Monday, December 14, 2009

Baroque Journal: Dieterich Buxtehude – Praeludium in E Major

Dieterich Buxtehude – Praeludium in E Major

Studying Dieterich Buxtehude’s Praeludium in E Major was an interesting ordeal because of my lack of interest in the organ. Though hard to admit, there is something about the way it sounds that just irks and scares me. My lack of understanding of organ music and how the organ is played could be the reason for my fear.

In addition to being a popular composer of organ music, Dieterich Buxtehude (ca.1637-1707) was known for his virtuosic playing as an organist. As a child, Buxtehude grew up being surrounded by the organ, as his father was an accomplished organist, and it is thought that Dieterich was taught by him. Dieterich Buxtehude began playing organ in a local German church, before he was granted the organist position of the St. Mary’s church in 1657; the same position held by his father, which he held for thirty-five years. Buxtehude was known not only for his playing, but also for his virtuosic writings of both the hands and the pedals of the organ.

Buxtehude’s Praeludium in E Major is an organ prelude in the style of a toccata, which is a virtuosic display at the keyboard and the pedals. “Filled with motion and climaxes, the toccatas display a great variety of figuration and take full advantage of the organ’s idiomatic qualities.”[1] An example of the organ’s idiomatic qualities is the extensive pedal work. This toccata style presents a series of alternating free and fugal sections, which display diversity in the piece, but he creates a sense of continuity from one section to the next by unifying the piece by staying in the key of E major.

The free sections in the Praeludium in E Major replicate an improvisatory feel due to the repeated and spontaneous changes in the rhythm, melodic direction, harmony, phrasing, and texture. An example of this can be seen in measure fifty-one, by changing the melody from being in the hands to being isolated in the pedal part, which defies than the figured bass that is normally found in the pedals of his contemporaries. In this measure the pedal part is isolated with a virtuosic line including a long trill, but within the next measure, the pedal part sustains a tone, while both hands rupture with a rapid passage of unpredictable changes in speed and direction. Praeludium in E Major contains five of these free sections. Four fugal sections follow each of these sections, which are notated by a change in meter or tempo. The fugue subject, as seen in measure thirteen, is imitated in all four voices. Buxtehude typically puts the entrances beginning in the soprano line, followed by the alto and tenor lines, and ending with the bass line. These series of entrances are known as the exposition. The second entrance, or the answer, follows the exposition usually altered to fit the key. The four voices constantly alternate between the subject and the answer. If the subject begins on the tonic, the answer will always begin on the dominant and vice-versa.

After listening to Praeludium in E Major for the first time, I had my usual reaction to organ music. After researching more about Buxtehude and his virtuosic performances and written compositions, I slowly began to appreciate more of what the organ had to offer. The technical aspects of this piece are amazing, and are truly exemplified in the pedal work. I was completely oblivious to what organists are capable of. This piece has opened up my perspective and helped me to appreciate the complexities of organ music.

[1] Donald Jay Grout, A History of Western Music (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2006), 407.

Baroque Journal Response to Brett's St. Matthew's Passion

Listening Response to Brett’s St. Matthew's Passion by Johann Sebastian Bach

When thinking back to the Baroque period, the first name that many people associate with is Johann Sebastian Bach. He has been an influence to many of the composers we know today. St. Matthew’s Passions is one of Bach’s most famous compositions, and this inspiring piece continues to be known as one of the greatest sacred works of its time. After reading Brett Terry’s paper on the St. Matthew’s Passion, I wanted to continue to understand this monumental piece. Brett’s fluid writing and attention-grabbing facts that describes the works allow the listener a vivid picture of the composition.

Brett opens his paper by telling us the story behind the piece of how St. Matthew described the “gruesome story of the last days of the life of Christ.” Bach helps his listeners visualize the story of Christ told in the eyes of St. Matthew. Bach scored the composition for two orchestras, two organs, two choirs, and a few soloists. It would be a monumental feat to perform this work as it was originally scored. and because of this I would love to see a live performance of this. According to Brett, after Bach’s death, this piece was not performed “until Felix Mendelssohn mounted a well-received performance in Berlin.” Not knowing a lot about when Bach was rediscovered, I questioned if the Felix Mendelssohn performance was the sole reason Bach was founded as one of the greatest composers of the Baroque period. If this is true, I would love to read more about how Felix Mendelssohn brought the attention of many to that of the great Johann Sebastian Bach.

