Learning Log

Project 4.1. Youth and Amateur Orchestra Ensembles

Exercise 1: Pieces for Youth Orchestra

A youth orchestra is a special form of orchestra, which’s main purpose it is to develop and encourage the abilities of young musicians. It can help them to prepare for playing in professional orchestras, auditions or enhance their general musical experience. Whilst the musicians can work more independently within professional orchestras, the conductor of a youth orchestra is also often an educator, correcting and helping the young performers if needed. Furthermore, the musicians might often take private lessons to rehearse their part. Professional orchestras often only rehearse once or twice before their performance whilst youth orchestras have several rehearsals over the course of several months. This sometimes even leads to a better outcome for the performance. 1,2

During my research about this topic, I came across several different statements saying that the performers of a youth orchestra might even be more motivated to play than the musicians from a professional orchestra. This is probably caused by the fact, that members of an amateur orchestra often have to pay a membership to participate and gain musical experience whilst professional musicians get paid to play. Furthermore, also in order to learn something new, young musicians are often more open for new techniques or more unusual compositions, whilst some of the professional orchestras often just focus on one single genre, such as Classical music. 1,3

For ongoing composers it can be very helpful to write for a youth orchestra; It is more affordable than writing for professionals, the musicians can get some experience and are sometimes more open to ask the composer directly if they have any difficulties performing a piece, which helps to rewrite and rearrange pieces correctly. Thus, it might be of use for the composer to contact the conductor directly as he/she will know the of the orchestra. 2,3,4

In an interview with Sally Whitwell about a composition for youth orchestra she states that she doesn’t chance the structure of a piece at all.

“It’s particulary important to write idiomatically for each instrument”

Whitwell, S (2018)

So each passage has to be written down and considerated precisely. I personally think that one has to be considerate writing for an amateur orchestra though: One has to find a balance between writing music that’s fun, not too challenging and also taking it to a certain niveau. 5

I’ve personally had the opportunity to perform on the piano and sing in a choir over several years, both for amateur orchestras. As stated above, we had rehearsals once a week over a year before performing it. I really enjoyed participating, even the pieces which were more challenging. The pieces which seemed more challenging at the beginning were even more rewarding once we performed them, thus, I can only agree on Whiwell’s comment about not restructuring a piece, but writing it down more precisely.

The following pieces can also be found in my Listening Log (without the background of the pieces)

An Outdoor Ouvrture

  • Composer: Aaron Copland
  • Year of composition: 1938
  • Performed by: High School of music and art
  • Listened to: 16.03.2021

The piece initially sounds as if it were written in the Classical Epoch. A heroic theme, consisting of only 5 notes is presented by the woodwinds and repeated by single instruments or instrument sections. The xylophone in addition to the brass section adds something playful to the dark atmosphere. As the music gets more hectic, some more instruments get involved and it rapidly changes between several side themes without transitions. Within the centre of the piece, a lighter middle section is played as a flute solo. In comparison to the brass section before, this part sounds much calmer. Overall, Copland seems to always focus on either one instrument section or a single instrument to present to the audience. Furthermore, the pace is kept rather slow and harmonies mainly stay within the same range.

The original idea of writing this piece came from a teacher “Mr. Richter”, who was head of the music department in the High School of Music and Art. He asled Copland whether it would be possible to write a piece especially for his school orchestra. The composer’s aim was not to only write music which would be easier to perform for younger musicians but also address a younger audience. Whilst composing the piece it was stated, that Copland considerated the capability of the young orchestra without underestimating the expertise of them. 6, 7

In terms of the score, I personally didn’t see anything unusual, as already suggested, the dynamical markings are very precise. It might be worth to mention, that Copland only used a few sustained notes, and the piece stays at a moderate pace throughout.

Re – Greening

  • Composer: Tansy Davies
  • Year of composition: 2015
  • Performed by: National youth orchestra
  • Listened to: 16.03.2021

Interestingly, this piece is meant to be performed without a conductor, which leaves more free space for individual expression. The piece starts with clusters of interwoven chords and arpeggios played by different instrument sections. The combination of glockenspiel and xylophone alongside the other dark, disharmonic sounds creates the impression of a magical forest. The performers start singing a monotonous round, partly whispered, reminding of an incantation. On top of the “choir”, the loudness of the instruments fluctuates, sometimes even bursting out to a ff after a really quiet section.

