Thursday, May 1, 2008
My understanding of new ideas and creations in twentieth-century music has been greatly limited due to my exposure to a music that does not offer any structural challenges. I typically listen to music that I am attracted to; music that I can hum along to while letting my mind drift. It is rare that I am faced with listening to music that I cannot make sense of- music that stirs confusion when listening to it. Music is often used as a release and that is how I have always treated it. Because of my relationship with music in this way I do not naturally let myself question what I am listening to which prohibits me from learning about new conventions in music. To learn about new conventions in music is to know about why music is where it is now because these new conventions in music show us how music is continually developing.
When looking for a composer to listen to for my journal, I quickly skimmed through the different albums, sampling different pieces here and there. I listened to about three composers, all of which made me feel slightly uncomfortable because of their unfamiliar style, before I settled on one. I chose to listen to Ben Johnston’s String Quartets Nos. 2, 3, 4, & 9. I originally chose to listen to this disc because I thought there would be a limited amount of off-the-wall ideas and innovations. I was trying to be safe. However, I was faced with trying to understand new musical techniques and the reason behind using them. Johnston is known for his usage of just intonation in microtonality, which is creating intervals with less space between them than what is present in the semitone. The sounds he creates through his unique combination of harmonies and rhythms is extraordinary.
The piece that registered with me the most was “The Ascent, String Quartet No. 4, ‘Amazing Grace.’” It begins with the original melody of “Amazing Grace” and is surrounded by the same harmonies, only inverted differently. These harmonies are tonal and help create a fresh, modernized version of the song. As the piece continues on, the music becomes thicker and before we know it the piece evolves into a cacophony of plucking while each instrument takes its turn at playing the melody. Eventually, the piece shifts into what sounds like a whole new piece of music. Even though the piece still stays within the same chords, any hint of “Amazing Grace” is now gone. It sounds like each instrument is improvising with one another, searching for a new tune. What happens next is amazing. Microtones are significantly heard and the music takes on a completely different mood. Eerie harmonies mixed with dance-like rhythms create a feeling of insecurity and uncertainty. The music builds on this for awhile until it has nowhere to go. The music then stops and focuses on different instruments playing their own melodies in the minor key. All other instruments are accompanying this melody but sound as if they are off in the distance. The sound they are creating does not even sound like that which comes from an instrument. It sounds like squeaking hinges on the door of an old abandoned house. The piece takes on different variations of this idea for awhile until it is led back into a beautiful harmonious reunion of what was happening in the beginning. The original melody heroically sweeps back in as if to save the music from its frenzied self. The piece then ends. This piece made me feel a couple of different emotions. At the opening of the piece, I felt gladness as I identified with the familiar music. As the piece developed into a spiderweb of sounds, I felt much apprehensive and trapped with nowhere to run.
Another piece of Johnston’s that impacted me was the third movement from “String Quartet No. 9.” This piece resembles “The Ascent” in how it shifts moods through the usage of microtonality. It begins very calm and simply It reminds me of Mozart in its serenity. However, as the harmonic texture thickens the instruments each begin to take their own thing. Two stringed instruments progress the main idea in the piece as the other two instruments are heard in the background ascending and descending chromatically. I am amazed by Johnston’s own version of microtonality. In “The Ascent” and “String Quartet No. 9” Johnston uses just intonation strictly to recreate a new sound from an old sound. Much of his music resembles stylistic features of the 18th and 19th centuries’ classical style. Johnston just adapts to his own style and system of playing.
I think Ben Johnston’s collection of string quartets should be included in the canon because of their significance in challenging listeners of music to think about what they are hearing. This is not the type of music that can be played and quickly put away. Even if I wanted to mindlessly listen to his music it would not be possible because of how much thought it provokes through the different moods and textures that are presented.