Further into Brett’s paper, he goes on to talk about the soloists and their individuality behind the arias they sang within the St. Matthew's Passion. Each soloist is portrayed throughout the piece according to what each soloist sings. Brett continues to discuss the interplay between the soloist and the instruments of the orchestra. Personally I would talk more about the harmonies used between the instruments and the voice parts that create the dramatic effects of the passion. Brett mentions how “Bach uses some dissonant chords at times to paint the text musically.” He makes a good transfer into his next paragraph to further discuss how Bach uses text painting to portray the words to his audience.

Great details continue to fill the paper, as Brett elaborates the text behind the St. Matthew's Passion. I enjoyed how Brett did not just focus his attention on the text of St. Matthew's Passion, but the chorus as well. Every section plays a significant role in the importance of this piece. Although Brett discusses how the chorus fits into the piece extremely well, it is important to discuss all sides of the piece. As an instrumentalist, I am always interested in the interaction of the orchestra with other sections of the piece.

St. Matthew's Passion is an enormous work of over two hours in length. Brett does an amazing job of capturing a brief overview of this entire work. Although, a two-page overview does not do this incredible work justice, I was very impressed with Brett’s words to describe this fabulous piece. He continues to spark my interest in Bach’s St. Matthew's Passion. Before reading Brett’s review I thought this piece was incredible. After reading Brett’s words, I wanted to learn more about the piece and its interaction of text and music. This phenomenal piece will continue to inspire the composers of the future, and with the help of people like Brett Terry, many others will understand the importance of Bach’s St. Matthew's Passion.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Renaissance Journal: Josquin de Prez: Ave Maria…virgo serena

Lindsay Lozito

351 WI

Dr. Granade

October 22, 2009

Josquin de Prez: Ave Maria…virgo serena

Widely admired, Josquin de Prez is one of the greatest Renaissance composers. He composed a significant amount of sacred and secular music and caught the eye of Ottaviano Petrucci, the first printer of polyphonic music. Petrucci eventually published three significant books of Josquin’s masses, just a taste of the composer's major works which included masses, chansons, and motets. His style of music was all about the clarity of text. Josquin’s works became popular during the Renaissance Era and were widely sung even after his death. One of those pieces is the Ave Maria…virgo serena, which is one example of how he emphasizes his expression of the poetic text.

Josquin’s over fifty motets carry on the traits of the late fifteenth century style, especially in the clarity of the text. His popular, four-voice Ave Maria…virgo serena (c. 1485) demonstrates Josquin’s interest in clear delineation of the text, as he wrote the piece so the music would fit the form of the words. The opening section begins with clear imitation of each phrase from the highest voice to the lowest voice. This imitation scheme continues throughout the movement, showing the variety and expressivity of the words as each musical subject that is imitated represents Angels hailing Mary. As the piece continues to the first poetic line, the imitation changes. Instead of each voice imitating the opening phrase, the imitation alternates between two voices. For example in measure twenty-seven, the soprano voice initiates the musical phrase, which is imitated by the alto voice. Three measures later, the tenor voice initiates the musical phrase and is then imitated by the bass voice. This alternation continues as the rhythmic activity increases during the drive to the cadence. At the beginning of the first poetic line, the imitation changes to four-voice homophony. Throughout the remainder of the line, Josquin staggers the rhythm between the four voices to represent “heavenly and earthly” voices. He continuously varies the texture for the rest of the piece including meter shifts from duple to triple meter at two separate points. This provides some contrast within the piece. At the end of the Ave Maria…virgo serena, Josquin creates an expressive moment by slowing the tempo down and changing the texture. The singers are in rhythmic unison with simple harmonies to portray the text “O Mother of God, remember me. Amen.”

It is interesting listening to the piece both before and after you have studied it thoroughly. The first time you listen to it, you are just beginning to touch on the meaning of the piece. You can hear certain characteristics that are particular to the piece such as more emphasis on the words, but still cannot hear everything. After studying and analyzing the piece in depth, you are able to understand and appreciate more about what was written. While listening to the piece, I was intrigued by the layering of the voices through imitations. The voices simply sit on top of one another in a gentle, delicate sounding way. I appreciated the gracefulness along with the simple rhythms that increased the text’s clarity throughout the piece. As the music changes from the building of voices to four-voice homophony you can hear the voices interacting together, creating rich, full textures. As the first homophonic section comes to an end, the voices slowly start to unwind back into imitation. As much as I enjoyed hearing the intertwining voices transition to each section, my favorite part of the piece was the ending. The build up to this moment was incredible. What grabbed my attention was not the fact that it gradually got slower than the rest of the piece, but that it suddenly was slower. I could actually visualize a symphony of angels hailing Mary and am able to grasp a deeper meaning of the text “O Mother of God, remember me. Amen.”

