The aim of this research point is to write a 400-word review of a recording of Vivaldi Recomposed, looking into contextual information regarding both the original and the recomposed renditions and their creators. In total, this post is substantially longer, being around 1000 words. Before I delve more concretely into the task, it might be good to begin with a note on the classical music recording and publishing label Deutsche Grammophon (Fig. 1), whose 2014 reissue version of the piece I’ve listened to and selected for this task. Interestingly, the label came up with the idea to reinterpret musical classics, naming the series Recomposed. The production began by inviting different contemporary artists to create their own rendering of iconic works in the canon, giving dance and electronica musicians access to their catalogue. (Smith, 2010) However, while the previous invitees reworked the classics by using catalogue recordings as samples, mostly remixing or creating hypertextual translations, Max Richter, who was classically trained, chose to quite literally provide a full recomposition of Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons directly from the score. It is only on top of this rewriting, which filtered the original notation through the postmodern and minimalist lens, that Richter adds a touch of light electronics. As such, Vivaldi Recomposed is unique in its blend of the old and new notation, live and prerecorded performance.Continue reading “Research Point 3.2: A Review of Vivaldi Recomposed by Max Richter.”
The task for this exercise is to listen to the whole Cantata No. 140 by Johann Sebasian Bach, Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme (‘Awake, calls the voice to us’), known as Sleepers Wake, first without and then with the score. The aim is to research the cantata to discover how it is structured and the way the chorale melody and words inform the composition, as well as to look at the full text. Although the brief mentions writing 300 words about the newly acquired knowledge on the piece and its impact, my research, as usual, ended being quite detailed. As such, this post is almost 1.500 words long, altogether with a short reflective conclusion.
Firstly, cantata originated in Italy as a lyrical counterpart to the dramatic and epic sister-genres of opera and oratorio. (Durr, 2005: 3) Originally, the term denoted a vocal composition with accompaniment, contrasting the purely instrumental genre of sonata. (Britannica, 2017) The typical Italian form was usually written for solo voice with continuo and later, orchestral accompaniment, consisted of succession of contrasting sections or movements, normally two arias, each of which is preceded by a recitative. (Grove, 2001) Spreading to the neighboring countries, it reached a high point in the Protestant Germany, where it was transformed from being a predominantly secular genre into a major feature of scared Lutheran music. While influenced by the Italian models, the development of the German cantata was largely independent, drawing from the local tradition and its use of chorus, and the important role of chorale – the German Protestant congregational hymns that often served as cantus firmus for new compositions. (Apel, 1969: ) Contrasting the more homogenic Italian solo cantata, the heterogeneous German choral form combined the biblical prose, chorale lines, aria stanzas, madrigalian poetry, recitative and dialogue elements, as well as concertato and contrapuntal styles, resulting in a varied multi-sectional structure. (Krummaher, 2001)
Bach’s (Fig. 1) cantatas, centered around the chorale texts and music, represent the culmination of the German choral cantata genre with several different types. Wachet auf, as a part of Leipzig chorale cantatas, belongs to the group which retains the first and last strophes of the chorale, with others replaced by aria and recitatives.Continue reading “Exercise 3.5: Bach’s Cantata No. 140”
In this post I will list the Italian baroque sonatas and concertos, which not only informed many Bach’s compositions, but also my own piece for Assignment 3.
Archangelo Corelli – Sonatas from Op. 1-5 and Twelve Concerti grossi Op. 6
Corelli was a key figure in the establishment of the standard forms for both the da camera and da chiesa sonatas, and the concerto grosso. It was interesting to read that honoring him, Telemann even composed Sonates corellisantes, explicitly showing this influence. Although there are multiple recordings for Op. 5 and Concerti grossi, the recordings of trio sonatas Op. 1-4 were a bit difficult to find.
Curiously, despite being a da chiesa set, Op. 1 is the least structured among all sonatas, since Corelli was beginning to experiment with the genre and the texture of the trio. I found this aspect very compelling to see – being able to follow this experimental aspect in the score, which is absent in the Op. 3, when the form became solidified. Generally, I enjoyed the slow, expressive movements the most in the da camera sonatas. From both cycles, Op. 1 No. 10 in G minor and Op. 3 No. 2 are among my favorite.