Journal Entry #2
Being challenged by a piece of music is a good thing. Typically, the listener finds themselves trying to figure out the message the composer is trying to convey through their work. Sometimes the listener is challenged simply by trying to recognize stylistic devices or the form of a piece. Often times I find myself being challenged with how I relate to a specific piece of music. While listening to Meredith Monk’s Dolmen Music, I was faced with getting over my initial dislike for the music in order to listen to it for what it is worth. This is a valid challenge that all musicians must often take on.
Dolmen Music is composed of five pieces for voice, accompanied by various instruments. Some pieces are written for one voice while others are written for a small ensemble of singers. Before listening to Monk’s album, I read the introduction in the CD case about why she writes the way she does. After reading that she was not only a classical musician but a rock and folk singer, I was quite excited to take a listen to her newly innovative music. As I played the first piece “Gotham Lullaby,” I was struck by the beautiful arpeggiated chords being played by the piano. I became even more anxious to hear the rest of her music. As the singer came in, I realized that it was not quite my style. The abrupt, shout-like vocal lines do not register with me. However, I was still willing to give it a shot. As the piece got deeper into itself, I realized that the singer was not singing actual words but syllables and consonants as if it were a made-up language. Right as I started to become discouraged by this piece, the singer began to sing in a call-like manner mimicking the sound a bird makes. My first reaction was to find another composer to listen to but it made me laugh and even intrigued me a bit. So, I hurriedly listened to other pieces on the album. Not to my surprise, each piece is quite similar to one another with constant, repetitive accompaniments and odd vocal experimentations. The funny thing about these pieces is that they all start out with beautiful accompaniments that lead me to desire even more beauty throughout the rest of the piece. Instead, each piece fulfills its expectations of peculiar sounds and noises. In reading about Monk’s interesting innovations, I found out that what she is doing with the voice actually has a name. It is called “extended technique” and it refers to any technique that is inappropriate or out of line.
The third piece, “The Tale,” starts off with a light, blocked, repetitive, triadic piano accompaniment as a cello is heard scratchily bowing every few beats. The singer comes in singing high-pitched “haha’s,” “hoho’s,” and “nana’s.” Then she chimes in with an interesting and confusing text that states, “I still have my hands. I still have my mind. I still have my money. I still have my telephone. Hello. Hello. Hello.” The whole piece continues on like this except with different words. This piece challenged me with understanding the reasoning behind this style of music. I had to disregard my emotions towards it and try to understand what it possibly means to someone else. I finally decided that for me to make sense of this music I must think of it as a form or expression of art.Despite the fact that all music is an expression of art, I usually do not have to bring that into consideration or think about. It is a given that music is always an expression of art. However, with these pieces that I struggle relating to, I have to remind myself that it is one’s expression of art. There are plenty of paintings that I do not understand or even greatly dislike. However, those pieces mean something to the artist and to whoever it may touch. After I changed my perspective towards this music I actually started to become moved to liking it. I also started to listen for more stylistic devices and take it bit more seriously.
After listening to all of Monk’s pieces, I realized that she truly expresses deep longing through her music. At first listen, one would think that the singer is haphazardly improvising over a simple piano accompaniment. However, I think Monk put deep thought and perfection into these vocal lines. In the fourth piece, “Biography,” the singer begins with a light hum over the piano. She escalates to a place in which she is literally crying. To me, it sounds like someone is in mourning. After I started to take the piece more seriously, I was actually somewhat moved to a place of feeling that sorrow.
The main thing that Meredith Monk’s music has taught me is the importance of experimentation. She is clearly an experienced musician with many influences, such as folk, rock and classical. She has taken a bold step to experiment with what the voice can do outside of those genres. Despite the fact that there are very disturbing parts, there is still beauty in this music because she is expressing her thoughts and ideas. Despite the fact that music does not have to present beauty, it is something I naturally yearn for. Even though I appreciate what Monk has to offer, I do not think it should be included in the canon. It just does not seem significant enough in the whole spectrum of music. The only thing her music truly promotes is experimentation which people already do naturally. Any new piece of music is an experiment. Even though I thought I was only going to get a good laugh out of this music, I actually was inspired to have a more positive outlook on innovations and new conventions in music even if they end up sounding weird.