Renaissance Journal Response to Vince’s Hilliard Ensemble: Motets et Chansons

Lindsay Lozito

351 WI

Dr. Granade

November 3, 2009

Journal Response to Vince’s Hilliard Ensemble: Motets et Chansons

Josquin Des Perz is one of the most prolific composers of the Renaissance period. His works inspired many people and are well known internationally because of the printed books containing many of his popular pieces. I thought it would be interesting to compare my thoughts about Josquin’s Ave Maria…virgo serena to that of Vince’s since we chose the same composer. I agree with Vince that the publication about Josquin’s works was a huge honor. He was one of the first composers to have his works printed by Ottaviano Petrucci. Because Josquin’s works were so popular, there was a high demand for them. These works were, as Vince mentions, performed widely throughout the Renaissance and still are to this day.

One of my favorite aspects of Josquin’s writing is the clarity of his text. The text is quite evident in the piece that I studied, Ave Maria…virgo serena and it is also clear in both the pieces Vince studied, the Ave Maria, Gratia Plena and El Grillo. As in the Ave Maria…virgo serena, Josquin continues to use imitation to add character in the Ave Maria, Gratia Plena. Josquin builds from one voice to four voices creating unique harmonies. This is another aspect of Josquin’s writing I thoroughly enjoy. I agree with Vince that Josquin’s use of imitation is very effective in emphasizing the written text, but is careful not to overdo this technique. By emphasizing the writing text through imitation, he creates seamless polyphony that creates fluid vocal movement from resulting harmonies as Vince states in his journal.

In my opinion, Josquin composes his music to sound simple and easy on the ears. What is happening musically helps define the text making it easy to understand. I really enjoyed listening to Josquin’s El Grillo. This frottola’s homophonic rhythms and syllabic text make this piece fun to listen to. After reading Vince’s description of the piece, you could hear the characteristics that he pointed out, such as the “springy nature of the cricket” and the imitation of a cricket’s chirps. This piece is enjoyable and lively to listen to. I tend to agree with Vince, that out of Josquin’s works, El Grillo seems out of place because of the characteristics of the piece. While most of Josquin’s works are serious, containing intricate harmonic structures, El Grillo is light and humorous. This depicts Josquin’s flexible capabilities in musical compositions.

Vince did a great job in explaining Josquin’s works and how the style of each piece contains it’s own unique characteristic. The descriptions of the Ave Maria, Gratia Plena and El Grillo intrigued me into learning more about these pieces. Having studied one of Josquin’s works, I was interested to read more about his other works Vince referred to in his music journal. Vince did an excellent job in describing the imitation style of the Ave Maria, Gratia Plena. This captured my attention just as it did in the Ave Maria…virgo serena. I love how Josquin interplays all the voices in such a fascinating way that draws the listener in. I would have enjoyed reading more about Vince’s opinion about the works. He mentions little about what he thought. I believe he could have elaborated more. Overall, Vince did a great job of analyzing the details of both pieces.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Medieval Journal Response to Brett’s: Cantigas de Santa Maria

Lindsay Lozito

351 WI

Dr. Granade

September 24, 2009

Journal Response to Brett’s: Cantigas de Santa Maria

Many people, including myself, have had false perceptions of the medieval period. We are quick to jump to conclusions on how music of the medieval period might be boring and pointless, but what we forget to remember is that music today is derived from music of the past, including the medieval period. From music, we are able to capture certain emotions in hopes of portraying that emotion to our audience. Medieval music has did this. I was very intrigued after reading through Brett’s journal about the Cantigas de Santa Maria. At the beginning of his journal he describes the piece as he understands it, but also points out some parallel relations to Puccini in the romantic period. Brett mentions how similar the two styles are with the parallel motion between the voices and the instruments. I thought Brett could have expanded more on the ideas of how both the Cantigas de Santa Maria and Puccini’s style of the romantic era are similar and how they are different. This just goes to show how music we know and enjoy, such as Puccini’s works, can relate to the medieval time period.

After reading through Brett’s journal of the Cantigas de Santa Maria, I became fascinated when listening to the work. Not being very knowledgeable about the piece, I was able to understand the meaning of the piece. Brett gave a clear description of each section of the piece, including different instruments used in the piece, and how it related to the actual text. It is especially apparent that Brett understands the terminology of the medieval time in how he tells us where we can find the certain style or idea in the music. Along with supplying good descriptions of the terminology, he uses the names of specific movements in the piece to show exactly how each term is applied in the music.

I was pleased to see Brett point out how the music is exceedingly interpretive and how the text is used to guide a particular emotion. This helps us to relate the music we play today with how it was developed. As much as I was fascinated by Brett’s descriptions of the entire piece and its movements, I was disappointed not to see more of Brett’s opinion about the piece. At the beginning of his journal, Brett states that he had heard much about the Cantigas de Santa Maria in the past, and was excited to delve into the piece to help him better understand the contents of the piece. It is great the he found out more information about the piece in its entirety, but I am curious to know his opinion of the piece after the extensive research he did.

