Listening Log

1900 – 1945


  • Composer: Claude Debussy
  • Year of composition: 1912
  • Instruments: 2 piccolos, 2 flutes, 2 oboes, English horn, 2 clarinets, bass clarinet,
  • 3 bassoons, sarrusophone + 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba + timpani,
  • triangle, tambourine, xylophone, cymbals + celesta, 2 harps + strings
  • Performed by: Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal
  • Listened to: 01.06.2020

This piece starts with legato notes onto which the same interval, a second, is played repeatedly. Shortly after some other sections of the orchestra join in. Being familiar with Debussy’s “L’aprés-midi d’un faune”, I was positively surprised to sometimes recognize the faun’s theme with 4 ascending minor seconds hidden within this piece. Even though this piece is polyphonic, the dominance of one voice seemed to move from one orchestra section to the next one. Within the middle section of the piece, the key often switched between dissonant and harmonic systems, which also sometimes included a pentatonic scale. Even though there was no recognisable structure to the piece overall, I noticed, that Debussy used different types of ascending scales, which always gave me impression as if the music was moving towards a peak point, which is reached in bar 43. After that the instruments seem slightly “shy” to be starting to play again. This was indicated by the slow moving parallel fifths and octaves. He furthermore generally plays often with wavy patterns – this applies to the dynamical structure as well as the pace and the timbre. The themes and time signatures change rapidly. Interestingly, aside the mainly disharmonic key, the piece seems to try to hold a collection of emotions and impressions, which made it constantly interesting to listen to.

The Rite of Spring

  • Composer: Igor Stravinsky
  • Year of composition: 1913
  • Instruments: woodwinds: piccolo, 3 flutes (3rd doubling piccolo 2), alto flute, 4 oboes (4th doubling cor anglais 2), cor anglais, clarinet in E-flat and D, 3 clarinets in B-flat, A (3rd doubling bass clarinet 2), bass clarinet, 4 bassoons (4th doubling contrabassoon 2), contrabassoon.
  • Performed by: New York Philharmonic Orchestra
  • Listened to: 06.01.2020

Similar to the piece above, this one starts with just one instrument and has entries from the rest of the orchestra in very slow steps. Interestingly, it also often changes its time signature.Unlike Debussy’s piece, it doesn’t work with short motifs, but rather in a repetitive way, where one motif is used by different instruments in a canonic form. Furthermore, all dynamical changes happen rapidly, with no transition and often unexpectedly. Overall Stravinsky seemed to have used several different themes within every movement, worked with them until a peak point is reached and then quickly moves onto the next theme. I rather enjoyed listening to this piece due to its huge diversity in character.

Pierrot Lunaire

  • Composer: Arnold Schönberg
  • Year of composition: 1913
  • Instruments: voice, flute (also piccolo), clarinet (also bass clarinet), violin (also viola), cello, piano
  • Performed by: Lucy Shelton & Da Capo Chamber Players
  • Listened to: 01.06.2020

What impressed me most about this piece, was how the melody lines and background music aligned with the sung text. Having had a score to follow, I found it interesting to see how much detail for the interpretation Schönberg wrote for the whole piece, always adding the mood in which the voice should sing or speak and even indicating how long the rests should be in between the movements. Nevertheless, even though I found it interesting to listen to and was amazed by the usage of the voice, I found it difficult to follow the instrumental background due to the fact that no key signatures were used. The main purpose of the instrumental accompaniment was probably to accompany and represent the text.

Symphony No. 5

  • Composer: Jean Sibelius
  • Year of composition: 1915 – 1919
  • Instruments: 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, timpani, strings
  • Performed by: Lahti Symphony Orchestra
  • Listened to: 03.06.2020

After having been introduced to mainly atonal pieces at the beginning of this course, a more harmonic sounding piece was surprisingly welcome. The first theme is introduced by some calm harmonics from the horn. As some theme came back later within the movement, I assume that it is in sonata form. The second movement consists of several variations of a theme, which are started by pizzicato strings. The mood of this movement is lively and warm. The third movement starts with a rapid melody played by the strings. With and elegiac melody this movement is probably the most emotional part of the whole symphony. Furthermore, Sibelius uses an exceptionally long pedal point at the end of the movement, which creates a resolved peak point.