Thursday, April 3, 2008
One lives their life through and by reaction. It is one of the most consistent forms of behavior in human existence. Everything I have witnessed in the world around me happens as a result of a reaction or will call for reaction in one form or another. It is how the world naturally works. This idea of reaction has been popping into my head as my knowledge of music history grows. When I listen to one of my favorite rock and roll songs, I cannot help but think about how music got to this point. Where did the abrupt usage of these instruments, strange sound effects, and harsh vocal lines come from? I can only accredit it to music being a reaction to itself as it evolves.
As I listened to the six female composers on Lucille Field Sings Songs by American Women Composers, I noticed something strikingly different in them from any other composers I have listened to thus far. All but one of these twentieth-century female composers present the idea of dissonance and what one can do with it. Since each piece is written for female voice and piano they are easy to pick apart and analyze. Atonality is heard all over their music and can easily be called out. These composers prove that dissonance does not have one generic sound through the different ways they use it in musical characteristics and outcomes. However, It is all for the same purpose; to create music that expresses something, whether it is an idea or an emotion. The use of dissonance as means of conveying these ideas and emotions was a reaction to how they had previously been depicted in the romantic period.
The composer of the first five pieces in this compilation, Patsy Rogers, uses an array of various techniques, harmonies and chords to convey the imagery in the text. Known as one of the top twentieth-century American composers, Rogers seems to have a real connection with words. It is proven that others see her artistry with music and words through how many popular American poets she has set poetry for. The first song, “Sunny,” begins with a directionless, broken, atonal chord that gives way to a picture of shining beams of sunlight. The text reads, “Sunny, luminous child, grasped for the sun by reaching out to everyone.” The way the chords are arpeggiated makes it sound as if something unreachable is trying to be attained. It gives the listener a sense of unsettledness. Throughout the rest of the songs in this cycle, Rogers tends to use dissonance in this way. When the text depicts desperation, the music sounds incomplete. Another example of unpeaceful sound imagery is in the fourth song, “Healing.” As the text reads “Her death has given me a thousand eyes,” Rogers notates an octave jump from “her” to “death” and on “thousand” to “eyes.” The leap is very abrupt and even disturbing going right along with the text that creates an image of death and seeing into souls. This is one crucial way that expressionistic composers use dissonance. They are wanting a feeling of uncertainty to manifest through a particular sound that doesn’t seem to fit within itself or the confines of standard harmony.
The most intriguing song cycle in this compilation is Nancy Van De Vate’s “Songs for the Four Parts of the Night.” Each song is short and direct. There is the same sense of uncertainty that is heard in Patsy Roger’s songs. However, this uncertainty goes further into confusion. Vate’s texts are more about the unknown. She sets music to poetry about the senses. Whatever is heard is unseen and whatever is seen is not attainable or touchable. Her use of atonality compliments this confusion well in “In the Dark I Enter.” The text reads “I can not make out what I see, in the dark I enter, I can not make out what I see” as the piano lightly creeps along an ascending and descending motion. It sounds like footsteps are carefully making their way through the dark. Again, the expressionistic composer uses this quality to move the affections towards a sense of feeling lost.
As I got closer to the end of this disc I was relieved to finally come to a composer who had a pleasant, tonal text-setting. Not all composers at this time reacted to the previous time period through atonality. There are no boundaries on the evolution to music if it is a response to a previous type of music. I prefer a bit more clarity and order. That is exactly what is received in Florence B. Prices’s music. While listening to her “Four Songs,” I automatically assumed that the mood of these four pieces was light and happy because of the melody and harmonies that are used. The text has more direction than previous pieces and is centered on more delightful ideas. This is portrayed well through Price’s delicate writing style that stays within the key. I find it funny how music has the ability to move one’s mind into thinking certain thoughts or manipulating one’s hearts into having certain emotions whether the text is known or not. In expressionistic music, where ideas are exaggerated or sometimes even distorted through the music, one can pick up on the mood of the piece simply by listening. In “Travel’s End” the whole piece is outlined with blocked chords containing ornamentation every measure or so. The poetry reflects on memories from a time sweetly missed. The harmonies in this song sound pure with out even the slightest hint of uncertainty or urgency. It is interesting that Price was writing like this in a time where everyone seemed to be going against the norm. Out of all of the composers in this compilation, Price’s music is the easiest to trace back to the romantic period. I do not really sense a reaction to the previous period in her music.
