Project 1: Colouring Harmony
Before starting to work on the given task, I read chapters 15,16 and 17 of Eric Taylor’s The AB Guide to Music Theory again, to revise the most important harmonic rules.
The task was to write 4 short contrasting episodes of chord progressions moving around the harmonic circle between I- pre V and- V, whereas the “pre V” could either be build from the IV, II or even III chord.
The first chord progression uses the chords I – IV – V – I – II – I – II – V – I
The finished version is as follows:
The second chord progression:
I – IV – I – IV – V – I – IV – I – III – V – I
The third chord progression:
I – II – I – III – V – I – I – II – I – IV – V – I
The fourth chord progression:
I – III – V – I – IV – V – I – III – I – II – V – I
Overall, I had some great fun doing this exercise. With the original pattern placed and even the example in my study folder, I still wasn’t quite sure how far I was allowed to move away from this pattern.
Even though I used different rhythms, I only noticed at the end, that the tempo of all three pieces are really similar to one another. Nonetheless, I still think their character is rather contrasting, as I was trying to develop 4 different ideas. Furthermore, revising it I also noticed that I placed one chord progression per bar, a feature which could have been alternated more, I’m still confident with the result and will therefore leave the compositions as they are. Nonetheless, I will try to pay some more attention to this for future projects.
When I start to write a piece, I often get stuck at some point after having introduced a main idea. Nonetheless due to the harmonic pattern produced beforehand, I found I had a much more fluid workflow and it was much easier to create melodic ideas. Thus, I will definitely consider approaching my own works in a similar way for future compositions.
Project 2: Reviving skeletons
Similarly to the last exercise, I was asked to use a harmonic skeleton of a piece, and create my own harmonic transformation. The chord progression was the following:
At the end I created the following:
For the second part of this exercise, I had to choose a piece myself, which I should subtract to it’s harmonic “skeleton” and add my own ideas to it. My choice fell on the beginning of Beethoven’s 5th Sonata in C – minor, which has the following introducing bars:
If followed the guidance from Taylor’s Music Theory Guide correctly, the harmonic outline should be the following:
The result is the following:
Within the first exercise, it was part of the task to move “far from Vivaldi”, even with the given skeleton of the piece, I often found myself moving back to features used in Classical music. Nonetheless, I personally think that the melodic line as well as the chord progression is still a huge step away from Vivaldi’s original version.
The choice for the second piece wasn’t easy at all, I initially thought about using a piece suggested in the study folder. Nonetheless, at the end I decided to use a piece I’m currently learning for the piano. Having played it myself made it on one hand easier to extract the harmonic skeleton, on the other hand, it was much more difficult to put my own ideas into it, as I have heard and played the original version really often. Nonetheless, even though it was rather challenging, I am personally quite happy with the result.
Project 3: Accompaniments
Research Point: Englisch Folk Songs
Within this research point, I was asked to choose a composer and listen to several folk – songs, focusing on one in detail. As I personally didn’t want to just blindly choose one of the suggested composers, I nonetheless listened to a few folk – songs from a handful of composers and then decided which’s style I like best. The aim here was mainly to find songs for a solo voice and piano accompaniment, nonetheless, some pieces I’ve listened to were also arranged slightly differently (e.g. Vaughan William’s Bushes and Briars) although I didn’t consider them for the following short analysis.
After looking around for a bit, I was really interested in having a deeper look into Vaughan William’s The rich old Lady, as I found the adaptive yet similar schemes of the piano accompaniment really interesting. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to find a complete score of the piece, thus the possibilities of analyzing it in detail were slightly limited.
The piece itself is in d – minor. The intro of the piano consists of two bars, the first one consisting of the unison played notes (over 3 octaves) a and c, which automatically leads to the following note, the tonic d. Within the second bar the first accompaniment pattern can already be heard; a jumpy left hand moving on the whole beats from d to a; whereas the right hand plays staccato chords, always in root position, as an answer so the bass line. (as shown below)
The second verse is accompanied the same way as the first with the described staccato pattern. The first time the piano wonders off from this structure is just before the first refrain starts for the first time. Interestingly, the piano sets the melodic line for the next bar playing the same four by the singer echoed notes in a different rhythm.
The transition from the second to the third verse, the piano accompaniment slightly changes, even though the chords stay the same. By playing an octave higher, the mood of the song also becomes slightly lighter. Instead of only using staccato notes, Williams used more fluently sounding arpeggios which where followed again by just one root – position chord.
When the voice moves down at the second half of the stanza , the piano simply plays descending staccato notes at the same time instead of continuing with the fluid movement.
For the second appearance of the refrain, the piano indicated the following notes again, but interestingly, the intervals seemed to be reversed this time, thus, instead of moving upwards, the staccato notes created a contra motion with the following melody. The third phrase is repeated in the same way.
