Thursday, May 1, 2008
Arnold Schoenberg composed works for all settings, including chamber, choral, and symphonic works. Schoenberg composed in three major compositional styles, one of these being serial or twelve-tone style, which was used in his composition A Survivor from Warsaw op. 46. The setting for A Survivor from Warsaw op. 46 is composed for full orchestra, chorus, and narrator, which aids Schoenberg in developing the story by use each group to depict certain characters or situations. Because of Schoenberg’s utilization of the ensemble and compositional technique to portray the torments that the survivor experienced, I believe that A Survivor from Warsaw op. 46 should be introduced into the modern Canon.
A Survivor from Warsaw op. 46 portrays a man, set as the narrator, in the Warsaw ghetto. Schoenberg originally composed this work setting the text in both his native German and also in English. The man discusses the torments that the German Third Reich had done to the Jewish inmates. He describes when the Jews are called to attention for roll call how the elderly could not get there fast enough they were beaten. The music that Schoenberg uses to portray the harshness of the Jews treatment is done so in a twelve-tone row.
Schoenberg’s use of the narrator is the most important part about this composition. The narrator is composed with a technique referred to as Sprechstimme. Schoenberg has been known for using such a technique in many of his other composition with Pierrot Lunaire op. 21 being his most famous use of this technique. Throughout A Survivor from Warsaw op. 46, the narrator uses this technique, and because Schoenberg chose to set the narrator in this style it causes the listener that much more anguish and confusion, which Schoenberg was most likely going for. The narrator is in a constant state of stress and one can tell this because of the lyrics that Schoenberg has chosen for the narrator. His use of the narrator allows the listener to eye witness what is going on during this time in Warsaw. This allows the listener to become even that much more involved with the composition.
Throughout A Survivor from Warsaw op. 46, Schoenberg uses the orchestra to accompany the narrator, usually with some sort of dissonant harmony. This technique of using the orchestration as accompaniment reminds the listener of a poetry reading but instead of the mellow accompaniment of a poetry reading the listener experiences the harsh accompaniment of the orchestra. Although the orchestra is continuously playing through the narration, it aids in setting the text like the drumming in a poetry reading. The narrator slowly describes his experience while the orchestra lurks behind him, setting the aural stage with various dissonances.
Schoenberg’s use of the tone row is an effective setting for this work. Because Schoenberg was not concerned with composing this work with traditional harmony, tone rows were used causing harshness the in tone color and extreme dissonance. The intense dissonance demonstrates to the listener what the narrator must have gone through when dealing with the torments of the Third Reich. An example of this can be heard when the narrator is discussing what is happening during the roll call. Elderly people are being beaten to death and the listener can feel the pain because of the tremendous dissonance. The use of serialism during this composition allows the listener to imagine the pain. The setting of the orchestra during this scene also aids in the listeners ability to tell what is going on.
Schoenberg uses the chorus to demonstrate the chaos of the crowd, which the narrator describes as “a stampede of wild horses.” Instead of Schoenberg orchestrating the crowd to sound like a stampede of wild horses, he instead orchestrates them as a large chorus singing a Jewish prayer. This is an effective use of his knowledge of orchestration because it demonstrates what power a chorus can have on portraying a scene of mass chaos, and Schoenberg does so in a manner that reemphasizes tragedy even more to the listener. This happens because at the beginning of the work the narrator explains how all he can remember is the crowd that began to sing, and the foreshadowing that Schoenberg uses in the beginning of this makes it that much more dramatic toward the end of the composition.
Throughout A Survivor from Warsaw op. 46, Schoenberg made numerous orchestration choices that were relatively innovative for the time. His decision to compose for this setting of various ensembles has made this work not only innovative for the time, but effective at portraying the tragedy at Warsaw. With the chorus symbolizing the chaotic crowd, the orchestra setting the aural background, and while the narrator gives an eye-witness account to what he has seen, the overall composition has achieved Schoenberg’s goal at accurately accounting the tragedy at Warsaw. Because of Schoenberg’s innovative use of orchestration and the overall effectiveness at enabling the listener to envision what the narrator when through, A Survivor from Warsaw op. 46 should be introduced into the Canon.