In terms of the da camera trio sonatas from Op. 2 and Op. 4, I was quite taken by how kaleidoscopic these pieces are in terms of using the different dance forms, both elegant and vigorous ones. There are even some interesting timbral effects, such as the trumpet-like fanfares in Allemanda from Op. 2 No. 10, and the descending parallel fifths created by the violins and bass in the Allemanda from Op. 2 No. 3. The one I really liked is Op. 4 No. 1 in C major, especially the prelude.
I was already well acquainted with Op. 5, since I have played some excerpts myself a few years ago. Still, it was interesting to revisit these sonatas, since I feel like a lot has changed about my knowledge on the baroque period, and my position on the notation. Looking again at the score and listening to some different interpretations, I realised there was a good deal of non-notated ornamentation. It never occurred to me back in the day that I could add these little improvisatory flourishes, while now it seems very logical. In this sense, La Folia variations, one which I played the most, was perhaps the most curious to experience anew.
Unlike Op. 5, I have never encountered Op. 6. As such, I was slightly surprised that they were also structures as either concerti da chiesa or concerti da camera. What I also learned through listening and looking at the score is that there are two distinct stylistic features present in the concerti – one exemplified by the succession of homophonic chords and the other by the ecstatic imitative suspensions above the walking bass line. The most unique is the five-movement Christmas Concerto Op. 6 No 8 in G minor. Like the other concerti, the tempo is quite interestingly set, with the composition starting with a fiery vivace as an introduction to the Grave opening movement, while the third Adagio movement also contains a central episode in Allegro, but none of the others end with a Pastorale ad libitum – a true gem of music of the opus.
Vivaldi – Concertos in A minor RV356 and G major ‘alla rustica’ RV151
What really shocked me upon searching for Vivaldi’s concertos is that, beside the Four Seasons, he has composed over 500 pieces of the genre, around 230 being for violin.
As such I have decided to listen again to the familiar concerto in A minor, which I have performed in a concert more than five years ago. I think this is the first time I approached the composition in a more analytical way, having previously been focused only on the performance aspects. This time I could really delve into other structures, such as the chords being played by the basso continuo, which I haven’t really considered before this part of the course. I could also focus on the ritornello form, which I learned about in the exercise 3.5 for Bach’s Wachet auf.
For the second concerto, I chose ‘alla rustica’ in G major, since it contrasts the A minor in having no soloist and being very short, lasting around 5 minutes. There are only three movements each with interesting things to showcase. The first is a peculiar moto perpetuo in 9/8 that ventures into G minor in the final bars, which personally reminded me of the storm from The Four Seasons, the second being an emotive adagio with ornamental passages, while the third utilizes the sharpened fourth degree of the scale, C# – being in Lydian mode common to the folk music, which I learned is reminiscent of Telemann’s Polish-style sonatas – I plan to add these to the listening log at some point later in the course.
This exercise is about reflecting on my experience with the figured bass in around 300 words.
While I was familiar with most chord symbols, having extensively studied harmony and counterpoint in my prior training, I still found the first exercise, 3.1, somewhat challlenging. First of all, the harmony I studied was the four-part vocal harmony, which really helped me with identifying the figured bass for the second exercise, 3.2. However, there are multiple strict rules regarding things such as the successive and hidden octaves and fifths due to different concerns for the singers, and so, when I started solving the first exercise, I found it quite frustrating, because I couldn’t really completely control where the ‘parts’ were going. In this sense, I don’t think the four-part strict vocal harmony is the best blueprint for figure bass, although some of its elements did help me approach the task. I also found myself repeating a lot of progressions and really wanted to break away from that. I did manage to achieve some interesting results – such as in the second bar that contains the imitation of the F# and A in a lower voice.
Although quite challenging, I would love to invest some more time on the figured bass in the future and see how it can be done practically. Being largely improvised on spot – I wonder what type of strategies I could develop from this fluid form. In any case, solving the figured bass was also an important point for me to consider how the strict vocal four-part harmony differs from the flexible, improvised baroque instrumental harmony, which I am yet to properly explore.
