Listening Log

  • Piece: La mer

  • Composer: Claude Debussy
  • Instruments: 2 flutes, piccolo, 2 oboes, English horn, 2 clarinets, 3 bassoons, contrabassoon, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 2 cornets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, bass drum, cymbals, tam-tam, triangle, glockenspiel, 2 harps, strings
  • Date of composition: 1903-1905
  • Date of first performance: 1905
  • Performed by: Bernard Haitink, Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra
  • Listened to: 05.11.2019

This orchestral piece consists of three movements: De l’aube a midi sur la mer – tres lent ( From dawn to noon on the sea – Very slow), Jeux de vagues (Play of the Waves), Dialogue du vent de la mer (Dialogue of the wind and the waves)

The first movement initally has a very eastern sounding character, but sounds more theatrical after the first few bars. Suitable to the title, the second movement was more hectic. Debussy often changed the dynamics and pace. Nevertheless, it seemed as if some “warm” chords from the previous movement echo in the background. Towards the very end of the movement the music suddenly becomes very quiet and ends with a calm theme introduced by the harp. For the third movement one can hear a low pitched timpani at the beginning, indicating that a “storm” is about to come. With disharmonic chords altering between forte and piano the scene changes to a “battle” between the wind and the waves. Shortly after a calmer theme follows, similar to one from the first movement. An oboe playing a soft melody introduces a new motif, just going up and down within the range of three notes. The rest of the orchestra slowly adapts to this theme and continues. Towards the end the music suddenly becomes tense again, the pace and volume increase and a majestic sounding theme resolves the tension and leads the piece to an end.

I was rather thrilled by this piece and especially enjoyed the warm film-like theme of the first movement. I definitely was surprised to be able to recognise the first theme of the first movement, as I personally don’t listen to Debussy’s music too often.

  • Piece: Reflets dans l’eau

  • Composer: Claude Debussy
  • Instruments: Piano
  • Date of composition: 1904-1905
  • Date of first performance: 1905
  • Performed by: Seong-Jin Cho
  • Listened to: 05.11.2019

The piece starts out with some fast paced, soft chords moving up and down giving the impression of small waves on water. (Suitable to the title). On can notice, that Debussy switches between different keys. It is barely noticeable that the mood shifts from a dreamy theme to a more chaotic one. The transitions between piano and forte are very slow. Towards the end of the piece I was surprised to hear Debussy using a major scale for a few bars. After the mentioned louder, more hectic part, the music gradually becomes slower again, reflecting the silence after a storm.

I enjoyed the calm nature of this piece and the beginning and the end. As with most of Debussy’s pieces it was difficult to not have a main motif, even though he repeated a few parts.,_1ere_s%C3%A9rie_(Debussy,_Claude)

  • Piece: Hommage a Rameau

  • Composer: Claude Debussy
  • Instrument: piano
  • Date of composition: 1904-1905
  • Date of first performance:
  • Performed by: 1905
  • Listened to: 05.11.2019

The piece starts with an eastern sounding theme played in octaves. A deep long note after which a high pitched melody and some accompanying chords in the middle can be heard afterwards. Debussy shifts to a pentatonic scale and some more jazzy sounding chords. A further theme played in octaves follows after which several chords, deep notes and a melody are woven into one another. Furthermore, Debussy made strong use of the pedal which makes the whole atmosphere sound more dream-like. The piece continues with this scheme for a while, whereas the melody becomes more chaotic and louder. Once the piece has reached its climax, the pace and dynamics slowly descend again, and the theme from the beginning can be heard again.,_1ere_s%C3%A9rie_(Debussy,_Claude)

  • Piece: Prelude a l’apres-midi d’un faune

  • Composer: Claude Debussy
  • Instruments: 3 flutes, 2 oboes, English horn, 2 clarinets (A), 2 bassoons
    4 horns (F), 2 harps, 2 crotales, strings
  • Date of composition: 1891-1894
  • Date of first performance: 1894
  • Performed by: Bernard Haitink, Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra
  • Listened to: 06.11.2019

The piece starts with a theme played only by the flute. This theme can be heard again throughout the whole composition and functions as the faun’s Leitmotif. It is based on Stephane Mallarme’s poem “L’apres-midi d’un faune”. Debussy managed it incredibly well to describe the plot of the poem (Research point 4.1). He even went a bit further in describing the atmosphere around the plot, not only the plot itself. Due to the warm but slightly quirky character, this piece is one of my favourite ones from Debussy so far.’apr%C3%A8s-midi_d’un_faune_(Debussy%2C_Claude)

  • Piece: Clair de Lune

  • Composer: Claude Debussy
  • Instruments: Piano
  • Date of composition: 1890-1905
  • Date of first performance: 1905
  • Performed by: Alain Planes
  • Listened to: 06.11.2019

One of the most well-known pieces from Debussy is probably “Clair de Lune”. A really calm piece played on the piano. I found that this piece, unlike many others from Debussy has one easily recognisable theme, which is probably the reason why it’s so popular. After the intro the mood changes from calm and quiet to a more provoking loud character. In the following part Debussy uses quickly played arpeggios to underline a varied version from the main theme. The piece generally alters often between those to moods.