Zorn’s Cat O’ Nine Tails
John Zorn is a man of many talents. As a free lance musician in New York, Zorn has been noted for his different look on classical music today. He is one of today’s avant-garde composers, composing such works as Kristallnacht in 2002, and Redbird in 2005. Zorn not only pushes the boundaries with in the traditional classical medium, but he also ventures into composition for film and cartoon scores, and even in to the jazz realm. The Kronos Quartet is known world-wide for their productions of avant-garde music. For over thirty years, the Kronos Quartet has been commissioning and premiering works by modern composers such as John Cage, Steve Reich, and George Crumb. Cat O’ Nine Tails (Tex Avery Directs the Marquis de Sade) was composed for the Kronos Quartet in 1988 and is a demonstration of Zorn’s many different talents. This work unites Zorn’s knowledge of various types of jazz, such as free jazz, avant-garde music, and the scoring for various cartoons. Zorn’s composition style can be heard as a compilation of his various techniques. Throughout this work, one can hear all of the elements of Zorn’s musical life by paying attention to his unique use of harmony and extended string technique.
In the work chamber work Cat O’ Nine Tails (Tex Avery Directs the Marquis de Sade) the title reflects the work. “Tex” Avery was a well-known cartoon producer, and this work portrays the sounds of cartoons but with a sadistic outlook. Marquis de Sade’s unique habits are the theme of this cartoon-like chamber work. If one has ever listened to or watched Saturday morning cartoons, it is easy to hear the Tom and Jerry-like moments that Zorn inserts into Cat O’ Nine Tails. One of the most cartoon-like moments is when he uses a technique called col lengno (the use of the stick on the stings rather than the hair) about three minutes in to the work, to demonstrate the sound of a small mouse or other small rodent scurrying around a room or dungeon.
One way that Zorn portrays the cartoon-like sadist is with his use of various string techniques. Zorn does not stop at the traditional use of the string quartet, but instead he pushes each of the player’s techniques to the limit. The most out of the ordinary effect for which he calls is for the players to make various noises with their mouths. An example of this can be heard about one minute in, where he asks the players to bark like dogs. At this moment, it brings to mind a pack of rabid dogs chasing Tom the cat, but he underlines it with the use of minor second, which puts a twisted feeling in one’s gut. Another technique that Zorn calls for is the use of scratch tones. In this type of technique, a string player bows across the string in a very slow manner with a great amount of pressure. When this is done, it causes one to think of something ripping or nails going across a chalkboard. Scratch tones are very abrasive sounds and not only does he use them sparingly, but he also uses them in cluster chords, causing the listener even that much more anguish bringing to mind the sadist. Zorn experiments with various string techniques and his use of file-card structure (the method of writing various compositional styles on various note card and then passing them out randomly to the performers, resulting in sudden shifts of style) because he is trying to widen the listener’s palette. Many moments in this quartet sound like the group is improvising the string techniques. This is most likely because of the heavy influence of jazz, especially in his knowledge of free jazz, which affects many of Zorn’s compositions. Zorn’s experiences with the avant-garde genre and his close work with the Kronos Quartet enabled him to compose Cat O’ Nine Tails with the various extended string techniques and seemingly improvised technique moments.
Zorn uses harmony in unconventional ways. It seems that Zorn composes his harmonies not to lead one through a harmonic progression but to give one something with which the listener is familiar. His knowledge of composition for cartoons and film scores is evident in his use of harmonic relations throughout Cat O’ Nine Tails. His use of harmony allows the listener to relate back to those Saturday morning cartoons. Whether the listeners can tell what the harmonic progression is or not, they can picture “Tex” Avery’s characters and what they might or might not be doing. An example of this is roughly six minutes into Cat O’ Nine Tails when it sounds like out of nowhere the character of the music shifts to Aaron Copland’s Hoedown. Harmony throughout Cat O’ Nine Tails paints different pictures, whether it is a country western theme of a “hoedown” or the middle of a Viennese waltz, Zorn sounds like he composes with settings in mind, and his knowledge of what listeners can recognize is vast. Because of his knowledge, listeners have very little trouble recognizing what Zorn is trying to demonstrate, which allows him to portray various situations, throughout his compositions, easily.
Cat O’ Nine Tails demonstrates Zorn’s variety of compositional styles. Through his use of interesting and familiar harmonic progressions and his use of advanced string technique, Zorn identifies with his listeners. Zorn’s knowledge and experience allows him great success in his compositional technique. It is because of this knowledge and his ability to connect with his listeners that Zorn should be considered for the musical Canon. He uses many techniques that would dub him innovative, including his ability to change styles so suddenly. For example, he changes from the instrumentalists barking like dogs going directly into a tango-like section, and then from the tango-like section to a Viennese waltz, yet he also uses traditional harmonies for the average listener. Such styles include his. Cat O’ Nine Tails is an accurate demonstration of both Zorn’s compositional style and because of his use of variety of compositional styles; Zorn should be in the Canon.