It personally took me a while to get used to the contemporary classical style. Nonetheless, it seemed, that Davies used the instruments well, often disharmonic to create a sense of something growing and blooming. This effect is mostly achieved with cluster chords played by the strings.

For this composition, Davies found inspiration in a shamanic wheel. Even though it is meant to be performed without a conductor, the score suggests one “leader” of the orchestral group. Furthermore, there are marks on the time used for several bars (below).

Nonetheless, not having a conductor, still leaves a lot of free space, which might be more challenging for less experiences musicians. Nonetheless, reading through some reviews, I found out, that most of the musicians saw it as a new welcome challenge to overcome. 8

In comparison to Copland’s An Outdoor Ouverture, this piece seems much more complicated, due to the disharmonic chords and obviously the fact, that no conductor is needed.

Five Klee Pictures, Op. 12

  • Composer: Peter Maxwell Davies
  • Year of composition: 1959 (rev. 1976)
  • Performed by: the Young Musicians’ Symphony Orchestra,
  • Listened to: 16.03.20201

The first of the five pieces “A Crusader” starts with an atonal yet rhythmical alteration of the whole orchestra conversing with the percussion section. The volume increases every time a new repetition of the section starts. The second piece “Oriental garden” is lead by the oboe and is generally much calmer. The main melodic line moves up and down in small steps with a lower accompaniment also coming from woodwind instruments. Number 3 “The twittering machine” has a more rhythmical feeling to it, due to the swung percussion section. It also includes a piano which’s metallic sound represents machinery. The next piece “stained glass saint”, focuses more on the string section and seems to be bound more to a key than the previous pieces. “Ad Parnassum” is the last one, being more disharmonic again. Several dark notes, initially only played by brass instruments are layered on top of one another. Gradually the tension increases with the layers of instrument, but instead of solving it,the music comes to an abrupt halt.

Davies was director of music at the Cirencester Grammer School in Gloucestershire whilst composing this piece. Apparently, the piece was revised several times before being published: movements were expanded and shorted or almost completely rewritten. 9

In comparison to the pieces above, Davies changed the time signature more frequently which might be considerated as rather challenging for less – experienced performers. Interestingly, Davies put markings on top, so that it would be easier to count the bars. In addition to that, there is also only a small amount of sustained notes used, to make it even easier to count.

Do’s and Don’ts for writing for youth and amateur orchestra

  • 10 Do’s and Don’ts
    • Be very precise with articulation and desired techniques for each single instrument/ instrument section
    • Visit some of the rehearsals to communicate with the musicians for possible challenges.
    • Review the score if necessary
    • Speak to the conductor to know more about the orchestra’s capabilities
    • Avoid techniques which might be too challenging (e.g. fast leaps, some contemporary techniques)
    • Create a small amount of space for individual interpretation for the performers.
    • Chose a key with no or only a few accidentals
    • Try to find the right amount of challenging material, which is also fun to play and listen to
    • Considerate which and how many instruments the orchestra has
    • Don’t underestimate the performer’s capabilities

1 Bogdanovski, K. (2011). Compose for Youh Orchestra!. [online]Eastman School of music. Available at: https://iml.esm.rochester.edu/polyphonic-archive/article/compose-for-youth-orchestras/ [Accessed: 16.03.2021]

2 Visconti, D. (2009). Compose for Youth Orchestras![online]Newmusicmbox. Available at: https://nmbx.newmusicusa.org/compose-for-youth-orchestras/ [Accessed: 16.03.2021]

3 Baker, W; Forbes, A and Earle, J. (2020). Youth orchestra participation and perceived benefit: A pilot study of the Tasmanian Youth Orchestra. [PDF]. Australian Journal of Music Education. Available at: Youth orchestra participation and perceived benefit: A pilot study of the T…: EBSCOhost (oclc.org) [Accessed: 16.03.2021]

4 Bachlechner, C. Mene Erfahrungen mit dem Jugendorchester. [PDF]. Abschlussarbeit. Available at: https://obj2.peak.at/files/Meine_Erfahrung_mit_dem_Jugendorchester.pdf [Accessed: 16.03.2021]

5 Sullivan, E. (2018). Sally Whitwell on the value of working with youth orchestras. [Interview, online]. Cutcommon: The new generation of classical music. Available at: https://www.cutcommonmag.com/sally-whitwell-on-the-value-of-working-with-youth-orchestras/ [Accessed: 16.0.2021]