As I have played the piece myself several years ago, I really enjoyed listening to it again. I especially like the fact, that the main motif from the beginning can be heard throughout the whole piece. Within the previous pieces from Debussy I’ve listened to, I always found it difficult to find a golden threat leading the piece.

  • Piece: Miroirs

  • Composer: Maurice Ravel
  • Instruments: Piano
  • Date of composition: 1904-1905
  • Date of first performance: 1906
  • Performed by: Alexander Krichel
  • Listened to: 09.11.2019


  • Noctuelles: Despite a rather chaotic start a disharmonic melody can be distinguished from all the other played notes. The mood switches from this fast part in the beginning to a lighter a calmer character. After a part, which gradually puts the two themes together, the high pitched theme from the beginning can be heard again. Even though I personally wasn’t too keen on the sound of “Noctuelles” I was positively surprised by the smooth, barely noticeable transitions between the two themes.
  • Oiseaux tristes: I really enjoyed the beginning of this piece. Unlike, but similar to the first piece it started with a deep warm theme and then moved onto a high pitched, dissonant theme. The second half of the piece involves a short repetitive motive in the right hand accompanying the beginning theme played by the left hand. I especially enjoyed the warm beginning.
  • Une barque sur l’ocean: Has a tender start with a repetitive phrase. Due to the fact, that there are always several notes played either at the same time, in rapid arpeggios or both, one can’t really define a main voice. The piece has overall a very dream-like character.
  • Alborada del gracioso: I was rather surprised by this piece due to it having a completely different character than the previous ones. It had a jumpier, slightly quirky theme. It was fun listening to it, especially the first phrases. The left hand mostly had staccato notes to play. Towards the middle, it sounded as if it were about to end. After a general rest a quiet solo voice can be heard, much lighter than the beginning. The new theme is processed in several ways before the melody slowly comes back to an altered version of the initial jumpy theme.
  • La Vallee des cloches: This piece is similar to the first three pieces of “Miroirs” again; It starts very slowly with a short theme repeating itself played in octave before a second voice starts, always playing the same two notes. A third low voice starts in the bass. This piece mainly consists of chords woven into one another, played in different ways. Therefore, it is again the case, that a melody voice can hardly be found at the beginning. Nevertheless, towards the middle of the piece, I was surprised a pentatonic melody with a longing character. The piece ends “mirrored”, as the second theme is played again, but with switched voices and the first theme can be heard at the end again.

  • Piece: So what

  • Composer: Miles Davis
  • Instruments: trumpet, tenor saxophone, alto saxophone, piano, bass, drums
  • Date of composition: 1958
  • Date of first performance: 1958
  • Performed by: Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Cannonball Adderley, Bill Evans, Paul Chambers, Jimmy Cobb
  • Listened to: 10.11.2019

As it is already stated in my learning log: The first 30 seconds were inspired by Claude Debussy’s “Voiles”. Before the trumpet starts playing, with a walking bass accompanying, one can hear the same two chords (V-I) repeating themselves. The mentioned walking bass lasts up to the very end of the piece. The piano as well as the drums are barely noticeable, but essential to fill the background music to all the wind-instrument-solos. I personally really enjoy any kind of Jazz and am therefore in favour of this piece, especially now that I know a bit more about the background.

  • Piece: Voiles

  • Composer: Claude Debussy
  • Instruments: Piano
  • Date of composition: 1909-1910
  • Date of first performance: 1910
  • Performed by: Pierre-Laurent Aimard
  • Listened to: 11.11.2019

The piece starts with descending notes of a whole tone scale, every note played with its’ major third above. As a second voice a bass note –Bb- enters shortly after, this note is played monotonously for several bars. A third voice fills the middle between the previous two. The mood is very relaxed and dreamy at the beginning. The descending theme from the first voice moves further down before a clear pentatonic melody can be heard. A general rest (which already seemed like the end of the piece for me) follows, before the bass note can be heard again. In contrary to the first half of the piece the other voices now sound incredibly disharmonic.

As already mentioned, in addition to listening to the piece, I also analysed it in my learning log. Even though I didn’t particularly enjoy listening to it, I found it much more interesting once I had done some research about it. In my personal opinion I think that the structure in Debussy’s pieces is highly complex, even though one might not notice it by only listening to it.

