Monday, July 28, 2014

Project: Exploring "Art" Music from the Early 20th Century through the Present

During a recent discussion on a Facebook piano pedagogy group (actually about transcription, which became a bit confusing since the original poster asked "Do you teach transcription?", meaning do you teach your students to listen and write down music such as jazz solos, when some of us were thinking of the older meaning of transcriptions for a pianist meaning rewriting music from one genre, such as an organ, orchestra, or string quartet, to another genre, such as piano, trying to express the original intent), a few of us got side tracked into the "art" music of the 20th century to the present.  As I thought about this, I realized that I have not explored much of this music, particularly pieces written after the early 1970's.  To be honest, so much became almost incomprehensible and seemed like so much work without much benefit to me that I just gave up trying to listen to it.  Consequently, my exposure to 20th and 21st century is the commercial, pop styles.

I have decided that I need to explore this music and see if there are pieces and composers that I like, and further explore what I like about them and how they created the music.  In the process I am sure that I will find pieces and composers of whom I am not fond and will attempt to say what it is that doesn't turn me on, or completely turns me off, or makes me want to run away screaming and have a cocktail.  I invite commentary from my readers for both. You do not have to like what I do, and you are free to like what I don't. Particularly concerning the latter, your comments may give me new food for thought to re-explore these pieces.

A couple of people did give me a list of more recent composers to explore, which follows:

Witold Lutoslawski, Gyorgy Ligeti, Iannis Xenakis, Karlheinz Stockhausen, John Adams, Steve Reich, and Luciano Berio, Arvo Part, Nico Muhly, Ayaka Nishima, Kaija Saariaho, Thomas Ades, Gyorgy Kurtag, Meredith Monk, Ricky Ian Gordon, John Luther Adams, Marc Chan, Timo Andres, Christopher Cerrone, David Lang, Aaron Jay Kernis.

I have heard of a very few of these names, but other than Ligeti or Stockhausen, I have never heard any of their music. I I will work through these and if anyone has any others I will consider exploring them over time and as time permits.

I will label all posts (which will be seen at the bottom of the posts) as "Project: Exploring 20th and 21st century music".

To be a little organized in this, how will I judge and report about the works that I listen to by each composer?

I will report on my findings and feelings on the music of individual composers. Of course, my assessment and your assessment may be very different.  That is fine.  I figure that there will be an assessment of my initial impressions -- "Did I like the piece?", probably ranging from "Love it and ready to listen to more and explore further" to "hate it -- I need some Bach, Beethoven or Brahms and a cocktail to get it out of my head".  "Will I explore this piece and composer further?", which will be basically "yes" or "no".  "Do I hear any antecedents in this music?", in other words, do I hear an influence from another earlier composer or composition(s) and/or an earlier period style? Since this project is evolving, my criteria may evolve also.

If I explore a composer or composition further, I will report on my studies and understanding of the music.

Though, my goal is to explore the music of later 20th and 21st century, I am going to re-explore the earlier ones, such as Stravinsky, Schoenberg, Berg, Copland, Prokofiev, etc., to get a basis from which to judge later composers and to have a basis to judge whether or not they were an influence.  I am particularly interested to see how composers did, or did not change or style in relationship to the world events of the period (WWI, WWII, Korea, Viet Nam, the Cold War, 9/11....).  I have a theory in the back of my mind that major events such as these affect the way artists express themselves.

Let's see where this goes.  I do invite your comments.  I will say that currently this blog is fully moderated, in other words, I do have to approve your comments.  I promise that I will not reject comments because they disagree with me or anyone.  I am only moderating for civility in language -- no attacks on another or vulgar language.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Forgotten Clementi

Muzio Clementi - Piano Sonata in G minor, Op. 34 No. 2
Vladimir Horowitz

For most of us, our only experience with Muzio Clementi lies solely in the sonatinas that we learned as piano students.  Most of have probably also heard about the great piano competition between Clementi and Mozart, which was declared a draw.  Mozart was full of vitriol about the decision while Clementi continued to admire Mozart and in fact was a publisher of Mozart's piano music in England.

Clementi was a very accomplished pianist and composer as well as a piano manufacturer, piano retailer, and music publisher.  His was one of the early horizontal industries -- he built the pianos, he sold the pianos, and he published the software (sheet music) so that people had plenty of music to play on his pianos.

Unfortunately, he gets little space in the music history books, I suspect because he primarily wrote for the piano with very little music on any other genre.

Here is a link to his biography on Wikipedia: Clementi Biography

It appears that he was a strong influence on Beethoven.  I have read where Beethoven advised Carl Czerny concerning Beethoven's nephew Karl's piano instruction, that Czerny should focus on Clementi piano sonatas over those of Haydn and Mozart.

The above piano sonata -- Op. 34, No. 2 (1793) -- may well have been an influence on Beethoven's "Sonata Pathétique" (Op. 13) from 1798.  The Clementi sonata begins with a slow introduction with extensive dotted 8th - 16th combinations.  It gives me the impression of a funeral march.  Unlike the Beethoven, this intro is in a kind of grotesque fugue, each entry of the subject/answer uses a larger descending skip -- (1) descending 5th, (2) descending augmented 5th, (3) descending 6th.  This introduction is later reprised as in C major in a style that reminds me of a tavern song in an opera.

As we know, Beethoven also begins with a slow introduction which he reprises later.  In fact from my extensive research of piano sonatas before this time (a quick glance through Mozart's and Haydn's catalogs of their piano sonatas) this appears to be the first piano sonata with a slow introduction -- at least by a major composer -- and the first sonata to reprise the introduction in the course of the movement.