Symphony No. 5

  • Composer: Carl Nielsen
  • Year of composition: 1922
  • Performed by: New York Philarmonic Orchestra
  • Listened to: 03.06.2020

The first movement takes almost 20 minutes and creates a “conflict” between the voices of the orchestra. The usage of a permanently repeated, march – like, and tonal up – and down moving melody, which is accompanied or interrupted by a side drum and a clarinet creates a threatening atmosphere and harmonic instability. The second movement seems even more tense, due to the amount of instruments used and the fast paced, canonical structure. Nevertheless, some heroic melody lines where hidden in between those strained parts, which caused the piece to stay interesting throughout.


  • Composer: Edgard Varése
  • Year of composition: 1918 – 1921 (revised 1927)
  • Performed by: Orchestre du Conservatoire de Paris
  • Listened to: 08.06.2020

Even though it was stated in my study folder, I didn’t have the impression, that the sounds of a city were reflected well at the beginning, this effect only came with the use of the siren, which can only be heard after the first few minutes of the piece. On the contrary, I even had the impression Varèse tried to describe a hot, oriental landscape rather than a city, which was especially emphasized with the introducing flute. Although, within the later stages of the piece, more and more sounds refered to a city life. Even though Varèse doesn’t stick to any harmonic rules, the overall mood is the same: hectic, noisy and frequent action, even though there are some quieter parts, which may reflect some calm minutes during a night.

To refer to the in the Concise Oxford Dictionary provided definition of music “the art of combining vocal or instrumental sounds (or both) to produce beauty of form, harmony, and expression of emotion“, apart from the word “harmony” this definition seems to apply very well for me. Varèse certainly manages to produce an emotion of hectic movement and a stressed overall feeling. In my opinion he managed to use the exact right instruments to mirror sounds, such as sirens, driving cars, and people hectically moving from one place to another, incredibly well. The only exception for me are the first few minutes of the piece, which, for me, represented an oriental landscape.


  • Composer: Maurice Ravel
  • Year of composition: 1928
  • Instruments: full orchestra
  • Performed by: Wiener Philharmoniker
  • Listened to: 09.06.2020

What I found most interesting about this piece is first of all, that Ravel managed it to keep the piece interesting throughout, even though he was just using one single theme. Furthermore the piece has a constant crescendo, which is not only established by the dynamical changes of every instrument, but also through the amount of instruments used. The only instruments which play the same steady rhythm throughout are the percussion and pizzicato strings. Furthermore, the different use of the melody instruments, firstly used solely, later in groups and towards the end within the full orchestra, gave the piece enough variation to stay interesting and tense at the same time. Seeing that the key stayed the same throughout as well (apart from the ending bars) the listener knows what to expect, which gives the piece a somewhat meditative character. The use of the different instruments give the piece furthermore different colours, and make the motif especially through the use of all the instruments at the end sound more tense than at the beginning.

La mer

  • Composer: Claude Debussy
  • Year of composition: 1903 – 1915
  • 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
  • Performed by: Bernard Haitink, Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra
  • Listened t: 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.

The Firebird

  • Composer: Igor Stravinsky
  • Year of composition: 1910
  • Performed by: Vienna Philarmonic
  • Listened to: 09.06.2020

The plot of The Firebird is based on two Russian fairy tales and evolves about a prince who is trying to catch a firebird. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to find a full version with the orchestra and ballet part, and therefore could only focus on the music. Stavinsky managed to create interesting characterisations: buzzing, colourful and shimmering sounds are created through combinations of strings, glockenspiel and brass instruments. Even though there are no memorable melodies within this ballet, Stravinsky often seems to be working in wavy patterns, this applies not only to the melody, but also to the dynamics and emotional atmosphere. On the other hand, one can notice some repetitive themes, which leads to the conclusion, that Stavinsky partially worked with Leitmotifs.

