For the Assignment I chose the first option score reading. The first score I was provided with is the following:
Even though there aren’t any visible notes about the used instrument, looking at the layout at the score, one can see two combined staves. This could either indicate the use of two related instruments playing together (strings for example), but looking at the placement of the notes, where several voices can be found within just one stave, the piece is definitely written for a key instrument. Seeing that there aren’t any dynamical changes marked, the piece is probably written for an ancestor of the pianoforte, a harpsichord for example.
The piece is in f-minor, which can be seen from the four flats at the beginning as well as a frequent use of the note f and the ending note in the last bar. It furthermore has a 2/4-time signature, which would give it a forward – moving march – like rhythm. From the “a 3” on top of the score as well as the score itself, it can be concluded, that this piece is for three voices. These are harmonically linked but rhythmically independent, thus, the piece is polyphonic.
Comparing the entries of the three voices, which can be found in the anacrusis, bar 4 and bar 11, one can notice, that they all start with the same sequence, being either a fourth or a fifth apart. Starting a piece with this method is normally an approach to start a fugue, a strict compositional form, often used by Johann Sebastian Bach. Thus, I would suggest, that this piece is a fugue written by him during the Baroque period.
Interestingly, normally the first subject of a fugue is kept short and only ends when the second voice has its first entry. Nonetheless, one can see, that the subject for this piece is unusually long, it consists of characteristic three quaver note repetitions followed by a meandering sequence of semiquaver notes. The whole subject lasts for 4 bars before moving into the counter subject. (marked in red below)
In addition to a frequent use of the subject during the exposition, one can also notice, that the composer didn’t just stay to one counter – subject, but used a few different ideas each time the subject was played during the exposition. The first counter subject continues with the flow of semi – quavers, but as soon as the second voice starts with them, a new part, constructed of quavers, parted by wide intervals can be seen. (marked in green below). There is nonetheless, one bar overlapping with the semiquaver movement.
Some completely new themes appear for all three voices in bar 17 (marked in orange). Nonetheless, the distinctive character of the three quavers from the beginning as well as some parts of the semiquaver scales can be recognised here as well. Within this sequence, a quaver and semiquaver rhythm alternates between the left and the right hand.
Shortly after, the first subject appears again twice in the first and second voice, followed again by the themes introduced in bar 17, this time in Eb – major. In the score below all the occurrences I found of the first subject are marked in red. Overall one can see, that the composer mainly played with the themes introduced at the beginning. He furthermore put a focus on this mentioned distinctive repetition of the three quaver notes.
The second piece, which is probably the first few pages of a longer piece, has been written for a small orchestra, involving the following 3 types of woodwinds (flute, 2 oboes, 2 bassoons), a horn as the only brass – instrument and a string section (violins I and II, viola, cello and bass), whereas the latter two share a stave, playing the same notes.
The key signature is in D- major, which can be seen from the two sharps at the beginning as well as the harmony of the first bar, creating a descending D – major arpeggio played unison by all voices. The time signature is 4/4 and the tempo is marked as allegro, meaning it has to be played rapidly, swiftly. This short but strong motif is answered by a piano part, played in quavers by the first strings. During this answer section, the horn and viola play a pedal point which lasts for four bars.
After a repetition of those two themes a forte part starts, continuing the quaver – movement of the counter – motif as well as staccato arpeggios as an accompaniment. Following are a few energised motifs, focussing more on playing strong, loud chords within several voices instead of playing a melody. This pattern is shortly interrupted by a turn played by the flute and both violins. Afterwards, all instruments continue with the chord – sequence
Between bar 29 and 32 the key shifts from D to its dominant A major, which can be seen from the accidental sharps placed before every G. In bar 36 a new theme is started by the first violin, initially only accompanied by the other strings with arpeggios and a pedal point.
Fitting to the two contrasting themes from the beginning, the dynamical changes are often very sudden, there aren’t any parts becoming gradually louder or quieter. Overall, the melodic theme seems to be altered between the different voices. It is often held by the first violins, sometimes underlined by another instrument. An example for this would be bar 40, when the flute repeats the violins melody and sometimes entirely played by another instrument, such as the flute in the second picture below). Nonetheless, there are sequences, when the whole orchestra just plays harmonies instead of letting one distinctive melody stand out.
