August 2011

Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina’s Pope Marcellus Mass, Credo and Tomas Luis Victoria’s O magnum mysterium

I prefer Palestrina over Victoria. Palestrina didn’t base this mass on any pre-existing piece of music. This gave him more freedom to compose the way he wanted without following a set style. He didn’t use any imitation in this piece, so there is more emphasis on the words as well as the music. This piece is light and happy, but also evokes memories of more ancient styles of composition, which I think is good for a religious service. Both of these things—the happy tone and the ancient feel—is because of Palestrina’s use of thirds and sixths harmony which was a relief from the fifth-third combos “suggests the sacred by evoking the aura of a distant but still remembered past.” I also like how the piece is mostly homorhythmic with ornamentation. It again emphasizes the text and also creates consonance which leads to the happier mood of the piece.

Charles Ives was America's most overlooked composer

Charles Ives was one of the most innovative and influence composers of the 20th century.  Ever hear any of Thomas Newman's movies music (it's in Little Women and American Beauty)? He was inspired by Ives.  But Ives' talent was never recognized to its fullest due during his lifetime, meaning that the composer had to work a day job as an insurance salesman.  Because he was so disrespected during his lifetime, you should listen to him know.  Here's a bit about some of his famous compositions:

Ives: Concord Sonata: “The Alcotts” 
Ives once said “the power of repetition was to them a natural means for illustration.” He illustrates this idea by using a lot of repeated bass chords and a motive began in the first measure that he messes with throughout the piece. The first motive that he repeats throughout is in the first half of the first measure. He then takes this motive and takes the chords from underneath it in the second half of the first measure and makes it simpler with less texture. He repeats fragments of this motive—like in the third system at the very end to the first measure of the fourth system and at the very end of the piece starting at the very end of the fourth measure through the end of the piece, he takes the melody line and thickly adds to the texture with huge chords—throughout the piece. He also uses repeated block chords, like at the beginning of the first system through most of the third system. However, above these chords the melody line isn’t constant and expresses a new idea with each new phrase. Both of these ideas illustrate the idea of repetition, but each repetition presenting a new idea within itself.

Ives said Mr. Alcott would “whip himself when the scholars misbehaved.” This idea is presented in the second page on the end of the first system throughout the third systems. This is the first time the general wash of sound created by the repeated chords and harmony of the piece is disrupted with discordant chords with both augmented and diminished tones. Because it comes in the middle of more melodious and soon returns to a more calm and tonal section, it seems as though this, like Mr. Alcott’s form of punishment for misbehaving students, was present, but not a constant part of learning.

Alban Berg's "Wozzeck"

Viennese composer Alban Berg's opera Wozzeck is one of the greatest operas of the 20th century.  Featuring unusual music and still difficult to learn and perform, Wozzeck tells the story of the poor title character and his life.  The opera's lead characters include Wozzeck, a baritone, his common-law wife Marie, a soprano, their son, the Captain and the Doctor.