There is some very remarkable music in this sonata and if you like Beethoven's sonatas, I believe that you will immensely enjoy this one.

Muzio Clementi - Piano Sonata in Bb Major, Op. 24 No. 2 Mvt. 1
"Allegro con brio"
Vladimir Horowitz

Though it is said that Clementi admired Mozart, he could have his moments of vitriol against Mozart. This sonata was written in 1781, about a year before his famous competition with Mozart.  After Mozart wrote "Magic Flute" in 1791, Clementi included a forenote on his reprints of this sonata stating that this had been written 10 years before Mozart's opera.  Listen to the above recording and you will understand why.  One can also ask "Did Clementi perform this sonata at the competition?"

I am in the process of searching for a good biography of Clementi.  He has often been denigrated for his alleged penury and his alleged mistreatment of John Field, both items that I only find mentioned in Ludwig Spohr's "The Musical Journeys" (I think -- I can't find an online copy, though I could have sworn that I had previously downloaded it).  I suspect that there is more to the story. 

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Links to a Music Dictionary and All of the Classical Sheet Music that You Could Desire

Here are links to a couple of web sites that can be of great help to musicians and students.

Dolmetsch Online -- Music Theory, Music Dictionary, Composer Dictionary, et. al.

Arnold Dolmetsch was a performer in the early 20th century of early keyboards and other instruments among other things.  He is probably best known for his book The Interpretation of the Music of the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries (1915).  He was an early pioneer of the "Historically Informed" movement in music.  He was doing it before it was cool.

This site contains a substantial section on music theory (including everything that you might want to know about pitch standards through the centuries as well as different temperaments). There is also a substantial dictionary with terms translated to the European languages (often including the difference between American and British usages).  A basic dictionary of composers is also available.  It is light on content, but it does contain a little info of a number of obscure old and contemporary composers that I have been unable to find anything about elsewhere.

Added resources includes staff paper to print in a large variety of standard formats as well as some you may not known that you need (how about staffs on the right side of the page with space for notes on the left for a theory class?)

Dolmetsch Online

IMSLP/Petrucci Music Library

I am still often surprised about how many musicians do not know about this great resource.  This is a library of music that is in the public domain.  In general this means that it was published before sometime in the 1920's, but most classical music that one might be interested in was written well before that.  This is a HUGE collection of scans of music from at least the Renaissance to the early part of the 20th century.  Available is the complete Bach-Gesellschaft Ausgabe as well as other editions, all of the Scarlatti sonatas that you could ever want, all of the Beethoven you could ask for, etc.  In many instances there are scans of manuscripts by the composers and other contemporaries.

Besides all of the known composers, you can find music from lesser known and forgotten composers. For example, we know that Alberti wrote a bass, but did he do anything for the right hand (he did).  I have even found the first known published piece written specifically for the piano -- Sonate Da Cimbalo di piano, e forte ... by D. Lodovico Giustini di Pistoia; Op. 1; published in Firenze, 1732 (about 8 years before Bach saw his first piano).

You can also search by genre.

It is a great place to find and try some different music by composers of whom you may or may not have heard.  I should add that it contains much more than piano music -- full orchestral scores and sometimes parts, string solos, trios, quartets, etc.

The home page displays new additions and language selection.  The composers page allows you to search music by composers.

IMSLP/Petrucci Music Library - Home

IMSLP/Petrucci Music Library - Composers

These links are also available in the link section to the right.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Free Open Source Programs for Musicians and Music Teachers

Here are some open source programs for musicians and music teachers that are about as powerful as their name competitors at a fraction of the cost (like $0.00)

MuseScore - Music Notation Software

For music notation, MuseScore is great.  The current version competes well with slightly older versions Finale and Sibelius and they are working on version 2.0 which should stack up well against the newer versions.  Besides saving to its own format, it can export in various graphic formats, MIDI, and will create PDF files directly in the program.  It will also read and write MusicXML files.  The learning curve is about the same as the big names and, although the documentation is rather basic, it is among the best I have seen in open source and freeware.

MuseScore - Music Notation Software

Audacity - Audio Recording Software

Audacity is an audio recording and editing program.  You can record directly into your computer or you can import audio files from a recorder or even from the internet and edit them, add effects, etc.  It is multi-track. It reads and writes most major audio formats.  It does not include MP3 since that is a proprietary format, but there is a 3rd party add-on that will easily take care of that.  I use it to edit recordings that I have made with my recorder of myself at the piano or my church choir.  I can then edit, splice, dice, whatever to my hearts content.

Audacity - Audio Recording Software

Libre Office - Office Suite

Libre Office is the free open source office suite that allows you to free yourself from Microsoft.  It has all of the applications and functionality of MS Office without the cost - word processor, spread sheet, data base, presentation, drawing, etc.  It is extensible.  There is even an add-on that allows you to embed a MuseScore score directly into the document and edit directly re-edit it if necessary.  You don't have to save the score into a graphic format and then switch programs.  That is part of the reason that I included it here.  Great for the music teacher who wants to place music into a document for your students.  It reads and writes all MS Office file extensions as well as the open source extensions.  It will also read, edit (if un-protected) and write PDF files.  With the money that you save on MS Office you will be able to get that next piece of music equipment that you have always wanted.

Libre Office - Office Suite

These links are also available in the links section to the right.