The Thousand-Year Ears

A Musical Blog

Month: October, 2013

Verse/Chorus Format and Strophic Music

by Jungreis

In class Tuesday, it was remarked that the standard verse/chorus song is strophic. I contested this, saying that if the verses are markedly different from the chorus, then the criterion that all stanzas be set to the same music is not met. There was an argument against this, though I believed there to be counterexamples but could not think of one at the time.

The first song that came to mind was “Don’t Cry” by GNR. None of the choruses are the same. The first is a clean guitar, the second is a distorted guitar, and the third has Slash soloing over everything. This doesn’t seem like the emphatic counterexample that I want, though; it’s perhaps too subtle. The choruses are just changes in the guitar tone, and they at worst represent some sort of AA’A’’ format. More importantly, the choruses can be seen as obvious continuations of the verses.

(I don’t believe a lick of this argument against GNR, though that it can be contested leave me wanting a better counterexample to show that verse/chorus need not imply strophic.)

“Cemetery Gates” by Pantera works as a strong counterexample. It starts as a pretty ballad with a clean guitar. There’s some singing and a lead guitar line, but nothing really breaks the pattern. Then they shatter the pattern when that distorted guitar crashes in on that A5 powerchord. As it turns out, the calm guitar parts are played under the verse lyrics, and the more intense guitar parts are played under the choruses. “Cemetery Gates” does not follow the pattern of having the stanzas set to the same or even similar music.

The argument in class that verse/chorus implies strophic was quite emphatic, so if I’ve still not proved my claim, okay, but have I indeed found a counterexample proving that verse/chorus format is not a form of strophic music? If not, why?

Word Painting

by jaeyoungshin

Our class is about how music evolved during thousand years and often focuses on how earlier music is different from music of recent era. Although difference is usually more notable than similarity, I thought it was interesting to point out how similar technique was used throughout the history of music. As music evolved from simple, monotonic chant to symphony music, the word painting, this idea of describing the text’s meaning with music had been continued.

The first time we encountered the word painting was from genre Madrigal. The best example is Thomas Weelkes’ music. As shown in “As vesta was from latmos hill descending,” his music literally interprets the lyric and tries his best to convey it with music. The rapid, turnover of polyphonic voices seemed to illustrate how the music climbs down the hill. He also uses bright, joyful homophony to express the lyric of the song. This word painting became very popular during renaissance era, but it died out in baroque era as many composers thought it was artificial and childish way to express emotions.

Then we saw this technique again in Bach’s music. Bach adopts word painting in order to help people to reflect on the divine. He uses music to emphasize certain words. He would use crunchy violin sound to express words like “death” while he uses joyful, bright homophonic sound and brass instruments for words such as “faith” and “grace.”

Then we listened to two versions of Die Erlkonig, Reichardt’s one and Schubert’s one. Both versions seem to adopt the technique that is similar to word painting. The word painting of Romanticism’s music is definitely different from the word painting of 16th century’s one. It tries to express the atmosphere of the song rather than focuses on details of the text. However, we can see the trace of word painting when the composers use the rhythmic sound of piano to show that father and son are riding horses or minor, dissonant accompaniment for Erlking’s whispering.

To sum up, this principle of word painting has been used by composers from different periods, even though it clearly has become less popular and less powerful in later era. What do you think? Do you think this is a childish, artificial way to express emotions like Caccini once said? Or do you see it as a proper complement that can make music more understandable and interesting to listeners?

Musical Criticism and Composers

by evanhechtman

In class, we discussed a few of the conditions that allowed Beethoven to grow so famous.  These included the rise of musical criticism, and there can be no doubt that Beethoven benefited from some remarkably good publicity.  If you’ve read E.T.A. Hoffman’s review of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, you’re aware that he’s quite a fan of the work.  Included among his glowering praises, Hoffman says that Beethoven awakens within us “the pain of infinite yearning, in which every desire, leaping up in sounds of exultation, sinks back and disappears.”  (I would be hard pressed to pay my favorite band, U2, such a strong compliment!)

Everyone knows who Beethoven is, and most people have at least some familiarity with the Fifth Symphony.  Even my musically illiterate self did prior to this class, although it was mostly because of a Chuck Berry song.  But is Beethoven so legendary purely because of his musical genius, or is it because he had fans in the media?  While Beethoven’s brilliance is unquestionable (Hoffman is far more qualified to make this point than I am), was he truly that much better than all his contemporaries, or did his reputation benefit from some timely critical praise?