6 Howard, O. (2021). An Outdoor Ouverture. [online]. Hollywood Bowl. Available at: https://www.hollywoodbowl.com/musicdb/pieces/193/an-outdoor-overture [Accessed: 16.03.2021]

7 Pease, A. (2012). An Outdoor Ouverture by Aaron Copland. [online]. Wind Band Literature – A conductor’s Perspective by Andy Pease. Available at: https://windliterature.org/2012/09/06/an-outdoor-overture-by-aaron-copland/ [Accesse: 16.03.2021]

8 Morris, C. (2015). Tansy Davies: Re – greening. [online]. compositiontoday. Available at: http://www.compositiontoday.com/blog/295.asp [Accessed: 16.03.2021]

9 Boosey & Hawkes, (2021). [online] Five Klee Pictures – Peter Maxwell Davies. Available at: https://www.boosey.com/shop/prod/Maxwell-Davies-Peter-5-Klee-Pictures-Full-Score/710153 [Accessed 16.03.2021]

Exercise 2: Clockwork Orange

Watching the film, I initially didn’t realize that that the soundtrack mainly consisted of “synthesized” versions of classical pieces. I initially had the impression, that some of the music didn’t fit to the scenery, yet they continuously represent the protagonist’s mental state. Especially in the focus of the film is Beethoven’s 9th symphony. The protagonist, Alex, can relate his own thoughts with the music. I made the following listening log entries about a few rearrangements from the film.

Clockwork Orange: Main Theme/ Music for the funeral of queen Mary

  • Composer: Wendy Carlos/ Henry Purcell
  • Year of composition: 1962/ 1695
  • Performed by: APM Music/ Monteverdi Choir and Orchestra Equale Brass Ensemble
  • Listened to: 18.03.2021

The melancholic melody of the piece is played by a particularly airy sounding midi – flute. The accompaniment is created with synthesizers. The combination creates an overall calming effect, although the sometimes jumpy melody line keeps the piece entertaining and adds something joyful to it. Even though it’s just this one theme being repeated several times, with each new repetition another layer is added, making tit really interesting to listen to.

Due to the drums and plucked basses in addition to the brass instruments, I had the impression that Purcell’s original version was slightly more successful in creating a dramatic effect Nonetheless, the synthesized sounds of Carlos creates a calmer, yet more insecure atmosphere, fitting well to the scenery of the film.

March from “A Clockwork Orange” /Choral Movement of Beethoven’s 9th

  • Composer: Wendy Carlos/ L.v.Beethoven
  • Year of composition: 1962/ 1822 – 1824
  • Performed by: APM Music/ Chicago Symphony Orchestra
  • Listened to: 18.03.2021

This was probably the most unusual version of Beethoven’s “Freude schöner Götterfunken” I’ve hear so far. Even the voices were altered to sound more “Electronic”. Furthermore one could only hear a few people singing instead of a whole choir, which made it less dramatic. The impact and power a whole choir can hold is obviously completely different than a few synthesized voices. Nonetheless, the accompaniment of Carlos’ version made the piece generally sound more cheerful and lighter than Beethoven’s original version. Interestingly the voices and accompaniment in Carlos’ version sound slightly distorted, which again represented the brutal and somewhat disturbing nature of the film very well.

William Tell Ouverture

  • Composer: Wendy Carlos/ Rossini
  • Year of compostion: 1962/ 1829
  • Performed by: APM Music/ London Philharmonia Orchestra
  • Listened to: 18.03.2021

Carlos’ version is a rapid, instrumentally changed version of the original “William Tell Overture”, written by Rossini. Even though the original version sounds really hectic already, this one seems to spread even more stress which is not only caused by the fast tempo, but also by the distorted, unnatural sounding synthesizers. This is the first of the three pieces, were I son’t see a huge difference in the effect is has compared to the original one, apart from the pace. Again, it fitted very well to Alex’ (The films protagonist) mental state, but I personally think the original would have been just as effective.

Exercise 3) Arrangements and Transcriptions

For this exercise I was asked to listen to a few versions of the same piece, comparing them with one another and answering the questions below.

