My Music Transformation

Upon registering for Music Appreciation, my knowledge of music was somewhat limited. The only information I did know was from playing in the band many years ago. I played several instruments in my junior high school’s band. There were only twelve players in this band, but every time we marched for competitions and football games we played with heart. The first instrument I ever played was the alto clarinet. Once I learned how to read sheet music, I switched to the alto saxophone as we had no other saxophone players in our band. Although I enjoyed playing the alto saxophone, I was also intrigued by the trumpet. Therefore, I taught myself how to play the trumpet in my own time.

All of this was many years ago; I was surprised while studying the information in module one when I realized how much I had forgotten. Music Appreciation has helped me to remember a lot of the information I learned in my band classes, and has also taught me lots of new information about the art behind music composition. I now know there are many different components such as tone, pitch, timbre, that have to be factored into the creation of such masterful works; music is made up of so much more than just words and a simple beat.

Beyond just teaching me about the complexity of music, Music Appreciation has presented me with the history of many different musical compositions and genres. My four favorites are the “1812 Overture”, twentieth century music, the historical development of the symphony, and the opera. The background presented in this class regarding these events and learning how they have shaped music today has been both intriguing and enriching. Music Appreciation has helped me to develop an appreciation for different types of music that I was not previously accustomed listening to.

The “1812 Overture” was created by Tchaikovsky when he was asked by a friend to compose a piece that would be used for a number of upcoming events including the commemoration of the Cathedral of Christ the Savior. The cathedral building was being built to celebrate Russia’s victory over the invasion of the French that concluded with Napoleon’s retreat from Russia in 1812. Tchaikovsky completed the piece in just six weeks, and was unlike anything he had ever before written.

The “1812 Overture” accounts for the events that happened during the war while referencing the French national anthem, “La Marsillaise”, as well as Russia’s “God Save the Tsar”. Tchaikovsky opens his piece by referencing the Eastern Orthodox Troparion of the Holy Cross (O Lord, Save Thy People). As the piece references the period of wartime, the tension and stress increases in the piece by use of pastoral and martial themes. To describe the time when the French forces are approaching closer to the city, the French National Anthem can be clearly heard. This is to illustrate the dominance by the French army. As the music progresses, Russian folk melodies become increasingly louder to represent the call by Russia’s Tsar. There is a back and forth between the French and Russian themes until there is a blast of five cannons. These cannons signify the Battle of Borodino; the turning point in the war. Descending melodies are utilized to illustrate the French’s retreat and ends with the grand ringing of bells and eleven more cannon blasts of “O Lord, Save Thy People”.

The piece is exuberating with its use of fireworks, cannons, and steeple bell choirs during performances. However, Tchaikovsky was not happy with this piece. The fact that people fell in love with this piece had him questioning the validity of his other pieces. As stated in The 1812 Overture: the Hit That Tchaikovsky Hated – Classic FM, “The overture’s popularity was a source of deep frustration to this sensitive, serious-minded symphonist whose imaginative fantasy and whimsical, melodic turn of phrase had also managed to transform the art of composing ballet music to a high calling”.

During the twentieth century, composers were more open to experimenting with different types of musical forms and using new technology in their music. This is much unlike other previous genres of music. As written in the article “20th Century Music”, “One general trend of twentieth century composers is a tendency to experiment and find something new and different”. The main reason for the change in music in the twentieth century was the final collapse of the tonal system that was used in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries; people were beginning to explore outside the norms, not only in music but other aspects of life. Scientist were questioning and developing new ideas, literature was changing to the more desired short stories that portrayed real people, with real problems in a “real” world, and many ideas that had been previously accepted were now being challenged. Musical boundaries began being pushed or completely ignored; composers wanted to create a new musical style that was unlike the styles that were previously used.

There were many styles of music that contributed to twentieth century music, as well as many new musical techniques. Previous to the twentieth century music, the last dominant style of composition that had emerged was called Impressionism. With Impressionism, composers attempted to describe nature scenes, such as the sound of the sea demonstrated in their musical sounds. Two most notable composers of Impressionism were Debussy and Ravel. When Impressionism declined there were several reactions to how to write music. One reaction was the creation of atonal music. Another was the blending of consonance and dissonance, which was found in music by Hindemith and Bartok. A third was the use of different melodies at the same time accomplished by a variety of objects. This would include items not usually seen in music such as jackhammers or chainsaws. French composer, Eric Satie was good at utilizing this approach. He began to refer to his masterpieces as “furniture music”.