It’s interesting to think about the rise of musical criticism and how this might have impacted composers.  We’ve already seen composers with salient egos (e.g. Handel), so it’s realistic to assume that composers might have desired to impress critics to build their own fame.  To what extent do you think factors like this influenced Beethoven?  Or was he pure in realizing his artistic vision, ignoring external motivations?

Today, many musical artists are criticized for appeasing critics or changing their style for publicity.  Miley Cyrus, I’m looking at you.  Do you think a similar process of pandering to critics was a prominent factor in classical compositions?  How do you think the rise of musical criticism changed the course of music?

Animals and Music

by gamanhi

*Pre-Reading Listening:

See if you prefer what birds prefer.

Choose one of :

1. Bach (French Suite no. 5 in G minor) VS.  2. Arnold Schoenberg (Suite for Piano opus 2)

  1. Bach http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W4QAlvrCvpk
  2. Schoenberg http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8EkeM8Q3Z-A

Choose one of:

1. Bach (Orchestral Suite No. 3 in D major) VS. 2. Schoenberg (Five Orchestra Pieces, Opus 16)

  1. Bach http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eUtCC5VPwBs
  2. Schoenberg http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N2ZMnLENKVs

Having read about the Mozart Effect and the controversy over its validity, I wanted to look closely at other studies done on how music, especially classical music, influences human and animal behaviors.

Many scientists have tried to prove that classical music reduces anxiety and furthermore benefits human behavior through a series of studies such as but not limited to:

1. Aitken, J., et al. (2002). The effect of music distraction on pain, anxiety and behavior in pediatric dental patients. Pediatric Dentistry, 24(2), 114-118,

http://www.aapd.org/assets/1/25/Aitken2-02.pdf

(The results of Aitken’s experiment, in which pediatric dental patients were assigned into groups with different paces, did not support the hypothesis that disruption with music helps relieve anxiety and pain.)

2. Voss, J. et al., (2004). Sedative music reduces anxiety and pain during chair rest after open-heart surgery. Pain, 112(1-2), 197-203,

http://www.cirmmt.mcgill.ca/activities/workshops/research/music-pain/images/music-after-cardiac-surgery-pain-2004

(The study was done with patients assigned to three groups: music group, rest group, and control group. The music group had 30 minutes of listening to selected music (“synthesizer, harp, piano, orchestra, slow jazz, and flute”), the rest group had 30 minutes of relaxing, and the control group spent the 30 minutes for usual activities without any treatment. The result showed that the levels of anxiety, pain sensation, and pain distress of the music group were most of the time significantly less than the rest group or the control group.)

While it seems that whether music benefits humans in certain ways is yet to be proven, research about animal behaviors in response to classical music sheds some light on the matter.

Monkeys

McDermott and Hauser, who at the time were scientists at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University respectively, did an experiment in 2007 on monkeys that were put into chambers of different kinds of music. It turns out that they preferred slow-paced flute lullabies to an electronic techno, “Nobody Gets Out Alive” but all together preferred silence to any kinds of music. Some scientists responded to the work saying humans are the only organisms with “natural, or innate, inclination to engage with music.” The answer for this issue is also a “maybe” since not much is known on how monkeys percept music with its given hearing range within the scales.

Birds

The same year, another article on Science magazine titled “Birds like Music, Too” provided an interesting piece that adds paradox to the existing notion gained from McDermott and Hauser’s experiment. The result yielded that Java sparrows preferred harmonious classical (i.e. those of Bach and Vivaldi) over silence or dissonant sounds of modern works (Schoenberg). The experiments showed that not only birds showed strong preference towards classical music but also suggested that birds naturally like music.

“Birds like Music, Too”: http://www.sciencemag.org/content/317/5846/1864.2.full.pdf?sid=6d91673d-2786-4558-9a1e-76922a75b685

If we were to investigate the influence of music on other animals, it would be better to just create a course dedicated to that matter. Shelter dogs have shown an increase of body shaking with an increase of heavy metal music auditing and an increase of sleep hours with an increase of classical music auditing (article: http://www.news.colostate.edu/content/documents/Behavioral%20effects%20of%20auditory%20stimulation%20on%20kenneled%20dogs%20published.pdf). Classical music evidently helps rats find the way out of a maze faster. Cows after hearing classical music produce more milk (article: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/1408434.stm). For a quirky exploration, look into Musicmakesmoremilk (at http://www.musicmakesmoremilk.com/). You can listen to the finalists’ mashup songs that helped cows produce the largest amount of milk.

My Dog Sings Along?

by Jungreis

I remarked earlier that my mountain dog (not the one in my picture) howls whenever I play in D minor, and this is indeed the case. The natural question is to ask why he howls. Most people say that he wants me to stop playing in the saddest key of them all. This is probably true, but is it possible that he’s trying to join me?