Beethoven – Symphony no. 5, 1st movement

Even though the movement in Sonata form, it mainly consists of the exposition and reprise. Instead of using a longer, two parted theme, Beethoven used a well – known short 4 – motif on which he based the entire movement. Due to the use of the full string section at the beginning, the first few notes of the piece seem really strong and powerful. After the intro, only a few instruments continue with a continuation of the first four notes of the piece. Even though this part is much lighter, the music still seems to contain a huge amount of energy waiting to burst. This is probably caused by the crescendos in the brass accompaniment. The music swells, bursts and falls down several times causing an overall really successful, strong first movement of Beethoven’s 5th.

I listened to the following covers and rearrangements from the piece (comments on all these can be found in my listening log):

Which arrangements do you consider most successful, which are the least, Why?

It was difficult to decide, but this version is most likely the one I like most. Patrzalenk manages to capture the emotion and strength of a full orchestra on just one guitar. With a mixture of playing percussion, accompaniment and melody on the instrument at the same time, I was really impressed with the result. The slightly sharp and metallic sound of the guitar, interestingly added a “Spanish” touch to it. I was not only impressed with the depth and accuracy, but also with the devotion of emotion Patrzalenk put into this piece.

My least favourite:

Have the arrangers added anything which wasn’t in the original piece? If so, why do you think they’ve done this?

Rock Cover: Instead of directly moving to the development, they moved the whole piece up by one key and repeated the first few phrases of the piece and changed a few minor to major chords.I find it difficult to see a reason behind these chord changes, but I assume that the arranger chose it to make the piece sound cheerier

Macin Patrzalenk, guitar cover: He sometimes added tremolos at the end of phrases. I think this has mainly the effect to extend the chord, as it is difficult to get a legato note by plucking a string. It also added a crescendo and fitted well to the “Spanish” – touch I mentioned.

Walter Murphy:A fifth of Beethoven, disco adaption: Whilst some of the “highlights, such as the 4 – motif – theme are still played strings, the accompaniment and sequences in between are filled with synthesizers. In addition to some percussion of all the versions I’ve listened to, this version was probably the furthest away from Beethoven’s original, yet great fun to listen to.

Fabio Barnaba:Beethoven’s 5th for flute choir. As the performer mainly seemed to float around one dynamical range the piece automatically had a lighter impact. Nonetheless, I think that the fast passages, developing the theme were well developed and represented by the alto – flute playing the melody. Interestingly, some side melodies, which are more hidden in the original can be heard better. Otherwise he mainly stuck to the original.

Canadian Brass:Brass Choir: Considering the notes there were no alterations made and even though it’s not a whole orchestra playing

Ben Morton: Piano Cover. Morton interestingly alternated the tempo slightly, often making it slower at the quieter parts of the piece, probably to be able to enhance the music more by not only using dynamical but also rhythmical changes.

Virginian group: Plastik Musik. Within this cover, the rearranger/performers focused more on the more dominant parts, such as the beginning and the always reappearing rhythm of the first 4 notes. This is probably due to the fact, that the ensemble was bound to a limited amount of notes within only 1 or two octaves.

Quintessence: Saxophone Quintet. They slightly altered some melodic lines, especially runs to sound more jazzy, for example by using chromatic instead of diatonic movement. In addition to the warm sound of the lower saxophones this created a full, more welcoming version of Beethoven’s 5th. After the first part of the exposition, the music becomes increasingly jazzier. Short improvised solos which can be heard within the first repetition are added to originally diatonic chords, changed to jazz chords, for example by an added 7th, 9th.

In your opinion, is the identity of the piece preserved across the different arrangements?

I personally think that every time a cover or rearrangement is created, a bigger or smaller part of the identity from the original piece gets lost. Nonetheless, this doesn’t have to be seen as negative. With each new interpretation, the performer/arranger adds some of his own flavour to the piece. As mentioned, there are some arrangements, such as the “Disco adaption” from Walter Murphy, which lost their identity more than others and move further away from the original, but only to make even more space for an individual interpretation.

Are there any arrangements which stand out as particularly inventive or creative?

Even though I wouldn’t consider it as one of the best ones from the list above, I think the most creative version of the symphony is the “Plastic Musik” version from Virginian group. Even though the piece was barely recognizable during a few parts, it must have been huge fun writing and performing is.

