Posted in Project 1: Sonata Form

Research point 5.1, Part B: Sonata form in Bartók’s String Quartet No. 4 (1928)

Continuing on from the previous post, where I outlined Bartok’s biography, this post will focus on his personal interpretation of the sonata form in the first movement of his String Quartet No. 4 (1928). I also listened to Bartok’s other quartets, which are included in my listening log here.

As I have outlined in Part A, Bartok’s music is known for its unique absorption of a broad range of seemingly disparate musical paradigms, including traditional Hungarian folk music, as well as the more objective procedures of modernism. His series of six string quartets, which constitute one of his most significant achievements in the eyes of critics and scholars, reflect Bartok’s eclectic compositional interests, stretching from some being more Romantic and folk-influenced to others that are more modernist in their use of ‘palindromes’ and ‘polymodal chromaticism’, which I wrote about in Part A. His String Quartet No. 4 belongs to the latter category structured like a mirror or arch in which the stand-alone third movement is surrounded by the thematically-related second/third and outer first/fifth movements – altogether forming the palindrome pattern. Furthermore, this quartet contains intensive use of dissonance, which was influenced by Berg’s Lyric Suite (1926), but rather than fully abandon tonality as the composers of the second Viennese School, the chromaticism is re-structured in relation to Stravinsky’s ‘poles of attraction’ resulting in Bartok’s unique polymodal chromaticism.

Centering my discussion now on the first movement of the composition, it represents a modernist re-working of the Classical sonata form. To this end, while the main divisions follow the traditional exposition-development-recapitulation structure, the harmonic and motivic features are distinctly modernist in an almost aggressive, dissonant polyphonic weaving of phrases with coloristic effects that are often extended techniques for the string quartet. It is interesting that the shapes of notation themselves seem very conventional, however, the tonic functions are not literal, but analogical – so that the tonic-dominant polarity of the Classical sonata is reframed into Stravinsky-like poles of C-F# and Eb-A. Similarly while horizontally, the first movement is characterized by chromatic/octatonic motifs, the vertical, harmonic structures, defined by superimposed major 2nd/9th, result in the whole tone scale. As such, the horizontal and vertical dimensions of the piece function separately.

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Posted in Listening for Part 5: The Classical Era

String Quartets

In this post I will list the string quartets I’ve listened to, including Classical, Romantic, as well as modern and contemporary string quartets. All the compositions I’ve listened to are linked to my post for Research Point 5.2 here.

Classical string quartets

Franz Xaver RichterSix String Quartets Op. 5 (c.1756)

This is the earliest set of string quartets I could find. Interestingly, I found that Richter comes from the school of Mannheim composers, who led a change of musical style in Europe and influenced the Classical style developed in Vienna. I realized that I actually didn’t know anything about the Mannheim school and so this seems to be an area of music history that I’d like to update in the future, especially since I found multiple contributions and innovations by these composers. At any rate, all six quartets are in three movements, contrasting the later four-movement structure of the genre. Although quite polyphonic, Op. 5 quartets clearly follow the melodic-harmonic idioms of the Classic period. For example, in the finales of quartets No. 1 and 2, the fugal episodes are embedded within a sonata structure. In terms of instrumentation, I think there is a variety of writing for all four string instruments with each given concerto-like passages, though there are also moments of duets in the sharing of the melodic material. However, I was really surprised to see in the score that the role of cello and viola were at times reversed. In these moments, in a peculiar way, cello acts as a solo instrument in the tenor register, while viola provides a bass line. Regardless, I found the outer, more spirited movements very invigorating, while the slower movements sound more like operatic arias. Although these aren’t considered as masterpieces, I believe Richter’s quartets hold a historical importance, which show the musical foundations from which Haydn and Mozart built their own string quartets on, but nonetheless, I also find them well-written and interesting in their own right. Since I haven’t previously researched into the Mannheim school, looking at the score, I am aware that I was unable to really distinguish more specific stylistic cues in relation to the Viennese School. As such, I’d like to carry out some future investigations in this area in order to move towards considering the Classical era with more specificity, rather than maintain this generic perspective I have on the epoch.

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Posted in Project 2: New Harmonic Fields

Research point 4.2: ‘Greek’ modes

The task of this research point is to look into the so-called ‘Greek’ modes, investigate how they are structured and find musical examples containing them, altogether writing around 400 words on the findings.

