Project 1: 1900 to 1945
Exercise: Impressionism, rhythm and pitch
My personal response to the three pieces Jeux (Debussy, 1912); The Rite of Spring (Stravinsky, 1913) and Pierrot Lunaire (Schönberg, 1913) can be found in my listening log under the heading ” 1900 – 1945″
Even though these three pieces were written within just two years, they appear to be rather contrasting, although one can find several similarities as well:
Debussy mainly worked with very short motifs, connected by smooth transition parts, whereas Stravinsky chose to develop longer, contrasting themes over several bars, often working towards a climax, after which he directly jumps to the next theme. Schönberg on the other hand, includes several short movements to create different atmospheres for the interpretation of Albert Giraud’s poems. As a German native I was especially impressed in how the sung words had an effect on the music – in the first movement for example, when the word “Springflut” (Spring tide) is used, the instruments as well as the female voice use rapidly ascending arpeggios to reflect exactly this one word.
One thing all three pieces have in common is a frequent change of time signatures and tempo, this created an alteration between hectic and calm moments for all three pieces. Whilst Debussy and Stravinsky both use a big orchestra for their pieces, Schönberg only uses a small ensemble, his piece is furthermore the only one involving a voice. The instruments in Jeux are used in a more polyphonic way; apart from a few exceptions, all instruments seem to be equally important. The Rite of Spring focuses more on alternating instrumental leading sections, and for Pierrot Lunaire it is obvious, that the voice is the most important part of the ensemble.
Interestingly, even though there are some loud parts as well, Jeux creates an overall calm atmosphere, which may be due to the few peak points and often harmonic harmonies Debussy includes. The Rite of Spring seems to be more extreme with dynamical changes as well as the development towards a musical climax, which makes the music more tense to listen to. Finally, Pierrot Lunaire is probably the piece which almost exclusively uses disharmonic structures and therefore generally creates an uneasy mood. Even though the other two pieces involve several disharmonic parts, they mainly focus on either modes, pentatonic, bi – tonality, or another non – western sounding scale.
Overall, considering the thematic use of the first two pieces, the thematical structures, but also the use of modes an bi-tonality, they seem to create a bridge between the Romantic era and Schönberg’s Serialism, I am therefore rather surprised, that these three pieces were written so closely to one another.
Exercise: Writing programme notes
John Sibelius, who later changed his name to “Jean”, was born in Sweden in 1865. His father died when he was still very young, therefore he was brought up by his mother and grandmother. He learned to play the violin at a very young age and started composing when he was only 10. After finishing school, he intentionally wanted to study law, but changes his mind for his interest in music. Around 1880 he studied in Helsinki, before moving on to Berlin and Vienna, where he created important contacts, but also an addiction to alcohol which lead to financial problems. The immediate success of his symphonic poem “Kullervo”, which he wrote after having returned to Finland in 1891, made him to Finland’s leading composer. (Thompson, W. (2002)). In 1899 Sibelius completed his first symphony, which was followed by six more, written between 1902 and 1924, which are all quite contrasting to one another. He married the daughter of a Finnish nationalist general in 1892, but their relationship was put under strain due to his drinking problems. In 1904 Sibelius was operated for suspected throat cancer, most of his following works have an intensified bleakness. (Thompson, W. (2002)). His career as a composer ended with the start of the first world war, after which he didn’t write anything for 31 years until his death in 1957. 1,2,3
Nielsen was born into a poor family in 1865 and began to scrape melodies into firewood as a child. He learned to play the violin at the age of 6 and participated in his father’s folk band. He studied music in Copenhagen and achieved his first success with his Little Suite for Strings, which was first performed in 1888. Within the following year he started playing at the royal chapel, were he gained some new insights in different musical directions. He married a sculptress in 1891 during a trip to Paris where he also completed the start of a sequence of six symphonies and shortly after he finished his first opera Saul og David. He made great success with his symphonies No. 3. Sinfonia espansiva, No.4 The Inextinguishable and No. 5. Interestingly, his fourth and fifth symphonies are created with an innovative use of percussion.From 1908 to 1914, Nielsen had a position at the Royal Theatre and taught at the Copenhagen Conservatory, where he even the position as director in 1931. In between 1914 to 1931 he published several volumes of arrangements for Danish folk songs, his late pieces are often written for a smaller chamber orchestra. He died of a heart disease within the same year. 4,5,6
Programme note of Sibelius 5th Symphony
Sibelius 5th symphony in Eb was completed in 1915 and had its successful premiere on his 50th birthday, the 8th of December in the same year with the Helsinki Municipal Orchestra. He revised the four-movement piece several more times before the final version was published in 1919 with only three movements. Both premiers were conducted by the composer himself and played by the same orchestra. 7
Already whilst writing the original version, Sibelius seemed to have had one of the luckiest inspirations of his artistic life. During the composition he wrote in his diary:
It is as if God Almigthy had thrown down pieces of a mosaic for heaven’s floor and asked me to find out what was the original pattern.
