Posted in Project 1: Orchestras and Virtuosos

Exercise 2.0: Transposing instruments

As the title describes, this exercise is about transposing instruments. The task is to transpose two excerpts, bars 1-5 in Don Juan by Strauss, from the written pitch to the sounding pitch.

Below is the first excerpt of the horns in E, given in the written pitch in the course material:

exercise 2

When played, the horns in E sound minor sixth below the written pitch, meaning that C major in the excerpt becomes E major below. I find this to be the most efficient way of transposing – not thinking about every note as a separate unit to transpose, but instead, I regard the notes as maintaining the same functions within different tonalities – tonic, supertonic, mediant etc. Also, in my ABRSM theory exam, I remember there were two ways to notate transpositions – with key signatures and without. Thus, to practice, I did both versions here, although for the ones without key signatures I still wrote the natural signs within the parenthesis:

exercise 2.0

exercise 2.0 b

The second excerpt is for clarinets in A, given in the written pitch in the course booklet:

exercise 2.0

When this excerpt is played, the clarinets in A sound minor third below the written notes, and the tonality of G major becomes E major below. Here are the two versions of my transposition:

exercise 2.0 c

exercise 2.0 d

In conclusion, I already did some exercises with transposing instruments, such as the ones for my ABRSM theory exam. However, I never actually transposed anything from the repertoire, which is why I found this exercise so beneficial. I also haven’t done it in a while, so this was a great refresher too, to get me back into the gear for orchestral writing.

Posted in Project 1: Orchestras and Virtuosos, Uncategorized

Research point 2.0: The orchestral score

This research point is about the layout of the orchestral scores, by taking a closer look at the first page of Don Juan by Richard Strauss, written in 1888. Below is the score:IMSLP18774-PMLP12183-Strauss_-_Don_Juan_(orch._score)-01.jpg

The task is to find out the instruments within each section of a standard symphony orchestra in their order. I find the advice of the brief about noting all the instrument names in the original language – French, Italian or other, and thus building my own multi-lingual glossary, very useful and productive. Below is the list with the order of instruments from each section with the names in English and German, latter being the language Strauss notated Don Juan. I decided not to include the number of instruments, mostly because I believe the terms are the main focus of this exercise, and not how many of each he used here, although I did keep the singular/plural forms of the nouns.

  • Wind section:

grosse Flötenflutes

  grosse Flöten (auch Piccolo)flutes (also piccolo)


Englisch Horncor anglais (UK and France) or English horn (in North America)

Clarinetten in Aclarinets in A

Fagottebassons (interestingly, we also call bassoon fagot in Serbia)

Contrafagottcontrabassoon or double bassoon

  • Horns:

 Hörner in Ehorns in E (compare this with the cor anglais above – in the singular form for horn in German, there is no ö, but only o)

  •  Brass section:

Trompeten in Etrumpets in E 


Tuba tuba

  • Percussion:

Pauken E. H. C.timpani in E, B and C


Becken  – cymbals

Glockenspiel glockenspiel


  • Strings:




Bassodouble bass

In conclusion, while this hasn’t been my first encounter with the orchestral score, I never paid attention before to the order of the instruments in the layout of the scores I’ve seen. As such, although the exercise wasn’t at all difficult, it was still very useful. With the exception of 3 German terms – Posaune, Pauken, Becken, that I had to search, all the others were very intuitive, so that I was confident in which instruments these were. Overall, I really enjoyed this research point.

Posted in Part 1 - Listening ST, Uncategorized

Mass Music, Part 2

In this post I will list the Renaissance and post-Renaissance mass compositions I’ve listened to, which include some 20th century neo-Renaissance pieces. All the compositions I’ve listened to are linked to my post for Research Point 1.1 here.