Project 4.3. Piano Reductions

Exercise 4: La Valse

For this exercise I was asked to listen to answer the following questions about rearrangement of Ravels La valse, short comments on the individual pieces can also be found in my Listening Log

The piece starts with a deep growl creating a dark atmosphere, only slowly the Orchestra seems to wake up. This effect is created by the gradual introduction of ascending notes. A majestic melody is introduced playing a romantic sounding waltz. Ravel created different different textures, moving from a sure structure to a more insecure one by adding notes from a minor scales. An alteration of instruments and dynamics also emphazises the rapid changes within the Centre of the piece. There is a huge range of different colours and contours created by the use of different instruments, overall a really diversified and entertaining piece of music. 

The  piano versions start the growl with a low octaves tremolo. For the starting phrase, the texture in the left hand is alternated by an alteration between Staccato notes and legato notes. The performer payed close attention to ynamical changes to get some of the musical color from the original version. Interestingly, the first “um-ta-ta”, is not created by the left hand, which merely plays bass notes, but by the right hand, alongside the melody. I can imagine, that it could get quite challenging to know which notes should by used for the melody and which for the accompaniment. Nonetheless, I think that the overall transcription is very successful. Even though seems less colourful played on just one instrument, the underlying texture of the piece is well preserved. 

– what has Ravel omitted from the reduced arrangements?

Whislt trying to cover the textural movements from the whole orchestra, the percussion section is probably what’s left behind most. Rearranging the piece, Ravel tried to capture as much melodic and accompanying material as possible. Thus the doubling which takes place in the whole piece gets lost and some parts which would have been more dominant move in the background. Obviously, there are also some techniques for the instruments of an orchestra which couldn’t be reproduced on the piano. Nonetheless, some others were imitaded well, for example the “growling” at the beginning, interpreted as a low tremolo on the piano. 

– How has the coloiristic variety in the Orchestra score been handled on the piano?

As mentioned in my Listening Log, there is a lot of detail in the change of dynamics throughout the whole piece, which manages to capture a small bit of the broad texture from the Orchestra. Rapidly played arpeggios a “flowing” pattern by alternation the volume as well.  I found it really interesting, that Ravel even made use of the una corda and sustenuto pedals to create a damper sound. Furthermore techniques available to the instrument such as legato, Staccato, Sforzarto, tremolo, trills, can be added to imitate some passages from the Orchestra and make the piece more colorful. 

– How do the two piano arrangements relate to one another?

Obviously with two pianos playing there is a higher possibility of capturing the texture of a whole orchestra. Although, at some parts of the arrangement for I personally had the feeling of it sounding too crouded, and that the simplicity of just one piano was able to create a clearer sound. 

-How successful do you consider the two reductions to be? Why?

Apart from the few phrases I mentioned at the previous question, I think that the rearrangement for the 2 pianos is more successful. The arrangement for one piano seems more difficult and sounds rather chaotic at some parts. 

Exercise 5: Short scoring

I found this exercise more challenging than I initially expected. Nonetheless, I really enjoyed working on it and thought it was a great exercise to find out some more about the importance of orchestration and rearrangements. As it is somewhat impossible to capture the music performed by an orchestra on just two pianos, I tried to find out what the most relevant notes and harmonies were for all three pieces. For the first one for example, I paid more attention to the dotted rhythm than the notes themselves. Overall I noticed, that doubling took place rather often. Sometimes I had to put a line an octave higher or lower, not only to make it easier to play, but also to recreate the sound of the original instrument slightly better.

Exercise 6: Making Piano Reductions

I was asked to make piano reductions of the three short scores I produced for Exercise 5. Having already worked on the pieces made it slightly easier to understand their content, although I still found it difficult to compress the voices by another step. The most difficult piece for me was Bruckner’s 6th Symphony, as it was structured similar to a fugue with several individual voices. It was difficult to evaluate which should move more in the background. Nonetheless, I really enjoyed working on this exercise.

Exercise 7: Listening to Space 1

For this exercise I made the following entries in my Listening Log:

Daphnis et Chloe: Lever du jour

  • Composer: Maurice Ravel
  • Year of composition: 1907-1912
  • Performed by: Bordeaux Opera chorus, Bordeaux Aquitaine National Orchestra
  • Listened to:08.04.2021

The mood of this piece is generally dark. It starts with a repeating arpeggio movement played by the flutes. The higher strings and brass section seem to focus on a slow chord progression moving in small steps. An increasing amount of instruments joins in playing the notes fitting to the cluster chord. Some tension is created by an added crescendo, provoking the “space” mentioned in my study folder. Only after about one minute, the tension is lifted when the strings seem to “find” the same 4- motif theme. Even as the arpeggio movement is continued in the background, the music seemed to now have found a melody it can follow. 

