Saturday, November 15, 2008

What makes music great?

My answer to question and to an answer:


”Palestrina. Bach. Mozart”

”Certainly the artists you’ve mentioned were all innovative for their time.”


These three most certainly were not. They distilled the quintessence of styles already existing, rather. Excepting SOME parts of Mozart (the least typically 18th C).

My answer to someone agreeing with me:

Thank you. I totally agree!

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Mozart used the kind of cadences and tonality shifts (standardised modulations) you find in Joseph Riepel, basically: as he was tought by his pa, Leopold, who also used ”Riepl”.

One place where Mozart is original is the place in Don Giovanni (I think it was), where the bass ascends chromatically and the chords go: /: Dominant Seventh - Diminished Seventh - 4-6 Minor Chord :/ four times. It has, I think, been reused once. But that Mozart pasage is not the first thing that comes to mind when you think of him.

Take ”Eine Kleine Nachtmusik” or Figaro’s song to Cherubino ... that is much more typically ”the Mozart we love”, and it is as conventional as Ravels Bolero ... or more, since Ravel coupled the Spanish popular dance with an orchestration and harmonisation which at the end of that piece approaches the atonal, at least it is disharmonic and too heavy to dance a Bolero to.

After which she suggested universality, to which I answered:

Universals ... I think major fifth and minor fourth (or at least one of them, as in Andine Peruvian music with three tone scales of C F A or eastern European scales with C F#G A) are real universals. So is the presence of at least one interval smaller than minor fourth - like the major third in Peruvian scale, or the minor and major seconds in that Eastern European one. The octave is less than universal, I think.

So are binary and ternary rhythm, and rhytmicity as such. A Danish composer° said, when you are blasé, you need to rediscover the intervals: (major and minor) third, (minor*) fourth, (major*) fifth.

I am not familiar with that flute work by Mozart, but Riepel gives no very limiting indication about contrast or similarity as such ... have you checked that the contrast does not hide a thematic unity by means of augmentation, diminution, inversion, retrograde or what Reti# calls ”interversion of themes”, like secondary theme being an ”interversion” of adagio theme with principal theme?

More on that flute quartet##:

Do I get you right: the flute quartet in question is flute plus string trio rather than flute plus three other woodwinds?

I am not sure I can get that recording on this library, I just might ...

I wonder if Mozart’s flute quartet was played more than once, after what you said about gut strings and pizzicato, in his own lifetime, I mean ...

As for ”noticeable or reoccurring theme” I think most Adagi (when used as intros to Allegros) have no theme that occurs more than once in the adagio itself ... the reoccurence would make tha adagio too long for an intro ... or is it an adagio as a separate movement, instead of andante?

Have you checked if its harmonic progression is related to the main theme or another one?

My answer to the original message, about Bach and Beatles:

”Bach more than the Beatles”

Bach is usually stately. (Witness: Brandeburg Concerto)

Beatles is usually homey. (Witness: When I’m 64)

Some people like one, not the other. I like both, but not in exactly the same moods.

To someone other on Beatles, who said:

” I don’t happen to believe, for example, that John Lennon was a great lyricist. (Good, yes.) But time will render my view obsolete, because too many people disagree. Greatness is technical merit plus creative genius plus relevance to the listener. The personal connection must be made. (And that’s where I’ll be outvoted over Lennon, because he’s touched enough people regardless of the technical merit of his lyrics.)”


The arguably greatest lyric of Beatles, Let It Be, is Paul Mc Cartney**.
I do not know anyone who tries to read With a Little Help from My Friends or Yesterday apart from the songs°° (or even Let It Be, for that matter). I know no Beatles songs by heart. You might be right, even by votes. Speaking of McCartney, I think Mull of Cintyre beats any Beatles song melodically: but I haven’t learned the lyrics. I even used to think of it as ”Marlekin Tyne”.

Hans Lundahl

Footnotes:

°Carl Nielsen

*re terminology: these forths and fifths are the perfect ones, the other ones being the tritone and inverted tritone, augmented and diminished being non-existent in older musical theory - including Zarlino, whom Mozart had read

#Reti, The Thematic Process in Music

##Mozart Flute quartet no.1 in D

**which is one reason why John Lennon ”himself” in an interview stated it was ”nonsense” - the other reason being that ”times of trouble” refer to John Lennon getting late for rehearsals bcs of Yoko Ono.

Before I left Sweden I argued about ”Mother Mary” perhaps referring to the Blessed Virgin, and got this statement about the interview: actually Paul’s mother was called Mary. And, of course again: it is a McCartney lyric.

°°However, I do know one who could give me the next few lines after ”what would you do if I sang out of tune, would you stand up and walk out on me” as ”lend me your ears, I will sing you a song; I will try not to sing out of key”

6 comments:

Mike Fan said...

Yes I agree. Another place in which Mozart was very traditional was when he used the exxxxtremely standard and overused "I V vi iii IV I IV V" progression in Die Zauberflote, which was used in the famous Pachelbel's Canon in D major, which Haydn also used.

However, Mozart's later works, especially piano sonatas and string quartets, became much more Romantic in style.

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Old Fashioned Liberal said...

I think it's the "Creative Genius" in your equation that's so hard to get. What's that? Hee Hee!

Ancient Greek Philosopher said...

"Greatness is technical merit plus creative genius plus relevance to the listener."

That's certainly straight to the
point! I agree with it though,
except that many listeners are
quite capable of liking music without any technical merits.

Hans Lundahl said...

* sigh *

"creative genius" was never part of my equation

a) it was said by someone else (I've highlighted the quote as such by blockquoting)

b) by, I happen to have interpreted the question as of "what characteristics" not "what exterior causes or origins" make music great

If music pleases, how can it lack technical merits?

What are musical technical merits for, except for pleasing?

You see, I am so NOT into Adorno. I was just yesterday reading and agreeing wholeheartedly with some parts of Benoît Duteurtre Requiem pour une avant-garde - he makes basically the same replies to that school of critics as C. S. Lewis: x had said Verdi was "superficial", CSL comments "it only means he can write a tune and they cannot". (Letters to Children, I think - if so that one was to a god-daughter no longer a child)

Hans Lundahl said...

* sigh again *

I V vi iii IV I ... - isn't that streets of London?

Standard? How many tunes go to the harmonics of Streets of London? Over-used?

Nawww, just frequented because genuinely frequentable!

And, for the record: Zauberflöte IS his latest opera.

Hans-Georg Lundahl said...

This is part of my writings on Musical theory and history with Schenkerian analyses and syntheses.