To begin, what is known today as ‘Greek’ modes are actually medieval church modes. What brought about this confusion is that the knowledge of the ancient Greek musical system was available to medieval theorists mainly through the Latin translations of the Roman senator and philosopher, Boethius (Mariani, 2017: 62-3). The actual misinterpretation occurred in Alia Musica – a compendium of theoretical treatments applying Greek concepts of octave species and modes from Boethius to Carolingian church music (Bjork, 2010), which profoundly affected later music theory.

In the Renaissance, with the advent of polyphony, although the rule was to keep to the notes of the mode of the cantus firmus, certain melodic alterations appeared, such as cadences and internal cadences with tones raised to form a leading-tone or certain pitches being flattened or raised to avoid tritone or augmented second (Knud, 1992). In this way, modes came to slowly resemble our modern major and minor scales. This was reflected in music theory as well, as the medieval system of eight modes was expanded to twelve in the 16th century by a Swiss humanist, poet and music theorist, Glarean, whose treatise Dodecachordon added the Ionian (major) and Aeolian (natural minor) modes (Britannica, 2020). It is important to mention that at the time, there was no modulation and so while there could be a transposed mode, it is the same mode throughout a piece and with the same final. In addition, the modes were also classified their range and where the final (tonic) is in relation to the ambitus, resulting in the differentiation between the authentic (range of an octave from the finalis) and related plagal mode (range spans from the fourth below the finalis to the fifth above), latter prefixed with hypo-.

Interestingly, by 1800 practicing musicians had come to believe that the major and minor modes had resulted from the historical reduction of earlier diverse modes to their essential features. For example, Koch’s Musikalisches Lexikon (1802) observed that “our two modern modes are the descendants of the old Ionian and Aeolian” (cited in Porter, 2001), even though they were clearly conceptualized much later and didn’t exist in the actual ancient Greek or medieval theories. On the other hand, modes also existed in popular traditions from generalized types of melodic movement in different cultures before the abstract theories of ancient Greece or the medieval Church. As such, in the early 20th century modal procedures became a compositional resource evolved from regional styles based on the collection of European folk tunes, and later tunes from Africa, Americas and Asia, the latter, for instance being an important influence to Ravel and Debussy via the orientalism.

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Posted in Project 2: String Quartets

Research Point 5.4: Steve Reich’s Different Trains (1988)

The aim of this research point is to listen to Steve Reich’s Different Trains (1988) with a score, then discuss important features with the piece, such as the use of the string quartet or the recordings in the work, as well as include some background information of the composer. I will first start this post by providing a brief biographical outline of Steve Reich, before focusing on the main aspects of the composition. Although I have went much over the 400 word-count in the brief, I believe some points I make, particularly about the ‘reality check’ and ‘shock of the banal’ near the end, very relevant to my studies.

Short biography of the composer

Born in 1936 in New York, Steve Reich (Fig. 1) is known for his artistic contributions as one of the main exponents of Minimalism – a contemporary classical art music style devoted to the ideals of simplicity, such as repetitions and combinations of simple motifs/harmonies, which developed in response to the complexity of the intellectually sophisticated style of avant-garde music (Britannica, 2020).

Fig. 1. Steve Reich (n.d.)

Continue reading “Research Point 5.4: Steve Reich’s Different Trains (1988)”
Posted in Reflections on Assignments 1-5

Reflection on Assignment 5 feedback

This is a reflective account on the tutor feedback for my Assignment 5 submission. Overall, despite some positive aspects, many points are similar to the Assignment 2 feedback, highlighting the difficulty for me to break away from the objective and dense academic language, which have been emphasised at my full-time studies. However, I believe many advices by my tutor will be helpful in my search to find a more personal voice in the writing.

To begin, my tutor acknowledged how I have “engaged well with the essay topic and undertaken some extensive research”, that “it is clear that you have a good intellectual understanding of the topic, and of the stylistic elements displayed in Beethoven’s writing” and how I have “explored some key academic texts and engaged with the views of a number of different writers.” In this sense, the feedback also underscored how I have been “engaging with theses and journal articles”, going as far as to say that I “have developed strong research skills (especially taking into account that this is still HE4 level).” I believe these are all qualities stemming from my full-time university studies, which I am soon to graduate from. Except perhaps the understanding of the stylistic elements displayed in Beethoven’s writing, which come from my previous studies, as well as the topical way of analyzing music that is the direct result of studying at OCA.