A different group of composers decided to go back to old styles of Western music tradition such as Classical styles or the Romantic styles. These composers were called “neo-classicists” or “neo-romanticists”. Other results were the creation of serial music known as twelve-tone most famously used by Schoenberg and his disciples, Webern and Berg. An alternative development was called aleatory music which is a type of music that is improvised or made up as you go. This type of music is often associated with jazz music. Stockhausen used this technique by creating a fragment of music in which he had the performers play any portion of music they chose and after each piece was played twice, the piece was complete.

Another addition of the twentieth century was the use of electronic music. With the use of computers, a wide variety of sounds can be created. The last result of changes in twentieth century music was the use of more than one key at the same time. Stravinsky was well accomplished with the use of polytonality which is also known as “simultaneous event”. The twentieth century led to many changes in the arts, with boundaries being tested, rules thrown out the window, and the artists having the mentality that they can accomplish anything they set their minds to. This led to many movements including personal freedoms, civil rights movements, and rejection of standards and customs. Symphony means “sounding together” and is considered a modern idea, similar to that of twentieth century music. However, an ensemble which is similar to a symphony can be traced back as early as biblical days that were recorded in Daniel. The most significant change in symphony development was the changes in musical styles from the Baroque to the Classical period.

This was the first time that there was a significant difference in the music created when played by a small group versus a large group. In 1743, an orchestra was created at Mannheim, Germany in which the orchestra had specific instruments that were to be played and was large in size in comparison to others in that time frame. The Mannheim orchestra consisted of 24 violins, 4 violas, 4 cellos, 4 basses, 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 2 trumpets, and timpani. The Mannheim orchestra replaced the Baroque harpsichord with the lower string instruments that played accompanied parts and the violins played important melodies. The Mannheim had no conductor so the first violinist, whose name was Stamitz, led the ensemble. Stamitz started two important traditions. One is that all the bows of the violins go in the same direction and the other is the importance of the first violinist, also known as the concertmaster, who is responsible for tuning the orchestra prior to the performance.

Berlin, Mannheim and Vienna are credited with the development of the symphony; however, some credit Haydn (a common misconception) as the earliest composer to have written symphonies. Around 1750, sinfonia started to break off from the operas and were performed separately in concert halls. Some notable composers are J.S. Bach whose sinfonias were written in form of overtures for his church cantatas. His son, C. P. E. Bach from Berlin, used the three movements instead of four and preserved the contrapuntal style that was perfected by his father. The Mannheim group used a four-movement plan which included the usual fast-slow-fast style dance called the minuet. This influenced the accomplished composers of the classical symphony, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, and Franz Schubert. Beethoven music has and continues to be very influential. Composers initially utilized Baroque dance forms, but soon branched out to the sonata-allegro form.

This form has four movements and is considered quick and lively. The first movement is the introduction which may be slow and is considered the most importance because of its structure and theme. The second movement is used to give some contrast. It also may be slow and lyrical. The third movement is the dance movement and is graceful or lively. The fourth movement, or the finale, is considered elaborate and impressive. In the early years, the four movements were rarely arranged one after another. Usually there was a vocal solo, a dramatic reading, or another string quartet that may preform between the movements. This changed in the Romantic age in which the symphony was unified with common themes or ideas. It was also during the Romantic age that the symphony was in danger of becoming obsolete by composers of the more modern age. They considered the symphony outdated unless it could be combined with some programmatic ideas.

It was strong men like Brahms, Bruckner, Tchaikovsky, Mahler, and Sibelius who stepped up and helped keep the classical form of the symphony and pass its tradition on to the current century. Composers such as Prokofiev, Vaughan Williams, Shostakovich, and Howard Hanson have helped to keep the symphony as we know it, alive today. Likewise to the symphony, opera is considered to be a more “sophisticated’ form of music. Opera is part of the German, France and Italian cultures, and is not predominantly promoted in the American culture. Partially to blame is the accessibility to an opera. Due to the lack of popularity, operas are not widely available or advertised in America. As a culture, Americans enjoy entertainment that has immediate gratification such as movies with lots of action and no commercials. The opera is considered more upscale, which may be intimidating to some.