The symphony is dominated by the probably most well-known theme of Sibelius’ creative work: The “Swann” – motif, which shimmers through all tonal corners during the first and second movements, but is only fully represented within the third.
Today at ten to eleven I saw 16 swans. One of my greatest experiences. Lord God, that beauty.
Sibelius connects the winded tremolo theme from the strings at the beginning of the third movement with the Swan theme, which is introduced by the horns. This theme develops into a ecstatic, jubilant cheer of pride, perchance reflecting the composers mood on completing this heroic work. 8
1Thompson, W. (2001). The Great Composers- An illustrated guide to the lives, key works and influences of over 100 renowned composers. London: Joanna Lorenz, pp.170 – 171
2Ardley, N; Arthur, D; Chapmanth, H; Perry, J; Clarke, M; Crisp, C; Cruden, R; Gelly, D; Grigson, L; Sturrock, S. (1977) The book of music. London: Macdonald Educational Ltd, p. 170
3Durfourcq, N; Hindley, G; Green, B; Helm, E; Paine,D; Smalley, and Walsh, S. (1983) The Larousse encyclopedia of music. pp. 459 – 460
4Thompson, W. (2001). The Great Composers- An illustrated guide to the lives, key works and influences of over 100 renowned composers. London: Joanna Lorenz, p. 203
5Ardley, N; Arthur, D; Chapmanth, H; Perry, J; Clarke, M; Crisp, C; Cruden, R; Gelly, D; Grigson, L; Sturrock, S. (1977) The book of music. London: Macdonald Educational Ltd, p. 168
6Durfourcq, N; Hindley, G; Green, B; Helm, E; Paine,D; Smalley, and Walsh, S. (1983) The Larousse encyclopedia of music. p. 457
7Sirén, (V). (Unknown). Jean Sibelius: The music. [online]. Fifth symphony op. 82 (1915-1919). Available at: http://www.sibelius.fi/english/musiikki/ork_sinf_05.htm [Accessed: 06.06.2020]
8Durfourcq, N; Hindley, G; Green, B; Helm, E; Paine,D; Smalley, and Walsh, S. (1983) The Larousse encyclopedia of music. pp. 459 – 460
As I already had the opportunity to accompany a choir with a piano to one to Gershwin’s I got rhythm, I decided to find out some more about his life and works.