Within the fifth phrase the plot of the song starts to get more serious, which may be why the whole accompaniment for phrases 5 and 6 consists of single notes played in octaves, mostly on a low register, so indicate a more serious atmosphere. Nonetheless, the staccato rhythm is still kept.
The sixth and last phrase is similar to the previous two ones, except that the octaved notes are played in legato. There is also a short ritardano just before the beginning of the last refrain, which is played with staccato notes again, in a similar rhythm as the first one.
Even though I think I made the right choice regarding the piece, I found it slightly frustrating not being able to find a complete score of the piece, which made it much more difficult to have a further look into it. As already stated previously, it made a more detailed look into the piece rather difficult. Nonetheless, I’m still quite surprised about how much I was able to write down about the accompaniment just by listening to it. As the course moves on I will definitely move back to those notes, and maybe imitate some ideas of this colourful arrangement.
Exercise : Folk – Song
For this exercise, I chose one of the suggested songs from my study folder. I really liked the calming melody of the Swedish lullaby, and even though there’s only one verse, it is meant to be repeated several times, thus I tried adding different accompaniment textures to it.
As it was meant to get children to sleep, I let the dynamics gradually move down. Furthermore, to get the effect of moving into sleep, I also moved from the upper register of the piano and rapidly played notes to the centre and lower parts, also trying to avoid fast movements.
Research Point: Word Setting
The main difference that can be made for word settings is a melismatic and a syllabic setting. The second one refers to a technique, where each syllable of a word/sentence gets its own note. On the other hand, melismatic word setting refers to a technique, where one syllable is sung over several notes. (Kennedy et al. 2013, pp. 545, 830)
According to Monelle (1984) the main compound between music and words is the rhythm. He furthermore states, that it’s not essential to have the same rhythm; the music and vocals are always somehow related to one another, regardless of whether they function at the same beat or in contradiction to one another.
The first few pieces I’ve listened to for this Research Point were from Gilbert & Sullivan, which mostly used syllabic word setting for their operettas. I noticed quite early that this type of word setting is really effective to create a text that’s easy to understand, even with different paces.
Above; The entry of the first song from Gilbert and Sullivan’s Operette Pinafore. The orchestra didn’t only accompany the choir, one can also see that the melody line is doubled in the clarinet and the bassoon. Nonetheless, the chorus is obviously still in the foreground.
Over my research, I noticed that melismatic word setting is more often used in Classical Music rather than modern musicals. This is probably caused by the fact, that composers paid more attention to the music itself instead of the text. A good example for this is, that it is probably really difficult to understand the plot of a classical opera without knowing about it before hand. One of the world’s most well – known melisma is probably Der Hölle Rache kocht in meinem Herzen (Hell’s vengeance boils in my heart),by Mozart in his Opera Die Zauberflöte (The magic flute). Even though this piece only includes a few melismatic word settings, they seem to unmistakeably have a huge impact on the powerful atmosphere of the piece.
Above a short extract from Der Hölle Rache kocht in meinem Herzen can be seen. The melisma, or “colouratur” carries itself over several bars, without changing a syllable.
Overall it can be said that, with the pieces I’ve listened to for this Research Point (Listening Log), I could find many advantages and disadvantages of word setting in melismatic or syllabic form. In my personal opinion, it is probably more important whether the composer wants to present his music or the meaning of the text, as I think that it gets easier to understand words with syllabic movements. Nonetheless, I think there is also a good medium, where the music can be powerful with a good mixture of melismatic and syllabic word settings.
Furthermore, it has to be mentioned, that I found it initially rather difficult for this particular research point to know what exactly to write and how much. After listening to a few different music examples as well as reading some papers about the topic I started to understand the depth of it.
Monelle, R. (1984). Word – Setting in the Strophic Lied. Oxford University; Music & Letters; Vol.65, No 3. [online]. Available at: https://www.jstor.org/stable/736094 [Accessed: 04.03.2022]
Kennedy, M; Kennedy, J and Rutherford-Johnson, T. (2013). Rave, Joseph Maurice. In: Oxford-Dictionary of Music, 6th ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Research Point: Modes
Exercise: Poem and Music
I was also asked to set a poem to music. As I recently started to enjoy some works from Edgar Allan Poe, I decided to use one of his poems. As suggested, I started of with the rhythm and added the melody afterwards.
Even though it wasn’t part of the task, as I really enjoyed working on it, I extended this exercise further and added a piano accompaniment to it.
Even though I had some difficulties starting this exercise, I hugely enjoyed working on it towards the end and felt really inspired to add a piano accompaniment to it. Nonetheless, I still payed attention to the voice, so that it would be able to carry itself. Through a coincidence, which I only noticed after doing this exercise, the task for the first Assignment is quite similar, nonetheless for the Assignment I tried to create a completely different character for another poem.