Polyphonic Renaissance Mass Pieces

Josquin des PrezMissa Pange Lingua (c. 1515)

Josquin wrote around 20 cyclic masses, making a compendium of all techniques of mass composition from his time, while introducing several new ones. As listening to all of them would take up too much time, I decided to focus on one of them. While I wanted to take a look at the new technique of solmization syllables, such as in his famous Missa Hercules Dux Ferrariae, where the cantus firmus is based on the syllables of the Duke’s name, in the end, I decided to take a look at Missa Pange lingua. Beside the use of imitation, what I found the most interesting is the way the Gregorian hymn Pange lingua has been transformed under the paraphrasing hand of Josquin, with the work completely organized around its melodic material, each movement with the motto beginning, being a type of variation and fantasy on the hymn. I was really absorbed to comparing the original hymn to its modified treatment, especially in Agnus Dei – the movement I enjoyed the most. I believe Josquin really put the Gregorian melody into the contemporary context of his time. In this sense, this Ordinary mass cycle shows how polyphonic techniques at the time weren’t used just as showcases of preferred musical taste with a set of compositional rules, but also a tool by which musicians could engage with the now detached old gems of music, under the new consideration that is supplied with novel techniques. I truly enjoy this type of historical interactions when studying the stylistic approach to music.

Orlando di LassoMissa super ‘Osculetur me’ (1582)

Although Palestrina is known as the hallmark of the Renaissance polyphonic mass compositions, I decided to also check out Lasso’s output of mass music, especially since he wrote around 60 of them. What I found very interesting about this mass is its use of the double-choir antiphonal music, reminiscent of the Venetian style of polychoral techniques, perhaps even being its precursor. I really tried to have my ears spot the differences in sonority between passages for one choir and those with both. However, I found this very difficult to accomplish, probably because my ears, used to the modern music, aren’t sensitive enough to spot these as contrasts, but only as barely-noticeable dissimilarities.

Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina – Missa Papae Marcelli (c. 1562)

Palestrina, of course, made the biggest achievements in the field of mass composition, writing for all types of masses, influencing many future generations with his technical accomplishments. I have heard several of his mass pieces, and here decided to finally to listen to Missa Papae Marcelli, as it was historically significant when the Council of Trent raised the concerns over polyphonic music. The mass is based on the freely composed new material. What enjoyed the most was the contrast between the Credo and Gloria movements in the homophonic and declamatory style with block chords, and Kyrie, Sanctus and Agnus Dei in the florid, imitative style. Used here for the first time, this is a feature that will appear in all Palestrina’s subsequent masses.

Post-Renaissance Mass

Claudio MonteverdiMissa in illo tempore (1610) and Gloria a 7 voci (1640/1641)

I chose these two mass compositions by Monterverdi to compare the two styles of music that have appeared in Baroque music – stile antico and stile moderno. Indeed, the difference is gigantic. Missa in illo tempore is truly reminiscent of Palestrina’s style, with much everything the same, only organs added and clearer cadences, while Gloria a 7 voci, sounds very baroque, with many instrumental flourishes and continuo. It is interesting how one genre of music, in this case, the mass, can survive both as the practice that is preserving the old traditions, and as the practice that looks into the future. Continue reading “Mass Music, Part 2”

Posted in Part 1 - Listening ST

Mass Music, Part 1

In this part of the listening log, I will list the mass compositions I’ve listened to. I’ve included different historical periods and styles, which I’ve divided into two posts with several sections. In this post I will list the Gregorian mass chants and early polyphonic mass music. All the compositions I’ve listened to are linked to my posts for Research Point 1.1 here.

Gregorian Mass Chants

As I have mentioned in one of the posts linked above, the Gradual and Alleluia compositions were considered the musical high points of the mass and their sequences. Beside these Proper items, I have also listened to some chants from the Ordinary of the mass.

Christus factus est and Ecce Sacerdos Magnus

What I’ve found particularly interesting is how these two graduals, both in 5th mode, demonstrate the technique of centonization, being a kind of extreme case by having almost identical melodies, with only differences arising from the accommodating of the different texts. As can be expected from the form of gradual, they are very florid and melismatic.