Overall Brett did a fantastic job with his journal entry. His fluidity of writing made it easy to follow and understand exactly what is happening in the piece. The description of each movement aided me when listening to the piece, because it helped me to recognize most of the subjects Brett discussed in his journal entry. I especially enjoyed how Brett took the time to discuss all the instruments found in the piece and describe exactly where each instrument comes into play. Furthermore, he discusses the interplay between the instruments and the voice part. Brett has great organizational skills and a flowing paper, which helped make his journal more appealing to read. Brett is correct in saying that if only people would take the time to learn about medieval music, they would recognize the similarities in what we hear in today’s music. Our past helps shape our future in all aspects of life, especially music.

Medieval Journal: Guillaume De Machaut: Messe de Nostre Dame

Lindsay Lozito

351 WI

Dr. Granade

September 15, 2009

Guillaume De Machaut: Messe de Nostre Dame

Guillaume de Machaut, one of the leading composers of the fourteenth century[1], composed his greatest and most unique pieces, Messe De Nostre Dame in the early 1360s. The Messe De Nostre Dame, meaning Mass of Our Lady, contains six items from the Mass Ordinary - the Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, Agnus Dei, and Ite Missa Est - and was one of the first polyphonic masses written as a single unit. [2] Before Machaut wrote the work in the fourteenth century, chants from the Mass Ordinary usually were not set polyphonically; polyphonic writing was reserved for the Proper. Machaut, however, built his mass on the text of the Mass Ordinary and treated the six movements as one, linking the movements together by similar styles, reoccurring motives, and keeping a tonal focus. The combined movements in Machaut’s mass are longer than any other mass in the fourteenth century.

Messe De Nostre Dame was composed for four voices consisting of a duplum and triplum written above the tenor voice and a contratenor, which is most often in the same range as the tenor.[3] Occasionally the contratenor will be written above or below the tenor line. According to the manuscript of the piece, it is assumed that soloists would have been the singers for the Messe De Nostre Dame. There is some controversy of whether or not instruments were a part of Machaut’s original composition of the Messe de Nostre Dame. Evidence proves that only unaccompanied voices appear in the original composition, although during the fourteenth century instruments were often used during Mass and special occasions. [4]

The Messe de Nostre Dame presents three wide-ranging styles throughout the piece. The three styles consist of a motet style, related to the isorhythmic motet Machaut wrote; a discant style, where the lower voices support the moving upper voices; and simultaneous style, in which all voices move in near or strict homophony. [5] Examples of the simultaneous style and the discant style can be found in the Gloria and the Credo of the Messe De Nostre Dame. You can see how the rhythms are almost identical in all four voices. Occasionally you will see the bottom voices sustaining notes, while the top voice sings a more decorative part. The motet style makes up the Kyrie, Sanctus, Agnus Dei and Ite Missa Est of the mass. When listening to the record of the Messe De Nostre Dame, you can also hear examples of florid organum, where the lower voices support the “florid” upper voices. With the discant style all the voices move at the same pace with only a couple of notes for each note of the lower voices. The florid organum is similar to the discant style; only there are multiple notes in the upper voices for every one note of the lower voices. With florid organum, the words and the direction of the piece seem to lose their meaning, but the way Machaut composed the intricate rhythms and wide-ranging harmonies helps draw the listener in making the piece more appealing.

While listening to the Messe de Nostre Dame, you can hear examples of both discant and florid organum. Normally I tend to lose interest with the florid organum style because the meaning of the word is lost and sometimes the direction of the piece. With Messe de Nostre Dame, I was surprised to find myself intrigued by the work. Though the piece contains a majority of the florid organum style, Machaut made the piece more fascinating by use of rhythmic variations and the assorted harmonies within the four voices. The sections that grabbed my attention overall were the syncopation rhythms found throughout the piece. When those syncopation sections arose in the music, I felt the presence of another culture or style change. Thinking about medieval music, long melismic chants come to mind, but the Messe de Nostre Dame changed my perception. I used to assume that all medieval music was unexciting and monotonous, but this piece has changed my opinion. Messe de Nostre Dame has helped expand my knowledge of the depths of medieval music.

[1] Donald Jay Grout, A History of Western Music (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2006), 126.

[2] Ibid., 126

[3] Grout, 128

[4] Daniel Leech Wilkinson, Machaut's Mass: An Introduction (New York: Oxford, 1990), 114-115.

[5] Wilkinson, 16