This exercise is about creating a different spacing of chords in order to realise the given figured bass from Handel’s Dixit Dominus. Here is my version with an audio below:
I will write the reflection in exercise 3.3 here, which is dedicated to my experience on realising a figured bass.
This exercise is about identifying the chords for figured bass from Handel’s Dixit Dominus. Here is my solution:
I will write a reflection on this in exercise 3.3, which is dedicated to my experience with figured bass.
This research point is about different tuning systems used throughout history and in different parts of the world. The task is to write about 400 words on the topic, but as I have once again delved quite deeply into the subject, I decided to do a much longer four-part series of posts. I will talk about ancient tuning systems in the first two, while the third will cover the period between Gothic music and Romanticism in order to reach the modern systems in the final post.
Out of an infinite continuum of pitch, the idea of tuning systems developed in music as an organizational tool that serves to define particular pitches that will be used in performance in relation to one another, providing neutral models of interval size for the hierarchical distribution of tones in scales. The early tuning systems had no fixed pitch reference, and as such, represent relative-pitched quantifications or calculations of mathematic ratios. Tuning systems around the world and in different historical periods emerged for the musical needs of their culture, as well as to meet the special requirement of specific instruments, which comparing to the voice, necessitate the determination of precise pitches in order to be played. (Britanica) In this way, the earliest pitch-related concepts formed in relation to the construction of instruments and their tuning processes, preserved not only orally and in notation, but also in the traditional practice of building instruments to the certain traditional specifications. (music and memory)Continue reading “Research Point 3.0, Part 1: Ancient Tuning systems of Near East and Greece”
This exercise is about marking specific instances on a score of Handel’s Dixit Dominus, which are provided in the project description.
I’ve used the blue color to denote the textual instances, combined with the yellow highlighter for ‘The Lord says to my lord’ and the orange highlighter for the long melismas. For the points regarding the voices and instruments, I’ve used the green color. As my annotated score is quite big, I’ve ordered it into a slideshow:
Generally, I noted all the instances through the whole movement, rather than select just a single moment of their appearances, since I thought it was important to train my eye to spot the details in order to learn to visualize the score when I listen to the piece without notation.
All in all, it was an interesting exercise, which showed me how the annotation method is an important tool to assimilate into my analytical sphere of musical understanding.
The task is to compose three ornamented versions of the given four-bar melody in the exercise brief, aiming for Chopin’s nocturne style:
I have composed the following versions:Continue reading “Exercise 2.1”
In September, I started a Singing and Songwriting course at the Point Blank Music School in London. Most of the things we learn are related to the popular music and music industry, involving how to use different software and hardware. However, I realized that I can publish an article I wrote for one of the assessments on this blog. In the article I give an exhaustive analysis of St. Vincent’s Paris is Burning in relation to the 1960s Baroque Rock genre. This is a bit different for my blog in terms of content, but nonetheless relates to my musical journey, which is why I decided to include it under the ‘Other’ category. Here is it is:
Revisitation of 1960s Baroque Rock in St. Vincent’s Paris is Burning:
Classical Music Motifs in the Evocation of Historical Themes and the Musical Destruction of the Genre.
Paris is Burning is a popular song composed by the American singer and songwriter Anne Clark, known professionally under her stage name St. Vincent. It was first released in 2006 as a part of her EP, and shortly after included in her 2007 debut album Marry Me. Revisiting the baroque rock genre that emerged in 1960s and faded by 1970s, the song stylistically differs from her rest in its distinctive use of classical music motifs in order to recall the past revolutionary and war-time eras, when the civil disorder was expressed through radical and violent means. In this article, I will identify these musical motifs and how they have been modernized and filtered through the lens of contemporary popular music, providing social commentaries relevant to our own era, as well as how they confront and ultimately destroy the baroque rock genre itself.