Do not dismiss this just because he’s a mountain dog. First, if he were really bothered, there are other ways for him to let me know, and he does most of them every day that I see him. Second, birds and marine mammals sing, so there is precedent for animals making music.

Has anyone heard of any kind of study that explored synchronizing animal songs? Go a step further: has animal/human music ever been explored? There have been some weird studies about animal psychology. These might have happened.

Could you imagine a directed chorus of whales?

Pachelbel’s Canon in D: Its hiding in plainsight!

by jtalwar

Have you ever heard of the German Baroque composer Johann Pachelbel?  Whether or not you recognize his name, you have undoubtedly heard his Canon in D major.  Pachelbel originally wrote this Canon and Gigue for 3 violins and basso continuo before the 18th century.  His composition remained relatively inconspicuous and was almost forgotten until one fateful day in the 20th century.

Pachelbel’s Canon was first published around 1920, but that was just a footnote with relation to the piece’s popularity in the century.  French conductor Jean-Francois Paillard started the snowball effect for the pieces popularity when he made a recording of the piece in the 1970’s.  Ever since then, Pachelbel’s Canon in D has found its way into even the most popular of songs such as U2’s “With or Without You,” Green Day’s “Basketcase,” or Coolio’s “C U When You Get There.”

Pachelbel’s Canon in D has been recorded more than hundreds of times.  Whether in popular songs, jingles for advertisements, or music for a film, it is almost impossible to spend a day without hearing Pachelbel’s famous eight bars of music.  No longer do a violin and a cello hold the reigns for this piece.  It can be hears in all instruments from the piano to the guitar.  Whether you know it or not, Pachelbel played an important part in the harmony of modern pop music, through what may be called the original “one-hit wonder” with his Canon in D.

How many songs can you think of that utilize Pachelbel’s Canon in D?  1? 2? 10?  Whether you can identify each song that utilizes Pachelbel’s Canon in D, one slightly humorous video is presented below to highlight the prevalence of Pachelbel in music today:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JdxkVQy7QLM

Justin Timberlake…through the lens of MUSC30

by katrinam22

In class, we’ve studied musical forms such as binary form (popular during the Baroque period), sonata form (popular in mid-18th century), etc. We explored how these various forms were used for specific types of performances such as minuets, trios in symphonies and sonatas. We heard examples of binary form in works by Bach, Handel, Haydn, and Mozart. What does this have to do with JT? Keep reading.

Justin Timberlake, undoubtedly, is one of the most popular and successful artists of our time. His second solo album Futuresex/Lovesounds was the first where the Memphis native arguably established his sound as an artist. We hear him venturing into new sonic territory that still has all the markings of JT, but is structurally different from his past work. For example, the video below is for his hit single “Lovestoned/I Think She Knows”. The first half of the song is uptempo and beatbox driven while the latter half is slower, atmospheric and features echoed vocals. The transition between the two halves is seamless. Would you consider these two distinct songs or some sort of binary form?

This duality within songs is far more developed on Timberlake’s most recent LP, The 20/20 Experience (moreso on part 1 than 2). The first part was released earlier this year while the second was released a few weeks ago. If any of you are familiar with both albums, how would you compare Timberlake’s selection of songs across both albums to the idea we visited in class of Bach as an encyclopedic composer? Based on what we know about Bach, do you think he would approve of the way JT organized both albums? Based on melodic structure, do you think any song(s) on either album fit better on the opposite album?

Consider the song below. Compare the structure of “Pusher Love Girl” to “Lovestoned/I Think She Knows”. Is one a better example of “Timberlake binary form” than the other? Are you not convinced at all by this binary proposition in either or both cases? Is it more of a 2-for-1 special than any kind of musical form? I’d love to hear what you all think!

-Katrina Murray

False Assumptions

by matchequeda

Before this course, I assumed music to be like this:

1. All instrumental music dominated by the “traditional” symphony instruments was “classical” music, and therefore was stylistically the same.

2. All of this “classical” music was terribly boring and, while rich in historical value, would always feel foreign to me.

Through this course, I have found that my understanding of music was quite off-base. Defining the word “classical” more clearly has helped me to understand that it is an umbrella, not a grouping: a catch-all for music rooted in the western tradition, not a way of describing it. Understanding the notion of genre in the music we have studied, while challenging for me, has allowed me to better understand what I am listening to. Genre truly has an impact on our perceptions of music, and understanding genre is fundamental to understanding where music fits within our tradition and how people saw an older piece when it was prominent.

