How to Listen to Great Music by Robert Greenberg (Part 1)

A Guide to its History, Culture and Heart

Understanding and Listening to Music. Humans love music and the musical experience can be very intimate. Essentially, it is just vibrations. It is a universal language. Say it with music. It intensifies the human experience. The artist defines his work and gives voice to his time. There has to be a historical context. All music is contemporary music if you understand the history behind it. It is important to grasp the context. Try to google and listen to the pieces featured in the book. The focus of this book is on the best of Western music. Music notation was invented in the 10th and 11th century. The ‘classical music’ phase is from 1750 to 1800. The book focuses on the period between 1600 and 1900. Simple musical notation is easy to understand.

Music is a universal language; one need not speak Ashanti in order to groove to West African drumming; or German in order to be emotionally flayed by Beethoven; or English to totally freak when listening to Bruce Springsteen. – Robert Greenberg

A Mad Dash Through the Roots of Western Music. Music is reflective of the culture. If you know the culture, you will appreciate music better. There has been much change in Western music over the last 1000 years. This was because of composer’s work. The later composers had bigger egos and wanted their music to represent who they were. It was reflective of their experiences. Personal feelings were important for composers. Historical periods change over time. Art becomes different through time and it not necessarily become well. You cannot simply compare music from different eras and judge which is better. Great art is timeless. Music played a role in Ancient Greece. It was humanistic in spirit. They believed in the healing properties of music and thought it was connected with truth and beauty. Music and carnivals were played during their sports events. Ethos was associated with a moral quality. Music was governed by laws from the Cosmos. It heightened the power of words. The Church emerged after the Greek era. The Church became the central philosophic, spiritual issues for Western Europe. Music in church should be divine and it should teach Christian thoughts. They rejected classical music and large choirs. These were the Dark Ages.

There is a reason why we turn to the paintings of Vermeer, the sculptures of Michelangelo, and the music of Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, and Brahms, to name just a few, in search of truth and edification, and it has nothing to do with nostalgia for the past. Great art is timeless and it speaks to us, directly and relevantly, across time. – Robert Greenberg

The Music of the Medieval Church. We are now in year 600CE to 1000CE. Europe was in a horrid state and most things were badly destroyed. The Church provided a sense of redemption. Churches were known to preserve culture and be the centre of art and education. Music was used as a ritual and for ceremony. It was monophonic texture, meaning it was just your voice and no instruments. Search ‘plainchant’. There were no large intervals between one note and another. It was calming. No one took credit for producing music. It was meant for the community and for glorifying God. Church music had a huge influence on Western music. Polyphony happened between 900 to 1000 years. Trade was established and wealth was emerging. Architectural technology emerged. Cathedrals were being built. Notre Dame was built in 1163. Polyphony is where two or more melodic parts are heard. This is when a second voice comes in but you are not singing it together. In terms of composition, it is more complicated. Now, we enter the 14th century. This was the end of theocratic age. Secular and non-religious ideas emerged. A new era of Roman art, literature and philosophy emerged. The Notre Dame Cathedral produced composers. ‘Quant en Moy’ is two love poems sung by a soprano and a tenor. It uses isorhythm, where rhythm and pitch can be varied. This was incredible during that period. It was composed in mid 1300s. Now is the Renaissance period. It was the complete breakdown of the Church. It was about humanism and focused on human life and accomplishments. People were explorers. Martin Luther led the Protestant Reformation. Secular education was very prominent. Printed music appeared. Painting and sculpture were very famous and so was music. The words in the song had to be understood. Music should also reflect the meaning of the words. Mass was invented. Examples are the imitation Mass. A madrigal is a secular vocal work for 4 to 6 people. They had to apply ‘word painting’ too. It was like trying to express a poem in music. Listen to Weeleks ‘As Vesta was from Latmos Hill Descending’.

A Necessary and Invigorating Excursion into the Worlds of Music Theory and Terminology. Music is defined by sound. How are pitches arrayed into melodies? A pitch is of a single fundamental frequency. This is the first property. The second is timbre. This refers to ‘tone colour’. Partial vibrations also produce a certain sound, known as a harmonic. Note is a pitch with duration. They are the building blocks of melodies. A chord is three of more pitches played simultaneously. There are series of chords around. Along a string, the various vibrations at various positions produce different sounds. Pitches are an octave apart. An octave is a one-to-two ratio. Texture is the number of melodies and the interaction of each melody with one another. Monophony is like a plainchant. A polyphonic is one where there are two or more principal melodic parts. Imitative polyphonic is where the melody is similar, but played at different time intervals. A strict imitative polyphony is known as a kanon. Sometimes, they are not so strictly imitative. Non-imitative polyphony is a different set of notes entirely. A homophony is where one melody is predominant and all other melodies are accompaniments. Hence, the tonal harmonic system was formed.