Nonetheless, similarly to Assignment 2 feedback, it is noted that “there is… a tendency to overcomplicate things somewhat, and to foreground research skills over your own analytical abilities. This is designed as an essentially practical task, aimed at directing you towards your own relationship with the score. While you gave a good analytical summary of the work, this could often have been put more succinctly, allowing space for greater exploratory depth.” This has been quite disappointing to see, as I really tried to make my writing at least a bit more personal – in fact there is an instance in the annotated version of the essay, where my tutor wrote: “Totally agree! I would love to see more of this in the essay and less reliance on research.”

With this said, I guess comparing to Assignment 2, there are at least a few places of more personal views coming through, so at least there is a bit of movement in the right direction. Still, as I have outlined in the reflection on Assignment 2 feedback, in the full-time studies the essay subjects often ask us to discuss certain things “filtered though the thoughts of theorists/practitioners, whereby we were told to only note down our personal opinions sparingly as more of an add-on or conclusion, rather than the core element.” I think this might take me quite a bit of time to unlearn, though I don’t think I should completely abandon the research skills. Nonetheless, having my own voice somewhere in there is very important and I’m so glad this has been pointed out to me.

As for my analysis, the feedback indicates that I could have “also included score examples to illustrate your points… For example, you begin your analysis by outlining the three main sections of the work, but I would have liked to have seen a clearer line of reasoning for this, before moving on into the detail of each section, backed up with evidence from the score. Analysis is often a matter of opinion, so it often requires an explanation of the logic behind your interpretations.” Again, I was never actually encouraged before to consider analysis as a matter of opinion, but rather objective truth – to this end, it has been eye-opening for me.

Despite many things missing due to the time constraint (whereby I had only a few days to go through the entire Part 5 and finish Assignment 5), it was encouraging to hear that “from the elements of the learning log that are present, there is some good, detailed work on Haydn’s music, which demonstrates an understanding of the importance of contextual information in order to get a full picture of the work, rather than relying on individual elements in isolation. Your work shows an excellent curiosity for the subject, as well as a strong intellectual engagement which often goes beyond the required level of HE4.” I am so glad that the few blog posts that were on the blog at the time managed to reflect all this, especially in terms of contextual information, intellectual engagement and curiosity.

Nonetheless, learning and listening logs were “lacking in substance as a result of your need to meet the course end date; as per our discussions”, but as she remarked “I am sure you will find time to add the required content before assessment.” To confirm this, I have since written extensive learning log posts that have been added to the blog, including Bartok’s String Quartet No. 4, Steve Reich’s Different Trains, musical analysis, history of the string quartet, as well as a comprehensive listening log post with a significant range of string quartets I have listened to from Classicism all the way to the contemporary times. Finally, my tutor also warned me that “OCA regulations do not allow work to be assessed more than once, so you cannot include work from other courses or previous study as part of your learning log. Please be very careful with this!” This is really something I truly wasn’t aware of – so I will definitely keep it in mind and not repeat the same mistake.

Finally, I would like to mention my tutor’s main advice:

“Going forward, I would like to see you gaining more confidence in your own opinions, and to form these first before engaging in research, so that you can develop your critical evaluation skills more firmly… I would suggest beginning with the score only, making an analysis and observing any notable stylistic features. After that, begin researching other people’s views, and use them to strengthen or question your own ideas. Any additional research which falls outside of the direct assignment brief (for example, explorations of musicological theory) may be better placed in the learning log than in the essay; you have a limited word count, so make sure you use it to best effect.”

I found this to be the most valuable part of the feedback, as I was truly struggling when to insert other people’s opinions and when to insert my own. Again, at my university we have been taught the opposite, so this piece of information really opened my mind how to address the tasks in this particular degree in order discover my “own, independent, musicological voice.” This is something I am truly excited about and can’t wait to tackle from here on.

