Project 1: Technical innovation and the orchestra
Research point: Auxiliary instruments of the orchestra
For this exercise I chose to find out some more about the piccolo, and the Wagner tuba as I haven’t had the opportunity to learn more about these instruments within the previous course units.
- The piccolo
The piccolo is a type of flute, which is pitched an octave higher than the concert flute, it is often used in orchestras and military bands. 1
The origins of the piccolo already started in primeval times, when the first relatives of the flute were constructed from animal bones. Thus, and because of its close relation to the flute, it is difficult to tell, who invented it. The best known ancestor of the piccolo is probably the fife, which was a short tube with a cork at the end. It was mainly used for troop sound commands and in comparison to the modern piccolo, it was much slimmer, creating even louder and shriller sounds. Within the middle of the 16th century the piccolo slowly started to replace the fife, nevertheless, out of a habit, people were still referring to the developed instrument as “fife”. This often causes speculations about the first usage of the piccolo, as its not always clear which of those two instruments are meant. 2
One of the earliest known appearances of a piccolo in an orchestral score was during the Baroque period within Handel’s opera Rinaldo, but it was still not commonly used. Only over the Classical period the piccolo had estabilshed itself as a prominent instrument. 2
Beethoven was one of the first composers who used piccolo flutes in his compositions to imitate natural sounds, for example the whistling of a storm within his 6th symphony. The shrill sound was also used to emphasize horror scenes. The composers of the Romantic Period, especially Richard Strauss and Gustav Mahler integrated the piccolo entirely into the woodwind – section. 3
- The Wagner tuba
Tubas are the lowest brass instruments and exist in various sizes and ranges. Normally they have a wide conical bore and are played with a cup mouthpiece; Wagner tubas on the other hand, which were developed and named by the German composer Richard Wagner, are more similar to horns in terms of their shape and sound. They are furthermore played with a funnel mouthpiece instead. 4
Wagner was trying to find an instrument which would be a connection between horn and tuba. He originally got the idea for the construction after visiting one of Adophe Sax’s workshops. The first time this unique tone colour was used, was in Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen. 5
Apart from wanting to find an instrument which would be able to mix the sound of horns and tubas, Wagner’s intention was also to create a heroic, and graceful sounding instrument. 6
1Kennedy, M; Kennedy, J and Rutherford-Johnson, T. (2013). piccolo. In: Oxford-Dictionary of Music, 6th ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press, p.653
2 Hanlon, K. (2017). The piccolo in the 21st century: history, construction, and modern pedagogical resources.[PDF]. Morgantown: The College of Creative Arts, pp: 12, 15, 20. Available at: https://search-proquest-com.ucreative.idm.oclc.org/docview/1947737021?accountid=14178&pq-origsite=summon [Accessed: 02.07.2020]
3 Vienna Symphonic Library, (2020). Piccoloflöte – Geschichte. [online]. Available at: https://www.vsl.co.at/de/Woodwinds/Piccolo#:~:text=Im%20fr%C3%BChen%2018.,folgten%20im%20Laufe%20des%20Jahrhunderts.&text=Jahrhunderts%2C%20nachdem%20der%20M%C3%BCnchner%20Fl%C3%B6tist,Mechanik%20auf%20das%20Piccolo%20angewandt. [Accessed: 02.07.2020]
4 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. 115
5 Kennedy, M; Kennedy, J and Rutherford-Johnson, T. (2013). Wagner tuba. In: Oxford-Dictionary of Music, 6th ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press, p.901
6 Vienna Symphonic Library, (2020). Wagnertuba – Geschichte. [online]. Available at: https://www.vsl.co.at/de/Wagner_tuba/History [Accessed: 02.07.2020]
Project 2: Romantic music
Exercise: Classical and Romantic
I was asked to listen to and make comments about Beethoven’s first and last piano sonata. The following comments about those pieces can also be found in my listening log under the heading “Beethoven – Piano Sonatas”.
- Sonata No. 1 in F – minor, Op. 2
Even though this was Beethoven’s first piano sonata, especially the first and fourth movement already involved some aspects of this well known fierce temper Beethoven often puts in his works. The quieter middle section involved several ascending and descending scales and arpeggios as well as clearly defined question-answer motifs. Beethoven furthermore often made use of the, in classical music often used, V – I chord progression and the piece continuously has a clear melody line for the right hand, which is accompanied by the left.