Alleluia Dominus in Sina and Spiritus Domini

Like the graduals, both these chants are very melismatic, especially the alleluia sections with its jubilus. Although I really enjoyed the graduals, I find alleluias to be my favorite chants from Mass proper.

Christus hunc Diem and Veni Sancte Spiritus

What I observed immediately is how distinct the sequences sound from the graduals and alleluias. These two are direct continuations from the two alleluias I’ve listed above. Whereas before I did the research, I probably wouldn’t have noticed any difference, now I can clearly distinguish the stylistic discrepancies that arise from the age of composition coming from disparate periods – sequences being the new Frankish additions to the graduals and alleluias from the old Gregorian repertoire. Indeed, the stylistic dissimilarities, especially in the movement of the melody and the treatment of the text, are very audible once you know what to listen for, and I am glad I now know how to approach these specific areas of Gregorian chant, in a sense, gaining stylistic consciousness, despite the fact that many would consider Gregorian chant to be one uniform style of music.

Kyrie VIII and Kyrie Rex Aeterno – I found it very engaging, comparatively listening to the original Kyrie and its trope. Interestingly, this is the only Kyrie that hasn’t been grouped in the Kyriale by its trope. The reason may perhaps be the late origin of the trope. It includes both the addition of text and the melodic changes, making the original Kyrie much more complex. 

Early Polyphonic Mass

I tried to include all the polyphonic mass forms that appeared until Renaissance, including organum and the first Ordinary cycles, however organum compositions in particular were really difficult to find.

Organum Rex caeli, Domine (9th century)

The earliest organum were based on the sequences for alleluias and graduals. This one in the oblique form is based on the sequence Rex caeli, Domine. What I enjoyed the most was the drone effect that is characteristic for the oblique organum.  Continue reading “Mass Music, Part 1”

Posted in Assignment 1 - unit 2

Assignment 1, Part 2

The second part of assignment 1 is to write around a 500-word discussion article regarding Stravinsky’s quote: “The more constraints one imposes, the more one frees one’s self…”. Following the four pointers and questions listed in the brief, as well as developing my own ideas, below is the finished mini-essay:

Largely guided by the myth of absolute originality, which stems from Romanticism and further solidified by the 20th-century Avant-garde, in conceptualizing the idea of rules as imposed by a specific style, we often imagine constraints in the act of composing music – rules as one-dimensional enclosing frames, which limit the possibilities of artistic expression that strives for innovation. Questioning this standpoint, I would argue that Stravinsky’s quote suggests a more dynamic, multi-layered aspect to the notion of rules, which performs instead as a background of conventions and traditions, which can be mobilized, manipulated, animated and challenged by different composers in their unique manners, allowing the individuality to be foregrounded as the artist develops distinctive strategies.

Following this line of thought, in the practical sense of completing the exercises in the chapter of the course, the focus on the process of finding solutions instead of fixating on the strictness of the 16th-century music, led not only to my own interpretation in deciphering and understanding the rules, but I discovered that when employed, they functioned rather as pivot points, each with a certain set of choices, entailing my decisions in order to progress through the exercises. As such, discerning what Stravinsky called ‘freedom’ as the wider implication of the stylistic possibilities in the independent decision-making that encompasses the concept of rules, even the rigorous 16th-century counterpoint can demonstrate to a certain extent, in its own fashion, the flexibility and plasticity of the musical language.

In addition to the above, the rules also attach a dimension of historical context to the creative undertaking of music-making and re-conceptualize the idea of inventiveness in relation to historical circumstances. Along these lines, the rules represent blueprints that put us in the shoes of the composers from a particular time, offering us a chance to experiment with the palette of options that was available to them. In this regard, the rules of 16th-century counterpoint presented me with a historical template of creative choices, a distinctive proposal of ways to address musical relations, such as consonance and dissonance, which I will always be able to reference in my own music. Consequently, the stylistic rules of music from the 16th century can supply a unique intertextual layer which can be added to my own stylistic preferences, as a special mode of practice to re-invent under the contemporary context.