There are three basic components of an opera. They include the recitative, the aria, and the ensemble. The primary goal of the opera is to entertain. The character may suddenly switch from a speech to song and then resume his/her role in the play. In the early years, opera was mainly performed for the rulers and was considered “stuffy”. When opera became available for the general public, it became more of the form that are performed today. The camerata from Florence were the first to reinvent ancient Greek classics to a musical style that consisted of vocal declamation that focused on natural rhythm, accent and modulation of text with a simple instrumental harmonic background.

The first opera was based on the Greek drama Eurydice and was written by Jacopo Peri. In 1607, Claudio Monteverdi produced Orfeo and Ariana which is still used today. Monteverdi used a new form of homophonic music to try to cut down on the use of many voices singing in varying melodies. In 1637, the first public opera house was built in Venice. It was designed to attract the new rising middle class. Over the years, opera became more rigid. The performers wanted parts that would highlight their skills and the audiences wanted to see the flashy areas, with their tricks and trills. This resulted in a loss of respect for the opera. Opera eventually expanded into two types, comedy and tragedy. In the Romantic era, opera was one of the most popular musical type. There were three leading nations in Europe that cultivated their own opera styles and they include France, Italy, and Germany. In the early nineteenth century, Paris was the opera capital of Europe.

There were two types of opera, grand opera and opera comique. Grand opera focused on the parts that made the opera spectacular whereas, opera comique had a quality that was simpler and lighter. Lyric opera developed later and focused on more serious elements of the grand opera while incorporating the humor of the opera comique. The French liked to incorporate beautiful melodies into their operas along with scripts that were “logical, literature, elegant diction, and ballet”.1 The roots of French opera can be traced back to the court of Louis XIV which was written by an Italian composer named Jean Baptiste Lully. Lully is also known as the “father of French ballet.” Another influential person in French opera was a German named Christophe Willibad Gluck who led the reform of opera to the simplicity and natural expression of the past. Toward the end of the Romantic era, naturalism arose in French opera that emphasized brute force, immorality, and interest in exotic settings.

Italian opera was dominant in Italy in the nineteenth century. Italians created a lyrical style opera called bel canto, which means “beautiful singing”. During the eighteenth century, Italian opera focused only on the voice which affected the plots, making them become less meaningful. In the early nineteenth century, Gioachino Rossini was the most popular composer. He wrote a total of thirty-two pieces and retired by the age of 37. In the second half of the nineteenth century, Giuseppe Verdi was the most popular Italian musician. Verdi style was more Classical than Romantic and he enjoyed creating a piece in which the melody was attractive and dramatic. Verdi’s associate, Giacomo Puccini led a new movement in Italy called verismo. This style focused on unpleasant realities of life such as the lower levels of society, poverty, and barbarity.

The German opera is very different in comparison to the Italian opera. In contrast with Italy’s use of vocals, German opera used the orchestra as the foundation of their opera. Mozart was pivotal to introducing the national comic form which had a special quality of a grand finale. This was a popular form of entertainment for the lower-class people in Germany. After Mozart, Carl Maria von Weber was very popular. He developed a new Romantic tradition that focused on several characteristics: nature was wild, mysterious, supernatural beings around everyday people, good versus evil, and a hero’s victory. In the 1800’s, Richard Wagner was one of the greatest figures in opera. He was very hands on, taking part in every aspect including the poetry, acting, painting, and even building his own theater. Wagner used an entire symphony orchestra in his operas. He used the orchestra to represent certain characters, gestures, objects, and situations.

Wagner focused on creating a play that had continuous melody, seamless music and beautiful harmonies. Wagner’s greatest gift was his music, which far outweighed his abilities as a stage director, poet, philosopher, or dramatist. In summary, opera has developed in countries all over the world. Each have their own strengths and weaknesses. The German, Italian, and French operas place emphasizes on the voice and orchestra of the opera, whereas the American Broadway musicals are more balanced in terms of the music, dance and play.

It has been a truly enriching to learn about the different types of music, the history of music and the different composers. This has allowed the student to develop an appreciation for music and a new prospective when listening to music. It also allows exposure to different types of music that the person may not have been exposed to. For example, before Music Appreciation, I tended to listen to the same genre of music: country, as well as the same artists. Now that I have developed the skills I need to appreciate certain musical genres, and have had the opportunity to listen to an array of artists, the range of my musical interests have broadened. Without the encouragement of this class, I may have never come to appreciate the classics, or comprehend the complexity of a seemingly simple ballad.

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