Having had the opportunity to play some of Beethoven’s sonatas myself already, I noticed, that he reused some compositional material from this piece in later works as well, although with a more emphasized character. One example would be a short section within the centre of the fourth movement, which can be seen below:
He used a similar motif within his Sonata No. 14 in C# minor, (3rd movement of The Moonlight Sonata) as it can be seen below:
Comparing those two score extracts, one can clearly notice how careful Beethoven placed the notes of his first sonata, as if he was trying to aim for a lighter sound, not really daring yet to put any more emphasism on the notes by, for example, putting them in octaves.
I personally have always enjoyed listening to and playing piano sonatas from Beethoven. As already mentioned, some sides of his fierce style can be noticed within this piece already. Nevertheless, one does notice, that he still completely sticks to the traditional rules of the Classical Period. As an example: always playing closed, clear phrases; having one clear melody line; closing open phrases and strictly staying in sonata form during the first movement. For the second and third movement, which were much calmer than the outer ones, his style seems to adapt to Mozart’s and Haydn’s generally more plain and honest sounding pieces.
- Sonata No. 32 in C – minor, Op. 111
The first thing one can notice when comparing those two pieces is, that Beethoven becomes much more rhythmically independent, moving away from the boundaries of the bar lines with syncopation. He furthermore involves more dissonances and generally more dramatic sounding motifs. The three note motif, which is clearly the main motif of the first movement, only appears for the first time after a long introduction, meaning, that Beethoven didn’t follow the rules of the traditional sonata form. With the frequent use of this short motif (seen below), the first movement seems partially almost like a fugue. Furthermore it has to be mentioned, that the melody line is now alternating or shared by both hands.
The second movement is incredibly slow, mainly in piano and incredibly emotional. To emphasize the high pitched melody line, almost every note is played with a new chord and most of the time both of them (melody and chords) are playing the same rhythm. There’s is often more than just one melody.
Beethoven managed to create a piece filled with tension, without making it sound too dramatic. I personally thought, that the parts in which the left hand was accompanying the melody, the chosen octave was too low for the movement of the left hand to be understood properly. Nevertheless, this also contributed to the dark theme of the movement and has probably been chosen intentionally. I was surprised to find a part which sounded through dotted notes even slightly jazzy.
The music from the classical era is always trying to reach a perfect form, by applying traditional rules of composition such as the counterpoint or imitation. Furthermore, major keys are used more frequently, which has a tendency to move into contrasting, dramatic motifs to create big contrasts. The most important feature about romantic music is the aim to describe emotions with music and the dissolution of classical forms. Looking at Beethoven’s pieces, these features are almost exactly presented in the right way. Nevertheless, I still think, that his first sonata was already slightly ahead of its time.
After having listened to some more of his pieces, (2 each from his early, middle and late period), I personally think, that his often stormy and emotional style can be found within all those pieces. Nevertheless, the later the piece was written, the more he manages to express himself. Still staying strictly to the rules of composing classical music, he tried to push the boundaries of these rules within his middle period and seemed to have found his very own voice in his late period.
Exercise: Programme music
First impression of the Symphony fantastique :
- First movement:
The slow, introduction at the beginning of the piece creates a sad, longing atmosphere, nevertheless, the pizzicato basses indicate a hopeful character as well. After about five minutes this hopeful theme starts to take over and seems to manifest itself more and more with every bar until it reaches a climax, followed by a more cheery sounding theme lead by the strings. After that the music generally becomes more lively, increases in dynamics and tension. Instead of a sad character the music has slowly turned into a slightly dark sounding, but still confident character until it finally reaches its climax with a heroic, energized theme at the end. It is nevertheless, interrupted several times by another darker, quieter theme, the heroic theme seems to fight against. The last chords are calm major triads, which may indicate an agreement between those two themes.
Overall the contrasts of this movement create an imaginary picture of someone struggling with doubts, maybe after having been rejected by something. He or she tries to get another chance and tries to gather courage but is often thrown back by doubts, which he seems to accept at the end of the movement. The contrasting dark and light motifs might also stand for a fight between two people, who, as already mentioned earlier, might have come to a conclusion at the end.
- Second movement:
This movement starts with a vibrato on the strings in a minor chord, but is lifted up by major arpeggios from the harp. After a short peak point, a warm sounding waltz – like theme starts, creating pictures of people dancing in a noble ball room. This dance seems to be really cheery initially but some concerns are hidden sometimes, as some dark motifs are played in between the energetic waltz – parts, which are repeated in a similar way after each side theme.
- Third Movement:
One short, major solo motif introduced by the oboe and imitated by the flute can be heard at the beginning. After a rest the oboe introduces with the same theme again, this time moving into a minor key and a different ending note, as if it were slightly unsure. This is imitated again only that the oboe continues paying this time.