Seeing that I only had the music to listen to, I would say that it was overall a very interesting piece, with mainly unexpected, yet, welcome harmonies and melody lines, although, nevertheless, the music seemed to become more and more monotonous over the progress of the piece.


  • Composer: Igor Stravinsky
  • Year of composition: 1910 – 1911
  • Instruments: orchestra
  • Performed by: The Cleveland Orchestra
  • Listened to: 09.06.2020

The plot of this ballet is about three dolls from an imposter, who miraculously come to life. The piece is divided into four parts: The Shrovetide Fair, Petrushka’s Room, The Moor’s Room, and The Shrovetide Fiar (Toward Evening)

The through the flute evoked bright sound, with the tremolo strings in the background, which alternate between high and low pitches create a suitable fairy tale – like character at the beginning of the piece, from which several diverse themes are developed. Interestingly, without looking at the score one probably wouldn’t notice the frequent time signature chances until part “12”, where a slow waltz, lead by the clarinets with high interruptions of the flute can be heard.

A folksong – like dance rhythm follows, which involves a jumpy, cheery tune. Which suddenly moves back to the hurrying theme from the beginning.

I noticed, that Stavinsky worked especially often with high pitched repetitive movements on top of most of the themes, with different instruments such as the piano, flute, glockenspiel and a few more, to create a childish, playful sounding atmosphere, which would reflect the three toys, which come to life within the story very well.

String Quartet No. 2

  • Composer: Arnold Schönberg
  • Year of composition: 1907 – 1908
  • Instruments: String quartet, Soprano
  • Performed by: New Vienna String Quartet, Evelyn Lear (Soprano
  • Listened to: 09.06.2020

Knowing Schönberg only through Serialism, I was surprised at the partially harmonic sounding parts. At the beginning of the piece, he presents a memorable melody line, which quickly evolves to a dramatic sounding character, due to the harmonic accompaniment of the other instruments. From then on the music seems to be alternating between atonal, nervous sounding, and short warm harmonic parts.

Even though there is often a very short or no rest between the movements, due to their contrasting paces and charaters, they are easily distinguishable.

Overall Schönberg used one theme per movement and developed it over the progress of the movement. I personally preferred the first movement most, as its motif was the easiest to find again. The second movement was slightly to hectic, although partially having a lower melody voice accompanied by the higher strings created a nice chance to the overall shrill sounding part. Nevertheless, some parts had a dance – like character and reminded me of a German folksong, in a very alternated way. The third and fourth movement involved a soprano singer, presenting two German poems by Stefan George. Through the slow rhythms, and often long paced notes, these two movements seemed rather monotonous.

First Symphony

  • Composer: Jean Sibelius
  • Year of composition: 1898 – 1899
  • Instruments: 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, percussion (bass drum, cymbals, triangle), harp, stings
  • Performed by: Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra
  • Listened to: 09. 06 .2020

The first movement is in sonata form starts very quiet with a solo for the clarinet, accompanied by a dull, thunderous sound from the timpani. This short solo leads to the actual, mainly through the brass instruments heroic sounding, main theme, which is played alongside a tremolo from the strings. The side theme is lead by the oboe and has a very calm character, which reminded me of a peaceful underwater scene – probably precipitated by the thirds – movement from the harp and the pizzicato for the lower strings.

The second movement presents a slow, emotional theme at the beginning, played by the violins, echoed by the woodwinds, which is repeated over the rest of the movements always in another variation. The third movement was rhythmically very interesting, as it is very fast paced at the beginning and end but holds a slow “lento” – trio in its centre.

The fourth movement starts with the clarinet solo from the first movement, Sibelius seems to be using several other aspects from the previous movements to create a “traditional” finale. One can notice, that he uses pedal points especially often within this movement.