In conclusion, Stravinsky’s quote about the constraints as contributors to freedom in music deconstructs the romantic and avant-garde mythical belief of rules as the static limitations that are opposing the inventive potential of an artist. Pointing to the role of rules in furnishing the individuality by choices of interpretation and application, his quote can be used more widely in reference to historical environments, showing the productive nature of the retrospect to the past practices. From this perspective, exploring the 16th-century counterpoint wasn’t an experience of strictness for me, but a dynamic opportunity to experiment with a scope of creative choices that were available to the musicians of the time, presenting me with an intertextual layer that can embellish my own musical practice.

With the short article above, I’ve summarized my experience of the first part of this course-unit. Overall, all the exercises and the topics covered were really enjoyable for me to explore, offering a chance to link in and re-establish my old knowledge. At this place, for now, I’m leaving the Renaissance behind, always having the opportunity to look back, further investigate and draw inspiration from the music of this period. My focus is now shifting towards the Romanticism, which is the focus of the second part of the unit.

Posted in Assignment 1 - unit 2

Assignment 1, Part 1

The first assignment for the Stylistic Techniques unit is divided into two parts. The task of the first part is to complete the given cantus firmus in four counterpoint species, and also to write the imitative texture for the opening of a piece from the repertoire with suggested note values.


Assignment 1, Part 1_0001.png

Assignment 1, Part 1_0002.png

Finally, take a look at the second part of the Assignment 1 here.

Posted in Project 3: Introduction to Species Counterpoint

Exercise 1.5

The final exercise of Project 3 is about completing two examples given from the Renaissance repertoire in imitative counterpoint. The two examples are adapted so that the exact imitation of the given voice will lead to harmony and texture falling into place. I will not give any analysis, since this exercise is quite straight-forward.

Here is my solution for example 1 from Palestrina’s Missa Brevis, the beginning of Sanctus movement:

exercise 1.5 a.png

Finally, here my solution for example 2, also from Palestrina’s Missa Brevis, this time the opening of Benedictus movement:

exercise 1.5 b.png

In conclusion, I really enjoyed all the exercises for Project 3, which brought me a great refreshment of my old knowledge about the counterpoint species devised by Fux. I should mention that it is this exercise that I found particularly interesting, since the examples are based on the actual pieces from the repertoire, which I never had the experience of working with before, but would only write counterpoint for the melodies written by my teachers for the purpose of practicing. Finally, take a look at my assignment solutions and the listening log, where I list the mass music I’ve listened to.

Posted in Project 3: Introduction to Species Counterpoint

Exercise 1.4

As the course material denoted, although this exercise is under the fourth species of Fux’s counterpoint, it is actually about the use of suspensions instead.

The suspensions with a three-part pattern, including preparation – the consonant note on the weak beat of the bar, tied to the note of the next bar, which is the dissonance, and finally the step-wise, downward resolution to the consonant note on the weak beat. I have marked all three with their starting letters – P, D and R, also noting their intervals, which is why there is no need for further analysis and clarification. Below are my solutions to the two given exercises. Here is the first:

exercise 1.4 a.png

Finally, here is the second exercise:

exercise 1.4 b.png

To close off, like I’ve mentioned before, I already studied the suspensions and similar musical devices from the counterpoint by Fux. Nonetheless, this exercise was a good way to refresh my old knowledge.

Posted in Project 3: Introduction to Species Counterpoint

Third Species: Analysis of Sample Solutions

Regarding the third species of counterpoint by Fux, there is a task to analyze the two sample solutions given for two different examples of cantus firmus, comparing them with the rules and tips from page 25-26 in the course-book.