Posted in Reflections on Assignments 1-5

Reflection on Assignment 4 feedback

This is my reflection on the tutor feedback for Assignment 4 submission. Due to some life circumstances outside my control, I had a huge time constraint to complete the unit before its end date, so I only had a few days to go through the whole Part 4 of Stylistic Techniques and write the Assignment 4 itself. However, I really found the whole feedback encouraging.

To start off, showing a huge amount of understanding, my tutor wrote that despite the time limit, “this is a good attempt at the assignment… your compositional work shows a good understanding of the key concepts of this part of the course.” This truly meant a lot to hear, although as my tutor mentions the “supporting academic work needs greater development… For revisions, I recommend a deeper exploration of Debussy’s harmonic and melodic development, to help you to further develop the weaker parts of the composition.” This sentiment was mentioned again in another instance: “You have analyzed the Debussy piano prelude well, making some clear assessments that informed your own work. When time allows, explore more of Debussy’s work, and
particularly consider his approaches to harmony and melody.”
I have since filled in the gaps and wrote a longer post with a comprehensive analysis of Debussy’s Prelude a L’apres-midi d’un faune, as well as a longer post on the Greek modes, which are related to the composer’s unique harmonic language. This evidences that if not for the time pressure, my submission would have delved much deeper on each topic explored in Part 4.

At any rate, in terms of the practical task to compose the Prelude in the style of Debussy, my tutor remarked that: “Your understanding of Debussy’s style comes through well in your practical work. You have made use of parallel harmonies, a wide pitch range and some contrasting textures to give the piece an idiomatic feel. This is combined with the use of French terms of expression, which are often quite imaginative. The piano has been appropriately used, with some good consideration to the use of the pedal. It is clear from your music that you have thought carefully about the practical aspects of performance, and this, combined with the use of changing time signatures, helps the music to flow.” All these point are wonderful to hear, since despite the time issue, I was trying really hard not to create a dry piece of music, but instead consider the piano and notation in a more imaginative way. I am glad this seems to have paid off. It was also good to read that I have managed to tackle a “particularly important … idea of using the music to portray personal emotional reactions rather than describing the paintings in more concrete terms. I think this comes across well in your composition and aligns with impressionist ideals.” I think this is great, as it also marks a departure from my earlier programmatic pieces, which represent more or less direct translations of source materials. In this direction, I believe my Prelude shows more maturity.

On the other hand, the feedback notes how “there are some moments where more melodic invention may help maintain interest; while arpeggio patterns are a feature of the style, if they are over-used they can begin to feel predictable. Similarly, there are moments where the harmony loses direction – eg especially bar 11 and 17-21; in the latter this may be partly due to the lack of clarity in the bass this low in the range, and the spacing between parts, which can make coherence more difficult.” I have to say I completely agree with this, however, because of the source material of Monet’s Waterlilies, which are very abstract and meditative, I was leaning on to not adding any melody because it could destroy the reflective feeling of the piece. Nonetheless, after a revision, I believe I created enough corrections to add just enough melodic interest, without loosing out on the abstract/meditative quality of the arpeggios. This corrected version can be found here.

Moving on to the learning log, it was great to hear how “combined with your practical work, [it] demonstrates a good grasp of the concepts explained in this part of the course.” On top of this, my tutor noted that my learning log highlights how I have started to “bring together … [my] wider artistic experience with … musical studies”, and she was “pleased to see examples of your paintings included in your blog.” This is something that I have actually drawn on from an earlier feedback given to me for Assignment 2 of the unit, where it was mentioned that it would be great to see me take over my other artistic experiences, including painting, film and drama, into the music studies at OCA. Along these lines, I am glad to hear there had been some development in this area, though the feedback invited me to “take this further and make deeper connections between … art and its influence in music; how did these developments in the art world come to influence music … Where did the term (in music) originate from?” I think researching into these wider cultural questions in relation to musical styles is really important. So far, I have mostly been focused on music as if it were a bubble existing on its own in this course, and as such, I plan to continue exploring the wider considerations throughout the degree to create a fuller understanding.