With big orchestras it is often the case, that the harp is only supporting the other voices and mixes with all the other sounds. Therefore, I especially enjoyed the parts, where the harp could be heard especially well , and even lead to a chance of the whole atmosphere of one movement.

Rhapsody in Blue

  • Composer: George Gershwin
  • Year of composition: 1924
  • Instruments: Jazz band, 2 pianos
  • Performed by: Slovak National Philharmonic Orchestra
  • Listened to: 09.06.2020

‘Even though it had a jazzy sounding character, it still reminded me more of a classical or impressionistic orchestra piece rather than a normal “jazz” – piece. Overall the piece seems to be puzzled together with several different ideas, all of which create a cheery, hopeful and sad atmosphere at the same time. Apart from a few exceptions all those different parts are woven into one another seamlessly. Contrasting and entertaining throughout.

Furthermore, the piece seems to consist of orchestra and piano parts. Whereas the piano parts often work with rapid octave movements, which creates a playful character – similar to a ragtime.

Even though the score doesn’t leave any room for improvisation, some harmonics seemed to be haphazardly and therefor create the impression, as if some parts of the piece where improvised, which again fits to the overall jazzy character.

Porgy and Bess

  • Composer: George Gershwin
  • Year of composition: 1935
  • Instruments: Voices, Chorus, Orchestra
  • Performed by: Harolyn Blackwell/Glyndebourne Chorus/London Philharmonic Orchestra
  • Listened to: 9 – 10.06.2020

The overture hold (as it normally does) all the themes from all the coming scenes already, sometimes being parted by a transition, and sometimes by a rest. Within the first scene some of the music is interestingly part of the scene itself, as one can see a man playing a jazzy tune on a piano in a smoky pub, to which all the other actors sing and dance. The orchestra only joins in slowly.

The parts of the opera, which I found especially entertaining where:

  • Summer time

Until today I wasn’t aware that the jazz standard “Summertime”, which I had the pleasure to play on the piano a few years ago, was from this opera, I’ve furthermore never had the opportunity to listen to the original version until now and was rather hooked by it. I enjoyed the slow rhythm and unusual jazzy harmonies, created with mainly strings and brass. Furthermore, the piece appears a second time with a slightly faster rhythm and a male background choir and towards the end for a third time. It can therefore almost be seen as a golden thread moving through the opera.

  • One of my absolute favourites, probably caused by the jazzy melody and frequently used leading notes: A woman is a sometime thing
  • Bess, you is my woman now
  • The powerful revitative: I hates yo’ struttin’ style
  • The with echoing motifs playing piece “It ain’t necessarily so”
  • There’s a boat dat’s leavin’ soon for New York
  • Oh, Lawd, I’m on my way

Apart from the jumpy rhythm and melody, one can notice, that the male voice is always sung alongside a trumpet, which makes the last song above sound really playful.

It has to be mentioned, that I’ve listened to several German, Italian or even Russian operas, with all of them it was difficult to understand the text. Porgy and Bess was the first English opera I’ve listened to, and also the first one, where I could follow the plot and text from the beginning to the end.

As I normally only use chord progressions as they are taught in a classical style and was really moved by some of the harmonic movements Gershwin used here, I wrote some jazz chords he used down, to maybe use them in future compositions.

El Salon Mexico

  • Composer: Aaron Copland
  • Year of composition: 1932 – 1936
  • Performed by: New York Philharmonic (Conducted by Copland)
  • Listened to: 10.06.2020

For the version I listened to, Copland himself was conducting. At the beginning of the piece several different ideas are presented: several solo parts, but also warm full sounds, which are sometimes accompanied by dissonant chords coming from the strings. The very first catchy theme is presented after a few bars, and has a playful melody played by the bassoons, accompanied by the timpani. Shortly after a similar theme can be heard, this time only played by the higher strings. Overall, Copland uses similar sounding calm and quiet themes throughout the whole piece, which he develops seamlessly into loud, full sounding, sometimes rather hectic parts.