After a few minutes the main melody is taken over by several short motifs, most of which sound generous about the scene. Any time a faster paced or louder theme starts it seems to be slowed down almost immediately after its start, which contributes to the overall calm, but slightly peculiar character.
It seems as if those two instruments were having a conversation to which the firstly quietly vibrato notes from the strings are accompanying, only to emphasize the curious and unsure sounding mood. After roughly 15 minutes of the orchestral part, the theme from the beginning is played solely by the oboe again, this time without an answer from the flute, but some dark crescendo sounds from the timpani. Within a scene this might indicate, that the other person, reflected by the flute in this case, has left. The oboe continues with a few more, really sad and lonely sounding passages.
- Fourth Movement:
Through the emphasized percussion, and generally strong chords, this movement has a very military sounding character, reminding of a march. Overall the mood is very cheerful and energized, as if something was celebrated. Nevertheless, the character quickly switches into a stormier sounding theme until the chord progressions and abruptly and a gloomy, slightly terrifying part starts.
The transition between the fourth and fifth movement is barely noticeable as there is no rest in between.
- Fifth movement:
A short, similar to a hick up sounding theme from the oboe, followed by a hectic echo in forte from the orchestra suggests that someone is running away from a threat. Suddenly a repeatedly played interval of a descending perfect fourth can be heard, played by a Glockenspiel onto which the rest of the instruments becomes quieter. The following slow marching theme might indicate that someone has died, nevertheless, the interfering pizzicato string parts integrate a playful sound, which reminds of laughter to the overall gloomy and serious mood.
After having read through the programme of the piece I wanted to look into the first and last movement in more deatil:
The first movement, named Reveries, Passions (Reveries – Passions) describes a composer seeing a woman who represents for him the perfect combination for all senses to create the ideal person. The Leitmotif idée fixe, which also appears in other versions within the coming movements, represents the composer and his thoughts.
Berlioz worked with contrasting motifs, which alternated with smooth transitions, thus, it was often difficult to mark the exact point from which the mood has changed again. The first 16 bars play a slow paced, dramatic theme, which probably demonstrates the initial lonlines of the composer. Only in bar 17, when the first violins start to pay rapid sextuplets to create a cheerier, moving atmosphere, it seems as if the composer sees the woman for the first time.
As already mentioned, from then on, the mood changes quite often between cheery and hopeful to lonely and sad. The doubts about whether his feelings are right are represented through a vibrato from the strings, and the more hopeful sounding parts often involve the wind – instruments, whereas the rest of the movement is lead by the string section.
The fifth movement is called Songe d’une nuit du Sabbat . The composer finds himself in a witches sabbat. Laughter can be clearly heard from the plugged strings. The Leitmotif ideé fixe can be heard several times in a very distorted variation. Afterwards the passing bell can be heard.
Comparing the whole story with my first impressions, it can definitely be said, that Berloiz managed it incredibly well to capture the plot, by just using instruments. Nevertheless, for me it wasn’t completely clear until the third movement, where the oboe and flute were “talking”, that the story was about two people, although the ball – movement, indicated that quite clearly already.
Exercise: Expressing national identity
For this exercise I’ve listened to the following piece:
- Chants d’ Espagne, by Isaac Albéniz, written in 1892 (can also be found in my listening log):
The original version of this piece is written for piano, which is trying to imitate the sound of a guitar, which’s sound is often associated with traditional Spanish music.
The first movement Preludio is structured in an A – B – A form,whereas the A – parts consist of rapidly played staccato notes, permanently playing a d (sometimes in octaves) in between the lower melodic line. The centre part is mainly unison or put together with different chords.
When looking at a score, one might think, that Albéniz would have written the piece in Bb – major or its relative G – minor. Nevertheless, if one moves away from the diatonic system, there are some other more oriental sounding scales to consider. As already mentioned, all the notes on the off – beats are either unison or octave Ds, which suggests, that the used scale might evolve around that note rather than Bb or G. Only at the end of the fifth line, when the first chord is played, one can see an F modulated to an F – sharp. Combining the accidentals at the beginning with this sharp, starting on the d, the following scale can be constructed:
The f – sharp here is probably the most important feature, apart from the guitar imitation, that makes the music sound more foreign – although I personally wouldn’t directly consider it as Spanish sounding.
For the second movement I found it difficult to find just one scale, as Albéniz didn’t constantly stick to all accidentals he used, nevertheless, one theme, which is returning several times is the following:
Here, a C – sharp is used in addition to the B – flat accidental, thus a similar scale with the same intervals can be constructed, starting on A – this time. Furthermore, when one looks at the second half of the extract above, one can see, that an “a”, is permanently held in the left hand as a pedal note, which is another indication for the scale to be based on this note. Nevertheless, due to the different accidental changes and the sound of the piano, the movement sounded more classical than Spanish to me.