I chose to listen to these pieces because I knew they offered variety through their modernism. I thought it would be easy to just describe them as a reaction to the Romantic period. However, I now know that music can not be summed up in such broad terms. I think there are elements of these composer’s writing style that definitely reacted and went against the romantic period. However, listening to someone like Florence B. Price makes me realize how much twentieth-century composers held onto from the romantic period. I think this compilation should be included in the canon because it shows significant development towards where we are musically in western culture today.
Journal Entry #2
Before I first listened to Sir William Walton’s Façade, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. Little did I know that these thirty-one fantastical songs are actually compositions of spoken poetry over whimsically and colorfully notated music. Each piece is written for the voice accompanied by a small ensemble of two cellos, a clarinet, flute, saxophone, trumpet and percussion. Written, at first, in the 1920’s, Façade took on different shapes and forms for twenty years as Walton repeatedly revised and edited it. His deep interest in giving the poetry and giving it the best musical accompaniment is why it took so long for the completion of this piece.
The first song of Façade, entitled “Hornpipe,” is an upbeat and hopeful march. At the sound of a trumpet and the beat of a snare, the speaker comes in with the first verse of the poem. It is almost predictable what he is going to say because of the attention that the uprightness of the music calls for. The text proclaims, “Sailors come to the drum out of Babylon.” Wind instruments float around the words as if they are dancing with each other. The text then continues on into more imagery using tongue-twisting words that add an element of what one would suppose is nonsensicalness. The rest of the verse reads, “Hobby-horses foam, the dumb sky rhinocerous-glum watched the courses of the breakers’ rocking-horses and with Glaucis, Lady Venus on the settee of the horsehair sea!” By this point, the text began to strike me as different and unique because of the interesting combination of words. For instance, the sky is “dumb” and the sea is not just any sea, but a “horsehair sea.” I am not even sure if I know exactly what that means. So, I anxiously skipped ahead to read text of the other song. I realized that they were all detailed and depictive in this way. This music is set apart from what other composers were doing at this time because it is all centered on the text and what is being proclaimed. I feel like other composers of the time based their music around having an avant-garde style of melodic motion for their text which, for me, is distracting from what is being declared. Maybe I feel this way because the poetry in these pieces is being spoken rather than sung. William Walton’s way of setting text is more direct than other composers I have heard.
One explanation of why Walton decided to let the poetry in these pieces be spoken opposed to setting it to a melody is because of content of the poetry. Earlier, I wrote that one may think that style of writing is nonsensical with its very developed, wide range of vocabulary and the descriptive pictures that each word draws. However, I think it is too thoroughly written to be only for the sake of laughs and fun. I believe that the poet, Edith Sitwell, is actually letting us into her life by what she conveys in her writing. In fact, it seems as though she is drawing on specific personal experiences. Although most of what she writes about does not make sense to me, her style is so defined that there has to be something deeper behind it all. In the song, “A Man from a Far Countree,” Sitwell writes, “Though I am black and not comely, though I am black as the darkest trees, I have swarms of gold that will fly like honey-bees, by the rivers of the sun I will feed my words until they skip like those fleeced lambs...” During this text, Sitwell discloses intimate information about how she views herself. It is much deeper than it leads itself on to be. Taking a look into her childhood, one will note that she did not have the greatest relationship with her parents which. She didn’t like the way she was treated by them which definitely attributes to how one views oneself. There is obviously much to be revealed throughout Sitwell’s poetry. Because of the content, I think Walton refrains from doing anything musical that may interfere, as in creating a radical, experimental melody. These pieces are not music-based texts but poetic-based songs. .