Even though I enjoyed the calm melodic part, I found he louder parts slightly to hectic and disorienting. This is mainly caused by the polyphonic structure or the frequent alterations of a melody line, if existent.

Billy the Kid

  • Composer: Aaron Copland
  • Year of composition: 1938
  • Peformed by: The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
  • Listened to: 10.06.2020

The first notes involve an unison theme, which reminds with its slow up and down moving melody of something sung in a church. This short melody slowly develops quickly towards a fully orchestrated warm sound, which seems to be working towards the emphasized notes from the timpani, playing on the off – beat. The calm character of this ballet is overall very entertaining, although, not being provided with any visual parts from it, it became rather monotonous after a while.


  • Composer: Aaron Copland
  • Year of composition: 1942
  • Performed by: Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra
  • Listened to: 10.06.2020

The piece starts with a fanfare, which is rather suddenly taken over by a calm woodwind theme, and then leads into a rhythmic motif, which seems to reflect horses. Most of the introduced motifs above can be heard again throughout the rest of the ballet, which leads to the conclusion, that Copland worked with Leitmotifs. Overall the piece is entertaining, but I personally would have preferred it, if Copland put some more attention to the transition between the several themes. Nevertheless, instrumentally mainly using wind instruments and a big range of percussion, he managed to represent a Western scene, as the title gives it away really well.

Appalachian Song

  • Composer: Aaron Copland
  • Year of composition: 1945
  • Performed by: Ulster Orchestra
  • Listened to: 10.06.2020

This ballet starts with really quiet and calm harmonies, lead by the woodwinds and strings. Only with the use of the horns and clarinet, the scene reminds of a mountain landscape in the spring. With the second movement and a change of key from A major to C major/A minor, the theme suddenly becomes faster, more hectic, yet still lively and cheery.

The third movement is incredibly slow, and is made of varying melodic parts, which are interrupted by a similar sounding darker theme. The fourth movement reminds of a quick country – song, after which the even quicker, lively 5th movement starts.

The sixth movement reminded me with its slow paced melody of the first few notes from the ballet, furthermore it creates a very contrasting effect to the previous movement and leads very well into the following 5 variations of the same theme. Within the last movement the damped strings seem to imitate a choral part, which leads to the starting theme of the first movement once again.

Copland managed it very well to melodically, harmonically and instrumentally capture the scenes of the different movements. Especially astonishing was the landscape theme which appears several times over the ballet.


  • Composer: Edgard Varese
  • Instruments: Electronics and Orchestra
  • Year of composition: 1950 – 1954
  • Performed by: ASKO Ensemble
  • Listened to: 10.06.2020

The music from all seven movements could easily be used within a gripping, tense moment within a film, with scenes either taking place in (as the name suggests) a desert or even another planet. But some of the instruments, the high pitched disharmonic flutes for example could also represent a jungle.

The seven movements are put together by 4 orchestral parts, alternating with three interruption of taped music. The recording parts seem in comparison to the orchestral ones much more structures and calm, even though neither of them are based on any scales or harmonic rules. Furthermore, the organic movements is structures a collection of different sounds, which seem to communicate with one another. The short frequencies and disharmonic chords in which the different instrument sections are used emphasize the above mentioned landscapes even more.

Cello Concerto

  • Composer: Edward Elgar
  • Instruments: Orchestra, Cello (solo)
  • Year of composition: 1919
  • Performed by: Sheku Kanneh-Mason (soloist), City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra
  • Listened to: 10.06.2020

This piece seems to be written in a classical music style. The first movement consist of echoing motifs, whereas the cello starts a solo “conversation”, always playing a slow minor melody. After every cello part follows an echoing motif from the orchestra, which seems to become louder and fuller every time its playing. The second movement starts with a pizzicato part from the cello, onto which the orchestra gives an answer instead of echoing it. The third movement is with only 60 bars the shortest one and Elgar doesn’t use any brass instruments. The finale is the most comprehensive movement: After a short introduction from the orchestra, the cello starts with the main theme, which is slowly taken over by the orchestra agian, and creates a full, dramatic sound.