The light sounding third movement is the first one where the main melody is played by the highest note. Apart from a few bars it sounded similar to a jazzy ragtime, although I can imagine, if it were played by a guitar it might have a different effect.
The fourth movement starts with a short theme, which is repeated directly after with more accidentals.
Whilst those two themes and the following variations might also come from a classical piece, the abrupt starting melody, which has a flamenco and/or tango rhythm in addition to a chromatically decreasing bass line (second line below), creates a tempting atmosphere, which fits well with the chliché of traditional Spanish music.
The last movement was similar to the first one in terms of its atmosphere and also didn’t capture Spanish sounding melodies, due to the jumping bass, it was even similar to a Ragtime.
As already mentioned, in my personal opinion, Albéniz manages to capture an oriental landscape well, especially by using non diatonic scales as a base. Nonetheless, the movement which reminded me directly of traditional Spanish music were the first and fourth one. This was established by the rapid movement and the constantly played D, and it was easy to imagine that this could have also been played by a guitar. Apart from that, I thought the piece was rich in variety and entertaining to listen to.
The score – extracts have been provided by the IMSLP – music library an can be found under: https://imslp.org/wiki/Cantos_de_Espa%C3%B1a%2C_Op.232_(Alb%C3%A9niz%2C_Isaac)
One of the pieces I came across whilst looking for a piece that might express English identity was Vaughan Williams’ Five variants of Dives and Lazarus.
William’s composition is for a whole orchestra, but still manages to remind the listener of traditional English music, by putting the violins in the foreground. Within every variation, he uses dorian as well as phrygian modes, which imitatively reminded me of the English folk songs Are you going to Scarborough fair and Greensleeves. The piece is based on a further traditional English song, called Dives and Lazarus.
Exercise : The folk tradition
Growing up in Germany and Austria, I was confronted with several traditional German folk – songs. Most of them I learned from my mother, aunt and their mother. Interestingly, most of the spoke nursery rhymes I know come from my father’s side of the family.
One song, which I only heard for the first time when I was around 10, interestingly through an advert, was Die Gedanken sind frei (Thoughts are free). I found the melody as well as the text of the song incredibly moving and only found out after doing some research, that the origins of this song can be traced back to the late 18th century. 7
As I wasn’t taught this song by my family, I was surprised, that most of the people of my parents generation (around 1970) as well as many people from my own generation (around 2000) know this song. I had the opportunity to ask about 15 children in Austria, ages from seven to twelve, whether they know this song. Five of them stated that they definitely know it (in most cases from their parents), eight said, that it sounds familiar, but they don’t directly know it. The two left, which were also the youngest ones, said, that they haven’t heard the name of the song nor the melody before.
I personally think, that a folksong has to have a simple and logic melodic structure, not moving far apart in terms of the pitch, repeating melodic parts and either a simple text (for children) or a text that can easily be understood and followed, as it is the case with my chosen song. A further important feature is probably, that the melody has to be catchy and sound complete without needing any accompaniment in order to be passed on.
Die Gedanken sind frei has the following structure:
Overall, there are four stanzas, whereas each of them ends on the same phrase Die Gedanken sind frei. When one takes the melody of this short phrase, and puts simple harmonies below, the result will be a IV – I – V7 – I chord progression (below). Within traditional western music, this progression is often used and therefore already familiar to most people, which makes it catchy.
Furthermore it has to be mentioned, that the first two lines of each stanza have the exact same melody pattern, the following third line is parted in two halfs, which are repeated melodically as well, before moving on to the ending section again.
It is difficult to tell, which contemporary songs might become folk songs in the future, but I personally would pick a few, which have been played without any changes to it in the media for several years already. The first example, coming to my mind was Simon and Garfunkel’s Sound of Silence, which, similar to Die Gedanken sind frei has a deeper meaning within its text, repeating phrases and always lands on the same refrain. Another example fitting in the same scheme of a future folk song, with a more child – like character may be Yellow Submarine from the Beatles.
7 Bokoloh, J. (2017). Die Gedanken sind frei – Hintergründe zum Song. [online]. GMX Newsroom. Available at: https://newsroom.gmx.net/2017/04/11/die-gedanken-sind-frei-hintergruende-zum-song/#:~:text=Der%20Text%20des%20bekannten%20Volkslieds,Fallersleben%20und%20Ernst%20Richter%20aufgenommen. [Accessed: 08.07.2020]
Project 3: New audiences
In my opinion, the orchestral version creates great contrast between the different dynamics as well as a multicoloured facet of different harmonies to create the from Beethoven intended impact for the audience. Especially the soft sound of the strings, the weight of the timpani are sounds a piano can’t reproduce.