Thursday, April 3, 2008
Alexander Zemlinsky Lyric Symphony
Alexander Zemlinsky’s life overlapped the Romantic and 20th century eras, and because of this, his compositions reflect the various compositional styles of the time. One of the styles that he used to overlap these genres is the ability to have a vague tonal center, taking this stylistic trait from his mentor, Johannes Brahms. Zemlinsky passed on this quality, which had a profound impact on his students of the Viennese school, which included Berg, Webern, and Schoenberg. Despite this modern use of tonality, Zemlinsky has not made it in to the Canon because he did not allow himself complete innovativeness.
The Lyrische Symphonie was composed during Zemlinsky’s time in
Orchestration throughout the Lyrische Symphonie can be related to other Romantics of the time, and is used by Zemlinsky to bring the text across to the listener. In the first movement, Ich bin friedlos, Zemlinsky opens with a choral like introduction from the strings and the brass section. This is an effective orchestration because right from the beginning the composer catches the attention from the listener. It sounds at times like the man’s passion is at war with the orchestra. An example of this is the second section in the first movement where the orchestra is playing with a much thicker texture and at louder dynamics, while the man struggles to be heard above the orchestra.
Mutter, der junge Prinz, is a complete contrast to the first movement in terms of texture. The orchestration is much lighter with a variety of smaller ensembles interacting throughout. For example, the first group of instruments in this movement is the upper strings, with solo violin, and the woodwinds. They are mostly in there upper registers, making the texture seem much like the text, which is discussing a girl (solo violin and female voice) who is under torment because she longs for a prince who will inevitably ride by her door, which is represented by a loud dissonance. Zemlinsky also uses the solo violin in the fourth movement to demonstrate the woman that the man longs for. His use of texture in these movements demonstrates his overall concept of what he wanted to convey to the listener, and he incorporates Brahms’ ideals in this section with his unique use of smaller chamber ensembles.
The adagio third movement is not a typical third movement that would have a beautiful melody, but on the contrary, this movement’s text is very aggressive for a love song. This movement, like the end of the second movement, embraces the softer dynamics, giving the movement a somber quality. The text of this movement refers to a man who is passionately longing for the woman in his dreams, and at the end of the movement, he aggressively takes her. If the listener pays close attention, one can hear the whole-tone scale. This allows the listener to have some comfort of tonality during this movement. Zemlinsky uses the whole-tone scale to keep the listener in a confused state. Like the third movement the ambiguity of the tonality in the forth movement it helps to demonstrate to the listener that the woman is in the woods lost and longing for her love’s touch. Zemlinsky, much like Wagner, utilized the whole-tone scale to keep the listener in an unstable tonal state and has Wagner’s aggression shining throughout this movement.
Befreimich von den Banden is the first movement that largely contrasts the rest of the movements. This movement is not only the shortest and most intense, but it also is the only movement in the symphony that has the tempo on a noticeably quicker side. The entire movement is dynamically on the strong side with the brass sections blazing throughout the movement. It is quite an exciting movement discussing a man’s love for a woman that is so passionate that he must be freed. This movement relates back to the aggressive state of the adagio, once again demonstrating his Wagner-like style of composition.
Completeness is the theme of the last movement. The entire movement builds to the end of the piece, but not as a Bruckner symphony does with loud commanding brass sections, but with the intensity of the orchestra at the softer dynamics. The text demonstrates that the man is finally at peace with his life and the orchestra demonstrates this all the way to the final measure with instrumentation slowly dropping out and the dynamics dying down. The man is no longer yearning for anything; he is content with “peace” in his heart.
Zemlinsky, throughout this work, reveals innovations and techniques that his later pupils would perfect, such as the ability to generate a vagueness of tonality for the listener. To me this work reminds me of what Debussy does with the tonality and disregards the conventional tonality. I believe that this work, despite all of the creativeness, has not made it in to the Canon because he did not allow himself complete innovativeness like his later pupils Berg, Schoenberg, and Webern. He took the ideas of the time and exploited them to their fullest but did not create new techniques. I enjoyed this work because of all of the programmatic elements within each movement. He did a great job at reflecting the poet’s characters. I listened to this work the first time not knowing anything about it or the poetry and all of my feelings towards the individual movements reflected what was going on in the text. I believe anyone with an educated ear would take this piece and enjoy it for the coloristic ideas that he portrays in each movement.
