?)

          Emotionally primed

         time scale?

          what kind of rhythmic time?

          harmony, motific, melodic, mood, timbral, ontological . . .

(ontology – the branch of philosophy concerned with questions of being, existence, definitions, etc.)

What is poetry?  Literary theorists (“The Russian Formalists”) reply:
“Poetry is speech made strange.”

Is song (melody + text) poetry made strange?

Is instrumental music song made strange?


Do we live in a post-musical society?  Post-literate society – 50,000 new books a year, but what is the cultural significance of new poetry and novels?  Not a negative judgment, and not a criticism of today’s music – just an observation.  We get the culture we pay for, or don’t pay for – would rap music exist if free traditional instruments (guitar, piano, sax, trumpet, etc.) and lessons were provided to all children?


When music mattered:  1876 – Premiere of The Ring.  Attended by 2 emperors, 2 kings, dozens of dukes & princes; 3 days of front page coverage in the New York Times.  What sporting or cultural event would compare today?


Multiple intelligences

Language-ways of knowing

Music-ways of knowing (developed or latent)

“Music Appreciation” courses try to create a shortcut to music-ways of knowing through language-ways of knowing – is this possible?


Future map:

  • Mozart – personality, concerns in operas à instrumental music
  • Chaikovsky – MTT talky guide
  • Stravinsky – cool, concert prep
  • Sonata form, program music, process music – questions of meaning in music
  • Beethoven – pitchin’
  • Issues – performers & performance



Classical music associations (results)

peaceful (2) relaxing (2) relaxation mellow tranquility reflective interesting expressive refined intricate (2) progressive dynamic excitement "old songs" "old school music" historical orchestra (4) symphonic (2) band "string instruments" violin piano Pavarotti butterflies long (2) "no lyrics" instrumental unique movements



Week 10, meeting 19, Thursday, 25 Oct 2007




Charles Rosen (a great pianist & author) comments

‘What was incomprehensible ever?’  Two threads running through Mozart:  a perfectly realized conventionality (the ‘perfect realization of the expected pattern’) – music that is beautifully normal – and ‘poly-vocal’ multi-stylistic musical collisions that can go unrecognized by later audiences.  To most of us, it just all sounds like Mozart or, even worse, just generic ‘classical music.’  (By “poly-vocal” I mean that the piece has multiple musical personalities, as when a fanfare is answered by frilly music.)  Mozart sometimes combines different styles of music, or just very different textures or gestures, and this was confusing to some of his audience.  This sort of musical humor, characterization and even violence seems lost to later generations of listeners as Mozart becomes a prettified confection.  Robert Levin tries to get it back for us.


Robert Levin DVD.  Mozart on the fortepiano. 

Key points

Performer choices

·                                                        ·        how should knowledge of historical instruments change interpretation?

·                                                        ·        Improvisation & spontaneity

Mozart is a rude bad boy.  How?

The unexpected combination of different ideas; the number and density of those ideas


Accepting Levin’s point that Mozart is a bad boy and is musically rude, why?  Mere personality or artistic quirk?  Or did Mozart have something to say about his world?  I find evidence of that in his great operas, such as Don Giovanni.


Scenes from Don Giovanni, an opera by Mozart, film directed by Joseph Losey; the ‘catalog aria,’ sung by the character Leporello



In-class writing response

3 words you associate with “Mozart”


Mozart is a rude bad boy.  How, according to Levin?



Week 11, meeting 20, Tuesday, 30 Oct 2007


More on Mozart

Scenes from Amadeus.


Opening scene from The Marriage of Figaro, opera by Mozart, video of staged production. 


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.


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 and probably boring background music.  This is the attitude that Robert Levin so vigorously argues against.  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.


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.  But I do feel that Mozart is saying something about the complexity of life and what he was saying did made some audiences uncomfortable.


A question worth thinking about for the final exam:   What of Mozart's view of the world, his feelings about the human condition, and his personality can we detect in his instrumental music?