Emotional Exuberance and Intellectual Control. The Paradox of Baroque Art. Opera was invented in 1600. Opera transformed Western music. It celebrated human emotion. The orchestra was formed. The Baroque era was between 1600 to 1750. Baroque means ‘a pearl of irregular shape/colour’. It had a negative connotation in the past. This was the era of Galilei, Descartes, Bach, Kepler, Newton. God was still in the picture, but not as much. Everything had logic and symmetry. The music was characterized with tempered and systematic harmony. Theatres were popular too. There was less word painting but the feelings behind the words play centre-stage. The French overture was invented in 1660 for Royals. George Frideric Handel wrote the ‘Overture to Messiah’ in 1741.

Play it, Don’t Say It. The Rise of Instrumental Music. Instrumental music is an art form which can rival vocal music. It is a very abstract concept. Motives are a group of notes from which melody is grown via repetition, sequencing and then transformation. A tune is unique sort of melody. A theme is the idea of a certain section of music. There are conjunct (close together) melodies and also disjunct. The harpsichord was commonly used in the Baroque era and so was the piano. The octave was divided into 12 pitches, with a major and minor scale. Timing of notes was also introduced, whether it is x number of beats. The bass line was developed into a basso continuo. Listen to Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto 2. The basso consists of a harpsichord and a cello. The bass line contains the melodic lines.

What is instrumental music? It is music that has no words, no literary information beyond its title to explain why it exists and why it sounds the way it does. It’s neither physically dimensional nor concrete. – Robert Greenberg

National Styles (Italy and Germany). Beethoven’s 5th symphony is very recognizable. However, the Italian language is more long winded. Vivaldi stretched one word to 74 notes. Music styles are certainly influenced by how languages are spoken. Opera was invented in Italy. French loved their wind instruments. Italian is more similar to Latin. The melodies are usually smooth in nature. Italy was the centre of the Renaissance. Italian is closest to Latin. Vivaldi’s the 4 seasons are among the most frequently heard Baroque works. He usually composed for opera. The music is usually homophonic in nature. Martin Luther was against the Church and thought that one could interpret the Bible differently. All music was a gift to God. German language is full of strong consonants than vowels. There is usually 1 pitch per syllable. The melodies are usually clearly articulated. German music became more popular during the Protestant Reformation. List to Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto 2.

Fugue It! It combines extravagance with systematic organization. Composing is a tedious process. A fugue is a polyphonic composition. Fugues are a highlight of the Baroque era. Bach was a master of the fugue. It contains exposition, episodes and subject restatements. Listen to the Bach’s Fugue in C Minor from the Book one of the Well-Tempered Clavier. Each one is a voice. They will sing different voices at the same time. Each voice that enters must be the highest or the lowest to create effect. There are various episodes and restatements in the centre.

Opera (The Baroque Expressive Revolution in Action). Opera combines everything and is good. The music captures the meaning of the words. The medieval liturgical dramas were popular too. Intermezzo was the precursor to opera. They were commentaries which were sung during plays. It was like a halftime show during a play. Jacopo Peri wrote Euridice, one of the first operas. He invented the partial recitation of words and partial singing. Claudio Monteverdi composed too. His famous work is ‘Orfeo’. Aria literally means air. It is where the information is transmitted via the music itself rather than the vocals. Aria became more popular and the recitative art took a backseat.

This is the basic premise of opera: that music has the power to interpret and intensify the feeling and spirit behind the word. – Robert Greenberg

Opera Goes to Church. The principal genres of music are oratorio, cantata (performed outside religious service), mass, magnificat, passion, motet. These works make use of the chorus. Baroque genres are influenced by opera. Basso continuo was used during the Baroque. Solo singing were used during Masses. Oratorios were initially sacred dialogues. The chorus disappeared from Baroque opera house. George Frideric Handel’s Messiah is widely performed even today. It is the most famous oratorio in history. He travelled a lot and performed all over the world. He knew how to handle singers. He wrote English language oratorios. There are commentators in the middle of the works. It was 2 hours long. Handel’s music was very inspirational indeed. The ‘Hallelujah Chorus’ is very iconic indeed.

A New Liturgy Comes of Age: Lutheran Baroque Scared Music. The Holy Roman Empire was founded to consolidate power. The English were at odds with the French. The Lutheran community emerged from about 1650 to 1680. It was marked by must congregational singing. There were hymns too and they were popular. The sermon was a big thing too. Bach was one of the greatest composers of all time. He composed over 350 cantata in his life. The productive years was between 1723 to 1728. Cantatas were meant to sound like operas. They are the masterworks of the Baroque era. However, there are only about 209 of them still in existence. Cantata 140 is very famous.