  • Piece: Variations for orchestra Op.31

  • Composer: Arnold Schönberg
  • Instruments: 4 flutes, 4 oboes, clarinet in Eb, 3 clarinets in Bb, Bass-clarinet, 4 bassoons, 4 horns in F, 3 trumpets in C, 4 tubas, 4 bass-tubas, timpani, drums, 2 harps, celesta, mandolin and strings.
  • Date of composition: 1926-1928
  • Date of first performance: 1928
  • Performed by: Günther Herbig, Berliner Symphoniker
  • Listened to: 12.11.2019

This piece consists of 12 short parts; An introduction; A theme; 9 variations and a finale. The main theme is presented in the impressionistic sounding introduction starting with a tritone interval. Towards the end of the first motif one can also notice a B-A-C-H motif from the tuba, which can also be heard in variations II and V and even more emphasised in the Finale. Once the basic tone-row has been introduced, the theme is also played in its retrograde-inversion. (Backwards with mirrored intervals). The colour, character as well as the metre of the sound are different in every variation. Within the first variation for example, the row is only played by the bass instruments. The most complex variation is probably the fifth, instead of just a group of instruments, all the instruments of the orchestra are working with the row. In the finale Schönberg works with parts from the previous variations, furthermore the B-A-C-H motif occurs in different versions.

As with most of Schönbergs pieces, I found it incredibly helpful to have a score to read along with. Even though I personally didn’t really enjoy the sound of it, I always find it interesting to find structures in Schönbergs pieces.

  • Piece: Daphnis et Chloe Suite No.2

  • Composer: Maurice Ravel
  • Instruments: mixed chorus (SATB), Orchestra: piccolo, 2 flutes, alto flute, 2 oboes, English horn, Clarinet in Eb, 2 clarinets, bass clarinet, 3 bassoons, contrabassoon, 4 horns, 4 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, triangle bass drum, cymbals, snare drum, field drum, castanets, glockenspiel, celesta, 2 harps, strings
  • Date of composition: 1913
  • Date of first performance: 1913
  • Performed by: Boston Symphony orchestra
  • Listened to: 13.11.2019

The ballet is based on an ancient Greek novel from the author Longos. The plot is about two children; whose parents gave them away when they were very young. They grow up among shepherds on the isle Lesbos. After being parted for a while they find one another again as well as their parents. Compared to other pieces by Ravel, this one is with a duration of about one hour one of his longest ones. I found that the style overall sounded really impressionistic; the music is very passionate. Knowing the plot, it was easy to follow and understand the music, I especially enjoyed the sound of the chorus.

  • Piece: Violin Concerto

  • Composer: Alban Berg
  • Instruments: Solo – violin; Orchestra: 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 3 clarinets, bass clarinet, 2 bassoons, contrabassoon
  • Date of composition: 1935
  • Date of first performance: 1936
  • Performed by: Claudui Abbado; James Levine; Pierre Boulez
  • Listened to: 14.11.2019

Berg gave the concerto the name “Dem Andenken eines Engels” (To the memory of an angel). The piece is parted in two movements: 1) Andante Allegro and 2) Allegro Adagio. The composition was inspired by the death of the 18-year-old Manon Gropius, the daughter of a friend from Berg. The first movement describes Manon’s short life, the music has a soft and calm character. The second movement focuses more on Manon’s death and is therefore much darker and more dramatic.

I definitely enjoyed the first movement more than the second one, nevertheless, I found it fascinating how Berg made use of symbolism. The main row for example, consists of ascending notes, which symbolise a stairway to the sky.

  • Piece: Symphony Op.21

  • Composer: Anton Webern
  • Instruments: Orchestra; clarinet in Bb, bass clarinet in Bb, 2 horns in F, harp, strings
  • Date of composition: 1928
  • Date of first performance: 1929
  • Performed by: Twentieth Century Classical Ensemble, Robert Craft
  • Listened to: 15.11.2019

The first movement has a similar structure to a classical form of the first movement of a sonata. The second movement provides 7 variations with a coda, using the retrograde of the main row (which was introduced in the first movement). Webern used a certain symmetry for the symphony by writing the second half as the retrograde of the first half, only transposed by a tritone.

