Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Lesson 6: Baroque, as well as an explanation of tuning systems.

Hey everyone.  I want to start off by apologizing for the lack of update recently.  I'm trying to keep somewhat regular with this and trying to clip along at a reasonable pace since unless something goes horribly wrong, I'm going to be unable to really have any contact with the outside world starting mid-May for like 8 months, and I'd like to give at least a pretty good outline before then even if I don't get to the more advanced stuff before then.  I have a studio recital later today and I was playing for a bunch of Juries and had some concerts, which were keeping me pretty busy, plus I've got a pretty big audition coming up in a few weeks, and I'm recording an album next week, so all together I just didn't have time to update.

Also, I'd like to apologize in advance for a probable lack of updates in the next 2 weeks and possibly the next month or so.  I'll be out of town starting this Friday and that'll possibly extend straight through to January, and then I'm not entirely sure exactly how much but I'll have a very limited time to practice for my audition again so will probably be locked in a room with a piano for most of the day.

Ok, so we're ending the renaissance period today and moving towards the music that most people start knowing, and that probably sounds a lot closer to stuff you've heard of now.  The biggest difference into the Baroque period is the rise of functional tonality instead of relying on modes.  Also, in the mid-late Baroque we get the "rules" of counterpoint, which are essentially guidelines for writing parts in a way that doesn't suck.  We'll cover counterpoint when we're done with history.

This is also a period that I have much less familiarity with than the early music, and it'll probably show.  Also, as a brief note, while most of this is coming from my head, I'm fact checking with Norton Anthology of Western Music, and wiki for some specific subjects.  While earlier music I knew more about personally, with Baroque and on I'm leaning a lot more on my sources.  I'm obviously rewording like, everything to make it less stuffy and boring, also since it'd be super lame and pointless to have this blog if I was just plagiarizing everything.  And illegal, but I did want to cite that my biggest sources are the Norton Anthology and Wiki.

I'm kicking myself a little because one thing I meant to mention before was formes fixes.  Luckily for me, it doesn't really matter too much until now, so I might as well talk about it now.  Formes fixes was a form of poetry for songs, originating in France in about the 14th century.  So we're stepping back a century or two from where we ended last update, but basically there were three formes fixes: The ballade, rondeau, and virelai.  Basically, this was used for songs around the post-Notre Dame School, or ars nova period.  And they were specific in the form of the way the poem was put together.  Essentially they were like tablets.  Fill in the words in the right places and you have a song.

Ok, now that that's out of the way, let's jump back forwards to 1600 or so.  We often place the beginning of the Baroque period around 1650, where Purcell and Scarlatti start entering the ring, and often times this period of 50-100 years right before the Baroque starts all proper like is referred to as the "bridge period", since it's really pretty obvious that music kind of morphs from what is clearly Renaissance to what is clearly Baroque.
The Baroque period's beginnings are often cited as a council of Florence meeting, where they discussed arts, among other things.  They specifically looked back at the Grecian texts for inspiration, deciding to resurrect the musical drama, where text reigned supreme.  You may have noticed that in the renaissance stuff, sometimes text was impossible to understand, because there was so much going on over itself and words were so elongated that it took an hour or to to get to the second goddamn syllable.  The wiki article on Baroque music even says that this is the "conventional dividing line" for the Baroque period, but I take a bit of issue with that.  While it was a designed meeting that set specific ideas down, since there was still a pretty damn big delay in communication ability, and since if you do things like listen to the late 16th century stuff, you still find many things that the Baroque period had.  Either way, it's a nice dividing line if you're looking for one, just keep in mind that it wasn't all prim and proper with one style suddenly no longer happening and another taking over immediately.

What we're going to see over this period of time is a movement towards more structure in music, and the emergence of what today is a refrain in art music.  Madrigals, which we looked at, often had a repeating chorus and sort of song structure approximating todays song structures, except again, those were for a bunch of people to get together and sing for fun and to be all dirty and talk about sex.  Since the Ars Antiqua stuff started using secular music though, the secular and sacred parts of music sort of started to come a little closer together.  In the Baroque period, we have an emergence of much more commonplace concert music.  A lot of this is due to economic sorts of factors, with the Age of absolutism roughly overlapping.  We had rich, powerful people who wanted entertainment, and could now hire musicians to write an opera for them on the holophoner.  In fact, my first example of bridge period music is from Claudio Monteverdi, at the beginning of the 17th century, and was one of the first Operas.

So we hear that returning refrain in the orchestra between verses... it's quite a change compared to the flow-y, melt-y lines of the renaissance... it's a lot closer to standard song forms today.
We also see the arrival of Opera.  As I mentioned, Music was always linked to drama in some way, such as the early greek texts that note that their works of drama would have musicians, to heighten the emotion, as music can do.  The modes often are associated with different feelings that they evoke as well.  Opera was pretty much an advancement of this, melding the two.  In opera, we see basically two types of song.  First, we have the recitative, often shortened to recit.  This is the exposition song style.  Often there are a bunch of words over a chord, maybe on one note.  It's the equivalent of speech, pretty much.  Just sung.  The aria, on the other hand is the long florid song.  It's really the fuller song, and most people think of the aria when they're thinking of any specific work from any song.

We also see multi-movement works coming on scene more.  Similar to masses, but as concert/public music and not just sacred music.  Rather than list and talk about each style here, I'm going to link to wiki, which has a list of the parts of the suite as well as a few other style listings.  I'll talk about some of the more important ones in terms of theory and specific style.