The fact that William Walton chooses to accompany Edith Sitwell’s poetry in the way that he does says a lot about him as a composer. I feel like he has taken a step back and realized the significance of the text. Since he recognizes the significance of the poetry so instead of trying to make the text known through the music he chooses to let the text write the music. “Gardener Janus Catches a Naiad” is the perfect example of how the poetry paints a picture for the music to follow. The first two verses are exactly the same as far as musical notation goes. Sitwell is describing what is around her in nature through the senses. She writes about baskets of ripe fruit, bird-songs, hairy green leaves and laughter. The music is barely even noticed because it fits so well with the text. Walton writes a light, falling, triadic melody for the flute and clarinet as the speaker highlights these things around him. Suddenly, the structure of the poem changes. As the meter of the poem shifts to a more abrupt declaration of observances the meter of the music changes as well. Walton brings out the horns and the drums to emphasize this. This use of musical imagery, that is not too overpowering, puts Walton in a different category than other composers of his time.
I feel like this work should be included in the canon. I have not heard too many pieces like this which leads me to believe that music was not conducted in this way too often. Even though it was not common it is still important to study it because it has beauty. and it was a sign of the modern times. So, to study Walton’s music is to get another angel of where music was coming from and where it was going. I do not feel like this piece necessarily made extremely significant contributions to the evolution of music in the twentieth century but it is still unique and should be recognized for that, at least.
Tuesday, March 4, 2008
Music History 352WI
February 21, 2008
Journal Entries 1 & 2
It all begins with an overture. Just imagine stringed instruments frantically chasing one another, loud horns trumpeting their harmonies and an overall sense of urgency and you will have the beginnings of a late 18th century opera. I did not have to know the background or synopsis of this piece of music to figure out the opera’s time period. For my listening journal I listened to Luigi Cherubini’s Medea, an opera based on François-Benoit Hoffmann’s three-act libretto that lasts two hours.
Medea, based on Greek mythology, begins at the site of a wedding in Corinth. Giasone, the hero is about to embark on his second marriage to a woman named Glauce. His first marriage ended badly when he left his first wife Medea, the sorceress, and took the children they had together. In the first scene of the first act, Glauce is nervously awaiting her wedding and more so, the possibility of the evil Medea’s arrival. I love the way in which the overture sets up this first scene. I can just imagine Glauce scurrying around the stage in apprehension while her maids try to calm her down. The overture begins on an abrupt minor chord that descends one octave, pauses, and then begins to descend to the next octave. It is then interrupted by a few staccato chords played mostly by the horns. Next it goes to the dominant and it recreates this same circular pattern. It ascends back up and is soon followed by a small break which then leads into a nice, full, legato melody. Do not worry though, it does not stay this way for long as the music quickly crescendos to another intense moment. It goes back and forth like this throughout the whole overture letting the audience feel what Glauce is feeling.
As the opera goes on, I hear many things that are representative of what other composers were doing around this time. Cherubini’s style reminds me a lot of Gluck’s.. Gluck wrote for the singer and the melody with all other instruments lightly enveloping that main idea whether the music was at forte or piano. Cherubini does this as well but with a little bit more to offer. There is more to listen for in Cherubini’s music. He does not make it as obvious as to where the music is going. Instead, he makes the music a little bit more complex with the addition of more notes on a single phrase and rhythms that are more intricate. In the opening of Act 1, the music is written subtly as Glauce timidly sings with ornamented skips and leaps throughout the melody line. Her phrase ends as the chorus of maids comes in with a charming, bright sound. They sound angelic as they sing their simple harmonies. The chorus’s attempts to to calm Glauce has the same affect on the audience- it puts them at ease. Then Glauce comes back in with a little bit more direction in her melody. The chorus alternates beautifully with her while the orchestra accompanies them as if not to make a sound. The music fits so perfectly within itself that I can picture exactly what stage movements and actions are taking place. Nothing in the music is too abrupt at this point which is perfect for what is going on in the plot Although I do not have the translation of the opera in front of me, I can still tell where the plot changes by how the mood of the music shifts. In the middle of act one, the music suddenly changes from the light-hearted scheme it was following to an intense representation of the energy that Medea, the sorceress, always has around her. Medea comes sweeping into the picture trying to stop Giasone from marrying Glauce. The rest of act one remains tense because of Medea’s presence. One thing that this alteration of mood within the first act offers is contrast. In late 18th century opera, the audience was longing to be moved. Cherubini wrote his music in a way that makes it clear as to where ideas change. His transitions end up being emotional which was common in music of the early Romantic period. Other prevalent stylistic features of the time are seen in the opera such as being speech-like, having alternations between soloist and chorus, interruptions in phrases and the repetition of certain phrases.