Instrumental Form in Baroque Era Music. What do the words like scherzo, trio, allegro mean? Musical forms are important. This is the way to structure time and give order. You must learn to understand the form of music. There are some compositions that do not ascribe to a certain form. These are fantasies, toccata etc. Variations of a theme are quite common. Passacaglia was common too. The bass line was common but the melody might change. Listen to Bach’s Passacaglia in C minor. It has a very firm bass line that keeps repeating.

Baroque Era Musical Genres. There are solo or chamber works. Orchestras back then were not that common. Chamber works were popular, consisting about 6 or 7 musicians. The Baroque concerto appeared around 1680. It is like a soloist battling the collective. Brandenburg Concertos 3 and 6 are orchestral concertos, where there is no soloist section. Solo concertos are where there is a soloist. A double or triple concerto is where there are more than 1 soloist. Tutti refers to everyone. Brandenburg Concerto No 5 has the first movement in ritornello form. The theme are only heard at the beginning and the end. His six Brandenburg Concertos are world-renowned.

Enlightened Is as Enlightened Does – An Introduction to the Classical Era. This is the period from 1750 to 1827. The Enlightenment period was from 1730 to 1780. There was a new middle class emerging. They wanted new education and read to societal injustice. Life was important, even without religion. The middle class could shine. Classical music was meant to be accepted by all countries. It was a combination of all the different nations. Music has to be accessible and please the greatest number. Hadyn was a popular figure in this era. Vienna is the centre of classical music. It was the adoptive home to Mozart, Beethoven etc. The Baroque music was deemed to be more elitist and exclusive. Mozart doesn’t write excessive notes for his music, just enough to create the melody. Mozart’s melody can be easily sung. Hence, it is a vocally conceived melody. Mozart wrote Eine kleine Nachtmusik. It is true that the cultural environment creates the music. Classical music was punctuated with cadence, or punctuation marks. The music gets to stop and breathe, this was rarely the case for Baroque music. In the key of C major, the G pitch is the dominant pitch. There are open, closed cadences. There are also tonic pitches.

Putting It All Together: Classical Era Musical Form, Part 1. Music is now accessible to every person. A music form is the key. Musical form is the most important thing in music. There are theme, variation, minuet and trio form. The theme is usually a tune. Some use a theme as a melody. Listen to Diabelli Variations, Handel Variations, Haydn Variations, Paganini Variations. A theme and variation form a movement structure which is discontinuous. Theme and variations are very disciplined. The coda is an expanded final cadence. Theme and variation is very popular in classical music. Listen to Mozart’s 12 variation on Ah vous dirai-je, Mamam (Twinkle Twinkle Little Star). The first is to make the thematic melody very prominent. Later, there are 12 variations. Minuet and trios are very popular too. The French loved their dances and opera. Dance are also performed in suites, or in sequence. The French perfected their dances. The minuet was very popular in the ballroom. The minuet is a very popular social dance. There is usually the A-B-A structure. Joseph Haydn’s Symphony 88 is a brilliant minuet and trio. A rondo theme is more ambiguous. There is the ritornello form too. Listen to Beethoven’s piano sonata in G major, op. 49 no. 2. Opus literally means work of art.

Classical Era Musical Form, Part 2 (Sonata Form). The word ‘sonata’ has been over-used. It means a ‘sounded piece’. Cantata is a sung piece. There is a single principal theme. There is the exposition, the first large section of a sonata. There is a modulating bridge. This is an aspect of harmony. The keys might change without us knowing. However, this is what makes music fluid in nature. Listen to Mozart’s Symphony in Gminor K 550. Sometimes, there will be thematic changes in sonata. The recapitulation is set in the home key. Mozart was a brilliant child prodigy. Mozart was incredibly prolific. Almost all of them were masterpieces in their own right.

Classical Era Orchestral Genres, Part 1. This is the symphony: music for every person. There are different types of opera and they can vary dramatically. The symphony and the concerto are one of the most iconic of the classical music era. They mean the same thing. The Romans invented the word. The sinfonia had evolved into a symphony. An orchestra is a performing ensemble. ‘Philharmonic’ means loving harmony in English. There are also 4 movement symphonies. The first movement challenges the intellect and the soul and is usually the most complex. It is usually in sonata form. The second will address the heart. The third will usually be a minuet and a trio. The fourth will usually be fast and playful and in rondo form, leaving the audience with a smile on their faces. Recitation is applied to create dramatic effects. The individual melody is very prominent in the Classical music era. Music should be tuneful and entertaining. Hadyn redefied what a symphony sounded like. He wrote 104 of them. These symphonies made him very famous indeed. The London symphonies are among his most famous works. There was a balance between head and heart. The Symphony no. 92 in G Major is one of the most popular. The overture was very popular indeed. From head, to heart, to pelvis, to the toes. Many found his music to be brilliant. Many of his pieces are still performed among modern orchestras today.

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