With regards to the above, nonetheless, my tutor indicated that my listening log too made some useful points, urging me “to continue this work following the submission of your final assignment.” **To add an edit after the assessment submission, I believe both Part 4 and Part 5 have been much more extended, evidencing that I have followed this advice and continued the work. In particular, the feedback touches upon my point about Ravel’s Le Tombeau de Couperin and its neoclassical elements as “a good observation, as is the way that Debussy and Ravel both rejected the impressionist label. This is quite a common theme amongst composers; the labels seem to be ‘made up’ externally, by commentators, musicologists or journalists, with composers grouped together into ‘schools’ or ‘styles’.” Once again, my tutor invited me to go even deeper: “It would be interesting to reflect on this further in your learning log, and to explore the function such labels have on the musical world.” This is something I definitely plan to do in the future.

Regarding my learning and listening log posts on serialism, my tutor was interested to know “how you would ‘probably reconfigure the technique’. Many later composers used serialism as a starting point, but made minor modifications to the strictness of the outcome, to allow for a more instinctive compositional process. If you can include an exploration of some of these composers into your listening you may find the music a little less theoretical.” After I have started filling in the gaps, having researched Berg’s music in particular, as well as Webern’s compositions, in the listening log, I have to say my tutor was completely right – I have found the music to truly be much less strict than I initially though it was. Berg’s almost programmatic Violin Concerto, motivated by the death of the young Manon Gropius, for instance, truly touched my heart – I have often considered the serialism of the second Viennese School only as a tool for intellectual digestion and not something that would allow such an intimate emotional scope. As such, I do really hope to reconfigure the technique closer to Berg’s example, but even more than that – find my own personal stamp in the utilisation of the device.

As for the blog itself, there was another mention of the menus and “the nature of these kinds of ‘floating’ menus which only appear if the mouse is in exactly the correct place on the screen. They can disappear when the mouse is moved to reach an embedded menu item, and I can only imagine this will become more complex as the information grows on the blog. I highly recommend that you explore alternative approaches to the menus so that the material is easier (and quicker) to navigate at assessment.” **Edit before the assessment submission, with Covid-19, as well as complex PTSD I am suffering from after a police mishandling, I wasn’t able to solve this at all. But I will keep this in mind for the following unit I take.

Another advice by my tutor is that “it would be useful for you to reflect on this feedback in your learning log, identifying what you feel are the key themes and areas for development. This will help provide a better understanding of what you are taking from your formative feedback, and help you develop a reflective approach to your practice.” This is something that I obviously had to put off because of the time constraint, but despite writing this a few months after, I believe the reflections I’ve posted show that I have taken a lot from all the formative feedbacks and do indeed posses a reflective approach in my work. In fact, in my work on Composing 1 unit, I really built a regular and continuous reflective practice, however, due to many different circumstances, I wasn’t able to do so for this unit. But once again, I have done the best I could in relation to these circumstances and this and other posts in the category should indeed highlight my abilities for critical reflection. At any rate, I was glad to hear that despite everything, my assignment communicated the ideas well, “both through the presentation and notation of your practical work, and through your written work. You have understood the key concepts of impressionism in music, and conveyed your interpretation of this in your programme note.” As such, despite the setbacks, I think I have still managed to produce as good of an outcome as I could, which I have since extended – showing that I am really ready to invest more into the unit.

Posted in Reflections on Assignments 1-5

Reflection on Assignment 3 feedback

This is a reflective account on the tutor feedback for my Assignment 3 submission. I believe the commentary in this feedback has been very assuring in terms of more positive aspects of my assignment, but also very useful and constructive in terms of things I overlooked and wasn’t able to achieve.

In terms of the assignment sonata itself, my tutor outlined that “ornaments are well-considered and effective, with a good range of ideas shown. Your commentary explains your reasons for choosing the instruments clearly, and your knowledge of the violin is conveyed in your writing for it, particularly the double stops. You also show that you have drawn on your research in the composition of your piece, and considered a range of different approaches.” This was fantastic to hear – especially how my research, including the one on ornamentation, translated into the writing and how there is a range of different approaches in my sonata.

In the light of the above, my tutor indicates that my “choice of instruments is idiomatic and shows an understanding of the era” and that I “have used violin double stops effectively, and also included some phrase marks to help define the melodic line.” Overall, the feedback noted how the “violin part is generally quite well handled in terms of melody” several times – this was great to hear as violin is the instrument I played the longest, so I’m glad to hear my writing demonstrated my familiarity with the instrument. Moreover, the feedback also mentions that the “harpsichord accompaniment is relatively idiomatic, and the opening of your piece is reminiscent of Bach’s Italian Concerto.” Again, this is very encouraging to hear, especially since I have a real appreciation for Baroque keyboard music and have played through multiple pieces in the past, as well as more recently.

