Listening for Part 5

There is certainly something amazing in the dissonances from the Baroque era. Oh, yes, there are dissonances held in the first sonata, long notes in the first movement. People tend to see this music as consonant, but it is pieces like this that make me think about the meaning of depth in music! Yes, there is also a strong melancholy to it, which is why I tend to avoid Baroque music when I am sad.

At this moment, I don’t know what I should be looking for in these pieces, so I am just taking it as an apetizer for the “older” music.

Still… I feel the courteous dances in mind (influence from movies?). Everything is very controlled, there’s no wildness—and therefore there is a certain lack of drive. No matter how much I like the fact there are no fff and ppp, there are other contrasts that I would welcome (mainly rhythm and speed). It is great music to have as background while talking and maybe telling jokes, but e.g. cleaning the room of a deceased person to this music must be self-torturing.

I knew this concerto from before, in a different version. It’s easy for me to hear the oboe in contrast with the strings, thanks to the different colour. I hear the harpsichord rather like a basement, or the ground, upon which the rest of the music is build. Simple and effective. The second movement, Adagio, makes me wonder—have I heard this in some movie? The entrance of the oboe reminds me of Mozart’s Grand Partita, 2nd movement, despite the vaste differences in the piece. The harmonic sequence at points makes me think of some Italian pop music.

Second listening: I realized now my father played quite a few works of classical music when I was a child—this is one of them, and I suddenly moved back in time almost 40 years. There’s imitation of short cells, and also the “typical” repetition of a whole phrase (with some modifications, of course). ii) here is where I hear the Italian harmonic sequence again. Differences with Grand Partita: here the accompaniment is by strings, and tha main role is not passed on to the clarinet, but instead it is kept by the oboe. Also the melodic line moves up, after the first long note, instead of going down in Mozart’s work. iii) Same as in the first listening, something happens to my attention that it gets lost. Still, it reminds me of some movements from the Brandenburg concerts by Bach, so I presume it is a typical movement of a Baroque concert in terms of form, orcestration, motifs, etc.

  • Giuseppe Tartini (1692-1770): Il Trillo del Diavolo

Very romantic in the sound of it: monophonic, like a song being sung. It’s so much so that I would have never guessed from the intro that this is from a Baroque composer! I like very much the role of the piano which, although it is clearly supporting the violin with rhythms of its own and occasional counterpoint, it is a joy to listen to in itself, and still, it is just the way one thinks an accompanying instrument should play, never taking the main role from the main instrument. The double lines of the violin are impressive—fine, the whole piece is, but playing two melodic lines at once at such speed is hard to conceive. A slow part later on sounds already more baroque (I guess it is the harmonic sequence and the fact the song-spirit is missing). Then it goes to a solo section with double stopping (this is what we call when two voices are played simultaneously on the violin, “to stop a string” is to place a finger on a string to alter the pitch).

As it often is, Bach uses a theme that is longer than the usual by other composers. It is also varied. Despite the repetition of both parts, I cannot remember the aria. This difficulty in remembering a theme has been an issue for me for quite a few years now, and the lenght, variety, ornaments etc. make it more difficult. I listen to it again. It is also the combination of long notes, as opposed to the ornaments, and the often thin texture. Nevertheless, I attempt the variations. No 1 sounds to me as a totally different piece. I have no clue what he is doing for a variation (what is the technique he is trying to base the variation upon). As usual, I feel dumb. The 2nd variation does not make things better. I guess I was expecting a much simpler “original exposition”, not so rich. The music itself is, of course, wonderful. Var. no 5 is one of those pieces to get lost in and repeat, and repeat…

I cannot identify the themes in the canons at first, not even following the score—but then I do with var. 6. I still do not relate it to the aria, but I find the canon to the 2nd a great idea! Var. 7 sounds familiar, this time yes. Am I getting into it? No, not yet… In Var. 8 I am lost again, but at least I am learning to listen to His canons (no. 9).

Var. 10 is a fughetta: yes! I can fully enjoy this on itself, even if I do not recognize anything from before. Generally speaking, although the variations often have a quite “standard” number of measures (16), I have the feeling the end comes all of a sudden, or almost, in this variation and in several others.