Symphony No. 1, first movement (opening passages) 

  • Composer: Gustav Mahler
  • Year of composition: 1888
  • Performed by: Berliner Philharmoniker
  • Listened to:08.05.2021

This pice starts with a two note motif played by the flutes in Pinaissimo. It is kept incredibly quiet and only seems to gradually wake up. The theme is pojected to other instruments, which suddenly come to life as well. Partially, it seems to breathe, as the dynamics gradually move up and down. A heroic fanfare like theme follows, played by the horns, creating a suddenly very nature based picture. After that the instruments become more vivid, the melodic lines more detailed. Furthermore, more and more themes are added on top of one another until they climax in a clear, rapid theme played by several of the instruments. 

Harmonium: Negative Love

  • Composer: John Adams
  • Year of composition: 1980-1981
  • Performed by: San Francisco Symphony
  • Listened to: 08.04.2021

Similar to the previous piece, this one also starts really quietly. A sense of “space” is created again by several instruments and in this particular case a choir focusing on one chord. The dynamics move in waves but also gradually become louder. Having the choir in this composition somehow gives it an extra mystical atmosphere. Interestingly, the sense of space and a certain tension that appears within the first few bars isn’t released when the choir starts with an unison melody. This may be due the the more dominant background still “Swimming” continuously within the same chords from the beginning. 

Violin Concerto, first movement

  • Composer: Unsuk Chin
  • Year of composition: 2009
  • Performed by: Berliner Philharmoniker
  • Listened to:08.04.2021

This piece starts with a few single staccato tones alternating with short legato motifs. As these motifs gradually become longer, a sense for a key is lost. The tension isn’t created through layered notes, but rather with dissonant harmonies and melodic movement. Unlike the previous pieces there isn’t one climax point, but several. Once the music swells and gets to its peak point it slowly bursts again. Nonetheless, with every new theme started the music gets louder. The sense of “space” created in this piece of music is, unlike the previous pieces, created with a disharmonic combination of tones, which nonetheless, still seems to be structured. Even though the cellos play the most dominant role within the symphony, the composer also gave the instruments in the background an opportunity to present their individual sound, which makes the piece sound wider. 

Music for 18 musicians

  • Composer: Steve Reich
  • Year of composition: 1976
  • Performed by: Eighth black bird
  • Listened to: 26.04.2021

Over the whole piece the music seems to wander slowly from one chord to the next one. The first movement is slightly quieter and less jumpy than the second one. I thought the female voices created and interesting impact on the overall calm sounding mood. I initially thought, that the repetitive motifs might become boring after a while, but the constant sound on similar chords produced a hypnotic circular sounding theme. The piece is parted into different sections, whereas every section seems to have another instrument in focus. Furthermore, Reich also alternated a lot with the dynamics, to keep the piece interesting.

I was surprised how much I enjoyed listening to this piece, even though it was difficult to focus on a structure. I enjoyed the calm atmosphere it created, especially by just moving slowly to different chords.

3rd Piano Concerto, first movement

  • Composer: Sergei Prokofiev
  • Year of compositon: 1917 – 1921
  • Performed by: Yuja Wang
  • Listened to: 16.04.2021

The first movement opens with a lyrical melody, played by a solo clarinet, which is shortly after taken over by the strings and finally leads to a staccato run on the piano. From there, the rhythm of every instrument section seems to become very vivid. A grotesque side – theme is introduced by the oboes, and taken over by the piano playing variations of the theme. Instead of moving back to the main theme, a short disorientated sounding passage leads to the development of the movement, which is started with a bright theme played by the whole orchestra in fortissimo. A romantic sounding progression of the introduced theme can be heard, where the piano mainly plays arpeggios fitting to the chords of the orchestra. The same staccato run from the beginning leads to the recapitulation, which slowly moves into a grotesque sounding theme again.