Nielsen Clarinet Concerto
Carl Nielsen lived at a time when Jean Sibelius was the most prominent Scandinavian composer. Unlike Sibelius, he did not achieve international success during his lifetime. During his career, Nielsen established a close relationship with the Copenhagen Wind Quintet. Nielsen composed concertos specifically for members of the ensemble and worked closely with the soloists for the realization of each work. For instance, the Concerto for Clarinet and Orchestra, Op. 57 was composed for Aage Oxenvad. This work is one of the most difficult works in the entire clarinet repertoire. Because of its repetitive nature and lack of direction, this work does not fall within the accepted classical canon.
Nielsen composed concertos with the performer’s personality in mind. For example, Oxenvad was known to be a short-tempered person, with a good sense of humor. Nielsen depicted this in his concerto by constantly changing the texture and stylistic traits within the music. In the introduction, the snare drum interrupts the clarinet’s sense of direction. Nielsen also depicts Oxenvad’s personality with motifs that vary throughout the movements. These motives are varied primarily through ornamentation, specifically with the use of arpeggiations and rapid articulations. Nielson successfully depicts Oxenvad’s seemingly bi-polar personality but in so doing created a piece that is disjointed and lacking in musical direction.
The odd thing about this concerto is the fact that it is not the soloist against the orchestra like many of the concertos of the time, but instead the clarinet is arguing with the snare drum. The snare drum is such a prominent part that even in the piano reduction of this work the snare drum is still called for. The snare drum could be described as assertive in the work because of its constant abrupt nature throughout the clarinet’s melodic material. It could be assumed that in Nielsen’s desired to emulate the instrumentalists, he might have thought that Oxenvad had a slight case of bi-polar disorder, and thus tried to incorporate this disorder into his abrupt stylistic changes, high-lighting this ideal within the snare drum. This technique is quite effective in keeping the listeners attention, but, like most of the techniques used by Neilson, is over used and looses its effect.
During the first and the last sections of the concerto, the cadenzas are used in a much different way than the usual set of instrumental acrobatics that many of the composers like Rachmaninov and Liszt had used. Nielsen takes already existing themes and develops them for the later sections through the cadenzas. This is an effective technique for creating new material and introducing it into the sections that appear soon after. These cadenzas happen incredibly abruptly during the concerto. This could be an example of Nielsen’s attempts at emulating Aage Oxenvad’s bi-polar nature by introducing the cadenzas without warning.
This piece demonstrates techniques that Brahms used in his fourth symphony. The developing variation helps carry this work through the different sections and cadenzas by connecting thematic material through the variations. One can hear this easily by paying attention to the motive that is first stated in the beginning with the low strings and tracing it throughout the concerto. The concerto can be seen as a classical style concerto in the setting of the form and also in the tonality. The primary exposition of the piece is in F major, and during the development it travels to numerous keys, with E major being the predominant. In the final recapitulation, he brings the listener back to the F major. This is one of the few aspects about the concerto that the listener appreciates; he starts and ends in the same key giving the listener something to hold onto.
In spite of Nielsen’s attempts at gaining access to the Canon, while he was alive, I understand why he was not. Despite all of the techniques he uses to keep this piece interesting, I feel this work is difficult to understand and enjoy. It seems to be music composed with the instrumentalist’s technique in mind and nothing else, such that this concerto sounds difficult for the sake of being difficult. The virtuosity adds nothing to the music; if anything, it takes away from the moments of good melodic writing he has accomplished within this piece. This piece should not be in the Canon because this concerto captures Oxenvad’s manic personality too well. It is overwhelmingly intense for too long a time for both the listener and the performer, which results in frustration for both of them because of the intensity of the work. Despite both the listener and the performers need for breaks from the intensity and the repetition, resulting in lack of direction, Nielsen never allows a moment of relaxation.
Tuesday, March 4, 2008
Woman in the Romantic Era
Clara Schumann was a star musician during the 19th century, but more importantly, she was a woman when her gender was not seen as equal to men. Along with raising eight children and continuing to compose, her opinion on composition was highly regarded.
He traveled to and settled in Barcelona where he made the acquaintance of Felipe Pedrell, who many historians consider the father of Spanish music. This time in Barcelona proved to be one of the most crucial times for Albéniz, because his encounters with Pedrell would influence his compositional style for the rest of his life. Pedrell coached and educated Albéniz on different compositional techniques, such as traditional harmonizations and various ornamentations. A few years later, Albéniz left Barcelona and traveled back to his native area of Spain.
I did enjoy all of Albéniz’s movements of this work; the only problem with them was I could only take them in moderation. From lack of variety in his style to his predictable tonality changes, his compositions have not made it into the Canon. A second strike that he had against himself was the time at which he was performing. He was fighting against some of the most advanced pianists of the time. Both of these strikes against Albéniz I believe are the reasons that he is not more known or in the modern Canon.