On that note, however, my tutor noted that “it is unusual to see such detailed dynamics within the baroque era; it was common for composers to write in dynamic markings that went against acknowledged conventions, but crescendos and diminuendos were rarely marked, and the ‘hairpin’ sign was never used. Dynamics were often created through the use of texture and (to an extent) register, and also key (especially in wind instruments which were not completely chromatically even).” These concerns about dynamics are actually all the things I was aware of and taught about in my previous studies – I have played through countless baroque pieces and wrote two- and three- part inventions and three part fugues.

In this context, as students, we were always asked to not use dynamic markings and most editions I used for performance rarely provided dynamic markings for Baroque pieces. However, for this OCA unit, I went by a past feedback I received for my Assignment 1 for the Composing 1 unit, where my tutor stated that while I “have also given some clear dynamic instructions, but perhaps more detail in terms of crescendos and diminuendos might help to give more impact to the dynamics.” Therefore, I was rather guided by this advice from the previous unit, rather than think about the stylistic concerns that is the main focus of the current unit. While I believe it is good to carry over certain things to show the progress throughout the course, this yet again reminded me to always check the particular unit’s requirements – something my reflection on Assignment 2 for Stylistic Techniques also mentioned.

Next, my tutor explained that “there are occasional moments of awkwardness where the sense of line and voice leading is lost” mostly because of the violin and harpsichord parts “sharing the same pitches… [which] impacts on the clarity of the harmony”. Personally I actually really liked this effect of the parts crossing over – however, I completely understand it isn’t too stylistically appropriate and that the clarity of melodic lines and harmony has been weaken for this reason. It is also important to note that due to the time constraint (which was a little more than a week to finish this piece and go through the whole Part 3 of the unit), I was composing more intuitively for the sake of speed, rather than have time to fully think about each sections and consider different elements more carefully. This resulted in the harmony being “not always 100%
convincing”
. For example, “the E flat at the end of bar 10 gives a strong sense of key which is disrupted (without preparation) by the E natural at the beginning of the following bar. There is also some confusion of key with the violin entry in bar 12, which is in a different key from the harpsichord, and despite the imitation, doesn’t connect enough with the other lines.”

At any rate, due to the time pressure, I have missed a lot of mistakes – such as the parallel fifth “between the A/G of the left hand and the E/D of the right hand and violin”. Although I have to mention here that the parallel fifths can be found in Bach’s instrumental pieces too – for example there are two places in his WTC II F-sharp Major Prelude (bar 27 and 52 arising from ornamentation) or D major Prelude (more directly in bar ). I have also encountered more examples with my former teachers when analyzing different compositions, which is why they never insisted on this being a huge issues in instrumental writing in comparison to the vocal writing. However, I do agree with my tutor’s advice to “keep an eye out for these traditional rules of harmony, as they can be applied within this context too to help create a stronger sense of progression.” Thereby, I think this particular instant truly impacted the clarity of the harmony and weakened its general effect.

Another thing I missed is a seventh leap – which is “less common”. In fact, I have only encountered seventh leap as a kind of registral jump in the Baroque era, with the melody continuing from this point step-wise. Regrettably, the instance of my seventh leap hasn’t been used in this context and as such sharply contrasts the style of the period. However, despite all this, it was great to hear that my tutor managed to find “some strong moments of harmony which are highly effective, or example some of the writing in bars 4 and 5 work very well”, as well as “the cadence at the end of the section [Andante] is effective, with a good use of ornamentation.”

With that said, it was also encouraging to hear that my “choice of form is ambitious and on the whole works well, even though the sections are necessarily short.” Yet as she further denotes, the form I chose meant stuffing in a lot of material into a small space, which didn’t allow for the development of each idea: “In places I would like to have seen the ideas developed more fully over a longer duration (as developing material is in some ways more challenging than coming up with initial ideas).” Still, she points out how I have demonstrated “a variety of techniques, and created some coherence between the sections.” Taking from these and many other of my tutor’s advices, including the moments of “static writing” and places where the harmony “doesn’t quite deliver”, I believe I have made good corrections, especially in terms of the violin and harpsichord “covering each other”. These can be found here.