Var. 12 is an inverted canon, if I understood it properly, and a rather free one. Var. 13 seems almost in habanera rhythm at first! On the final cadence in bars 16 and 32, it definitely sounds to me as if music was going to continue. No. 14 is a challenge in terms of harmonic sequence at several points (bb. 20-22, 30-32). Var. 15 is an inverted canon (now for sure). In its second part, it seems as if the left hand (lower voice) was going to be imitated (it repeats the theme), but in fact the imitated part (the canon) is on the right hand. The final cadence leaves us incomplete—and that feels great this time (I suspect a church mode here).

Var. 16, again, has 16 bars on the first part—but, as if on purpose, the second one does not (34 bars, 50 altogether). Var. 17 sounds finished and logical to me. In Var. 18, I like how the note length gets shorter each bar (21-23), Var. 19 has a delicious counterpoint between the three voices. Var. 20 is based on syncopation/alternation of voices at first, but also about changing to triplets (no wonder Bach’s works were so valued for their didactical possibilities). Glorious canon in Var. 21! It is one of those pieces I would be happy for if that was one I wrote in a lifetime! Var. 23 starts as if it was going to be a canon to the 13th, but it isn’t really.

There is one point in which I can just enjoy it and I can’t figure out any theory: it’s too good!

Var. 26: time signature of 18:16?! Var. 28 makes use of the chromatic scale (b. 31). Var. 30 has only 9 bars per section! (18 in total)

And as a cherry on the cake, an interesting fact: when the aria plays again, I do have the feeling I have been listening to it in a varied fashion, in 30 different ways, even if I was not recognizing it while listening to (almost) any of the variations.

  • Arcangelo Corelli (1653-1713): Concerto Grosso Op. 6 no. 8 in G minor

(My roommate was playing this on the background, I asked him what this was, I decided to make it part of my listening, some references may be mixed up)

i) Dramatic, the kind of music one would play at a funeral in a movie. ii) The violins play the most important role, even if there are more “different notes” (more varied melody) in the lower strings—but then, the lower strings play figures which are almost ostinato in structure, with plenty of repetition, as in a pop song. Very homophonic. iii) The violins remind me a lot of Pachelbel’s Canon (I guess it shares too much of the harmonic progression & colour in several passages). I presume this music has a wonderful theory behind, but I can’t feel any thrill when listening to it: it’s boring (though I admit I’m not receptive at all right now).

(After this listening with my roommate, I suggested listening together to Lauridsen’s O Magnum Mysterium. He was profoundly impressed and he was the first to mention loud the word boring for Corelli afterwards. And yes, Corelli’s music is beautiful, harmonious, just the third movement is not spiced enough for what I am used to).

  • Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741): Recorder concerto RV 443

Allegro: It’s watery! The sound is really much more “liquid” than that of a flute, and at the same time, it reminds me so much of birds singing. Maybe it’s due to the small size of the recorder. As opposed to the Romantic concerto, there’s no cadenza in the 1st movement, which is shorter than Romantic movements in general. Largo: the sound of it is sharper than that of a flute here, it doesn’t have the “pagan” touch to it, but it shares a certain melancholy (IMO also the oboe has that). Allegro molto: certainly, no connection to recorder in school times! I knew that from listening to music for solo instruments during Composing Music I and also after listening to some live Bach music using recorders—but it is still impressive!

I failed to find a score or further details about this link. I am writing according to the information presented on the video. And due to some disagreement with the description of the concert in the course notes and my listening, I reckon I was listening to a different one. Nevertheless, I keep the original notes.

Maestoso? (none of the 5 concertos for 2 horns by Telemann in the Petrucci library starts with Maestoso): The difference in colour between the two pitches of the horn is so distinct for me! And a good feature to know. Or are they 2 different horns (e.g. one in F, one in C, sort to say)? Both are gentle in sound, no sharpness, even if the lower horn is slightly less mellow to my ear. I can’t hear the “sharp dotted rhythms” (am I listening to the right concert at all?).

ii) At the beginning, the 2nd horn seems to be just supporting the 1st one, but then becomes a more important partner (not just a pedal noter). I was looking for the prominent violin part with a “Romantic mind” or “Classical”—and no, it’s much less evident, just a slighly more main role when compared to that of the horns. But then, in the opening of the 3rd movement, the violin does have an important role! (and there’s no fanfare here). Is this a way to check whether I am doing my listening?

