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Source: (consider it) Thread: Musical appreciation
Gee D
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But then you get the Art of Fugue, all technically perfect as the simple theme goes through all those variations but remaining a joy just to listen to.

Given the quantity of music Bach had to compose on a weekly basis, it's inevitable that he reworked a useful piece. Take the Christmas Oratorio where the final section commences with an incredibly florid theme and variations combined with the Passion Chorale.

[ 30. December 2016, 09:39: Message edited by: Gee D ]

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hatless

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quote:
Originally posted by la vie en rouge:
You also have to factor in that Mozart was a lazy sod, who is frequently doing only as much as he has in order to get paid.

Take Eine Kleine Nachtmusik. It’s a pleasant enough little thing, but it is most definitely wallpaper. There are repeats flippin’ everywhere. In the last movement (which I quite like, but still), you play the opening theme no less than half a dozen times. Our Wolfie has written five minutes’ worth of music and spun it out to make it last a quarter of an hour.

Mozart’s truly great works are the ones where he’s actually applying himself and making an effort – the late symphonies and the operas, for example.

I suppose the title of EKN says a lot about its worth and purpose. When you've heard it more than about four times it becomes very irritating.

We're mainly talking here about music written before recordings. Unless you played in an orchestra, you wouldn't expect to hear a Mozart Symphony more than once or twice in a life time, and then only if you were the sort of wealthy person who dressed in fine clothes and went to concerts.

Instrumental works were even more obscure, mostly intended to be played by musicians and instrumentalists for their own pleasure. Bach's Goldberg Variations were only published because he was sufficiently proud of them to pay for their publication - 100 copies, I think. He would probably be astonished to know that from the late 20thC you could sometimes hear them performed in a concert hall, or that someone might sit down and listen to a recording of the whole 75 minutes. He would hope that a tiny number of very able musicians might get a copy and now and then play through this and that variation and enjoy the skill in their composition. It was an essentially private achievement.

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Baptist Trainfan
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"It may be that when the angels go about their task praising God, they play only Bach. I am sure, however, that when they are together en famille they play Mozart". (Karl Barth).
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hatless

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Didn't Barth require one of his women to wake him up by playing Mozart on the gramophone?

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mdijon
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quote:
Originally posted by hatless:
He would hope that a tiny number of very able musicians might get a copy and now and then play through this and that variation and enjoy the skill in their composition. It was an essentially private achievement.

Something that amazes me is the trumpet part. The trumpets of Bach's time were less technologically advanced and, I imagine, a fair bit harder to play. Nevertheless the Brandenburg Concertos contain trumpet parts that, today, only a few professional musicians can tackle with any confidence. This is with the best instruments money can buy and the global pool of musicians to choose from. How Bach expected to find trumpeters in 18th C Liepzig to play them is beyond me.

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Baptist Trainfan
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Surely it wasn't a case of "How did he find them?" though. Presumably he wrote or arranged in accordance with the resources he knew he had available at the time.

So a Church cantata without a trumpet part may have been written (initially, at least) for a Sunday when the player was out-of-town.

Might one also suggest that performances in Bach's day may have been less than perfect? (A bit like our expectations of the Early Church!)

[ 30. December 2016, 12:56: Message edited by: Baptist Trainfan ]

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Curiosity killed ...

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Alison Balsom plays the traditional trumpet and there are recordings of her playing Bach on her latest album (I've seen her play Purcell)

(And there were people standing around the back of Kings College Cambridge listening to what could be heard during the Nine Lessons and Carols. To get in, people had to be in the queue by 8:30am.)

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hatless

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The Brandenburgs were definitely not private works. This was prestige music, and I guess the difficulty level would be part of the deal. Wikipedia tells me the trumpet part was intended for a noted soloist on something called the clarino.

Churches and cathedrals often had paid choirs. Think of that - a group of professional singers who had sung together for many years. There's nothing like that available today. Thomas Tallis's Spem in Alium is incredibly difficult, requiring forty independent singers in eight five-part mini-choirs, one of each eight being a high tenor. Performances are very rare today, and apparently the best sound is obtained by sitting inside the ring of 40 singers, so it's very exclusive.

I think there's evidence that today's instrumentalists are better, and there are tales of under-rehearsed and chaotic first performances, but choirs were probably better in Bach's day.

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Baptist Trainfan
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But how common were such choirs, outside big cities and cathedrals? I have no idea, but I suspect that the picture would have been very different for the majority of rural/small town worshippers, unless the local Count or Elector funded the church musicians.
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lilBuddha
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quote:
Originally posted by hatless:
Wikipedia tells me the trumpet part was intended for a noted soloist on something called the clarino.

And it tells me that a clarino might not even have existed.

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mdijon
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quote:
Originally posted by Curiosity killed ...:
Alison Balsom plays the traditional trumpet and there are recordings of her playing Bach on her latest album (I've seen her play Purcell)

Sure, there are a few who can pull it off. A few in the world. And there just happened to be one in Liepzig?