Finally, due to the time restraints, I didn’t managed to complete all posts for the learning log in this part of the course. In this sense, I was rather surprised to hear that there is some “extensive research”, such as my post on the ancient tuning systems, where “there is already some detailed work there”. Nonetheless, the language was again observed to be “dense and technical” and how “certain terms might benefit from a greater explanation to demonstrate that you really understand their true meaning, as well as to make your communication more clear for the reader.” I am truly trying hard to work on this, but it is indeed difficult when I’ve been conditioned the past few years to write in this style. At any rate, due to the lack of time, I have indeed not referenced properly – as the feedback remarks “it is vital that you include these before assessment”. **Edit slightly before my deferred assessment submission – these have since been added, it is only due to the time limitation that I haven’t been able to do so.

In terms of the blog menus, I was puzzled to hear they “are sometimes a little fiddly; they disappear if the mouse moves to slightly the wrong place on the screen, which can be slow and fiddly.” I have tried resolving this issue, however, I don’t experience the same issue neither on my phone, tablet, lap top or PC, so I am really confused what to do on my part. As such, for now, I have left it as it is, but I will look into changing the theme of the blog to hopefully solve this problem.

Finally, as for my listening log, the feedback comments that I have “included some good observations on Italian style works by Corelli and Vivaldi. It would be interesting to develop this work further by listening to French and German pieces too, to see if you can gain a sense of the differences between the styles. Listen too to music for a wider range of instruments and consider how different instrumental techniques may have influenced the types of ornaments performed.” Since then, I have listed the French pieces, though unfortunately, I didn’t have time to include the German ones, which is really a mixture of the former national styles. Still, as I am studying for the full degree, I believe I will have enough time to tackle these in another unit, especially in terms of the final point. In fact, I have recorded this onto a to do list as a gap in my learning, so I hope to soon listen to Baroque pieces covering more instruments and see how each instrument affects the ornamentation.

Posted in Reflections on Assignments 1-5

Reflection on Assignment 2 feedback

This is a reflection on the tutor feedback for my Assignment 2 submission. Although there were quite a few positive aspects in relation to my work on this part of the course, my main take away is how the over-reliance on research can limit one’s personal views. As I will outline, I believe this largely stems from the way my full-time studies in film and drama at another university is structured with a focus on the objective writing in relation to established theorists.

Firstly, the feedback opens on a very positive note: “This is a well-researched essay which includes a lot of contextual information regarding Strauss’s approach to the tone poem genre, as well as the musical environment he was writing in.” Indeed, the contextual information has been one of the key aspects we were encouraged to perceive things from in my full-time studies, which I carried over into this essay. As the feedback further mentions, there are “some commendable aspects … which are worthy of mention; the work is very well researched and delves deeply into the contextual surrounding of the music. You evidence your research by providing insights into the views of a range of different commentators on the work.”

Using different commentators on a topic as evidence is yet another important part we were graded on in my full-time studies. In fact, often our essays asked to discuss certain subject matters filtered though the thoughts of theorists/practitioners, whereby we were told to only note down our personal opinions sparingly as more of an add-on or conclusion, rather than the core element. I believe this explains why my tutor felt like I “rely too heavily on your research, and do not present enough of a balance between the information you have gained and your own reactions, ideas and conclusions drawn from score study and listening. The essay gives me a strong sense that you are able to research, but it does not convey a clear enough demonstration of your own thoughts and ideas. I found myself reading it and thinking “But what do you think?”.

I now realize that indeed I am hesitant to answer the above question directly, as my full-time studies in a way conditioned me to first ask “What have others said and what can I add?”, which is what I did in this essay. Because of this, the advice to “try to use research to support and strengthen your own ideas, rather than using the ideas of others as a starting point” actually feels very counter-intuitive. On top of this, my essay “exceeds the 1500 word limit by around 400 words… the assessors will only ready up to the word limit with a leeway of 10%”. This is yet another thing I carried over from my full-time studies, as over there we were allowed 20% leeway, so I realized I should have not assumed the word limit, but actually checked the course requirements.