Gershwin was born in America in 1898 as a son of Russian, Jewish migrants. He studied piano, theory and harmony at a young age with several well-known composers, but interestingly never found it easy to read music. In 1914 he started to work for a music publisher, where he also began to write his first songs for other people’s work. Five years later, he began to write his own Broadway musicals and from 1931 onward, film scores as well. He died with only 39 years from a brain tumour. 9, 10
Through the high variety of the works Gershwin produced over his lifetime and cheery, playful energy from most of his pieces, he managed to get an international reputation and was highly successful. Apart from being a composer, he was also a talented performing pianist and a conductor. Being well known for mostly writing jazz music, which was a much debated style in America in the early 1900s, he often got critics for a “lack of formal compositional techniques”. On the other hand, with the unusual techniques he used, he managed to reach a high variety of audiences. 11
He is known especially well for the in the 20th century upcoming blues and jazz styles. One of his most important works, and also the best – known American opera is probably Porgy and Bess. Several of his other popular pieces are for piano and orchestra, such as Rhapsody in Blue and the symphonic poem An American in Paris. Furthermore, Gershwin wrote several musical comedies, Lady be good and Of Thee I Sing, for example. 12
Gershwin didn’t have the intense former musical training most other composers had, was mostly not aware of his own compositional techniques and therefore often wrote in an independent and innovative style. Interestingly it is highly debated whether the style he wrote in can be considered as “jazz” or not, as he combined, often due to syncopation jazzy sounding, styles with traditional forms. 11, 13
That being said, Gershwin was probably one of the most influencing composers of the 20th century, especially when it comes to piano music. Before him, several other composers, such as Stravinsky with “Ragtime” and Milhaud’s “La Création du monde”, but none of those pieces had a greater impact on the musical styles produced afterwards. Only Gershwin managed to land a full impact on popular styles and the development of new techniques; After his “Rhaspsody in Blue”, several to his style adapted pieces appeared, for example Hindemith’s “Neues vom Tage” or Ravel’s “Blues Sonata” and “Concerto for the left hand”. 14
9 Kennedy J, Kennedy M and Rutherford-Johnson, T. (2012). Gershwin, G. In: The Oxford Dictionary of Music. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
10 Thompson, W (2002). The great composers – An illustrated guide to the ives, key work and influences of over 100 renowned composers. London: Anness Publishing Limited, pp184-189 and 216
11 DeVeaux, S., (2004). The George Gershwin Reader. 2nd ed. [ebook] New York: Oxford University Press, pp.1 – 2. Available at: <https://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/ucreative-ebooks/reader.action?docID=422445> [Accessed 11 June 2020].
12 Ardley, N; Arthur, D; Chapmanth, H; Perry, J; Clarke, M; Crisp, C; Cruden, R; Gelly, D; Grigson, L; Sturrock, S. (1977) The book of music. London: Macdonald Educational Ltd, p. 165
13 Chicurel, S. (1989). George Gershwin’s Songbook – Influences of Jewish Music, Ragtime and Jazz. [ebook]. Kentucky: University of Kentucky, (intordction). Available at: https://search-proquest-com.ucreative.idm.oclc.org/docview/303782113?accountid=14178&pq-origsite=summon. Accessed 11 June 2020]
14 Irvin, M. (1973). It’s Geroge, not Jazz: Gershwin’s influence in piano music. [online] American Music Teacher Vol. 23, No. 2 (NOVEMBER/DECEMBER 1973), pp. 31-34. Available at: https://www-jstor-org.ucreative.idm.oclc.org/stable/43537724?seq=1#metadata_info_tab_contents [Accessed: 11 June 2020]
Project 2: After the second world war
Research Point: Performance of 4’33
For this research point I was asked to create my own interpretation of John Cage’s famous 4’33, which is a piece with three movements of complete silence.
I had the opportunity to perform this piece with a small group of friends, who either sing or play instruments as well and asked another four people to listen to the performance without letting them know what we are going to perform.
I had a stop watch lying on the piano, which I started as soon as everyone was sitting. It was a really interesting experience: Over those four and a half minutes, the loudest noise was the strong wind outside, moving the trees. Every now and then some members of our audience had to clear their throat and I personally think it took most of them roughly half a minute before they knew that the piece had already started. I personally had my hands rested on the piano, and tried to focus on the blank piece of paper all the performers had, whilst enjoying the silence and the quirky atmosphere created by the unknowing audience. I was surprised that none of them asked any questions about the complete silence during the piece, as I personally probably would have done that. After the four minutes and 33 seconds where over, I explained the background of the piece to the audience an got a rather positively surprised feedback.