Quatuor pour la fin du temps: Liturgie de cristal

  • Composer: Oliver Messiaen
  • Year of composition:1940 – 1941
  • Instruments: Oboe
  • Performed by: antje Weithas, Sol Gabetta,Sabine Meyer, Betrand Chamayou
  • Listened to: 16.04.2021

The piece starts with a light theme played by the oboe. The chords for the accompaniment seem disharmonic at first and create a somewhat uneasy character. Nonetheless, after a while one can find a continuity and repetition within the single chords and high pitched notes of the other three instruments. Each instrument seems to follow its’ own rhythmical structure, which interestingly makes the piece sound very open.

Exercise 8: Mahler and Moderism

I was asked to Listen to Mahlers “Das Lied der Erde” and comment about a possible bridge between Romanticism and Modernism.

From previous courses I already know that there are quite a few differences between Romanticism and Moderism. The most important feature of the Romantic period was probably the emphasis of emotional expression. Composers tried to move away and get beyond the strict Classical rules and harmonics. The music was also often produced alongside poetry. The orchestra also went through a major development by being expanded with more, sometimes new instruments. 10

Moderism is a collective term for the Western music produced since 1910. It is especially known for its, sometimes radical, expansion of the tonal, harmonic, melodic and rhythmic textures. Even though several different musical genres were established, most composers tried to find new sounds and musical forms. 10

Even though I personally would have put Mahlers Das Lied der Erde to the Romantic era, he definitely used some techniques, which have more in common with Modernism. He, for example, doesn’t only stick to the diatonic key system but also uses pentatonic or bitonal keys. Nonetheless, most of the texture, such as using a large orchestra, the strong, colourful emotions produced and the ability to tell a story, not only with the singers but also the instruments.

10 Thompson, W. (2001). The Great Composers- An illustrated guide to the lives, key works and influences of over 100 renowned composers. London: Joanna Lorenz, p. 166 – 167

Exercise 9: Listening to Space 2

In ecclesiis

  • Composer: Giovanni Gabrieli
  • Year of composition: 1608
  • Performed by: Wise Music Group
  • Listened to: 18.04.2021

Unlike the previous pieces, this is the first one to feature more than one voice, it is also from a much earlier epoch. The music mostly alters between solo sections and sections for the whole ensemble. The instrumental sections which appear between chorus and solo sections are polyphonic and seem to echo the previous parts. Within the middle section, the music becomes more tensious, but is lifted shortly after by a quieter entry of the Soprano voice.

Obviously, for the task of this exercise , it wasn’t possible to see a life performance of the piece directly, but I watched several performances of the piece to get a sense of the physical space. Often I found versions, where the choir was placed behind the orchestra, or just on one side. The most effective version is probably the one from the St Marks basilica, where the choir is on the right alongside the trombones, the strings in the centre and the cornets are on the left. This is probably very effective, as most of these sections play in antiphonal sections. Furthermore, with most of these recordings one can hear that they were recorded in large halls, which makes them sound much wider than they would have sound in small rooms.

The score features 14 voices: 4 solo voices (SATB), 4 choir voices (SATB), 3 cornettos, a violin and 2 trombones and a continuo for the bass accompaniment. One can notice, that Gabrieli altered between different versions of accompaniment and melodic lines. Whilst he initially focuses on one solo part and a simple bass line, every voice seems to become more rhythmically independent towards the end of the piece, were it creates a polyphonic structure. I personally think that a wide sense of space is created during the solo passages, accompanied by the continuo. This initial space seems slowly to be filled by the other voices and instruments over the course of the piece, whilst still maintaining a sense of an open space.

Exercise 10: Listening as Analysis

As I really enjoyed working on the graphical score during the course “Music 1: From the Present to the Past”, I was looking forward to be working on this exercise. Initially, I was asked to sit and listen to my environment for a few minutes. During this process I noticed the following things, which are normally automatically blended out:

The closest and loudest noise I could hear, was the buzzing vent of my Laptop in front of me, which even seemed to have a pitch which ascended and descended depending on the amount of energy the laptop used. A lower, similar airy and also pitched sound is produced by a fridge a few metres behind me. Only after a few seconds I noticed some splashing water coming from the fish tank two metres ahead of me. Every now and then I was able to hear deep hollow sounding cracks coming from the walls of the house (which was a slightly unsettling sensation, as I’ve never paid attention to that noise before). Even though these crackling sounds were heavy and deep, I would identify them as a non – pitched noise not a sound. All around me but slightly further away, I could hear the wind whistling around the house and the trees nearby as well as birds chirping. Interestingly, even the wind alternated between different pitches, depending on the object it hit and the strength. A bit closer than the birds were some damped muttering from people walking on the streets in front of the house. Even though they were closer, they didn’t appear as frequently as the chirping of the birds. During these two minutes, I was only able to hear a passing car on a high street a few hundred metres away. Overall a really interesting sensation.