Week 11, meeting 21, Thursday, 1 Nov 2007


Performance of the first movement of Tchaikovsky's Fourth Symphony by Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony (on DVD).


Keeping Score DVD documentary on Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony preparing a performance of Tchaikovsky's Fourth Symphony.


In-class writing assignment:  what are some of the moods, thoughts and feelings you get from the first movement of Tchaikovsky's Fourth Symphony?  From the documentary, what are some of the feelings and emotions that Tchaikovsky was going through when he composed this music?  In your opinion, are those thoughts and experiences reflected in the music?


If you missed this class or if you need additional extra credit, do the following:


Tchaikovsky Extra Credit


Watch the full hour documentary on Tchaikovsky's Fourth Symphony, Keeping Score: mtt on music.  This is on reserve in the library. (VT 1597)


Note the names of three of the orchestra musicians interviewed in the film, what instrument they play, and what their comment is about Tchaikovsky's Fourth Symphony.


For each of the four movements, summarize what Michael Tilson Thomas says about the music.  For each of the four movements, give an example of him giving an opinion, and give an example of some factual statement he makes about the music.  Do you agree with the opinion that he gives about the music?


Typed and double-spaced, this should take about two or three pages.  If turned in on or by 20 Nov, this is worth 3 in-class writing assignments (15 points max); if turned in after that, it is worth one assignment (5 points).


Listen and watch the complete performance!



Week 12, meeting 22, Tuesday, 6 Nov 2007


Stravinsky's Rite of Spring

Keeping Score: Stravinsky's Rite of Spring DVD documentary with Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony.


In-class writing assignment:  this documentary presents many opinions about Stravinsky's Rite of Spring.  Describe an opinion about Stravinsky's Rite of Spring and whether you agree or disagree with it.  Describe a musical fact about Stravinsky's Rite of Spring presented in the documentary.




Week 12, meeting 23, Thursday, 8 Nov 2007


More on Stravinsky



Concert Review Assignment

Details about concert review assignment.


Week 13, meeting 24, Tuesday, 13 Nov 2007





Week 13, Thursday, 15 Nov


I am attending the MACCC conference in SF.


Week 14, meeting 25, Tuesday, 20 Nov





My music

Some of my music & ideas about difficulty in music & the arts.  I presented ideas from George Steiner’s essay “On Difficulty” and applied them to music by Brian Ferneyhough, a poem, “Where Shall I Wander,” by John Ashbery, and my own not-so-difficult music.  I used examples from my recent pieces Sonata Rocinante and Undercurrent.  I also discussed John Adams’s Hallelujah Junction for 2 pianos.


Week 15, meeting 26, Tuesday, 27 Nov

Sonata Form

Examples of sonata form.


Sonata form evolved in the 1770s in a community of listeners, performers and composers without being described with words as a set form until 50 years later.


Understanding & following sonata form is [a range of possibilities]

·        Not important

o       Evidence: Cook experiment, history, personal anecdote

·        Crucial to getting the meaning & purpose of a piece in sonata form

o       Evidence: hundreds of musical works; audience reactions then and now

·        Only the beginning in grasping the meaning of a piece in sonata form

o       Evidence/argument:  See Greg Sandow’s insightful comments


In-class writing assignment:  what is sonata form?


 Week 15, meeting 27, Thursday, 29 November 2007


Sonata form

Greg Sandow’s insightful comments on Beethoven 5 and 6 (The Pastoral) and sonata form in general.


Program music

Berlioz.  Textbook CD example.  DVD in class.


Week 16, meeting 28, Tuesday, December 04, 2007


Program music

Smetana – Textbook CD example.


Process Music

Process music features constant development with processes that are easily (?) apparent to an attentive but not necessarily trained listener.  The piece itself trains the listener on how to listen to it. 


This process music topic is part of an overall theme of the listener’s relationship to following instrumental music.  Sonata form, program music, and process music are three examples.