I especially enjoyed the slow minor melody of the first movement, although for my personal liking the solo parts for all movements seemed incoherent, and therefore slightly long.

Violin Concerto

  • Composer: Edward Elgar
  • Instruments: Violin (solo), 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, contrabassoon, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, 3 timpani, strings.
  • Year of composition: 1905 – 1910
  • Performed by: David Aaron Carpenter (soloist) Philharmonia Orchestra
  • Listened to: 10.06.2020

After from a short dissonant introduction from the violin, the whole orchestra slowly joins in with some slow, minor harmonies. Those orchestral parts seem to alternate with the violin parts, which always sound similar to the entry notes. The second movement starts with quick tremolos from the violin accompanied by the whole orchestra with rhythmic dark sounding notes. The melody line within the centre of the movement is due to its low pitched, disharmonic notes incredibly dissonant. The last movement starts with a melodic solo part, inculding several rapidly played arpeggios. Some themes from the previous movements can be found again here.

As this piece is from the same composer as the previous one, I expected something more harmonical sounding. With the many dissonant chords and unusual melody progressions, I felt slightly uneasy listening to it. Although, I wouldn’t have expected to find several motifs more than once, especially within the first movement, which may therefore even be in a classical sonata form.

At the still point of the turning world.

  • Composer: Edwin Roxburgh
  • Instruments: Oboe, Recording tape
  • Year of composition: 1976
  • Performed by: Edwin Roxburgh (oboe), Lawrence Casserly (electronics)
  • Listened to: 20.06.2020

The first two minutes of this piece is filled with different long notes which are mostly the same pitch, some are produced by the solo oboe and some by the tape. The simplicity and monotony create a hypnotic atmosphere. Some disharmonic, twisting and repeating melody lines, which remind of a scene on antoher planet, can be heard afterwards. These uncombined sounding parts, which sometimes rapidly move up and down scales, but also play long unconnected notes don’t seem to rely on any pattern. This, maybe deliberately created randomness emphasizes the effect of something alien even more.

Sofferte onde Serene

  • Composer: Luigi Nono
  • Instruments: Piano, electronics
  • Year of composition: 1976
  • Performed by: Maurizio Pollini
  • Listened to: 20.06.2020

The piano frequently alternates between notes from the upper and lower register, often with cluster – chords from the middle register in between, which often to stop abruptly, before the sound of the chord would have completely faded away. Looking at a score, one can see, that the tempo marking are incredibly direct, and change in almost every bar. Apart from the dissonant harmonies, which create an uneasy atmosphere, the suddenly stopped clusters create an intensive feeling of breath suddenly being taken away.

Noa Noa

  • Composer: Kajia Saariaho
  • Instruments: Flute, Electronics
  • Year of composition: 1992
  • Performed by: Camilla Hoitenga (flute); Kajia Saariaho (electronics)
  • Listened to: 20.06.2020

Within this piece, the flutist doesn’t just play the flute, but one can also hear whispers, sung parts and intended breathing in a combination with different flute playing techniques. Even though it is constructed as disharmonically as the previous two pieces, it may be due to the instrument, that this one doens’t create an tensionous atmosphere but was on the contrary interestingly calm.

Reflecting the last three pieces, it was often not easy to tell, which part was played by the electronics and which ones from the instruments. They never seem to stand in the foreground and enhanced the already often quirky and uncomfortable mood. The first piece was especially interesting, as the recording tape only played other, sometimes modified versions of the oboe itself.