If I compare, it seems that, in the first two movements, the norns are in a dialogue with themselves, rather than with the rest of the orchestra, or singing a duet. In other concertos, the contrast seems to be more important—and yes, there are contrasting sections here, but I’d say the emphasis is put rather on the colour. Having said that, the contrast becomes more important in the 4th movement.

Right at the start, I hear the dotted rhythms—and I see them in the manuscript on (which I can’t follow). The horns start in parallel motion, if I hear properly, and the strings have a very important role, so the horns seem to be supporting the strings, rather than the other way round. Still, some imitation between the sections allow for emphasizing the difference in colour. ii) Here it is more contrast than imitation, and the horns take a more important role. Still, no solo violin. I presume then that the concert I need to listen to should be D1, because the 3rd movement doesn’t open with a hunt-like fanfare, and instead it is a calmed movement based on strings. Blame my loudspeakers, if there are any horns playing there, I totally missed them. The 4th movement could be considered a merry hunt-like one. No 5th movement—so, all in all, I bet I’m on the wrong concert again.

I have found on Naxos a CD with the complete horn concertos by Telemann. There is onely one in D major with five movements, that is the TWV 52:D2 mentioned above. I guess some part was missing in the Youtube one, but still no prominent part for solo violin in the second movement that I find worth mentioning. Certainly the 3rd movement starts with a fanfare for two horns. I start feeling anxious about my memory though: I have just listened to the previous version on youtube and I have no clue whether it is the same work or not. But it could be  Yes, it is the same. I guess the motifs were not that expressive / easy to remember.

The Naxos version and the Youtube one are on a different key (one is transposed).

  • G. P. Telemann: Double concerto for Two Horns in D major, TWV 52:D1.

No dotted rhythms, so this is not the one the course notes refer to. I hope to have solved the mystery then. The 1st movement is an alternation of largo-allegro tempos. During the 2nd movement, my attention goes away, I just know it started with strings alone and the horns enter later. The third movement is an intermezzo-like one for strings alone, calmed, with the indication Affettuoso. The final, 4th movement starts with a fanfare and sounds very celebrating.

  • Orazio Tarditi: Domine ad adjuvandum me

I presume the instrument on the background is a positive (chamber organ), supporting the voices, which are alternated by trumpets (or cornetts?)

  • O. Tarditi: Nisi Dominus

Soprano, mezzo-soprano and harpsichord is the combination in this piece. I don’t know what the text says (it is a religious one), so I can’t tell how appropriate is the use of one or other voice for the text. However, it makes an interesting listening thanks to the alternation of voices solo and then singing together.

  • Adriano Banchieri: Nuovi pensieri ecclesiastici, Book 3, Op. 35: Psalm 109, “Dixit Dominus”

After my reading on early instruments, I imagine the plucked one is a lute (checked: it was a theorbo, which is an instrument from the lute family), accompanying the sung melody in some sections, the other ones (clearly separated) sounding as Gregorian chant even if by a female voice.

  • Giovanni Paolo Cima: Sonata per cornetto

I would say this is a broken consort. It follows some rules of the broken consorts of the 14th century: the higher voice is played by an instrument with a continuous sound (cornett here), and the accompaniment is plucked (= shorter notes) and at a lower pitch by a polyphonic instrument (theorbo), the couple supported by a chamber organ. Frequent, if short, imitation and the use of church modes, all make this piece an interesting one.

  • Giacomo Finetti: Psalm 2, Laudate pueri

Similar to Banchieri’s piece, in this one the Gregorian chant is alternated by some dance-like section with voice, cornett and theorbo.

  • Alessandro Piccinini: Intavolatura di Liuto, et di Chitarrone, book 1: Toccata No. 4

Solo piece, in this case played by the theorbo. Short and hard for me to get into it, even after listening twice.