Granted it may be that lower standards were settled for, but to even get into the register to start to be able to play the Brandenburg is a pretty impressive feat.

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mdijon
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quote:
Originally posted by hatless:
Wikipedia tells me the trumpet part was intended for a noted soloist on something called the clarino.

quote:
Originally posted by lilBuddha:
And it tells me that a clarino might not even have existed.

I think the confusion is over the terms, but I think the consensus is that whatever a clarion was (and whether it was the same thing as a clarino) there was a "natural trumpet" with no valves in Bach's time a bit like this.

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Curiosity killed ...

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I meant Alison Balsom can play the trumpet as found in Bach's time and play Bach, Purcell and a range of other music on it. That trumpet has no valves: the traditional or baroque trumpet. She has recorded albums of Bach on a modern trumpet too.

But if I look there are others playing Bach on the baroque trumpet - Justin Bland, John Foster, lots more that I'm not going to irritate the hosts by linking - and playing on ancient instruments now is a specialised activity.

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Baptist Trainfan
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quote:
Originally posted by mdijon:
quote:
Originally posted by Curiosity killed ...:
Alison Balsom plays the traditional trumpet and there are recordings of her playing Bach on her latest album (I've seen her play Purcell)

Sure, there are a few who can pull it off. A few in the world. And there just happened to be one in Liepzig?
But the Brandenburg concerti predate Bach's move to Leipzig and may even have been written while he was still at Cothen. "A well-known online encyclopedia" suggests that the Margrave of Brandenburg wouldn't have had the musical resources available to perform them and that they may never have been played until after their rediscovery in 1849.
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mdijon
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quote:
Originally posted by Curiosity killed ...:
I meant Alison Balsom can play the trumpet as found in Bach's time and play Bach, Purcell and a range of other music on it. That trumpet has no valves: the traditional or baroque trumpet.

Yes, I got that. I realize there are a few people who can do it, I just think it is remarkable that out of the global pool there are relatively few of them compared with the likelihood that Bach would know a few people able to do this sort of thing.

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mdijon
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quote:
Originally posted by Baptist Trainfan:
But the Brandenburg concerti predate Bach's move to Leipzig and may even have been written while he was still at Cothen. "A well-known online encyclopedia" suggests that the Margrave of Brandenburg wouldn't have had the musical resources available to perform them and that they may never have been played until after their rediscovery in 1849.

OK. Well it seems even more odd to write a piece with a spectacularly difficult virtuoso part and not at least having an inkling that it would be playable. Some other trumpet parts he wrote are spectacularly difficult as well - like the Mass in B minor including the Quoniam part you mentioned earlier.

I wonder if, like hatless suggests for choirs, there was more opportunity for very intense practice by individuals and groups of individuals in a church setting where usually those people would have day jobs and not get into serious professional playing.

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Dal Segno

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quote:
Originally posted by Curiosity killed ...:
I meant Alison Balsom can play the trumpet as found in Bach's time and play Bach, Purcell and a range of other music on it. That trumpet has no valves: the traditional or baroque trumpet. She has recorded albums of Bach on a modern trumpet too.

But if I look there are others playing Bach on the baroque trumpet - Justin Bland, John Foster, lots more that I'm not going to irritate the hosts by linking - and playing on ancient instruments now is a specialised activity.

I've played on both modern trumpet and baroque trumpet. They are different experiences. The baroque trumpet took me a weekend to get used to but was enormous fun (I'd been given one week between being lent it and playing the third trumpet in the concert, alongside two much more experienced players taking the two high parts).

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Gee D
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That trumpet part in the second Brandenburg concerto really is something, isn't it. In fact the whole concerto is, IMNSHO. It's the summation of the northern Baroque.

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hatless

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It is something, indeed. The fact it's so hard to say what it is, is, I think, evidence that the something is something to do with the one who has a name.

I remember listening one morning, it might well have been another Saturday, to this Brandenburg Concerto and being so thrilled by it that all I could think of was to say that it had all been worth it; everything I had been through was justified by being able to enjoy this music. Sounds more like a brain defect than an argument, but it's typical of the superlatives the very best music pushes us towards. It's good, but it's something, too.

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Dafyd
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According to John Eliot Gardner's book, Bach spent a lot of time complaining about the way his musicians refused to practice. Though it may be that choirmasters are expected to complain about that as part of the job.

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orfeo

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quote:
Originally posted by Schroedinger's cat:
I think it raises some interesting questions. What is it that makes you go all chill over music. What stirs the emotions? And why - not about particular pieces, but about styles and feelings?

Quoting the original post, because frankly the thread seems to have wandered off into something else entirely.

Here's what I ended up writing in response to the survey: "I think often it has to do with setting up a musical pattern of some kind, and then breaking it at just the right moment/in just the right way. Some sort of small musical surprise that strikes me as beautiful."

I very much think of music in terms of structure and pattern, and a delicate balancing act between predictability and randomness. Too much predictability and I find music becomes boring and mindless for me. Not enough and I feel that it loses its cohesiveness.