In any case, in general, I believe the requirements of the two degrees I’m taking are very different, so that I should try separate them and focus on their individual specifications. Likewise, I should mention that I believe the “dense… long sentences” with “academic language” my tutor noticed doesn’t simply “stem” from my “research” on Strauss’ Don Juan as can be assumed, but from the amount of academic literature we have been given to read week from week for the past three years – this is particularly true for the film course, which only includes theoretical modules. As such, I believe I was really writing in the style that has become ingrained in me and constantly reinforced in the academic environment surrounding me – I would often use this language in the weekly seminars as well – in fact, we were encouraged to do so when speaking. However, being more succinct is definitely something to work on and I would actually like to make my writing more accessible to people not involved in the academic field too. I guess overall, to make my writing more digestible to ordinary readers is something I haven’t considered much – which makes this a very important point in the feedback. It really gives me something to think about more for the future articles and essays.

With regards to my tutors comments that she feels “that the general focus of the essay is a little off-topic from the question, for example, and in relation to the focus of the course, considering the stylistic characteristics that Strauss uses, especially in terms of the development of thematic material and the use of instruments.” I do have to say that indeed I have went a bit off-topic, since I focused more on how this piece can be approached by listeners. In my defense, we have been discussing “the death of the author” a lot recently in my film and drama studies, so this might have led me a bit astray for this essay. At any rate, the final comment to “go a step further” by “interpret[ing] … ideas in relation to your own thoughts, and synthesize your research with your own ideas to draw new opinions and ideas” is my biggest takeaway and something that might take me a bit to get used to, as it feels very contradictory to what I’ve been taught elsewhere.

Moving on to the learning log, it was great to hear it “contains some good research in relation to the prompts in the course materials, and there is evidence of critical thinking in your personal opinions. You are able to respond to the tasks with intelligent enquiry and analytical listening. Your work shows a good level of academic thinking, and you often consider a broader approach to the music, for example including philosophical and psychological elements into your approach. This is good practice and shows you have a good contextual awareness, beyond music, which can feed into your understanding of the subject.” I was very pleased with all this, particularly the part about analytical listening and showing a broader approach to music with philosophical and psychological elements – I would like to further extend this further through the degree.

In terms of the listening log, however, my tutor couldn’t find any entries for this part of the course. This was such a shame, as I wrote a longer post on Nocturnes here – my favorite art music genre that emerged in the Romanticism. What seemed to have happened is that I forgot to include the category into the main menu, so the posts became basically invisible, unless specifically typed in the search bar. I will I have since added the category and will try to make sure to always double check for this issues. Nonetheless, my tutor is absolutely right about the time limit, since due to some financial matters in my life circumstances I was unable to devote time to study at OCA until just now before the unit end date. This means I will probably have to limit the number of pieces I list in the listening log, but as she noted, I’ll try to do what I can and cover a range of works from different eras.

Posted in Assignment 4 - unit 2

Assignment 4 (with corrections)

This is the corrected version of Assignment 4:

In addition to that, I am including a rationale behind why certain elements have been corrected:

In general, I found it very hard to restructure some parts of the piece in relation to the feedback. This is mostly because of the source material – Monet’s Waterlilies, which to me are very abstract and meditative. Along these lines, the idea of adding melodic invention upon the arpeggio patterns that to me really portray the metaphysical embodied in the paintings somehow seemed to distance my prelude from them, which is also something very true of the harmony – I believe the loosing of direction is something quite purposeful, since when I observed the paintings, I would always feel my gaze wandering as I contemplate upon the brushstrokes. Nonetheless, once I actually started to restructure the work, I believe the rewriting helped the piece maintain more interest. I have mostly focused on the melodic aspect – the changes occur in bars 2, 4-5, 7-9, 11, 13-14 of section 1, then bars 16-21, 24 and 27 in section 2, while in the return of section 1a, bars 31-32 have been modified. I really found it the hardest to reframe bars 17-21, as I planned it as a more transitional section based on sequences. Generally, I consider this part to now be the weakest in the whole piece.

Posted in Assignment 5 - unit 2

Assignment 5

The aim of Assignment 5 is to write an essay of 2000 words on Beethoven’s Pastoral symphony, with a focus on the structural analysis of the first movement, using investigative techniques employed throughout the unit with some biographical information, as well as include a reflective paragraph on my own analytical methodology.

Here is my essay: