Saturday, March 23, 2019

Peter Kwasniewski the monotony of pop music emotion vs pure/profound art music emotion and a counterpoint by way of Paul Hindemith's comments on mediating convention and emotional content

One of the more tiresome canards about classical music compared to popular music I see in traditionalist or conservative argument is summed up as follows:


One often hears a false claim: Today’s popular music is “more emotional,” some say, while traditional music is “less emotional.” In reality, the emotions evoked in today’s popular music are more crude and monotonous. The emotions elicited by the music of Palestrina, Bach, or Mozart, being more intellectual, are actually more profound and pure—therefore, more variegated, subtle, and rich. There is no expression of joy or sorrow as profound as what you find in Victoria’s Passiontide motets, Bach’s cantatas, Mozart’s piano concertos, or Beethoven’s string quartets. Intellectual pleasures are the highest pleasures, as Aristotle notes, but awareness of them requires a certain process of maturation, which must be accompanied by a purifying of the passions. Nevertheless, the final result of this journey is the ability to experience passions that are more subtle, more all-encompassing, more fully what passions are supposed to be. In that sense, the best music is also the most emotionally satisfying.
Ponder the difference between a great expression of emotion and the expression of great emotion. The former is an intellectually refined or purified expression, one might say emotion spiritualized or conformed to logos, while the latter is a raw outburst, a sort of exhibition of animal vitality. The question is: Which is most proper to man as man, to man as imago Dei, to man as redeemed by the Blood of the Logos and sanctified by the indwelling Trinity?
A sign of the difference can be seen by comparing real dancing with the aerobic flailing that passes for dancing in the youth anti-culture—a difference traceable to the styles of music that accompany these activities. The Baroque gavotte, the classical minuet, even a Strauss waltz, are embodiments of order, pattern, symmetry, and gracefulness, examples of disciplined motion that is more human, more social, and more aesthetically pleasing than individualistic gyrating. Which of these exercises is more truly dancing? Ballet, when all is said and done, is more beautiful, requires more strength, exhibits more fully the inner potentiality of man and woman, than rock or pop “dancing.” Being a more rational and more unified activity, it is more fully the perfection of the activity itself and of the human person who performs it. Needless to say, we can learn a lot about the nature of music itself by observing the human excellences or abominations to which it gives rise.
This is, as we see, a more traditionalist Catholic approach.  There's variants on this theme about emotional resonance and real vs. fabricated emotion in pop vs. art music.  The idea is, roughly, that the profound and distilled and purified emotions of musical art convey spiritual content that is not in the vulgar music of the street.  I suppose if we want to go all the way back to affect as a musical theory (not the more recent theory, to be clear) then we can say that music is a kind of artful caricature of emotions that we could not expect to feel in real life.  That's the short of a Roger Scruton style explanation of what the emotional content of art music can do.  
I mean ... I'm not completely unsympathetic to aspects of this traditional polemic.
But the assumption that the emotions expressed in art music are more profound and pure depends, as even the author quoted above went on to note, upon a slow and steep learning curve.  
Although one cannot train the ear in a day, a week, a month, or even a year, a beginning must nevertheless be made in developing the skill of what we might call “attentive listening to beautiful sound that is inherently worth listening to.” That is what we attempt to do in our music curriculum, and it is certainly my hope and prayer that our students will become, over time, not only witnesses to what is true and lovers of what is good, but also ambassadors for the beautiful, captivated by the reflection of the face of Eternal Beauty. In this way they would abundantly magnify the legacy of Pope Benedict XVI, whom posterity is likely to remember as the Pope of Beauty—the Pope, that is, who opened up new fountains of beauty in a pilgrim Church, parched and thirsty, wandering through the desert of modernity.
It "is" a piece published at The Imaginative Conservative, obviously.
But ... one of the pedestrian but necessary observations made about music and the receptivity of listeners that has been made over the years is that not everyone "rises" to the same level of musical appreciation. Paul Hindemith put it in the following way in one of his books, adapted from some lectures he gave:
A Composer's World, which you can find over here:
from pages 19-20
... we recognize as a requisite for the listener's active coconstruction the essential possibility of foreseeing and anticipating the musical structure as it arises in the performance, or at least, if the composition is utterly new to the recipient, his being given a chance to conjecture with a high degree of probability its presumable course. A musical structure which due to its extreme novelty does not in the listener's mind summon up any recollections of former experiences, or which incessantly disappoints his constructive expectations, will prevent his creative cooperation. He cannot adjust his sense of proportion to the unfolding structure, he loses the feeling for his position in the sounding terrain, he does not recognize the significance of the single structural members in reference to the entity, he even loses the feeling for the coherence of these members. For him music goes astray, disappears in chaos; it deteriorates into the mere amorphous assembly of sound it was before it entered the zone of active cooperation in the listener's mind.
In view of all this, we may conclude that there is strange as it may sound in the face of countless attempts at modernization of the musical means of expression in principle never anything new in the general order, shape, and mutual relationship of musical successions. We may even go so far as to say that basically nothing new can ever be introduced into such successions, if we do not want to see the participant in music degraded to a dull, apathetic receptacle, an absorbent sponge reaching the point of saturation without showing any sign of reaction.
Once we agree to this statement, our opinion in respect to musical facts will undergo significant changes. What then remains of the importance which we customarily ascribe to all questions of a composer's style? We prefer to think of his tone-combining craft as possessing an infinite variability, even power of eternal regeneration; but it merely permits a limited number of variations within the given limitations of its sounding ingredients. The building material cannot be removed very far away from certain structural, harmonic-tonal, and melodic prototypes, so that the listener can assume an active part in the process of musical realization. 
Furthermore, the continual accumulation of experiences in a listener's mind should not be overrated. Once he reaches a certain point of versatility in his power of musical coconstruction, no further progress seems to be possible. Thus his experience, rising from primordial feelings of comparative motion to a climax of lateral cocreation, can be likened to an arc which surges up as part of a tremendous circle and thenslows down and flattens into a parabolic curve. From now on, all musical structures that stand entirely without his previous experience will have to exert their impact many times on his physical and mental receptivity if they are to be added to his stock of accumulated knowledge. 

Music that expands or develops or whatever-it-does more quickly or with more complexity than listeners can understand will, quite possibly, fail to evoke "pure" or "profound" emotions because the recipient/listener does not have the education and accumulation of listening conventions with which to judge what is heard or to be moved by it.  Elsewhere Hindemith wrote that the very idea that music evokes emotion is a misunderstanding, if by "evokes emotion" people mean that there is some kind of one-to-one, direct correspondence between what the composer sets to page which the musician(s) play and to which listeners listen and thereby receive the great potent wave of the emotional experience of the composer.  
pages 34-35
Other analysts, in explaining the effects of music on the listener, see in music a kind of language which by its peculiar means of expression conveys some meaning, whatever this meaning may be. But the difference is, that in a spoken or written language each verbal expression used has unchangeable connotations, while in music each component of an audible form can be understood and interpreted emotionally in many different ways. The word "river" always means a stream of flowing water, but a certain phrase in C minor may cause one listener to experience some feeling of sadness, while to another listener the same phrase means something entirely different, This discrepancy in interpretation will be particularly obvious in the case of music that is unfamiliar to the recipient Those who have had some experience with oriental people and their music will confirm this observation. In hearing oriental music for the first time, the Western listener usually cannot detect any musical significance in it which it would have, if music was an  internationally recognized and understandable .language. The strangeness of its sounds will strike him as funny, even ridiculous, and the only emotional urge he will feel will be a desire to laugh heartily. But this same piece may induce  the initiated to feel sad, pathetic, heroic, or whatnot We do not even need to go so far away into foreign regions; sometimes in southern countries church music can be heard which for the visitor from the North has the most exhilarating effect, although it may be intended as funeral music and will have the proper effect of such on the native listener. [emphasis added] ... 
The most generally accepted explanation of the effect music has upon a listener is: it expresses feelings. Whose are the feelings it expresses? Those of the composer, the performer, the individual listener, or the audience? Or does it express feelings of a general character, the specification of which is left to the members of any of these groups? Music cannot express the composer's feelings. ...
pages 38-39
The reactions music evokes are not feelings, but they are the images, memories of feelings. We can compare these memories of feelings to the memories we have of a country in which we have traveled. The original journey may have taken several weeks or months, but in conjuring up in our memory the events of it, we may go through the entire adventure in a few seconds and still have the sensation of a very complete mental reconstruction of its course. [emphasis added] It is the same trick dreams play on us. They, too, compress the reproductions of events that in reality would need long intervals of time for their development into fractions of a second, and yet they seem to the dreamer as real as adventures he has when he is wide awake. In some cases these dream-events may even be the "real" life of the individual, while the facts they reflect, distort, or rearrange are nothing but an inconsequential and sober succession of trifles.
Dreams, memories, musical reactions all three are made of the same stuff. We cannot have musical reactions of any considerable intensity if we do not have dreams of some intensity, for musical reactions build up, like dreams, a phantasmagoric structure of feelings that hits us with the full impact of real feeling. Furthermore we cannot have any musical reactions of emotional significance, unless we have once had real feelings the memory of which is revived by the musical impression. (The importance of recollection in respect to musical perception has been mentioned in the second chapter.) Reactions of a grievous nature can be aroused by music only if a former experience of real grief was stored up in our memory and is now again portrayed in a dreamlike fashion. "Musical" gaiety can be felt only if a feeling of real gaiety is already known to us; "musical" complacency arises in our memory only if complacency felt before without musical prompting was already part of our experience. It is only with the memory of feelings in our mind that we can have any feelinglike reaction caused by music. [emphases added]..

There are differences between entertainment styles of music that developed in the last century and the art music idioms of the same century that drew upon even earlier idioms and conventions.  Many of the differences have to do with conventions but the conventions themselves have been mediated by theories and definitions that don't always derive from the period about which the terms are applied.  To pick a simple, relatively obvious example from recent work in formal analysis, in the galant style of the 18th century there was not really a thing called sonata form.  Attempts to describe sonata form developed in the 19th century.  During the 18th century there were things known as grand binary form or maybe a "first movement form" but even that could vary.  
What began to shift in the 20th century was that music began to be composed that emphasized what some have called "groove".  Adorno, notoriously, described this as the rhythmical-spatialization of music that was distinct from a linear-dynamic approach.  What that meant, to perhaps boil things down a bit too much, is that if it's got a good beat and you can dance to it that's a music you can get up and dance to.  
Now notice in the Hindemith passages quoted above he pointed out that you can't really decree what the emotional content of a work is going to be received as being.  Music education is an attempt to legislate via pedagogy what music that is taught can "feel" like.  That's not necessarily bad but it lets us know that the conventions of understanding that something is music and how that music can be received or responded to have to be learned.  Or as Leonard B. Meyer put it in a couple of his books, the majority of conventions associated with learning, understanding, appreciating and responding to musical styles are learned and taught but often not necessarily at a very conscious level.  A great deal of what has been presented as "music theory" isn't theory at all.  
ISBN 0-226-52152-4

page 10

The constraints of a style are learned by composers and performers, critics and listeners. Usually such learning is largely the result of experience in performing and listening rather than of explicit formal instruction in music theory, history, or composition. In other words, knowledge of style is usually "tacit": that is, a matter of habits properly acquired (internalized) and appropriately brought into play. Even when a composer invents a new rule or, more commonly, discovers a novel strategy for realizing some existing rule, the invention or discovery may be largely tacit. He or she finds a relationship that works but may be unable to explain why it does so--how it is related to other features and other constraints of the style.

It is the goal of music theorists and style analysts to explain what the composer, performer, and listener know in this tacit way.

from footnote 18 on page 10

Textbooks dealing with harmony, counterpoint, form, and so on, are not, despite customary usage, theoretical treatises, explaining the bases for the constraints employed in some style. Rather they are practical manuals of how-to-do-it rules. They bear the same relationship to theory of music as an instruction book for radio repairing bears to the theory of radio transmission, or, more to the point, they bear the same relationship to the theory and analysis of music as an English grammar of the eighteenth century bears to the style of, say, the poetry of William Blake.

One of the problems in many a would-be traditionalist defense of musical "art" in contrast to musical entertainment is that there's an assumed divide the existence of which is not so much proved as assumed.  Things are taken to be high class or low class in terms of art as if these idioms never interacted with each other.  If there are stock formulas in art music traditions these are discussed as stock formulas by specialists, and here's an informative and fairly entertaining explanation of the romanesca and its evolution in early music (16th century). 
You can embellish, expand and interpolate into the romanesca as a stock musical formula.  It lends itself to variation ad infinitum.  And ... you can also boil the progression down to its most recognizable essence and built an entire piece around that. 
That the romanesca hasn't just shown up throughout sixteenth and seventeenth century European concert music but that it can also be found in one of the most famous songs of the Jackson 5 is a useful lesson in music history of a kind that you might not get from partisans of just popular or art musical styles.  Listen to that bass line in the chorus, sounds pretty romanesca to me.  
Ethan Hein described the chord changes in "I Want You Back as "the happiest chord changes ever".
If you watched the early music video you heard that the romanesca has a darker more somber vibe in sixteenth and seventeenth century music but, let's hasten to add, that was the period during which major and minor tonal systems had not yet been codified.  A stock pattern like the romanesca wasn't getting realized or subjected to diminutions of a sort that were informed by a pitch organization system that didn't exist yet.  One of the soap boxes I've been on here at Wenatchee The Hatche is about my conviction that a thorough immersion in music history in its "popular" and "classical" traditions will show the boundaries between the traditions have been more permeable than partisans for just one or the other tend to want to concede, if they even "can" concede this point which, all too often, they can't because they won't.  
I think it's stupid to tell people that Michael Jackson singing "I Want You Back" is somehow singing a "less" or a less "pure" or a less "profound" emotion simply because people are picky about the ways in which what is audibly one of the most robust formulas in the history of Western music can take different forms in different centuries.  I would expect the romanesca as a foundation for music-making to sound different in the 20th or 21st century than it would in the 16th or 17th century.  Four centuries is a long time and yet, if you haven't picked up on this admittedly polemical point, the power of the romanesca as a progression or bass-line that anchors a musical work is something you can hear across the centuries.  
There are composers and theorists who attempted to drop all of the accrued conventions and idioms as being too stale, the "zero hour" in which Western composers and musicians tried to hard boot musical culture in the post World War II era.  This process was really slowly percolating with fits and starts over the previous seventy years.  Total serialism, aleatory, sonic art and other post-tonal avant garde idioms were evolving in some fashion out of earlier precedents; and musicians and composers were trying to blow things up and start over so as not to sound trite or Romantic, or kitsch.  But American musical life at large was in many ways immune to those developments.  Which is to say the formulas and stock progressions that were getting rejected by serialists and atonalists in European art music were, in an admittedly different way, being perpetuated in American vernacular or popular styles like shape-note, ragtime, and blues and so on.  
The shift Adorno observed in Stravinsk's work in which spatialization took place and Stravinsky jettisoned the syntactic scripts that are associated with the "development" of sonata forms was not just happening in Stravinsky's music.  It was happening in popular music and, in his variously damning remarks about pop music as a product with pre-fabricated mass emotions shoved down the throats of the stupid masses, Adorno regarded popular music in the 20th century as being incapable by its nature of being art.  That far a Theodore Adorno has a spiritual heir in connection to popular music in the form of ... a John Borstlap.  I've written about the irony of traditionalists invoking arguments about the distinctions between "high" and "low" music that seem to unwittingly take up the assertions of the Marxist-Leninist Adorno in the past so I'll merely touch upon that a bit before moving along.
What I've been writing about here for a couple of years is my belief that the "high" and "low" musical traditions have been stratified and the hegemony of this or that musical idiom tends to be perceived on the basis of what teachers wish they could teach in contrast to what they feel stuck having to teach.  

I'm a guitarist composer and I guess when Kyle Gann wrote about guitarists in his "Make Way for the Guitar Era" that guitarists have a more pragmatic approach to things like music theory he wrote a number of things that have stuck with me.  I'm going to quote him:
Something else I meant to add about my students and the piano: Perhaps it’s just Bard culture, but I see many students today, perhaps a majority, coming to musical creativity from the guitar rather than the piano, as they used to, or any other instrument. This could have profound consequences. In the Renaissance, composers usually got their start as child singers. Baroque and Classical composers were often string players (Corelli and Haydn, the violin; Bach, Mozart, and Beethoven, the viola). Romantic and modern composers were more often than not pianists. Such choices have profound consequences, and if there really is a sea-change of composers now coming from the guitar world rather than the piano, that alone could bring about a rift in musical eras. Berlioz, who played the clarinet and guitar, was almost the only non-pianist composer of his era, and as a result became its most innovative orchestrator. Guitarists visualize music theory in more contextual, less fixed and abstract, ways than pianists do. Interval size is less of a constant for them, melodies more conveniently leap throughout the register than proceed by steps, and their instruments are easily retunable and portable, tremendously louder (if electric), and carrying no upper-class connotations. By their 20s, these composers have been conditioned by a completely different relationship to pitch and volume than the pianist-composers of my generation and earlier. I’m curious as to whether professors in other music departments notice the same demographic change.
I have been thinking about this a while so what I'm about to suggest is piggy-backing on Gann's ideas.  I'm ... middle-aged and looking back on the last twenty odd years of my musical life and there are a couple of basic aspects to the guitar that differ from the keyboard.  You can buy the guitar and leave the fingerboard as is, you can leave the frets where you are  but if you have the requisite luthier skills you can move the frets.

So you could get something like this piece by Lou Harrison which uses just intonation
or this suite for guitar using quartet-tones by Alois Haba
But let me point out something still more obvious about the guitar and the last century of music.  We guitarists played a pretty big part in the evolution of popular song.  Classical guitarists also got into the fray of modern/modernist music by way of guitarists composing in newer styles and non-guitarists composing some of the most famous works for the instrument.
Take Britten's "reverse variations" cumulative form take on a work by John Dowland.
Britten never played the guitar.
Castelnuovo-Tedesco couldn't play two notes on the guitar but that didn't stop him from writing some fantastic music for the instrument.
But let me get back to my point about us guitarists.  If there's a difference that sticks with me these last twenty years it's that because guitarists were at the forefront of a lot of popular music in the Anglo-American world and because guitarists were striving to be taken seriously in the art music scenes guitarists, if they choose to, can have a very pragmatic and maybe even cavalier idea about the sanctity of genre.  I've been writing here for a while that I see Baroque music and jazz, ragtime, blues, country and other assorted American vernacular idioms as able to interact easily.  I've written in the past about how readily themes from the sonatas of Giuliani or, say, a Carulli, can be transformed into ragtime strains.  But the thing is I'm not just whistling in the dark with some set of ideas no one has come up with before.  I'm not the first guitarist composer, by far, to have proposed correspondences and potential fusions between Baroque and jazz compositional idioms.
Dusan Bogdanovic made this point years ago. You can go read his case here.
Now I could roll out quotes from early music specialists like the late Bruce Haynes and others but I've been writing a lot as it is.  Summarily, music historians who have taken deep dives into early music practice and jazz have been finding correspondences that are exciting to discover.  I realize plenty of music teachers and composers with commitments to specific genres disagree.  I say they're wrong just like they say I would be wrong.  I would rather run with the idea we live in a neo-Baroque era in which a plethora of styles can be mastered, all of which have beauty and value, than to try to nail down the "true, beautiful and the good" to a canonized set of music.  It's not that I'm against canons in general or principle.  Presbyterians tend to be favorable to canons, at the risk of a bad joke.   But as I've also been writing over the last few years, I don't subscribe to a art-religion canon.  Beethoven's Ninth is not the be-all and end-all of music that expresses the greatest hopes, fears and joys of being alive.  That's different for different people.  I've also been saying that I believe that popular and "classical" styles have balkanized too much on account of the journalists and editorialists and partisans who want to keep their styles segregated and sacred.  
Perhaps precisely because guitarists and guitar music have been so peripheral to academic musicology and music debates we who play the instrument have an advantage.  We don't have to be bothered that Liszt is in the piano canon.  He's a bit long-winded for my taste but I have come to admire his B minor piano sonata.  His approach to thematic transformation across large-scale forms has definitely inspired me to try some things out, just like I've been intrigued by Charles Ives' sonatas for violin and piano and by Burkholder's work on Ives' use of cumulative form.  Ives, too, had a relationship to genre that was not quite so picky as some advocates of high art like the first author I quoted tend to endorse.  
People don't have to make a "false claim" that they relate to popular songs more readily in our time and place than they relate to music written a century ago.  Even someone like Fux (that Fux) could advise pupils to not cling too strongly to styles of music that were going out of style or were already out of style (i.e. forty or even ten years prior) because if you wanted to make a living as a musician you'd best keep up with the at times fickle fashions of your patronage base.  Does that mean I am going to go out and write hip hop?  Well ... no ... but I'm not categorically against contemporary hip hop or R&B, either.  A friend of mine did a spoken word rap narrative to commemorate his fortieth birthday and the decades he's been married and the struggles he and his wife and kids have gone through together.  Though anyone who's read ten posts at this blog will realize I lean classical guitar music from central and eastern Europe, string music, and some early blues, I heard the rap and found it touching.  The friend rapped in a way where he established a flow, as he put it, and he rapped the story of his life with his wife and family in a way I found artful.  
It's possible to come to new appreciations of what music can express not only feeling but also thoughts because in reality thoughts and feelings are always combined in music.  I can grasp how advocates of music from the long 19th century want the symphony and the piano sonata and the salon music traditions to still somehow be the pinnacle of art. But the champions and advocates of ars perfecta wouldn't have imagined that inside of six or seven generations music would have the old style but as something taken up alongside newer ways of writing music. Is an opera aria a less "true" or "profound" expression of emotion compared to a Mass setting by Palestrina?  It's only thanks to the retrospective perspective of musical canons that partisans of classical music speak of the last thousand years of musical art in Western cultures as if it were full of one long continuous long-line melody rather than a series of revolutionary shifts in how people thought about tuning systems, organization of pitch in vertical and horizontal terms, or introduced ways of playing with rhythm from all sorts of cultures.  
Getting back to the first author's polemic, the ballet of Rite of Spring was most likely what caused the scandal, more so than the music. That Bach wrote remarkable sacred choral music is, to me, beyond dispute, but that he made prodigious use of parody as a technique and employed works that were originally more "secular" in origin and use in some of his later sacred works is also pretty hard to dispute.  Even within the work of an acknowledged master like Sebastian Bach the boundaries between "high" and "low" and "art" and "pop" were more permeable than guys at conservative websites soap boxing about the lack of sophistication of the emotional content of popular song these days ever seem likely to grant.
We've gone through an era in which those who bridled at conventions in classical music sought to dismantle the old conventions and to establish new ones.  Reactionary sorts tend to double down on the necessity of the conventions and may talk about the "living tradition" and how these traditions are good.  Yes, they are, but just as we're not all improvising in the idiom of 10th century plainchant or vocal music we're probably not going to be singing Mozart, either.  What people who argue for "living tradition" can too often seem to really mean is that "living tradition" means doing things the way they do. This can take the form of classicists who want the canon, whether the canon is Beethoven or Bob Seeger pining for "old time rock and roll".

Sometimes the spirit of what was achieved in the past needs to be translated a bit.  I think it is easier for fans of 18th century music to look to our present day and find points of correspondence with popular styles.  Bogdanovic has clearly reached a similar conclusion and it's not a coincidence that I admire a lot of his music.  
What we guitarists may have been able to do is to recognize that the genre boundaries are not hard and fast because we guitarists have been more or less left out of canonic narratives of Western musical art.  Instead of seeing that as a problem to be addressed perhaps we guitarists can see it as an advantage.  If we're not in the "canon" then we don't have to feel tethered to any one of the canons that get taught and can make use of them as we please.  If the pianist has learned the canonic piano works guitarists, whether in jazz or even classical, may have more of an opportunity to learn in a ... learn by doing approach.  Maybe when I get done reading more on galant and partimento practices I'll have more to add here but it's fascinating to see that the more work gets done in what's called "early music" the more it seems that "Baroque" and "galant" practices, for want of a clearer set of terms late on a Saturday night, blend more readily with popular music.  I'm finding in my online interactions that fans of 18th century and 17th century music seem more open to the possibility that popular idioms can blend with what they do than advocates of 19th and 20th century art music do.  
That's .. probably enough writing for this weekend.  

Thursday, March 21, 2019

know what day it is? A day to post some J. S. Bach music videos ...

Since J. S. Bach and Haydn are my two favorite composers, if I have to pick just two, I couldn't let today go by without posting something about Bach.

Violin Sonata No. 3 in C major, performed by Hilary Hahn

The collosal fugue for solo violin starts at 4:54.  Part of what makes the fugue so fun is that the subject, if memory serves, enters five times before the episodes begin and then there's that second exposition of the fugue, based on an inversion of the subject (11:30) before the fugue barrels along to its conclusion. 

how about a video of the Musical Offering with a read-along score?

and let's throw in the prelude and fugue in C sharp minor from book 1 of the Well Tempered Clavier while we're at it.

apropos of music I'm reading a treatise by Martin Lawrence Vishnick called "A Survey of Extended Techniques on the Classical Six-String Guitar with Appended Studies in New Morphological Notation".  I might have to write something about that when I finish reading it.  So far it's a fairly breezy and interesting read (at least that's how I feel about it, I can't vouch that others will feel the same way). 

If I felt more inspired I'd blog about Daniel Melamed's monograph on Bach's Mass and his Christmas Oratorio and particularly on how both gigantic works relied heavily on parody technique.  But ... I don't feel that inspired to blog about that today, I'm afraid.  But it will be a fun topic to blog about at some other point and the Melamed monograph is worth picking up for the light he sheds on just what a colossal amount of material Bach was able and willing to recycle in two of his most famous choral works.  A preview thumbnail version of Melamed's thesis about the Mass in B minor is that Bach was making a point of juxtaposing old and new styles and techniques to demonstrate the possibility of  a catholic fusion of the disparate styles and practices available in his time and place.  What we can hear retrospectively as a single unified style is unified because Bach was that good, for one thing, but for another thing, Bach had spent a lifetime developing the technique and inspiration to juxtapose old and new styles and old and new techniques within a giant Mass that allows us to hear as a whole a range of styles that, according to Melamed, would not have been full of extra-musical musical associations based on the conventions of that musical culture.  Transposing love duets into the Mass, for instance, is something we could eventually discuss.  Or the ways in which Bach took the old style contrapuntal choral writing and, so to speak, dropped it in the middle of more contemporary operatic works. 

But I only have enough energy and will-power to post one blog post about Bach today, I think. 

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

another semi-incubation phase

There's a couple of IRL projects going on to do with music.  There's an incubating project to discuss governance in the history of a certain former corporation ... seeing as a certain former megachurch preacher from these parts hosted a church governance conference last month.

And ... because this has shifted in a lot of ways to being a blog about music and  musicology there's a couple of books I want to review/discuss and a couple of cycles of guitar sonatas I want to eventually blog about and ...

yes, it's been a while since I've blogged through any more of the preludes and fugues for solo guitar by Nikita Koshkin.

But April is the cruelest month and all so some things may take a while to develop to the point where they can get blogged about here. 

A fancy, and possibly a passing fancy at that, is a music theory blog about what chord forms are and why they matter in open chord scordatura for guitarists.  Guitarists, I'm afraid, tend to be pretty week on chord theory in many cases and have too cavalier an attitude about the predicted superfluity of chord theory.  Sure, if you never, ever use altered tunings then the theory is less immediately useful but the moment you shift into open chord tunings and do any slide work you'll find yourself consigned to playing the same two or three variants of the same old riffs if you don't grasp what your limitations are as well as your options. 

The other small-scale rant I have, as a guitarist and a composer, is that it seems a lot of the dumber cliches about blues not "following the rules" can seem like they were coined by keyboard players following 18th century parameters as mediated by 19th and early 20th century pedagogy.  You can hear that John Lee Hooker shifts into subdominant harmonies in a song like "Ezekiel Saw the Wheel" but since in open chord tunings the lowermost bass notes on the strings won't change because he's using an open chord tuning then the subdominant harmonies are going to skate past inattentive listeners who are so busy listening for root movements to show themselves in the lower register that they may actually think that there are no implicit and explicit harmonic changes when there are. 

I also sometimes think it might be fun to write some kind of practical primer on contrapuntal writing for solo guitar.  It's not like there aren't already book-length treatments on that topic.  I haven't picked up the Bogdanovic book on that subject, alas, because it's not exactly a cheap book!