Through the introduction of new characters in this first act alone, we see some of these characteristics come alive. One of the first things we hear is the continual dialogue between Glauce and her maids. This shows the idea of rhetoric being represented through music and the correlation between music and language. Opera is language being spoken, musically. During moments of tension, the fluidity of the music is interjected by the usage of short phrases, which mimics conflict in spoken language. This is heard especially when Glauce’s father enters during the first act. He comes to help calm his daughter down. His phrases tend to be short which perhaps represent the way in which he speaks to her. These characteristics of the dialogue between father and daughter portray their relationship. This idea of interjection in the music is heard again as Medea enters into the music. However, the music is interjected in a different way. Her phrases are short and cut off because either the chorus or the music interrupt. During the arias in this act, we do not get as much of these interjections. Instead, every aria is very repetitive of itself with antecedent phrases.
The introduction of the second act is extremely important in understanding the opera’s direction and where it will end up. The neglected Medea, who has been rejected, decides to get back at those who have hurt her with the assistance of the Greek god, Eumenides and her maid, Neris. Act two opens with Neris plotting their scheme to get even. Her recitative and aria are dark and dissonant, moving at a slow, steady pace. Here we see another glimpse of contrast. The opera starts out with a light yet upbeat melody that portrayed Glauce’s naïve attitude. The music has slowly made its way through anger, with abrupt chords, to vengeance with an eerie, unpredictable arrangement of the music. I think this idea of slowly progressing the musical language in tandem with its plot expands the opera as a whole. It allows for the opera to unwind itself comfortably without being colorless and even puts the opera ahead of its time. Act two stays in this unwavering place without really changing the mood at all until the very end. Upon seeing her ex-husband, Medea decides to try and gain his pity in hopes of eventually winning his heart and their children back. Giasone could care less, which drives Medea even more into vengeance towards Giasone’s new wife. Finally, by the end, Medea decides to set up Glauce for death by poisoning her. I am assuming that the process in which Medea went through in order to poison Glauce was tedious because of the musical structure. The chords are accentuated with sounds of infuriation. All throughout the end of act two, the music shifts greatly between the two spectrums of buoyant and delicate to fervent and raging. Prior to this time period, opera did not contain nearly this much diversion. As opera evolved, the demand for more intensity became greater which lead to a heightened level of contrast. It is more appealing to the ear. I think of Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo; even though it did have much contrast, the difference between it and Medea is that it took much longer to get to those points of variance. In Medea, the mood changes every couple of minutes which helps the audience to become more interested and involved.
The way the music is written in the beginning of the third act foreshadows how the opera will end. The strings section comes in with long, slow, legato lines in a minor key. Hurriedly, the orchestra is then thrown into this frantic frenzy of notes and chords. The music symbolizes destruction and turmoil. Medea had just poisoned Glauce and is now waiting to reunite with her children. Her purpose in retrieving her children is not a good one. She intends on killing them as a form of punishment towards Giasone. By the end of act three, Giasone is begging Medea not to kill their children. Desperation is heard in Giasone’s plead for their lives. Medea, however, has already made up her mind and kills both of the children, driving herself insane and causing her to set ablaze the temple in which the opera takes place. In this part of the opera, Medea’s vocal line is different than anything that was heard before. She had always sung with intensity but at this point the intensity is unbearable. Cherubini wrote in extremely high notes for Medea, forcing her to leap from her middle range to her high range, but not with ease. Medea’s singing is a constant back and forth, low to high motion. The chorus is heard in the background mimicking her as she strains in her madness. The opera ends in a traditional aberration of strings and horns bouncing around with ascending and descending runs thrown in the mix, finally ending with a VII-chord to the tonic.