First I want to talk about something called "Basso continuo".  Basso continuo was a type of figured bass, sort of an early way to give a bass note and a chord over it without writing all of the notes out.  The continuo was semi-improvised, and even the group of instruments playing it wasn't specified most of the time.  Think today if you went to a rock concert and instead of playing guitar, bass, keyboard, and drums instead they decided to pull out violins and brass and play the songs on those instead.  And that was completely normal and par for the course.  In terms of the notation, it was pretty similar to the way a jazz chart is written now, mixed with theory analysis of today.

We also see using "Ground bass", which is essentially a bass ostinato.  For those of you who don't know, an ostinato is a constant, repeated figure over changing music.  So ground bass is a bass ostinato... it's a bass line as we think of it today, essentially.  I'm skipping a few years for this example, and I'll go back to cover temperment and general style, but this is the example that is used in every theory class for Ground bass:

skip to about 0:45 ish to get to the end of the recit and into the aria, and you'll hear that descending chromatic bass line, which then repeats like a billion times while the aria is going on.

What we hear here too is a movement towards vertical thinking.  While lines in the renaissance tradition would construct what could be analyzed as chords today when they were overlapping, the thinking was all about the horizontal nature of the lines on the page.  The idea of "vertical" and "horizontal" here makes a lot of sense if you look at a multi-part score... the vertical nature is how the parts interact with each other, the horizontal aspect is how a single line behaves in time.

While this was going on we also find that now music is taught as a specific art.  Pedagogy emerges, things are structured, and there are now musicians instead of either people getting together to sing, or monks singing.  This means two things basically.  First, all of a sudden we have musicians that are musicians all the time.  People can now devote pretty much their entire lives to composition, performance, and study of music.  And the second thing, which grows off the first, is that musicians in general are a lot better at their jobs.  Now, what this means is that with the emergence of more ability, we have an emergence of showing off that ability, which is why we have the Baroque style emerging.  And what is the Baroque style?  Simple:

Baroque music is technical, virtuosic, and structured.  Baroque music is very much show-off music.  Baroque music uses heavy ornamentation and is very flowery sounding.  It's also very technical about it.  In many examples of Baroque music, you're basically just talking about playing chords.  But fast.  This makes Baroque music super-awesome for teaching.  There's a reason a lot of kids learning instruments learn Baroque music, because it was either about teaching good technique, or showing off that the performer had good technique.  Also, it's important to keep in mind here that pedagogy has improved over the past few centuries.  While today 12-year-olds can play Bach pieces, back then this was the height of performance ability.  There's a story with I believe Aaron Copeland, who was getting a piece of his performed by a modern orchestra, and the violinist played a certain lick he had written as written, and he said that it was all wrong, because even in the short time of a single composers lifetime, when he wrote the piece, violinists couldn't play that lick together and correctly, so the end result was a lot mushier than what was played with the more modern orchestra.  Consider with that sort of improvement over a relatively short period of time, how difficult this music must have been at the time.

Anyways, let's listen to some good examples that show off... well, showing off.

Oh my, that last one.
You may notice the last piece is from "The Well-tempered Clavier"  Allright, so other than an awesome band name, what does "Well-tempered" mean?  For this, we unfortunately have to use math.  I know, I'm as angry as you are.  Math?!  in Music?!

NOTE: My attempted "simple" explanation of tuning and temperament ended up being... well, super awesomely long and full of really boring math shit, so I'm going to post it separately, and just summarize here. 

 Essentially, before the mid-Baroque, we were using tuning systems that gave "Wolf intervals", which were wildly out of tune, and certain intervals just didn't sound right, because of some math stuff.  Also, we would be tuned to a specific key, and moving around to other keys required retuning any fixed-pitch instrument like a harpsichord, or, much harder to retune, an organ.  In the mid-Baroque a system of tuning started to arise called "Well-Temperament", which was a great advancement that allowed every key to be played(though some still sounded a touch off)

This was what Bach was using in that last example, he was so excited that he could do shit in every key that he wrote a suite, Das Wohltemperierte Klavier, or The Well-tempered Clavier, which contains a piece in every one of the 24 major and minor keys.  The original suite, what is now "book 1", was composed in 1722.  Later, in 1742, he wrote "24 preludes and fuges", which is basically the same idea, and is now considered "book 2" of the full Well-tempered Clavier.

A final style thing I want to talk about in the Baroque period is the "fugue", or "Fuga". The fugue is a texture of music that is the closest thing to the direct following of the tradition of prima practica Renaissance music.  Technically, I believe "fuga" comes from Latin related to both the terms "to chase" and "to flee".  Basically, in a fugue, a musical idea gets passed around parts and played with a bit.

The traditional fugue opens with the entire ensemble playing a single theme, and then a single voice starts playing that theme, which is referred to as the "subject".  Then, a second voice enters with the subject but transposed, often to the dominant.  Once the subject is restated, the first voice takes up counterpoint to it.  If the counterpoint is used later and is a constant companion to the subjects restatement, it is referred to as the "countersubject", otherwise, it's just called "free counterpoint".   Pretty simple, right?  Well, when this gets super-layered it can be pretty intense.  Bach is probably the most famous for these, but then again he's probably the most famous Baroque composer so.

This stuff sounds like this:

One final thing to mention, though I'll go into more detail after the history series, is counterpoint.  Bach measured statistics and wrote, in texts like "The art of fugue", "rules" for counterpoint, which is essentially the means to write moving voices.  This is another part of the structured nature of the music.

And that's all for Baroque styles and characteristics for now.  Next update will be Classical, though again, there might be a bit of a delay here since I'll be out of town for the next two weeks.

As always, any questions?  Feel free to leave a comment and I'll try to get back to you.

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