Beginning with a short outline of baroque rock, the genre originated in 1960s as a part of the flourishing counterculture, establishing itself, as Gulgas (2017, pp. 22-23) points out drawing from the ideas of the literary theorist Susan Sontag, by bridging the gap between the polarized binaries of ‘high’ and ‘low’ art, through the intertextual and referential layer of incorporating classical music into rock. Furthermore, primarily characterized by what Gulgas terms ‘the postmodern nostalgia’, baroque rock is a genre where the past is musically rearticulated into the present as a type of ironic detachment and interpretation. Among the musicians who explored the postmodern nostalgia and its idea of non-linear time are the Beatles with songs such as Yesterday and In My Life, Rolling Stone with As Tears Go By, The Kinks with The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society, The Left Bank with Walk Away Renee, and others. All of these songs tackle the notion of memory by utilizing the musical borrowings from classical music, such as string and brass quartets, baroque counterpoint and instrumentation, etc., in order to appropriate them into an ironic, tenderly bittersweet depiction of one’s sentimental remembrance, in which the past is perpetually repeating in one’s experience of the present. Although often grouped as a baroque rock song, as I will now examine, St. Vincent’s Paris is Burning not only challenges the role of baroque rock musical strategies by slanting its representation and understanding of temporality, but it is essentially what I would call, an anti-baroque rock song.
The opening of Paris is Burning is a short brass quartet introduction in the minor dominant region of the Ab minor key, in which the song is set, as a stately, but already dim anticipation of the tense and dark atmosphere, which is soon to emerge in a considerable discrepancy to the light mood of the 1960s baroque rock. Despite the pentatonic melody resulting from the minor dominant region, which would rather appear as the major dominant in classical music, the timbre of the brass instruments transforms the phrase into a type of rustic sound, which invokes the feeling of bygone epochs of Western musical traditions. Yet, in the last moment of the brass introduction, the listener will suddenly notice the modern manipulations added to the final notes, such as the striking, unexpected artificial crescendo and the change to a computerized timbre, suggesting the present day and its technology lurking and controlling the instrumental soundtrack. This sharp, electronically-accomplished rise in dynamics, makes the listener aware, at the very beginning of the song, of the contemporary lens through which the past is looked upon, revealing the modern sound editing processes that were concealed in the 1960s baroque rock songs. Along these lines, the instance could be seen as a musical example of the breaking of the fourth wall, an idea introduced by Brecht in regards to theatre and performance. (Brecht, 1964, pp. 91-92)
As the brass instruments and their ceremonious quaver and crochet notes fade, the soft and thin-sounding acoustic guitar takes over with the fast broken arpeggio semiquavers in high register. Having a quality similar to the fast arpeggio passages and note repetitions that would be often played on harpsichord and other plucked-keyboard instruments, the guitar nods to the age of baroque and classical music. Interfering in this texture is the hollow ringing of the hi-hats that is repeating fast rhythmical patterns, suggestive of the percussive patterns usually heard in marches, which constitute a large part of classical music repertoire, with famous examples, such as Radetsky March by Strauss and Grand March by Wagner from his Tannhauser. However, with its slow tempo, minor key and gloomy mood, Paris is Burning touches on a specific type of march – the dead or funeral march, such as Alkan’s Marche Funebre Op. 26, Ferdinand David’s Marcia Funebre, Mahler’s funeral march from Symphony No. 1 and similar. As I will describe, the dry- and cold-sounding, mechanical sonorities of the funeral march music stand in stark opposition to the lyricism of the 1960s songs I have mentioned, placing the listener in a certain historical context accompanied by the actualities of killings, executions and massacres. Yet, by being interlaced into the modernized facet of the song, these elements are also ahistorical in the sense of portraying the timeless nature of militarism and death that overshadows all history of humanity, including our own age.
The first verse begins with the appearance of the voice in the topline, as the bass kicks in with deep slow notes. The sound of the voice is very echoey, giving a feeling as if it is calling from distant past, broadcasted over an old radio or similar device. The lyrics are in epistolary form, being spoken words of an imaginary letter:
I write to give word the war is over,
Send my cinders home to mothers,
They gave me a medal for my valor,
Laden trumpets spit the sooth of power.