Exercise: Considering chance and serial music
Cage thought chance music to be a universal procedure, which can be used in all areas of a composition and musical material. A good example is the above described piece 4’33, which has a by chance defined number of performance and audience members and is therefore always different. The only predefined specification is the time of the piece.
The parts from the orchestra of the first piece I’ve listened to, Concerto for Prepared Piano and Chamber Orchestra are based on drawing lots from the Chinese oracle book “I ching” and tossed coins. Some other chance methods Cage used are working with the texture of used paper, astronomical atlases, mathematical procedures and computers. 15
If I didn’t know that it was meant to be music, and would just listen to it without any background knowledge I probably wouldn’t consider it as such. Although, deliberately listening to purposely, or by chance created sounds is a very fascinating procedure and has a certain beauty in it as well. I therefore would definitely see it as a from of art, even if I can’t always combine it with the term music. I’m sure that some people might have a different opinion about this topic and it’s absolutely open for personal interpretation.
For his chance compositions Cage mostly relied on different items to create sounds (or noises), which can probably be seen as the main difference between chance music and serialistic music.
Comparing those two types of music I personally think, that from just listening to it, the sense of randomness stays the same. Nevertheless, so far I had the impression, that chance music is in a way calmer than serialistic music, as the lattest often involves dissonant chords or harmonies, which create a certain discomfort, whereas most of the chance music I’ve listened to is created by noises we’re surrounded by in our everyday – lives.
Furthermore, knowing that serial music is mostly based on a certain system, I think one can only notice them with a provided score. They often sound absolutely chaotic and seem to have no structure, although every now and then one might be lucky and find an already played pattern again. On the other hand, serialistic pieces are great fun to analyse.
I don’ think one has to understand the background of a piece in detail in order to understand it’s message or emotional impact. I see music in every form (in this case also chance music) as an universal language. Every composer wants to deliver a message, which is achieved in different ways. In terms of serial music, most people might think by listening to a piece for the first time, that the main aim of the piece is to create a feeling of chaos and disorientation. Nevertheless, I think the more one listens to it, the more patterns an beauty one can find in it, even without knowing anything about it’s structure. In terms of chance music one could consider, for example in the piece 4’33, that the emotions reflected by the audience are always different and therefore, in this special case, a part of the piece as well. Some of those pieces might either be incredibly funny to some or a serious act of art for others and every single one will feel different listening to the sound of a radio being pushed down a table. Thus, as chance music is different with every interpretation, I would think, that the overall emotional atmosphere created will be varying as well, whilst systematically composed pieces, which are always played in the same way will have a very similar emotional effect on the audience. Nevertheless, I wouldn’t go as far to say it is the exact same for everyone, as every individual processes music in a different way.
15 Pritchett, J. (1988). From Choice to Chace: John Cage’s Concerto for Prepared Piano. Perspectives of New Music. [online]. Vol. 26, no. 1, pp. 50 – 53. Available at: https://www.jstor.org/stable/833316?seq=2#metadata_info_tab_contents [Accessed: 20.06.2020]
Research Point: Programme note on an opera by Britten
Edward Benjamin Britten (1913 – 1976) was and English composer, pianist and conductor. He studied composition with John Ireland at the Royal College of music in London and wanted to continue his studies in Vienna with Alban Berg. His musical form leads back to the classical period, therefore he never disregarded tonality but he established a unique style. Peter Grimes, premiered in London almost immediately after the end of WWII, and it was Britten’s first success as an opera composer. 16, 17
The fisherman Peter Grimes, who prefers to be left alone, is accused of having murdered his apprentice boy. To get a verdict of acquittal is difficult, as most of the other villagers think Grimes is guilty, as he is seen as irascible and the relation he had to the boy whom he got from an orphanage causes speculations. Solely the teacher Ellen Orford and the honest Captain Balstrode show some sincerity and solidarity towards Grimes. Nevertheless, some questions are left open, for example the relation from the rough and seemingly not at all caring fisherman to his second apprentice John. As the boy falls to his death as well and some of the villagers want to lynch Grimes, he recesses his own boat and drowns. 18, 19
The few moments of melancholic, romantic aspiration, are intensively sophisticated, but never fully cover the dark mood of the opera. Especially mentioned should be the orchestral part in between the different scenes. In a very expressive and effective way, they paint pictures an English sea at the East – coast, dark, dangerous and threatening.