Knowing that the piece is written in 12 tone technique, I looked at the score before I listened to it, to find tonal structures beforehand. I like the fact, that Webern tried to use classical forms to structure his piece. Nevertheless, listening to the piece was rather difficult as I often find the sound of any music that was written in 12-tone-technique rather chaotic.,_Op.21_(Webern,_Anton)

  • Piece: King Roger

  • Composer: Karol Szymanowski
  • Instruments: voices, orchestra
  • Date of composition: 1918-1924
  • Date of first performance: 1926
  • Performed by: Sir Simon Rattle, City Of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra
  • Listened to: 16.11.2019

King Roger is a Polish Opera about the enlightenment of a Christian King by a young shepherd, who had pagan ideals. The opera is parted into three acts. I was surprised by the strong, slightly unusual, but nonetheless comforting character. I noticed, that Szymanowski often managed it to increase the music even more after having reached a climax. As I unfortunately don’t speak nor understand Polish, I found it difficult to understand the full plot, even after reading through it. Nevertheless, as already mentioned, I enjoyed the sound of the Opera.,_Op.46_(Szymanowski,_Karol)

  • Piece: Pacific 231

  • Composer: Arthur Honegger
  • Instruments: Orchestra; piccolo flute, 2 flutes, 2 oboes, English-horn, 2 clarinets, bass clarinet, 2 bassoons, contra-bassoon, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 tubas, drums, strings
  • Date of composition: 1923
  • Date of first performance: 1924
  • Performed by: Isao Tomita
  • Listened to: 17.11.2019

The piece starts with some natural sounding noises, which may be heard around a seashore and/or a trainstation. Some more high pitched unpleasing sounds can be heard before the first few more orchestral sounding instruments start playing. Rather than staying with one motif and processing it, Honegger probably tried to describe an atmosphere. Nevertheless, there seems to be a jumpy, quirky sounding theme, which only starts in the middle of the piece. This theme seems to repeat itself in different ways. As the beginning of the piece is loud and disharmonic, I initially thought, I might find it difficult to find any structure. I was positively surprised and rather entertained by the middle section.

  • Piece: Ebony Concerto

  • Composer: Igor Stravinsky
  • Instruments: Solo- Clarinet in Bb; Jazz band: 2 alto saxophones, 2 tenor saxophones, baritone saxophone, 3 clarinets in Bb, horn in F, 5 trumpets in Bb, 3 trombones, piano, harp, guitar, drum set.
  • Date of composition: 1945
  • Date of first performance: 1946
  • Performed by: Dimitri Ashkenazy, Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin, Vladimir Ashkenazy.
  • Listened to: 18.11.2019

As one might already be able to see above, the piece has overall a really jazzy sounding character and was a welcome change from the previous orchestral works. The piece is parted into three movements.  The first one has, a calm, relaxing character, whereas the second one is faster and jumpier. The movement begins in minor and ends in major. For the third movement, the “finale”, Stravinsky introduces a theme and processes it in form of variations.

As I am a great fan of Jazz I overall really enjoyed listening to this piece. The only part which was slightly unsettling was the second movement, it nevertheless made a welcome contrast to the first and third.

  • Piece: Le boeuf sur le toit, Op. 58

  • Composer: Darius, Milhaud
  • Instruments: Orchestra; 2 flutes, oboe, 2 clarinets in Bb, bassoon, 2 horns in F, 2 trumpets, trombone, percussion, strings
  • Date of composition: 1920
  • Date of first performance: 1920
  • Performed by: Orchestre Du Theatre Des Champs Elysees
  • Listened to: 19.11.2019

The piece starts with a clear, majestic theme, but switches to a more eastern sounding theme shortly after. The initially introduced theme is always put in between two new ones. In the background the strings play a constant jumpy bass. The music only becomes dissonant when the two themes overlap, furthermore one can often notice a switch between major and minor within the first theme. The form seems to be similar to a rondo. The rhythm, pace and keys seem to change quite often.

I really like this piece, due to its refreshing, lively character, even though it seemed a bit chaotic at several moments.

  • Piece: Vieille priere bouddhique

  • Composer: Lili Boulanger
  • Instruments: Voices: Tenors and mixed chorus (SATB); Orchestra: 2 flutes, 2 oboes, English horn, 2 clarinets in Bb, bass clarinet, 2 bassoons, sarrusophone, 4 horns in F, 3 trumpets, 4 trombones, tuba, timpani, cymbals, bass drum, celesta, 2 harps, strings
  • Date of composition: 1914
  • Date of first performance: 1921
  • Performed by: Mark Stinger
  • Listened to: 20.11.2019

The piece starts really calmly. The choir has a long part, accompanied by the orchestra. After a short part played only by the orchestra, a solo tenor voice starts singing. At the choral parts (beginning and end) it is often the case, that either some wind or string instruments play the exact same melody as the choir. The pace increases at the end and the music becomes louder. After a general rest, all the instruments and voices sing/play one last note before the piece ends.

It may have to do with the specific recording I listened to, but I found that the orchestra was often far too loud, especially for the solo voice. Overall I liked the calm, slightly mysterious mood of the piece.