(St. Vincent, 2006)
While in the 1960s baroque rock songs the lyrics recollect the past in relation to personal, everyday life circumstances that have been romanticized through memory to express nostalgia, here, although addressed in first person form, the lyrics are presented in an official and factual way, as if written by a soldier figure indifferently reporting about the events from a revolution or battle, unfolding during a period of historical unrest. Stripped from the baroque rock’s ironic sensibility, the past is encapsulated not as somebody’s experience of it, but as somebody’s historical documentation of it. It’s also interesting to discern that the brass quartet already anticipated the idea of trumpets, mentioned now in the last line of the verse, showing the independence of the soundtrack in relation to the topline; it is not just a passive background pastiche for the voice to recount the past as in 1960s songs, but just like the topline, it has its own active temporality in the construction of past.
The pre-chorus begins with the thickening of the texture and louder dynamics, as the thin, repeated guitar notes are replaced by the stronger timbre of the computer-generated, siren-like ostinato, and the hi-hats are simultaneously taken over by the kick drum, joined in with the bass, in order to fortify the dark pulsation of the funeral march. Meanwhile, the voice switches from the deep to middle register, no longer being echoey, but ghostly in quality with the added sound effects, illustrating the universal deception of the sovereign forces in war and revolution, delineated by the lyrics that allude to Shakespeare’s Hamlet: “sleep while I slip, poison in your ear.” After this, with the ascending low-register guitar notes reminding of the lute, the short instrumental break climbs into the chorus, which alternates in texture from the unison playing of topline’s melody by the lute-like guitar, to the even stronger thumping of the funeral march pulse. At the same time, the voice became percussive in the articulation of the words, alternating between the chest and head voice, the latter implying the operatic and classical music singing styles.
At this point, the lyrics talk about the burning of Paris, which as Bentley (2016) suggests, isn’t connected to any concrete historical destructions of the city. Instead, I would propose that the song is using the imagery of Paris burning as a metaphor for the revolutionary turmoil that slowly swept the globe, which began with the 18th-century uprisings in France. Furthermore, the song also reflects upon the contemporary decades, considering their Modernistic and Postmodernistic tendencies in society and art, which are, as Larrissy (1999, p. 1) described, ultimately linked to Romanticism and its ideologies – the driving forces of the Age of Revolution. Whereas the approach of the 1960s baroque rock musicians to the classical music motifs was to provide deconstruction of the everyday, turning it into an environment where the fabric of one’s present and its familiarity are disturbed by memory, epitomized in the sounds of the past (Gulgas, 2017, pp. 24-25), the motifs are appropriated only as neoclassical stylistic flourishes. St Vincent responds to this, by using the classical music motifs in combination with the visions of Parisian revolt and destruction from the standpoint of New Romanticism, in order to demonstrate a larger historical fabric, one where the everyday is a “transition from a place not yet left behind, to another space it has not yet entered, and probably never will” (Notes on Metamodernism, 2010), an allegory for the state of our generation.
The above can be best recognized in the structural skepticism which occurs at the end of the chorus, where the topline introduces a semiotic proposal that the funeral march is instead a “black waltz”. In this exact instant, the listener begins to question whether the pulsations heard are actually a part of the word-painting – oom pah pah rhythm of the dance. As such, the pulsations illustrate the concept of the ‘familiar’ that at the same time has the ‘aura of the unfamiliar’, highlighted as an important feature of New Romanticism. (Notes on Metamodernism, 2010) However, the listener has been deceived, since the funeral march is the rhythm that carries on into the instrumental break, whose descending baroque sequential passage has been modernized into a fiery sound of the electric violin, bringing forth the repetition of the verse, pre-chorus and chorus. Yet, after the second chorus, we are once again cheated, since the oom pah pahs of the waltz actually do take over this time, changing the time signature and accelerating the tempo of the song from the stately 4/4 of the funeral march into the fast 3/8.