Both examples have their cantus firmus in the lower part. Here is the sample solution 1:

solution 5

To begin with, I have marked all the intervals. In third species, there are now four notes against one in cantus, and to establish this pulse, the example opens with a rest. The intervals on the strong beats are all consonances, with opening and ending bars containing the usual octave, while the strong beats from the 2nd to the penultimate bar carry the preferred sonorities of 3rds (10ths) and 6ths. In this way, the consecutive fifths and octaves have been avoided. The dissonances are carefully controlled, approached and quitted by the step-wise motion, mostly as passing notes between consonances. I have to go back again to the dissonance rule I mentioned in Exercise 1.3, which has been given to me in the previous studies, in this case it concerns with the transition from 7th to 10th from bar 4 to bar 5, although by step in the upper voice, there is a jump in the lower voice. This is something I have been told by my teachers to avoid, but might have been their preference rather than the actual rule by Fux. The melody of counterpoint is very smooth, moving mostly step-by-step in wave-like motion, with minimal jumps, all to the consonant notes, and within the bar, rather than across the bar line, as favored by the advices. Also, the octaves that appear on the 3rd beat (downbeat, but slightly lighter than the first beat of the bar) are the only ones in the bar.

Next is the sample solution 2, with cantus firmus also in the lower voice:

solution 6

Many things are similar as in the previous example. The rest at the beginning establishes the pulse of four notes against one, with the octaves closing and opening the counterpoint. As preferred, the sonorities of the 3rds (10ths) and 6ths occupy the strong beats from the 2nd until the penultimate bar, avoiding the consecutive fifths and octaves. The dissonances are all very carefully controlled, but these aren’t only the passing notes, as in the first solution, but there is also the nota cambiata in bar 2 and the double neighbor pattern in the penultimate bar, the new dissonances allowed for the third species. As such, the melody is slightly jumpier than in the previous example, however, the step-wise, smooth and flowy motion still dominate, and all the leaps are controlled within the bar, rather than across the barline.

Once again, it was very useful analyzing the sample solutions, since this type of exercise could serve not only for the better understanding of counterpoint, but also as an evaluative tool for my own solutions to practicing it. Lastly, there is no exercise for third species, but instead for the suspensions of the fourth species. Click here to see the Exercise 1.4.

Posted in Project 3: Introduction to Species Counterpoint

Exercise 1.3

This exercise is about writing counterpoint in Fux’s second species to the given cantus firmus in the lower voice, while following the rules and advices listed in the course book.

Here is my solution with the intervals marked, and below it is the analysis comparing to the criteria of second species, given on page 24:

exercise 1.3

As the guidelines advise, I started the counterpoint with a rest, in order to establish the pulsation of two minims (half notes) against one semibreve (whole note), which the second species is based on. The interval opening and ending the solution is the octave, with the strong beats containing the preferred sonorities – the 3rds and 6ths, from the 2nd up to the penultimate bar, avoiding the consecutive octaves and 5ths. As permitted, the weak beats either contain carefully controlled dissonances that move step-wise, passing from one consonance to the next, or the jumps to the consonances. Personally, I feel my melody isn’t as flowy as the sample solutions I’ve analyzed, however, I still feel it is quite calm. There are only two jumps, although slightly larger (4ths – C-F and G-D), while the rest is stepwise motion that fills in the missing notes of the gap, and the melody is still quite wave-like. However, there is one thing that I really don’t like – the resolution of the 7th in bar 4. I was taught that when there is a dissonance, it should be resolved not only by the step-wise motion in that voice-part, but also the step-wise motion in the other voice. In this case, the cantus firmus jumps from G to Bb. Technically, I do end up in a consonant interval, and there is nothing like this mentioned on page 24, but I did learn this in my previous studies, which is why I am not entirely happy with my example. In the lack of better solution though, I decided this was the best option.

Generally, I quite enjoyed the exercise. As I mentioned, I did study Fux before, but this was still a great refresher. What I found interesting is that the rule which I was taught in my previous studies, the one I mentioned above about dissonance, doesn’t appear in the bullet points. This makes me wonder if it was just my previous teacher’s preference, or an actual rule from Fux. I guess this is one of the reasons it’s good to return to the fields you think you already know – you can never conquer all the rules and there are always places to further develop. Now, off to the next species.