Concerto for Prepared Piano and Chamber Orchestra

  • Composer: John Cage
  • Instruments: different with every performance
  • Year of composition: 1950 – 1951
  • Performed by:
  • Northern Illinois University School of Music
  • Listened to: 20.06.2020

As the term chance music already suggests, the piece consisted of several randomly put together instruments (apart from the piano) and sounds. Even though one can’t hear it, the I was surprised to see that the piece was conducted and everyone was working with a score, which leads to the conclusion, that certain directions where given for this piece, Cage only left some things open to chance and interpretation.

Water Walk

  • Composer: John Cage
  • Instruments: grand piano, several objects
  • Year of composition: 1960
  • Performed by: John Cage
  • Listened to: 20.06.2020

Cage used different items as well as a piano for this composition. He didn’t only use the keys of the piano to create sounds, but also tried to use the inside in different ways to produce sounds. The piece is called water walk, due to the use of several water – related items such as a bath tub and, a kettle and a bottle with a beverage in it. For his own interpretation he furthermore used a stop watch, as every noise he created with the objects had to be at a certain point. He created the sounds and noises, by pouring water into different containers, pushing things down a table, drinking, or slapping it. If taken seriously, one may not be able to see a combination between those created noises, but one can see it as music consisting of everyday sounds.


  • Composer: John Cage
  • Instruments: Varying every performance
  • Year of composition:
  • Performed by:
  • Listened to: 20.06.2020

As this piece consist’s of 4 minutes and 33 seconds silence, the audience is forced to listen to the sounds created by their surroundings and themselves. In this way everything – every whisper, foot tapping, breathing becomes the music and is therefore left to chance as well, as every set of performers and audience is different.

Peter Grimes

  • Composer: Benjamin Britten
  • Year of composition: 1941 – 1943
  • Performed by: Peter Pears, Claire Watson , James Pease, Royal Opera House Orchestra, Royal Opera House Chorus, Benjamin Britten
  • Listened to: 22.06.2020

One of the most interesting features of this opera are the solo – vocal lines, which sometimes don’t match with the underlying orchestra harmonies at all. As he generally used uncommon intervals, it was difficult to find certain patterns again, I therefore assume, that Britten focused more on the mood and atmospheres of the plot instead of working with leitmotifs. There were only a few calmer sounding parts, which all still had an underlying darker theme, which, fitting to the plot, was dragged like a golden ribbon over the whole opera. Even though rather intense at times, it was overall really enjoyable to watch.

Symphony no. 5

  • Composer: Dmitri Shostakovich
  • Year of composition: 1937
  • Performed by: Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra
  • Listened to: 22.06.2020

The first movement is in sonata form. The exposition starts with an echoing theme with a dotted rhythm, which slowly leads over chromatic sequences to an expressive main theme. This theme is presented several times in different ways alongside a contrary, sadder sounding motif.

Even though the second movement is constructed like a classical minuet or scherzo, its pace and mood suggest a “Ländler” (which is a slow German folk dance in 3/4 – rhythm). The third movement is quite contrasting to the previous one, full of sadness, resignation and grief. These emotions are mainly evoked by the clarinet, xylophone and the piano, apart from these 3 the movement is carried by the strings.

The finale starts with a d – minor sound coming from all the woodwinds, by increasing the volume and amount of instruments the tension increases as well and is only released with a ostinato theme of moving quavers. Only after that the main theme starts, played unison with three trumpets and three trombones.

The last 35 bars, where the music mainly focuses on playing an unison A, are a point of discussion. In some versions the pace is stated as “Crotched = 188”, some others claim that it is meant to be double as fast. A short comparison between those two versions can be found in the Learning Log of the second course unit under the exercise “Interpreting the final section of Shostakovitch’s 5th Symphony“.


  • Composer: Steve Reich
  • Instruments: 8 Bongos
  • Year of composition: 1970 – 1971
  • Performed by: Portland Percussion Group
  • Listened to: 23.06.2020

The piece starts with four people playing the beat of a 4/4 rhythm , each on one bongo at the same time. After a short time a new rhythmic pattern is used, always playing two notes after one another, and after another four repeats it’s always one more note joining in. Anytime one thinks one can see a rhythmic pattern it seems to chance – although I personally thought that exactly these, sometimes difficult to notice, changes made the piece interesting.