The outro waltz is the point of culmination of the whole song, initiating a sense of increasing agitation and anxiety through its whirling repetitiveness of the ostinato rhythm. Accompanied by constant gradations, such as the incorporation of the tambourines and claps, fast quaver notes of the fiery electric violin, countermelody of the electric guitar, and other elements, the texture, dynamics and musical motifs are more and more intensified, until the complete breakdown in fortissimo where the song ends. Waltz is an interesting choice, since as early as its emergence, it carried ‘revolutionary implications’ in contrast to the sophisticated minuet of the court, featuring the controversial close embrace of the couples and the continuous circular turning, which the early writers criticized to have induced vertigo and nervous symptoms. (Yaraman, 2002, p.5; pp. 7-9) Furthermore, the waltz in Paris is Burning is also comparable to the ‘dance-destruction trajectory’ (Mawer, 2011, p. 65) explored by the 20th-century classical composer, Maurice Ravel. Besides his famous Bolero, Ravel also tests the waltz genre itself in his La Valse, eliminating the sentimentalism of the dance in order to accentuate its machine-like nature, elevating “musical materials to their breaking-point”, as the mechanism and automation of endless circularity and ostinato prove to be cataclysmic. (Mawer, 2011, pp.150-155) Within this frame of reference, I would assert that Paris is Burning uses its black waltz to destroy the baroque rock genre, with the lyrics and the rising musical calamity painting an utter defeat:
Dance poor people, dance and drown,
Dance fair Paris to the ground.
(St. Vincent, 2006)
Ending with “Dance fair Paris, ashes now,” the frantic waltz torments the listener with the nightmarish connotations of nostalgia and the destructive power of its fantasy, while the imagery of complete annihilation of those dancing the waltz attests to New Romanticism’s “finite with the appearance of the infinite” (Notes on Metamodernism, 2010) that haunts the twenty-first century. With the repetition of the brass introduction that fades with ritenuto into complete softness, the song concludes with the removal of the lens through which we observed the past. There is a sense of relief in the silence after the song’s ending, as the listener returns to the present-day and its ‘impossible possibility of another here and now.’ (Notes on Metamodernism, 2010)
In conclusion, despite often being categorized as a baroque rock song, St Vincent’s Paris is Burning actually epitomizes the antithesis of the 1960s genre in its distinctive approach to the classical music motifs. From its musical breaking of the fourth wall that makes the listener aware of the present day’s technology mediating the experience of the past, the soundtrack that has been liberated from the topline to have its own temporality in the construction of such past, to the destruction of the postmodern nostalgia in the modernized use of the borrowed classical music motifs, as well as the structural skepticism that occurs all throughout, the song offers a New Romantic perspective in the revisitation of the genre, wrecking it into the chaotic imagery of the Parisian ruins. As a result, despite the recent revivals of the genre in bands such as the Divine Comedy, Paris is Burning, once and for all, musically dismantled and sabotaged the main ideas of baroque rock, whose ironic sentimentality towards the commonplace and the quotidian in the form of the neoclassical soundscape has, just like the Paris in the song, been smoldered into ashes.
Bentley, D., 2016. CSFTD #28: St. Vincent – Paris is Burning. Too many blogs, [blog] 11 April. Available at: http://toomanyblogs.co.uk/2016/04/11/csftd-28-st-vincent-paris-burning/ [Accessed 16 October 2018]
Brecht, B., 1964. Alienation Effects in Chinese Acting. In: Willett, J. ed. and trans., Brecht on Theatre. New York: Hill & Wang.
Gulgas, S., 2017. Looking Forward to the Past: Baroque Rock’s Postmodern Nostalgia and the Politics of Memory. Ph. D. University of Pittsburgh. Available at: http://d-scholarship.pitt.edu/31129/1/Gulgas%20Dissertation%20Template.pdf [Accessed 18 October 2018]
Larrissy, E. ed., 1999. Romanticism and Postmodernism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Mawer, D. ed., 2011. The Cambridge Companion to Ravel. [Online] Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Available at: https://www.cambridge.org/core/books/cambridge-companion-to-ravel/C7725527948B8D9E342CD72F7A89FB28 [Accessed 24 October 2018]
Notes on Metamodernism, 2010. New Romanticism. Notes on Metamodernism,
9 August. Available at: http://www.metamodernism.com/2010/08/09/new-romanticism/ [Accessed 21 October 2018]
St. Vincent, 2006. Paris is Burning. In: Paris is Burning (2006) [EP] Nail Polish Manifesto Music.; Marry Me (2007) [CD] Beggars Banquet.
Yaraman, S. H., 2002. Revolving Embrace: The Waltz as Sex, Steps, and Sound. New York: Pendragon Press.