I think there's also something very different about hearing a piece of music that you've not heard before. There's a capacity for a genuine, complete surprise in that context that you can't have with something you're really familiar with, and the existence of recorded music has very much changed our experience of music. There are certain pieces/songs where I can still remember getting a chill over something unexpected, and it involved a break in the pattern that had been set up.

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Gee D
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Driving to early church this morning, we listened to Bach's Cantata, BWV78: Wir eilen (We hasten) arranged well for instruments alone. That shows what Orfeo's talking of, a line progressing along what you think is a predictable path but then making the leap of a 5th when you don't expect it - but being exactly correct and with everything else looked after properly. In a lesser composer, the last bit's all too often missing; Bach always gets it spot on.

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mdijon
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quote:
Originally posted by orfeo:
I very much think of music in terms of structure and pattern, and a delicate balancing act between predictability and randomness. Too much predictability and I find music becomes boring and mindless for me. Not enough and I feel that it loses its cohesiveness.

I think one can expand that to talk about rules and definitions in music as well. Having a defined scale is pretty essential to produce any sort of intelligible music. One can have
atonal stuff which is free of that rule, although semitones are still defined. It's not my cup of tea but people apparently get something from it.

On the other hand a completely unwavering and rigid following of a particular scale with no accidentals can be a bit dry.

The same continuum exists in time signatures. Rigidly holding to a beat is pretty tedious and unexpressive. Lacking any kind of sign-posts leaves one a bit floundering though.

On the familiarity issue though I find that I don't really enjoy any complex bit of music until I know it. I can't listen to a Bach choral work and take it in at once. I only really start enjoying it when I have some feeling for what is going on.

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Baptist Trainfan
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quote:
Originally posted by Dafyd:
According to John Eliot Gardner's book, Bach spent a lot of time complaining about the way his musicians refused to practice. Though it may be that choirmasters are expected to complain about that as part of the job.

Perhaps they got a productivity bonus for doing so?

By the way, I found Gardiner's book unutterably tedious - I'm glad I didn't buy it but only had it from the library.

[ 01. January 2017, 15:03: Message edited by: Baptist Trainfan ]

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orfeo

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quote:
Originally posted by mdijon:
quote:
Originally posted by orfeo:
I very much think of music in terms of structure and pattern, and a delicate balancing act between predictability and randomness. Too much predictability and I find music becomes boring and mindless for me. Not enough and I feel that it loses its cohesiveness.

I think one can expand that to talk about rules and definitions in music as well. Having a defined scale is pretty essential to produce any sort of intelligible music. One can have
atonal stuff which is free of that rule, although semitones are still defined. It's not my cup of tea but people apparently get something from it.

On the other hand a completely unwavering and rigid following of a particular scale with no accidentals can be a bit dry.

The same continuum exists in time signatures. Rigidly holding to a beat is pretty tedious and unexpressive. Lacking any kind of sign-posts leaves one a bit floundering though.

Yes, agree with all of this.

The bit about "signposts" reminded me of something I read about Haydn a few years ago, and how he made this a key part of what we now think of as the Classical style.

And that, among other things, this is why his musical jokes work. How is it that he manages to make audiences regularly laugh, at the end of the 'Joke' string quartet, with no words at all? It's because of signposts with double meanings that fool the listener, and people enjoy the cleverness of the trick.

I think all the best music sets up rules and definitions, and then finds ways to play with them....

...I'm going to expand on this but put it into a 2nd post.

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orfeo

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Okay, the reason I'm going for a 2nd post is that I now have a legitimate excuse to witter on about Tori Amos and I'm afraid I won't be able to resist.

Because I had a magical moment with her a couple of years ago, in conversation. Yes, I've spoken to my musical idol. Of course!

But this is what I talked to her about: about musical rules and definitions. And about each album having a somewhat different set of rules. I told her how, to me, the process of getting to know each new album was a process of understanding the rules it worked by.

This is not unique to her by any means. I think this is what all the best musicians do - each period or era, they are setting up a new musical "language" with its own "grammar" and then working through what is possible in that space.

At the time I was talking to her, though, she was showing how she could even do something like this in individual concerts. On that tour she was starting with the same song every night, but then heading off on a different path each time. On successive nights, I went to one concert that was full of sweet and pretty and beautiful tunes, and another that went dark and angry before gathering some inner strength. Each concert had quite different musical, psychological signposts.


...and she got very excited by all this and gave me a hug. [Axe murder]

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mdijon
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quote:
Originally posted by orfeo:
This is not unique to her by any means. I think this is what all the best musicians do - each period or era, they are setting up a new musical "language" with its own "grammar" and then working through what is possible in that space.

No, I'm sure you're right that Tori isn't unique.

To be serious though, perhaps one can extend the argument to all art - sculpture, painting, novels - they all need some grammar and language within which they are internally consistent, albeit with exceptions.

And many of these conventions and grammar rules are very culturally determined which can limit how well art travels. Although really great art and motivated audiences can cross the barrier.

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