16 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. 234 – 235
17Durfourcq, N; Hindley, G; Green, B; Helm, E; Paine,D; Smalley, and Walsh, S. (1983) The Larousse encyclopedia of music. p. 452 – 453
18 Smith, H. (2006). “Peter Grimes” and Leonard Bernstein: An English Fisherman and His Influence on an American Eclectic.Tempo: A Quarterly Review of Modern Music. [online]. Vol. 60, pp. 22 – 23. Available at: https://search-proquest-com.ucreative.idm.oclc.org/docview/1218012?pq-origsite=summon [Accessed: 22.06.2020]
19 Kennedy, M; Kennedy, J and Rutherford-Johnson, T. (2013). Peter Grimes. In: Oxford-Dictionary of Music, 6th ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press, p. 646
Exercise: Interpreting the final section of Shostakovitch’s 5th Symphony
For his exercise I’ve listened to four recordings of Shostakovitch’s 5th symphony, two of which had a pace of one quaver note=188, and two were twice as fast.
Shostakovitch’s 5th Symphony was written in the time of the Great Purge (about 1936 – 1938). He started working on the symphony at the 18th of April 1937 in Gaspra, where he had spend his youth. When he left again on the second of June, he had already finished writing three movements. Coming back to Leningrad, Shostakovitch was told, that his brother in law had been arrested and his sister had been taken to Siberia. He finished his symphony at the 20th of July, but had to present it to a union of Leningrad’s composers, to see whether the piece was allowed to be heard in public. The young conductor Jewgeni Mrawinski had to lead the premier on the 21st of November 1937, which was a great success. After this performance the work was officially seen as the returning of a son under the wings of the strict cultural policy. 20, 21, 22
The slower recordings sounded incredibly heroic and the constantly played a didn’t create to much tension to let the audience think it is meant to be a pedal point, although one still had the feeling the music was slowly leading to an end. In comparison with the other recording though, it seemed like a further variation of the near the end introduced theme. This version was definitely more enjoyable, as Shostakovich used tensionous, yet warm and full harmonies, which could be heard and perceived in a better way.
Put directly into comparison the faster version seemed much more hectic, exciting, and not at all relaxing. Nevertheless, the created mood, working towards a peak point with a pedal note, was directly indicating, that the piece is going to end soon and these are the final notes filled with tension which inevitably lead to a final D – major chord.
Seeing that the last five minutes of the movement consisted of different variations of an ascending theme, this last section could either be another variation (in it’s slower form), or a direct hint, with a reached climax, indicating the approach of the end of the symphony. I therefore personally think, that the last pace was the right one to be played, even though one might not be able to enjoy all the different colours Shostakovich put into it.
I’ve listened to the following to versions of the piece:
- Slow: Gustav Mahler Jugendorchester (Conductor: Philippe Jordan): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PeJPmIbiqp4
- Fast: Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal (Conducto: Charles Dutoit): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3urU3pSsky0
20Kennedy, M; Kennedy, J and Rutherford-Johnson, T. (2013). Shostakovich, Dmitri. In: Oxford-Dictionary of Music, 6th ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press, p. 780 – 782
21 Durfourcq, N; Hindley, G; Green, B; Helm, E; Paine,D; Smalley, and Walsh, S. (1983) The Larousse encyclopedia of music. p.432
22 Thompson, W. (2001). The Great Composers- An illustrated guide to the lives, key works and influences of over 100 renowned composers. London: Joanna Lorenz, pp. 232 – 233
Project 3: New instrumental sounds
Exercise: Exploring composition for percussion
For this short exercise I was asked to listen to the technique “Clapping Music”, the examples I’ve listened to can be found in my Listening Log.