  • Composer: Cathy Berberian
  • Instuments: One voice (female)
  • Year of composition: 1966
  • Performed by: Jerilyn Chou
  • Listened to: 23.06.2020

Following the score, there is of course much room left for interpretation, but I found the way of interpretation incredibly interesting. By just listening to it, one might think, that the piece involved a combination of various sounds which are produced by the human voice. The score seems to mainly consist of mainly onomatopoeic sound of comic strips. Overall, it was incredibly entertaining.

Assignment 2 pieces

Gesang der Jünglinge

  • Composer: Karlheinz Stockhausen
  • Year of composition: 1955 – 1956
  • Performed by: Westdeutscher Rundfnk studio, vocal parts from Josef Protschka.
  • Listened to: 29. 06. 2020

Seeing that Stockhausen aimed for a seamless mix between human voices and electronic sounds, he especially put focus on emphasizing the consonants of the recorded voices. This made it incredibly difficult to understand the text due to it overlapping with other sung parts. Nevertheless, it is interesting to see, that it was sometimes not easy to tell which parts were sung and which were produced entirely electronically. On the other hand, there are some clearly defined electronic parts as well, which work like an accompaniment to the boy’s voice. Over the first three verses of the piece it was difficult to find a structure, although one does notice that some aspects are reused afterwards, nevertheless, the ending part seems rather chaotic again.

Imaginairy Landscape No. 5

  • Composer: John Cage
  • Instruments: 42 discs, recording tape
  • Year of composition: 1952
  • Listened to: 29.06.2020

Always using another set of the 42 discs, every perfomance is unique. Nevertheless, all of the versions I’ve listened to, seem to include more instrumental sounds rather than electronic ones. I personally really liked the idea of this composition and there were some versions which I enjoyed much more than others. The original version seemed to include several parts of classical pieces of music, which made it really enjoyable at times. Nevertheless, the electronic squeaking sounds, which appear in between the different musical fragments were slightly unsettling.

Williams Mix

  • Composer: John Cage
  • Instruments:
  • Year of composition: 1951
  • Performed by:
  • Listened to: 29. 06.2020

For me it actually didn’t sounds as unsettling as I expected. It may be due to the amount of electronic music I’ve listened to by now, but I thought it was rather entertaining, It was almost like continuously switching radio stations. Even being used to modern electronic music, I experienced a complete new set of different noises and sounds. Even though it is more or less irregular, One can even notice a consistently moving rhythm.

Poeme Electronique

  • Composer: Edgard Varese
  • Instruments: 3 tapes, 2
  • Year of composition: 1958
  • Performed by: Robert Craft
  • Listened to: 29.06.2020

This piece sounded like a collection of different noises, created by manipulating magnetic tapes. Neither any chords nor harmonies were used within the piece, instead Varese used rather shrill and loud sounding noises, but also silence to fill this piece. It is difficult to tell by just listening to it, whether Varese just arranged the parts of this piece in any order, or whether he put a structure behind it. Even though it is slightly terrifying at times, it is a rather refreshing piece of art.

Etude aux chemnis de fer

  • Composer: Pierre Schaeffer
  • Instruments: Recorded sounds from a train station
  • Year of composition: 1948
  • Listened to: 29. 06. 2020

The surrounding noises of a train station which were used for this piece give a clear visual image of a steam locomotive. There appears to be no musical rules, thus the structure of the piece relies on putting a certain amount of chosen noises into a specific order to create the from Schaeffer intended effect. On the other hand, some of the recorded noises, such as the steam pipe and a damp rattling sound, somtimes create with a rhythmic pattern and pitch changes the impression of a normal instrumental piece. Nevertheless, this only lasts for a few moments, before more disoriented noises and sounds can be heard again.