Further, I have found that I was viewing instrumental music with far too wide of a lens. Not only is there a great variance from era to era that I really hadn’t noticed (i.e. Baroque vs. Romantic), but there is a tremendous difference between the works of individual composers.

Most importantly, however, was finding that my 2nd assumption – the “everything will always feel like nothing to me” assumption – was not true. I must admit that music by certain composers is still very cold to me. However, the music of many of the composers that we have listened to – Haydn in particular – has been extremely engaging and even fun for me to get to know. My favorite piece that I have heard, Symphony #88 Mvt. III, is now one that I seek rather than one that I dread the chore of having to get to know. While Cantata No. 4 and Bach in general remain a chore for me, the exposure to Bach, Haydn, and all of the composers we have listened to has been a meaningful and culturing experience, challenging my orientation towards music that seems unrelatable to me.

Piano vs. String Quartet for Mozart’s Rondo alla Turca

by Roopa Shankar

Mozart: Rondo Alla Turca (Turkish Rondo) arrangement for String Quartet      
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mj2OgPOv_5o

This is definitely one of my favorite pieces of music, though before this class I only had familiarity with the string quartet version of the movement. The reason is simple: as a violin player, it was my favorite piece to play with my chamber orchestra group in high school. There is such incredible strength and power that comes in this rondo movement of Mozart’s piece, created by the dynamics interplay between forte and piano and the solid repetitions of key phrases.  While playing this piece, I always loved the constant repetitions; they gave me time to admire the notes chosen, the kinds of musical patterns they were creating, and the kind of emotions they were evoking. However, I especially remember reveling in the beauty of the convergence that occurs in the last minute or so (2:38 onwards in the clip/link above) of the movement, with the first violins and second violins coming together to create a quick-paced and dramatic “finale” feel. For me, I guess I especially loved the musical journey of disparate loud and soft elements that seemed to victoriously unite into an all-around assertion of strength and power.

I wanted you all to listen to the string quartet version of the Rondo alla Turca and comment below on your thoughts, especially on this version versus the piano version that we listened to in class. For me, the power of the notes (though perhaps I am biased because I am a string instrument player) only have the ability to really come alive when they can be expressed as an interplay between two different violin parts. As I mentioned earlier, I believe that one of the key elements of this piece is the incredible execution of the dynamics (piano and forte interactions with key repeating phrases). This reminds me of conversational interaction. And to me, this conversational element can only be fully realized and appreciated through two violin parts as opposed to a piano sonata version. As an added bonus with the string quartet version, crescendos on the violins also help create more momentum to build up to the lavish concluding moments of the piece.

Let me know what your thoughts are on the piano sonata version versus the string quartet version. I’d be curious to hear what you all think, as well as to hear about others who have had experiences playing this exact piece!

Piano Sonata
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vNMOUVHPOI8

The Deafness Effect

by Ivan Ye

One of most well known facts about Beethoven is that he became deaf. In fact, when Beethoven was just 26, he began to experience ringing in his ears. He had a severe form of tinnitus that ultimately made him completely deaf. The intense ringing made it hard for him to have conversations and to hear music, impacting his compositions. In a paper published by the British Medical Journal, Edoardo Saccenti, Age Smilde and Wim Saris of the Netherlands have shown that Beethoven’s deafness had a measureable effect on his music.

In 1801, Beethoven sent a letter mentioning hearing loss to his doctor, pinpointing the start of his deafness. He wrote that he had “to get very close to the orchestra to understand the performers” and could not “hear the high notes of the instruments and the singers’ voices.” His form of hearing loss did indeed hinder his ability to hear high-pitched notes, which had a quantitative effect on his music. From 1801 to 1825, researchers discovered that Beethoven favored notes in the lower to middle range by analyzing his compositions from that time period. Specifically, they looked at his opus 74 to opus 95 quartets and found that they contained less than two percent high notes. Beethoven’s quartets before 1801 averaged around eight percent high notes.

After 1825, Beethoven was completely deaf. Surprisingly, the percent of high notes in his opus 127 to opus 135 quartets rose to around four percent. The researchers speculate that because he could not hear what he was composing, he relied on his earlier composition experience rather than what he could hear, increasing the percentage of high-pitched notes.

The researchers acknowledge that their findings are not conclusive, because they sampled only some portion of Beethoven’s compositions. His music changes drastically from the early, middle, and late period, and his deafness has always been hypothesized to be a factor. The new study has found quantitative evidence to support that hypothesis. Take some time and listen to Beethoven’s middle and late period quartets. See if you can hear the difference.

For more information on the paper, check out:  http://www.bmj.com/content/343/bmj.d7589