The interesting thing with clapping music is, that the pattern itself only stays the same but is shifted back by one beat after a certain amount of repetitions. As those pieces start unison, it is easy to spot the first shift. Nevertheless, it was much more difficult to spot the other shifts. By just listening to it, I nevertheless noticed a few, focusing on the change of emphasism on the notes. After the repetition of the pattern by a certain amount of times, the piece is unison again. I can imagine that this piece could be difficult, yet fun to perform, but one would have to fully focused on it.
The rhythm used is the following:
A friend of mine is a drum teacher and I had the opportunity to ask him whether we could practice the piece. We started with off with me clapping the constant part, which was already rather difficult as the shifting part after every eighth repetition can be quite irritating, then we switched roles. It took me about three attempts before I managed to clap the right rhythm without any mistakes, nevertheless, it was great fun to do and a good rhythmical exercise.
Research point: Unusual Symbols
Following is a list of some sketches of the most unusual symbols in music, also some which were used in Stockhausen’s Kurzwellen, I unfortunately wasn’t able to find a full score, but I found several extracts:
Additionally I wanted to include “+”, which stands for the use of the higher register, louder dynamics, a longer duration and more segmented rhythm. The minus “-” therefore stands for the exact opposite: Lower register, quieter and shorter notes. The “=” – signs stand for a same or similar playing technique. 23, 24
23Chang, E. (2013). Kurzwellen. Stockhausen: Sounds in Space. Available at: http://stockhausenspace.blogspot.com/2014/10/opus-25-kurzwellen.html [Accessed: 23.06.2020]
24Chang, E. (2013). Spiral. Stockhausen: Sounds in Space. Available at: http://stockhausenspace.blogspot.com/2014/06/opus-27-spiral.html [Accessed: 23.06.2020]
Exercise: Exploring a graphic score
I was encouraged to listen listen to Stripsody, by Cathy Berberian and experiment with my own graphic score to accompany and describe a scene of a film. My thougths on Stripsody can be found in my listening log.
I initially didn’t find it easy at all to find a scene I thought was appropriate to write a graphic score to. I initially wanted to go for something funny, similar to “stripsody”, but changed my mind several times and ended up using the ending scene from “the boat” which can be seen below:
After returning home from a long military operation during the second world war, the crew of a submarine is surprised by and airstrike, which kills a part of the crew. Even though I mainly focused on a graphical independent notation, I didn’t want to leave behind the well known theme of the film and therefore included parts of it within my notation as well. The theme can be heard and seen below, firstly as the original and afterwards as a simplistic score.
My own interpretation piece is written for cello and piano, although the cello is meant to be hidden from the audience during the performance. I used colours and shapes to reflect certain aspects of the scene in a better way. An example would be the blue arrows seen in the first and second system, which reflect the water and are meant to be played as alternating high and low notes, for an initially more cheery undertone. As soon as the scene suggests, that there is another threat coming, one can see a hint of the threatening sounding main theme (above) within the second system, but only when the score is held against light. With this approach I am trying to demonstrate, that the danger of whats coming can so far only be felt and not seen. It is left open to the performer whether he chooses to play the exact same theme as it can be heard in the film or only a vague version of the melodic line. Furthermore, on the piano – side, some fireworks are displayed until the sirens suddenly start.
Gernerally the scene is divided into different parts over the score:
- First line: The submarine comes to the surface, the water is clear, the mood is cheery
- Second line: The men from the submarine are greeted from some soldiers and women, they salute each other, everyone throws flowers, some people are about to leave the boat, although, the underlying cello parts says something is about to happen.
- Third line: The cello represents a siren onto which’s approaching, bomb throwing planes can be seen and heard.
- Fourth line: The siren stopped, although the bombing continues, everyone seeks shelter.
- Fifth line: Inured and dead men can be seen, some of them screaming, one of the crew members sees other dead crewmen. The submarine sinks. A further alteration of the main theme can be heard in the background.
The front side:
The back side:
Held against light: