Posted in Project 3: A Bach Chorale, Uncategorized

Exercise 3.5: Bach’s Cantata No. 140

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.

Fig. 1. A portrait of J. S. Bach (Haussmann, 1746)
Continue reading “Exercise 3.5: Bach’s Cantata No. 140”
Posted in Listening for Part 3: Baroque Period, Uncategorized

Italian Sonatas and Concertos

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.

Posted in Project 1: Handel's Dixit Dominus and Figured Bass, Uncategorized

Exercise 3.1

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.

Posted in Project 1: Handel's Dixit Dominus and Figured Bass, Uncategorized

Research Point 3.0, Part 1: Ancient Tuning systems of Near East and Greece

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”
Posted in Project 1: Orchestras and Virtuosos, Uncategorized

Research point 2.1: Harold en Italie, Part 1 – Impression

The main task of this research point is to write around 400 words about my impression on listening to Berlioz’s Harold en Italie with the score, considering several points outlined in the course-book. I haven’t addressed each of these separately, since I believe the points overlap quite a bit in relation to the things I found specifically engaging in the music. Also, despite trying to limit myself to the suggested word count, the composition was so thrilling to me that the shortest I could confine myself to write was almost twice more, around 800 words. In any case, here is my impression on the piece:

Impression on Harold en Italie by Hector Berlioz

Reading the short background information on the history of Harold en Italie provided by the brief, my curiosity was sparked by its unique and puzzling origin, and with some further research, I was even more enticed by the complexities surrounding its genre classification, the enigmatic relationship with its literary inspiration, and its intriguing musical roots among other things. While I might lightly touch upon some of these contextual circumstances, what seized my attention the most were the two elements that can be heard and discovered within the music itself, which will be the main focus of this short article.

Firstly, in illustrating its programme, what I found utmost striking is how the narrative of the piece is musically sketched through the orchestration and instrumental positioning that form a distinct physical spacing for the story. In terms of the orchestration, it was very interesting for me to see how in the first movement, the scenery of the mountains is formed by the orchestral echoes of Harold’s idée fixe theme (Fig. 1), and culminates in the rhythmical displacement when the theme is played tutti (Fig. 2), and other similar points in the movement, representing the delay and reverberation of sounds that is characteristic in such an environment. In combination to this effect, Berlioz also utilizes the different dynamics, registers, timber and other qualities of the orchestra to further show the scale of the landscape.

berlioz 1.PNG

berlioz 2.PNG

Fig. 1. Example of the orchestral echoes of idée fixe theme (bars 42-49)

berlioz 3berlioz 4

Fig. 2. Rhythmical displacement of the idée fixe theme (bars 73-76)

What I thought was even more exciting is the second movement, and the way the ascending keys in the repetition of the themes and the shifting dynamics of the orchestra, manifest in the characterization of the pilgrims in a religious procession that are moving through space – pianissimo to forte and fading back to pianissimo, as if the pilgrims march pass us in their ascent up the mountain. In addition, together with the rhythm, melodic and harmonic manipulation, Berlioz also utilizes the different properties of specific orchestral members to create extra-musical associations such as the bells (Fig. 3) and the murmuring of the crowd or prayer (Fig. 4).

berlioz 4.png

Fig. 3. Orchestral illustration of the bells, bars 1-15

berlioz 6

Fig. 4. Orchestral illustration of the murmuring of the crowd or prayer, bars 33-36

In terms of placing the instruments in the performance venue, Berlioz gave specific instructions for the solo viola to be at the front and separated from the orchestra, with the harp close to it. While the justification of the intended genre or the better projection of the solo instrument could have influenced this decision, I would propose that the main intention was to physically create the acoustic environment of Harold’s isolation, where the melancholic observer in a contemplative state, personified as the viola accompanied by the harp, is surrounded by the unknown foreign land, depicted by the orchestra. In the final movement, Berlioz further widens the dramatic space of the musical narrative by utilizing off-stage acoustical space, with the appearance of the concealed string trio, situated behind the scenes. (In the video below, the off-stage trio appears around 45:13-45:39, however not too concealed, but behind the orchestra, as can be seen at 45:20)

While the on-stage music depicts the orgy of the brigands, the off-stage trio creates a spatial conflict by recounting the earlier march of the pilgrims, physically dramatizing Harold’s spiritual divide. To me, the silence of the viola at this point of conclusion is completely absorbing, in fact, as gripping as a film with open-ending, since the listener is removed from the chance to learn the outcome of Harold’s crucial moral decision about his life. This proves how, contrary to what one might assume, the silence, even of the soloist itself, can provide extremely powerful moments to the musical dramatization. While I hoped to find the recorded video of the performances to depict this more clearly, I find the staging not as satisfactory as I imagined when I only listened to the audio recording with the score.

Finally, beside the physical spacing, there was another element that caught my attention, and that is how the portrait of the Italian countryside has been largely musically exoticized. As van Rij (2015: 102) points out, influenced by the French attitude towards Italy as the subject of Napoloenic military conquest, Berlioz didn’t enter the creative dialogue with the techniques and styles from the modern Italian musical tradition he encountered at the Academy in Rome, which he perceived as uninspiring and constraining. As such, the gloomy double fugue that opens the composition, might be a representation of his perception of the Academy from which Berlioz sought the escape in the countryside. Indeed, the only instance where he interacts with the Italian musical tradition is through folk music in the third Serenade movement, where the ritornello imitates the pifferari tradition of the wondering Italian musicians. (Monelle: 2006: 230) However, what dominates the piece is the Italian landscape as showcased through the lens of musical exoticism – Italian country as Berlioz has conquered it with his own artistic visions and impressions, in other words, as he had experienced and wants the listeners to experience it. Lastly, many of the sections, including Harold’s idée fixe theme, are rather Scottish in tone, with quite a few parts borrowed from his Rob Roy overture, and the piece was even initially conceptualized as the Mary Stuart piece (van Rij, 2015: 100), all of which brings further considerations surrounding this peculiar symphony.

Continue reading “Research point 2.1: Harold en Italie, Part 1 – Impression”

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 Project 3: Introduction to Species Counterpoint, Uncategorized

Exercises 1.2: First species

The task of this exercise is to compose a voice part to go with the pre-composed cantus firmus given in the course-book, based on the rules of first species of counterpoint by Fux.

Here is the finished exercise with the intervals marked (cantus is in the lower voice), while the analysis is below, in which I try to go over my process and the choices I made:

exercise 1.2

Following the rules and advices from page 21, I open and end on the octave (I could have opened on the 5th, but I chose to use the octave instead), while using the 3rds (10ths) and 6ths from bar 2 until the penultimate bar, thus no consecutive or exposed 5ths or octaves. I tried to make the melody of the upper line as smooth as possible in a wave-like motion, moving mostly in step-wise movement. The motion between the parts is mostly contrary, except the consecutive 3rds and 6ths. For example, I could have avoided the thirds by having the melody climb in bar 4 to F, instead of descending to C, but I feel like the melody wouldn’t be as smooth with the jump back and forth from D to F, so I decided that to conserve the flowy, step-wise movement instead as the final version of the melody instead of similar jumps. I don’t really like that the climax of the upper melody is in the penultimate bar – in my previous studies, my teachers advised the climax to be somewhere towards the middle, but I don’t think that is too big of a problem, since this is only a brief exercise. However, if I was creating a full piece, I would definitely watch out for the positioning of the climax of the melody.

Overall, I found the exercise quite engaging, although I did study Fux’s counterpoint before. Also, I quite liked the idea of working backwards from the final note, for the last two or three bars – I don’t think I have ever consciously done that before. Off to the second species.

Posted in Project 3: Introduction to Species Counterpoint, Uncategorized

First species: Analysis of Sample Solutions

Before Exercise 1.2, the course book asks for the analysis of the cantus firmus and its given solutions for the first species counterpoint, which I will tackle here.

This is the given cantus firmus:

cantus 1

The melody is formed of 8 whole notes, each lasting a bar, and starts and ends on the tonic – F. The range of the melody is only up to the 4th – the note Bb, which is also the climax of the melody. It is mostly calm and wave-like, in a way circling and revolving around the same notes that move in step-wise motion, except the one small jump to the 3rd – the climax note, which is then ‘filled’, with the melody coming back the opposite direction.

Next task is analyzing the solutions, while following the first species points given on page 21. In solution 1, the cantus firmus is places in the lower voice-part:

solution 1

As advised, the interval beginning and ending the counterpoint exercise is the octave, while the thirds and sixths fill out the rest, from the 2nd until the penultimate bar. The dominating motion between the parts is the contrary motion, which as the points indicate, represents a good way of asserting the independence of each melodic line. The only consecutive intervals are the 6ths near the end,  with no prohibited consecutive or exposed fifths or octaves. Like the cantus firmus, the upper melody is also flowy and wave-like, revolving around the same pitches, with two small jumps of 3rds that aren’t in a row. Similarly, the range of the upper part is also the 4th.

Finally, here is the cantus firmus in the upper voice, while the added voice of solution 2 is in the lower part:

solution 2

The aim here is to answer why I think the whole setting and sound is different when cantus firmus is in the lower part, while also going through the bullet points. First of all, when cantus firmus is in the upper voice, in order not to blur the modality, the lower part must start on the same degree, an octave lower. In order to achieve the contrary motion and the more calm, step-wise flow of melody, as the one in the solution, this means the intervals will be larger (I have marked them with their real gap, while in parentheses put the intervals they would be if they were without the octave distance, but unison as the beginning). All these could influence the sound, but there may also be another thing in question. For me personally, as I was trained to listened to both melodic lines, but for those that weren’t, the cantus melody in solution 2 could seem more recognizable in a sense, because of its placement in the higher voice, which tends to be more noticeable for people. I should also mention that there is one fifth (or 12th actually) in the 3rd bar, which is not as sonorous as the third or sixth that are usually preferred at a place like this (between 2nd and penultimate bars), however, it does provide the continuation of the contrary movement between the voices.

Overall, it was nice analyzing the given solutions before attempting the exercise, as this presented me with a kind of critical tool to evaluate my own future solutions. I think this is a very important aspect to keep in mind when practicing counterpoint.

Posted in Project 2: Palestrina and the Mass, Uncategorized

Research Point 1.1, Part B: Music and Religion

The second part of this research point is to write a brief article of around 500 words (although I went a bit above this threshold, almost 800 words), regarding the connection between music and religion, interlacing my personal position with the material I’ve discovered. Below is my short essay on the topic.

Music and Religion: The Layered Entanglement

From the historical perspective, although far from the contemporary understanding, in a loose manner, the interplays between music and religion may be traced all the way back to the prehistory, when, as Boivin (2004: 48) points out, ‘percussion and/or other sounds contributed to the creation of an appropriate spiritual or emotional state for viewing or creation of rock art in ritual context.’ In a peculiar way, despite the scarce information that is available regarding the music from this period, the rock art might represent the first musical artefacts that visually depict how early the humanity recognized the value of acoustics and sound-production for the mystical act of worship. Along these lines, the primitive societies today retained the force of music as a type of tone-magic in their percussive shamanistic rituals, often accompanied by trance.

The above contrasts the modern frame of reference, where music is seen to interact with religion, now in the institutionalized settings, in the sense of aiding wakeful and calm meditative states of devotion. This association can be observed in many organized religions across the world, and the scholars usually focus on the sacred music from one of the traditions as the area of their investigation, for example, trying to discover how the vocal music became the dominant form in certain religious landscapes, and how some particular sounds became emblematic of a certain tradition, such as om
in Hinduism, throat-singing in Buddhism, certain vocalizations in Islam, shofar in Judaism, and church organ and bell in Christianity. (Hackett, 2012: 17) Continue reading “Research Point 1.1, Part B: Music and Religion”