Tuesday, February 5, 2008
William Billings, born in Boston, was the first American composer to publish a work entirely composed in the Americas. Billings was largely a self-taught composer, learning most of his compositional methods studying tune books from church. What little musical training he did have came from singing in a school choir. Most of Billings’s works can be categorized into three main groups: psalms, hymn tunes, and anthems. Billings’s first attempt at formal compositional training came from Hans Gram, a Danish immigrant, and Gram gave Billings an education in methods of modulation. William Billings is one of the most important composers during the time of the colonial Americas.
The Continental Harmonist was somewhat of a charity compilation of his music. Billings was a terribly poor man and after a publisher turned down his offer, some of Billings’s friends went in together to publish The Continental Harmonist in order to give Billings some sort of income for his work, although he most likely received little money for this collection. The Continental Harmonist is crucial to the time because it was one of the only compositions that was entirely composed in America.
Billings’s works are mostly homophonic with all the parts moving together with the same rhythm. He composed primarily for four part unaccompanied choir in the traditional SATB arrangement. The fact that a good portion of Billings works are homophonic makes a good argument to describe him as an elementary composer, if we compare him to what was going on back in Europe. It would be hard to compare Billings’s music to the great choral works of Mozart or Haydn. The only reason I think that Billings is important at all is he was the beginning of composition in the Colonial Americas. Billings was the beginning of this type of composition in America, but after his first publishing many other composers begin to follow suit.
Billings is unique among of the other composers because he did not compose in the traditional European style. He invented a new set of part writing rules for himself, ones he felt would suit his needs much better than conventional part writing rules. This was also in part that he most likely did not know the formal part writing rules. He wrote on numerous occasions parallel octaves and fifths along with many open chords where he left out the thirds. In today’s eyes much of these parallel octaves and fifths would better be described as part writing mistakes.
The use of elementary compositional techniques, in my opinion, made it easy for the common people to access to this music; this is one of his great strengths and one of his great weaknesses. Because of his popularity and the lack of well established copyright laws, Billings’s music was taken and printed in other hymnals leaving him with no way to call his music his own or gain profit from it.
Billings’s music relates much more to the chorales that Martin Luther composed. Although most of Billings’s music is homophonic, Connection Consonanc and Jargon Modern music are both polyphonic with a fugal type melody between the different voices. In these works, I find Billings trying to explore other methods, perhaps because he himself became bored with his normal type of compositional homophonic technique.
Most of his works sound so much alike and I believe that they are somewhat fatiguing to the listener because of the lack of variety. Occasionally the listener will get a break when Billings will, like in the second track on the CD titled “Hopkinton When Jesus Wept,” try to add something different, and he will add a fugal melody. This is definitely a relief to the ear after listening to the constant homophony that he uses for the majority of the rest of his tunes. Therefore, despite the fatiguing nature of Billings’s work we still have to realize that he is the origin of published American music.
The first track of the CD, “Chester,” is Billings’s most famous anthem. During the time of the American Revolution, it rivaled “Yankee Doodle” as the American anthem. This anthem is composed in F major and never modulates. It is traditionally sung in five verses beginning with, “Let tyrants shake their iron rod, And Slav'ry clank her galling chains, We fear them not, we trust in God, New England’s God forever reigns.” With text like this, it is no wonder why it rivaled for the title of American anthem during the Revolution. Billings’s American patriotism is apparent through his lyrics, and it is no wonder that “Chester” rivaled the American anthem.
Billings was an innovative and patriotic composer of the time in the Americas. Despite his elementary methods and his use of homophonic part writing, Billings should be more recognized. He was first person to publish American music, and this I find to be particularly important. Most of the time I think that America follows Europe when it comes to the progress of music, but in this case Billings took what he could from his European influences and also set America’s path into the publication of music.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was in Paris in 1778, and had already delighted audiences with his composition the “Paris” symphony K. 297. By this time in his life he had very much settled in to the Classical genre or composition with much of the balance and carefulness of the era coming into his music. On the down side, this was also a sad time for Mozart with his mother, who had accompanied him to Paris, catching a disease and dying from the illness soon after they arrived. This was the time when Mozart’s Concerto for Flute and Harp K. 299 was commissioned by the Duc Adrien-Louis de Guines and his daughter who where both accomplished musicians of their time. The Concerto for Flute and Harp, which was written during a tragic time in his life, was one of the most simplistic and non-innovative compositions that Mozart had composed and therefore did not allow this work to make it into the Mozartian Cannon that we know today.