Due to the use of these two contrasting themes, as well as the overall harmonic staying structure, I would definitely say, that this piece was written in the classical period. Due fact that the composer mainly stayed to the key and didn’t involve too strong tension, I would assume, that this piece has been written by Mozart or Haydn. Nonetheless, considering the size of the orchestra I would personally tend to say it is one of Haydn’s pieces. Thus, the piece may have been written for a monarch, as it was usual to have an employed composer at the beginning of the Classical period.
The last given piece is also the shortest one. It is written for three voices; Soprano (Cantus), Alto and Bass and doesn’t involve any instruments. The time signature is again a simple 4/4 rhythm, whereas the composer mainly stayed to fill the beats within a bar; there are only a few syncopated notes.
Interestingly, there are no sharps or flats at the top, which would normally indicate that this piece is either in C – major or a – minor. Nonetheless, looking at the notes of the piece, one can see them interacting with the notes from the chord G especially often. Furthermore, the last note lands on a G for all voices. Even though there are a few accidentals at the beginning of the score (f#, c# and Bb below)), most of the second half is free of any accidentals, indicating that the piece may be in a mode; mixolydian in this case. Coming back to the first half of the piece, if it weren’t for the b-flat, I would have assumed that it was written in a Lydian mode.
Interestingly, there is no indication about the pace, but given that it is a religious piece, it is probably sung really slowly. All voices move rhythmically independently, starting at different points, both an indication for a polyphonic structure. Looking more closely on the entrances of the voices, it can be seen that the piece starts similar to a fugue: The bass starts on a G, moving with major and minor second intervals down a fourth to the D. The second entry is made by the Altus voice a fifth higher on the D, moving with the same intervals down a fourth. The last entry coming from the cantus starts on the G again and moves like the bass. All voices continue with this strict canon until the altus changes its rhythmical and melodic pattern in bar 8. The two outer voices on the other hand keep playing the exact same melody for 8 bars with just one accidental as a change.
Even though the phrase from the beginning with the descending fourth doesn’t appear again this canonical form, where one phrase is introduced and taken over by the other voices is kept until the end. One further example of these canonical entrances, also starting on the same notes as the beginning can be seen in bar 21, with the bass voice starting again.
Overall, the structure and layout of the piece and considering the usage of modes, it was probably written during the Renaissance period. Possible composers for this piece could be Palestrina, Byrd or Victoria. Seeing that the used text is normally used in a mass, normally put in after the “santus”, I assume, that the first performance was probably held in a church.
I really enjoyed working through this whole course and especially liked, that the learning approach was slightly different as it started in the 21st century and moved backwards in time instead of starting in the Renaissance. This gave me a great overview on how influences and developments were made throughout music history. I furthermore now feel confident about placing a piece of music in an epoch by just listening to it.
For this last part of the course, I noticed, that it had become much easier to make Listening Log entries, even with the very short pieces, as it was less difficult to focus on the structure and melody. It became slightly more challenging with the longer pieces, but overall I felt that I had an appropriate amount of information.
I found it interesting to learn about early instruments and their development to modern ones as I, so far, only have learned about the ancestors of the piano. A further interesting research point was to find out more about the different compositional forms which evolved during the Baroque – period. Even though I was already familiar with some of them, others were completely new to me, (for example the ones I looked at in more detail.)
I thoroughly enjoyed analysing one of Bach’s fugues, especially as I wasn’t aware of how many options one has creating a whole piece with just one theme and it surprised me that, even though there’s a mathematical structure behind it (similar to Schönberg’s seirialism), it is still pleasant to listen to.
In comparison to the previous course – parts, this one had several more exercises and research points to work on, most of which were really challenging, but also interesting. Especially captivating for me was the research point Printing and dissemination of music, which is an important point in music history, but not often mentioned.
To find out more about the use of dissonances within different musical epochs was also really interesting, especially when one considers, that during different epochs, different intervals were seen as dissonant due to the different tunings.
Even though I didn’t work through the optional music theory projects, I feel confident reading through a score. I also chose the first assignment option, as most of the previous ones were essays where a huge amount of research was involved, thus I was looking forward to work on something different. The assignment didn’t only reflect on this course unit, all of the previous ones had to be taken into account as well. I slightly struggled with the word count, especially with the last piece, as this was just one page long and it was much more difficult to speculate on the composer. Furthermore, I wasn’t always completely confident on how much weight to put into one topic. Apart from describing the possible composer, background and rough layout of the piece, I put most of the effort in analysing the score in more detail. I hope that this approach of balance was appropriate, but I overall really enjoyed working on it.