Whilst the piano version can cover all the different harmonies, the colourful differences of sounds is lacking. For some fortissimo parts, I even found, that the sound of the piano was far too harsh. Nevertheless, it is still a very exciting piece, and even in this version incredibly enojyable.
In conclusion I definitely prefer the orchestral version due to the different layers of instruments, although I do find the piano version very entertaining as well.
Exercise: Go to a concert
Due to the current lock-down situation caused by the Covid – 19 virus, I’m unfortunately not able to visit any concerts, I will nonetheless come back to this point and update it as soon as possible. (Date: 08.07.2020)
Project 4: Wagner and opera
Research point: Wagner and Nazism
Even though Wagner was a musical genius, it is difficult to oversee his strong antisemitism. He even included his hatred for Jews in his music. Even though more than one person had an influence on Hitler’s believes, Wagner had quite an important role, as Hitler himself was close to Wagner’s family. 8 Hitler even said, that in order to understand National Socialist Germany, one must understand Wagner. (Rosefield, J. 1998). 9, 10
On the other hand it is also known, that Wagner worked with several Jews, he, for example, entrusted the conductor Hermann Levi with the premiere of Parsifal. Nonetheless, it seems, as if I he had mainly rather racist views. 1850 he published an essay with the title “The Jews in the music” under a fake name. The essay is full of racist and antisemitic triads. 11
In addition to that comes Wagner’s preference for Germanic chivalric stories, Christian mysticism and his always recurring theme of political and human “salvation”. After his death, his wife Cosima kept his musical and political legacy up. 12
One example of Wagner’s disguised racism within one of his works would be Der Ring des Nibelungen. This massive piece involves the main character Siegfried, who stands in contrast to Mime, who might represent the Jewish people. A further character is the dwarf Alberich, who seems to have several stereotypical characteristics of the Jew. 13
I personally think that any written music can and should be enjoyed. Even though the composers intentions whilst writing a piece might be something the audience can’t relate to at all, it is still everyone’s individual choice how to receive the written music. I can nevertheless understand if some people can’t listen to his music due to his political believes, but if one is able to enjoy the music without knowing about Wagner’s background, one should really just focus on listening to music, instead of listening to Wagner. On the other hand, I would have a completely different opinion, if Wagner were still alive, as I wouldn’t want to financially support such an artist, even if I enjoyed his music.
8 Ticker, Carolyn S. (2016) “The Effect of Richard Wagner’s Music and Beliefs on Hitler’s Ideology,” Musical Offerings: Vol. 7 : No. 2 , Article 1.Available at: https://digitalcommons.cedarville.edu/musicalofferings/vol7/iss2/1/ [Accessed: 13.07.2020]
9 Rosefield, Jayne. “WAGNER’S influence on HITLER — and HITLER’S on WAGNER.” History Review, Dec. 1998, p. 23. Gale General OneFile, https://link-gale-com.ucreative.idm.oclc.org/apps/doc/A53946966/ITOF?u=ucca&sid=ITOF&xid=8770bc6d. [Accessed: 13.07.2020]
10 Neumayer, I. (2020). Schattenseiten der Wagners. [online] Planetwissen. Available at: https://www.planet-wissen.de/geschichte/persoenlichkeiten/richard_wagner/pwieschattenseitenderwagners100.html [Accessed: 13.07.2020]
11 Josserand, F. (1962). Richard Wagner and German Nationalism. The Southwestern Social Science Quarterly. [online]. Vol. 43, No. 3. Available at: https://www-jstor-org.ucreative.idm.oclc.org/stable/42866855?pq-origsite=summon&seq=1#metadata_info_tab_contents [Accessed 13.07.2020]
12 Loffler, J. (2009). Richard Wagner’s “Jewsih Music”: Antisemitism and Aesthetics in Modern Jewish Culture. Bloomington. [online]. Vol. 15, Iss. 2. Available at: https://search-proquest-com.ucreative.idm.oclc.org/docview/195508667?pq-origsite=summon [Accessed: 13.07.2020]
13 Rosefield, Jayne. “WAGNER’S influence on HITLER — and HITLER’S on WAGNER.” History Review, Dec. 1998, p. 23. Gale General OneFile, https://link-gale-com.ucreative.idm.oclc.org/apps/doc/A53946966/ITOF?u=ucca&sid=ITOF&xid=8770bc6d. [Accessed: 13.07.2020]