  • Francesco Petrobelli: Psalm 2, “Laetatus sum”

The voice alternates the cornett, both always with the support of the chamber organ and/or the theorbo. The voice acts as an instrument with continuous sound—and it is also a virtuous one, pretty much the the level of the cornett. The most interesting feature in this piece, in my opinion, is how the composer presents a contrast in colour, when the voice sings accompanied only by the theorbo, only by the organ, or with both. In some sections the voice is alternated by the cornett, in some other there are pauses in the singing, and that difference is also worth a mention.

  • Girolamo Alessandro Frescobaldi: Canzon terza

Atypically, the main melody is presented by the theorbo over the supporting chamber organ, which has some shorter solo sections later on. Generally speaking, the polyphonic possibilities of the theorbo are reduced to occasional chords.

  • G. A. Frescobaldi: Capriccio supra un soggetto.

Polyphonic piece for harpsichord. If I am understanding it properly, this is build with some variations.

This is really interesting: the music sounds so, so Czech to me that, at first, I was puzzled, trying to understand what the words were, until I realized it was in latin. At that time, most Bohemian composers spoke and wrote in German, which was the language I was expecting originally. What is it so Czech about it? I think it is a certain lightness & drive as oposed to Lutheran German music, as well as the use of certain motifs which remind me of J. J. Ryba’s Christmas Mass. Looking at his life span of just 33 years, I am astonished at the depth and complexity of his music, as well as the variety and inventiveness within 10 minutes! My perception may be affected by the fact I have been listening to music that sounded pretty much the same for more than 20 minutes. The harpsichord accompanies most of it and the strings alternate with the singer, although at points the cello supports the voice. The opening Allegro is repeated at the end after the fourth movement, Adagio (grave).

  • J. S. Bach: Chaconne (from Partita No. 2, BWV 1004)

This is painful. Not that it is ugly: it is painful emotionally. The bow movements and the shrill sound make me think of broken knives cutting the flesh of my arms when I try to hug a beloved one who is departing to the other side of the veil, sort to speak. It is all but mellow, it is not the God-praising Bach I’m used to. At first I was trying to think o its structure (variations, yes) but during the second I thought of the man that lost so many beloved one; the man that wrote this page after coming home to find his wife had died in his absence. I may be wrong, I may be feeling just my state of today, but I hear the struggle of a man that stubbornly wants to keep loving and praising God nevertheless and no matter what. This is the one and only awful Bach I’ve ever heard, and I mean it emotionally, not musically. Wow. If I drank alcohol, I would go and get drunk.

I actually just checked a version for two cellos instead of the violin to make sure I was really listening to Bach. Not as painful, but I have to admit my brain is trying to detach from it.

I thought I loved Pärt’s music inconditionally. I don’t. I have to force myself through a first listening here. It is tough. Fine, a Passion is not meant to be enjoyable, when it is telling the suffering of a human being. The amount of dissonance, its length at points, its quality, especially in the opening… this is not an easy listening, and if it wasn’t because of liking other Pärt’s works, I would probably not listen beyond the first minute. Having said that, I’m glad I’m listening. it makes me think of Stravinsky rather than Bach. Maybe knowing what is happening specifically at each point would help the listening and understanding Pärt’s language (it may just be I haven’t listened to contemporary music in a while). It gets better as it continues, as if I was getting used to it (but the sharp dissonances from the beginning are not so loud or long, so they are fine). If anything, musically it lacks a “tension forward”, a drive, that makes it better for meditation than for listening (by me at least). It has something of minimalism to it.

Time ago I thought I could hear the tintinnabuli technique, after much reading, in other Pärt’s works. I fail to hear the technique now (I forgot what it was, true, so maybe I didn’t really get it back then). I revise it: two voices, one arpeggiates the tonic triad and the other one sings along the diatonic scale always to a neighbouring note. I still can’t hear it in this work in general, or not as well as previously. However, the listening becomes more and more interesting as it continues, maybe because I am trying to separate the voices in my head (at first I was listening to it as a whole).

This makes an easier listening. The tintinnabuli style is more easily heard, and one hears the similarities with his Passio and recognizes the sound as being in Pärt’s realms.