Before listening to this piece of music, I must admit I was quite excited to finally get to listen to an opera from the Romantic period. As I began to listen I kept wondering why this piece of music is not included in the Canon. I listened to the first act a couple of times and it felt refreshing to hear an opera that I could better relate to than previous composers that we have listened to. As I began to make my way to the end, I started getting tired. It was not that this opera is boring because it is definitely not. It just started to become monotonous. Even though I was noticing crucial elements of Cherubini’s writing style, like the way he shifts mood so easily to intensify certain parts, it was all starting to sound the same. I then realized that this opera represents the shift from the late Classical-style of opera to the Romantic-style of opera. Medea is beyond the works of Monteverdi and Pergolesi but not quite reaching the style of Rossini’s and Donizetti’s. Cherubini aided in the development of opera. He helped it to become what it is today.
I really feel that this opera should be included in the canon. If anyone has ever had a hard time understanding where and why opera changed in the ways it did from one time period to the next, then Cherubini should be looked at and taken into account as a powerful figure in that process. Cherubini had a strong influence and impact on where opera was meant to go.
Tuesday, February 5, 2008
Journal Entry #2
For my second journal entry I listened to Padre Anotonio Soler’s Works for Harpsichord. This disc is composed of nine harpsichord works. Most of the works are sonatas with the exception of one concerto and a fandango. Each piece is anywhere between three to nine minutes in length. Before listening to Soler’s harpsichord works I kind of expected to hear the regular old baroque style of harpsichord playing. To my surprise, I was quite wrong.
As I played “Fandango en re menor” I was blown away. I could not believe that harpsichord music could be so beautiful. The thing I like the most about the fandango is the process it goes through as if it is racing to the end. I had to listen to it a couple of times to try and catch everything. It starts simply, with clear triadic chords, ornamented with trills, that alternate between the tonic and the dominant. All of the sudden, this complex rush of polyphonic notes and chords comes breaking through to deliver the first theme of this piece. The piece later proves to have many variations between slow and fast rhythms. Because of my previous perception of the harpsichord, I feel as though I am not even listening to the same instrument anymore
Each piece after the fandango greatly differs from one another. It sounds like Soler took traits from the Baroque style of music, such as ornamentation, and applied it to a new style of music. He was still able to make each piece have its own unique stylistic features and feeling. His style of music is very pleasing to the ear, especially with his execution of Spanish characteristics and qualities. In some sections of specific pieces the harpsichord almost sounds like a vibrant Spanish guitar-or a couple for that matter.
In “Sonata en fa sotenido mayor” he begins with a clear chromatic ascension of notes. When he gets to the top he plays around a bit and then comes back down to a middle range and hangs out for awhile. He then proceeds down to low and heavy “thumping”sounding chords in the bass. Soler then moves his back to the top and basically does this back and forth for a while. He soon repeats the beginning all over again and the song ends on one low “thumping” chord. I think it is amazing to be able to put all of this into a one-instrument piece, especially when that piece is the harpsichord-which I used to think was limited to the Baroque style. My favorite thing about his works is listening to one song that makes you feel a certain way and immediately being tugged to feel another way by the next piece. In “Sonata en do sost menor” he begins with a light Spanish-sounding harmony and rhythm accompanied by a varied “alberti bass.” He then moves to an abrupt polyphonic style, quickly returning to his light Spanish-sounding characteristics. In this piece he becomes so quiet that it sounds like a million tiny, little men plucking at strings in the harpsichord and follows it immediately with loud, heavy chords.