The Steve Reich at 70 website has many interesting pages.  In class, we used the Music for Pieces of Wood and the Drumming pages.  


NPR interview from 2005.


Steve Reich music for 18 link

  A promotional video for a recording of Music of 18 Musicians.  ‘The piece became a lifestyle.’ 


Week 16, meeting 29, Thursday, 6 Dec 2007


The performer’s role in classical music


Schubert, “Gretchen am Spinnrade,” (Gretchen at the Spinningwheel) Kiri Te Kanawa (textbook CD example, pp. 191-195, Listening Activity 13.2), Janet Baker (different voice qualities, different choices of emphasis and tone color)

comments on the classical voice, recording v. performance.  Adigression on opera and Pavarotti.


Glenn Gould, J.S. Bach, Goldberg Variations variations, 1955, 1981

Chopin, Nocturne in F minor, Op 55 No 1, Garrick Olssohn, Daniel Barenboim.  The textbook’s example of Chopin is the Nocturne in E-flat  Major, Op. 9, No. 2  (textbook pp. 199-201; Listening Activity 13.4).


Chord voicing & piano tone
Beethoven, Piano Sonata No. 21 in C Major, Op. 53, “Waldstein”
Beethoven Sonata, Op 109, Garrick Olssohn, Emil Gilels, Rudolph Serkin (3 different pianists)


Sandow on groove [handout quoting his blog entry]


 Brahms, Symphony No. 4, 1st movement, Carlos Kleiber, conductor, DVD.  Philosopher and music-lover Ludwig Wittgenstein wrote that “even in Brahms one can begin to hear machinery.”  This performance starts as a smooth, well-oiled machine, by the end of this performance, the machine has melted into liquid passion!   A great example of what a conductor can do.  It would be easy for him to get excited right away and let the orchestra play out, but he holds in mind a overall idea of the piece and carefully steers toward long-term goals.  I was talking to a conductor and he said "I don't give the beat, I set the tempo."

Digression:  The textbook’s example of Brahms is the Intermezzo in A Major, Op. 118, No. 2 (textbook pp. 203-208; Listening Activity 13.5). You can find the score for this piece for free at the Mutopia public domain music website.










Performer Choices in Classical Music

Playing a single chord confronts the skilled pianist with many decisions to be made.  All notes equally loud?  Top note louder than the others?  Bottom note louder than the others?  Top and bottom equally loud, all other notes softer?  Middle notes the loudest?  Each decision has a particular musical effect and might be justified or explained in terms of the performer’s approach to the particular piece or to the piano in general.    



A Performer Choice:  TEMPO

.   A piece is played a shade faster or a bit slower—what difference would the difference make?  The mood may be different; the harmony can be heard in a different way.  I think our individual brains have a variety of individual clock rates for processing different types of information—pitch, pattern detection, change detection, timbre, etc.  A different tempo may stimulate different functions within the brain (my personal speculation) and thus change the effect of the piece. 


Once the prevailing tempo is established, how much variation is to be used and at what time scale?  Slow waves of gradual increase over the span of minutes, or speeding up and slowing down within a single phrase that maybe less than 20 seconds long?  Some pianists may bend the tempo so much that a notated sixteenth-note (nominally a short note) in one measure is longer than a quarter-note (which is by definition four times longer than the 16th-note).


For a pianist, are the two hands always in synch?  Usually, but for expressive effect, the two-hands may bend the tempo relative to each other.  This effect is called rubato.




An exciting conductor!  The album website for his Beethoven recording has short audio clips and an excellent video.  To counteract the possible impression that all conductors might be old (after watching Carlos Kleiber conducting the Brahms), I discussed the 26-year-old Gustavo Dudamel, who has been selected to become the conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic.  He is a product of an amazing youth orchestra program in Venezuela, a system that has engaged 400,000 children, many living in poverty, in making music.






















FALL 2007

DC Meckler


MUS 202 Course website