  • J. S. Bach: Bourrée I & II from Orchestral Suite No 4 in D major, BWV 1069

This started as a different exercise, actually: I found the score of the main melody of the Bourrées in Bennett’s Investigating Musical Styles and I tried to sing the first one in my head. I ended up (subconsciously) using my vocal chords too, and then I needed to check how right or wrong I was. I had messed up the speed totally (which, true, I was expecting to be faster than what I was doing anyway), but I was correct for most (not all) of the notes—I confused two or three. Now, musically: I enjoyed the bassoon in Bourrée II immensely! As a matter of fact, I was so absorbed by it that I could not pay attention to the main melody from half of the first listening, just enough to see that, despite its many and varied notes, the bassoon was not in clash at all, but complementing it heavenly.

  • Gregorio Allegri: Miserere

Beautiful, certainly, I just can’t help comparing with the first two minutes of Zelenka’s Miserere. It may be better on a second listening, I think—the first one seems a bit long (at minute 10 out of 13). It sounds to me full of repetition, which should help remembering it (isn’t this the one Mozart is said to have remembered fully in one listening? Yes, it was not exactly like that and it is still praiseworthy to remember a whole composition, note by note, however he managed!)

  • Josquin Desprez: Absalon fili mi

The voices enter gradually in imitation. In his History of Music (1987), Roy Bennett asks: “How does Josquin bring a seamless flow to the texture of the music?” and I don’t know. I will try to guess. Generally, I would say that, through imitation, when a voice rests and before it starts again, another is still singing its part and/or another enters, e.g. when the soprano / discant finishes “mi” in the first phrase, at the very same besat the bass starts singing his part.

  • Guillaume de Machaut (1300?-1377): Kyrie from La Messe de Nostre Dame

I looked at the score indicated in the course notes. It is very nicely shown there where the isorhythms are (I presume those are taleas, as sometimes they are sung with notes of a different pitch and therefore they have a different color). I cannot hear the tenor when being in a middle line. At first I thought I must have something wrong with my ears. Then I remembered what M. Gatón once told me, confirmed by different sources afterwards, that in a fugue it is a common practice to introduce the voices from “inside out”, sort to speak—so the latest voice to enter is not sandwiched between other voices and thus can be better heard. The tenor voice is sometimes between the contratenor and the motetus, sometimes actually really close to either one of them, or even intertwining. I have no chance to hear the isorhythm, not even following the score. And yet I’m going to try again! I managed at some points to follow on the third attempt (but had to sing along!) The fourth attempt was not better than the third. The same in the Christe Eleison (some parts even in the second attempt). The last two parts were tough. I may be wrong, but it seems to me there is a huge difference between Ars Nova and the Renaissance—just by listening, without digging into the theory. Worth having a look at Bennett’s books.

One can hear modes, certainly. It is, however, easier to the ear than Machaut’s Kyrie. There are probably dissonances, but I cannot hear them! There is a harmonic progression that gives us the feeling the music is flowing into some well-planned direction.

  • Guillaume de Machaut (1300?-1377): Ballade Je puis trop bien (I can too well)

This is secular and sounds very different from the Kyrie. Generally speaking, dissonances hereare not so striking or in such a big number as in the Kyrie, but let’s focus on one. There was a tendency in the music of the time to avoid the devil in music (the tritone). Machaut sometimes follows the common practice and adds accidentals. For example, in bars 8, 18, 33 there is a # sign above the F in the bass cleff voice (instrumental) to avoid the tritone with the B in the singing voice. However, in some cases Machaut is going to create the tritone intentionally, and so as early as in bar 2, we have a b sign above a B, over which an E is being sung three times with the syllable “Je” (personal pronoun I). Is he telling us something? Again in bar 27 he adds a # sign above a C, which creates a tritone above the G of the middle voice (singing “coer”, old French for “heart”). Machaut was conscious of his value as a composer and, using such techniques in may own works, I wonder whether he could be trying to say “I have a naughty heart and I’m expressing it by being playful with my compositions”.

“My end is my beginning” is the translation of the title. It is written for three voices and has 40 bars. Out of those, the melody of the lowest voice (tenor) is repeated backwards from bar 21 on (a musical palindrome). The melody of the other two voices are one a backwards reading of the other one. I had found music like this in the past, all more recent in time, and this is by far the best sounding of all. Chapeau, monsier Machaut.




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