The last two pieces in this compilation are a part of a concerto called, “Concerto en sol mayor para 2 claves.” In this piece I was mainly trying to listen for significant differences from his sonatas. I found that in his concerto he has a much more developed form. I could pick out themes better in this piece than in the other pieces. One thing that kept my attention was when he switched to minor key in the middle of it and then back to major. I could not exactly tell you where he switched back into major because it was gracefully written. In this concerto, I am somewhat reminded of Mozart. He often repeats in the left hand what he played in the right hand and vice versa. His chords are also much more clear.
I cannot understand why this collection of musical works is not included in the Canon. I feel as though his works represent a shift in music. The characteristics of pieces show where music was going. I do not know a whole lot of information about the harpsichord but I assume that since composers were beginning to have access to more keyboard instruments than just the harpsichord they were beginning to move away from that Baroque style of keyboard music. As keyboard music evolved, the harpsichord was still used and the result was an interesting, new sound on the harpsichord. With Soler, it could have been that nobody knew what kind of keyboard he intended his works to be played on. So, for his harpsichord music to all of the sudden possess something different than its usual or typical style really shows what was going on in the world of music. Soler’s era was in the late 18th century preceding the Romantic period. For these reasons I feel as though Soler should have received more recognition and praise. Really, I think his music should have been a part of the Canon.
Overall, I feel like I really learned something from these harpsichord pieces. Mainly, I realized how much the harpsichord has to offer. For an instrument to be manipulated in a way that one would think of it as not just a harpsichord but a musical machine is pretty incredible.
Journal Entry #1
For my first journal entry I chose to listen to selections from American Psalmody, Make a Joyful Noise. The whole disc is about 48 minutes long. All of the selections are early American choral compositions by various composers. Each of these hymn-like, a capella songs is filled with homophony and consonance. Each piece is typically written for four voices- soprano, alto, tenor and bass. As I began to listen to this collection of songs, I realized how familiar it was to me.
When I played the first song on this disc of unruly choral masterpieces, I was taken back to high school choir. Rehearsals were right in the middle of the day after lunch. The choir conductor frantically tried to teach 60-some chatty students while I am still tried to digest my three cookies and square-shaped pizza from lunch. The songs we were learning? The names I cannot remember but they sounded much like those included in this compilation. Most of the songs I sang in high school choir sounded exactly like this list of American classics. It was not the best impression.
As I began to make it through the whole disc, I got over my cynicism and actually started to enjoy the music. I realized that there is nothing abrupt in this genre of music which can be very nice. It allows me to not have to think too hard while listening. In “
Something I found interesting about the American composers who were prevalent at the turn of the 19th century was that they were not necessarily musically educated. They were not classically trained on an instrument. This group of composers were basically writing music off the top of their heads. They began by writing one part and then creating other voices based off of that one part. For the most part they used their ear and if it sounded nice, without dissonance, they kept it. There was no significant influence from
One way in which I can gauge whether or not I think any of the compositions from this collection should be included in the canon is by trying to imagine one of these pieces being performed nowadays. I have a hard time trying to put myself in the midst of the 19th century because life at that time was so much different than today. The reality is I cannot see the majority of these pieces being performed professionally today, with the exception of one or two pieces. There are too many compositions that possess the same qualities and traits that these pieces possess but with much more to offer, like dynamic and variations in harmonic chord progressions. I feel like these compositions were only representative of the time in which they were written and that is where they will stay. It is somewhat unfortunate because they were written about lovely things and ideas. However, the music just did not stick. That is not to say that I was not moved by some of them. “
My opinion on this early American genre may seem a bit harsh, but it is only because I have grown bitter due to past experiences with long choir rehearsals, nagging conductors and the desire to take a nap after a well-balanced, filling lunch. Although I am a bit biased, I still appreciate the music from this genre because it represents a carefree and pure way of creating music. It would be nice for other composers to take this attitude just once in awhile.