The following recording was taken between 2 and 3 PM in a garden of a suburban area on the 19th of April 2021. I suppose, that the time of day, year and the current weather (cloudy and windy) are factors, which are equally important as the environment itself. Therefore, the outcome of the recording might have been completely different if one of these factors were altered. Furthermore, it has to be mentioned, that even though I made the recording with a high – quality microphone, it still came out differently than what could originally be heard. That being said, I will also try to consider for future Listening Log entries, that some composers might have wanted to create a different kind of “space” for a live – performance, than the sense of space created in a recording.

For the second part of this exercise, I was asked to make a graphical interpretation of the recording above. The blue bows represent the wind, returning in similar shapes, mostly during the whole recordings. The black dots show the places where the wind hit the microphone directly, even though this wasn’t audible initially, I found it was important to include it in the score, as I tried to focus on the recording instead of the original sound. As the wind was probably the loudest part of the recording, I decided to put it on two staves, but still weighed it more towards the treble clef to demonstrate the higher pitch. Passing cars, which can sometimes be heard in the background are marked in green. The birds singing are written on a higher pitch, with bright, but dominant colours, as they can be heard clearly above the wind. I am not completely sure, but I think I was able to make out at least 4 different birds, one only joining in at the end, singing a descending minor third. Some people muttering can be heard within the centre of the piece but only faintly, they are represented faintly in the middle register. Obviously, I could have decided to use another form of stave, or none at all, but wanted to use one with a treble and bass clef, to give the piece some firm structure to rely on. Overall I really enjoyed working on this exercise.

Exercise 11: Analysis as Transcription

With the recording, written notes and the graphic score, I was now asked to orchestrate the recording for a group of instruments. To start this exercise, I went back to the list of techniques an sound characteristics of several instruments I made throughout the previous three units of the course. I was asked not to “musicalise” the material too much, which was really difficult at first, but over the progress of working on this piece, I managed to move a few steps away from the boundaries of classical notation.

The most obvious choice for the birds were woodwind instruments, especially the piccolo and flute, as they can represent a “chirping” sound rather well. For the parts including cars I decided to use a longer bar, as I didn’t want the continuity of the car passing to be interrupted by a bar line, even if that choice was more for the notation instead of the sound. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to find a playback option, which would allow Sibelius to play air notes to represent the wind. I notated them nonetheless, but gave them a pitch to play, which also comes close to the effect I wanted to achieve. I chose several members of the clarinet family to play the wind, to keep the sound similar.

The brass instruments, which I chose for passing cars, were maybe a bit to heavy in comparison to the recording, but I had the impression that they fitted well as passing vehicles.

For the talking people, which can be heard really quietly in the centre of the recording, I remembered a “talking piano”, I saw a few years ago at an exhibition in Germany. A computer let a piano playe frequencies which are similar to us talking, it was quite a memorable sensation. Obviously, the accuracy of this approach would be nowhere near the Talking Piano, especially as it has to be played by a performer, not a computer.

Finally, I added in the parts, where the wind hit the microphone directly, by using low pizzicato notes played by the double bass and cello.

Overall I used the following instruments: piccolo, flute, oboe, clarinet in Eb, clarinet in Bb, bass clarinet, bassoon, contra – bassoon, horn, trombone, bass – trombone, piano, cello, double bass. On the following picture one can see how they are meant to be placed in order to recreate the space from the recording.

Ideally would be a stage in a wide closed room with two platforms, the second one being higher than the first, placed in a semicircle. This way the instruments from the higher platform can be heard from a greater distance without being “blocked” by the instruments in front. It furthermore leave some more space to place them in certain directions (e.g. the brass section is placed on the left, as the cars can be heard on the left side). As the wind is the most dominant part, the group of clarinets is right in front. The chirping birds, here played by the oboe, piccolo and flute are higher up, but further behind.

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