Thursday, June 30, 2011

Music and Technology: Bigger is Better

Technology of various kinds has always played a role in the creation of music, but the importance of it has increased enormously in the last couple of centuries. In the 19th century the shift of power from the aristocracy to the new middle class changed the nature of musical performance. Instead of the typical performance being for a small group--chamber music--it moved to the concert hall seating one thousand or more people. This transformation began in London in the 1790s. Haydn’s string quartets op. 71 and op. 74 came about as a result of his very successful trip to London in 1791-2. Previously his quartet music was written for true chamber or semi-private performance, but after hearing some of his quartets played in the Hannover Square rooms in London, which seated 800 listeners, he crafted his next quartets for this more public setting. They are more open, sonorous and more boldly and expansively conceived with more flamboyant contrasts. Here is the last movement of op 74 no 3:

As the size of concert spaces and audiences grew it became necessary for the instruments to produce more volume. This happened in two ways: the instruments themselves were modified to increase the sound; the violin, for example, had the fingerboard tilted, the bass bar made heavier and gut strings replaced by steel ones. Secondly, the number of instruments in the orchestra was increased from around twenty in the early 18th century to over one hundred players by the early 20th century. The piano, at first rather feeble sounding, was beefed up enormously to the steel-framed nine-foot grand we see today and the whole woodwind and brass section was re-engineered for better tuning and more volume.

The development of the orchestra went hand in hand with the creation of a new orchestral repertoire by composers such as Wagner, Bruckner, Richard Strauss and Mahler. It uses enormous orchestral forces, as many as a hundred players on stage, and resonates well with the nineteenth century idea of progress. We can also link it with developments in naval technology that resulted in the enormous fleets of Germany and Britain at the time of the First World War. Why do I want to link these? Both were essentially developments in mechanical technology typical of the nineteenth century and Germany was in the forefront of both the orchestral and naval projects, though the British had the lead in naval technology. Paralleling the growth and improvement of the orchestra were the improvements in warships typified by the development of steam-powered ‘ironclad’ ships with large rotating turrets for the guns—by WWI they were called ‘Dreadnoughts’, named after the first of the new ships.
HMS Dreadnought, launched 1906
  In both the naval and orchestral instances size was all-important. For the orchestra, louder instruments and lots more of them; for the navy, bigger ships and lots more of them. As an interesting sidelight, Arnold Schoenberg, the Austrian composer who developed the idea of serial atonality, opined in the 1920s that his discovery of twelve-tone theory would enable the dominance of German music for the next hundred years.

Alas, both the naval and the musical projects ended rather badly. The enormous German navy did not defeat the British navy and in fact spent most of the war in port. Neither was the Royal Navy able to prevent the horrible slaughter in the trenches in WWI. The reality was that the technical developments merely made possible the wholesale slaughter of soldiers and civilians. In music, the giantism of the late nineteenth century turned neurotic in the symphonies of Mahler and later went very sour with the atonality of Schoenberg and his followers. The excellent recent book The Rest is Noise by Alex Ross, vividly describes the connection between classical music and German nationalism in the 20th century.

Anton Bruckner's Symphony No. 8 in C minor is the last symphony the composer completed.  It was premiered under conductor Hans Richter in 1892 in Vienna and dedicated to the Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria. The symphony is sometimes nicknamed The Apocalyptic. Here is the last movement:

There was an echo of the 19th century growth in the size of the audience in the second half of the 20th century. On August 15, 1965, at the height of 'Beatlemania' the Beatles performed for 55,000 people at Shea Stadium in New York. It was the largest concert ever staged up to that point. Nowadays 'stadium' concerts are common and Paul McCartney often performs for audiences of 100,000. But this was the beginning. The event required 2,000 security personnel. 100-watt Vox amplifiers had been specially designed for this tour, but they were grossly inadequate and the Beatles could hardly hear what they were doing. Since then sound engineers and designers have increased the amount of power enormously. By the early 70s, groups had access to large, very powerful, portable multi-channel mixing desks and PA systems, as well as lighting rigs of ever-increasing size and complexity -- systems that could easily project sound to an audience of tens or even hundreds of thousands.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

How Not to Compose

This is a follow-up on the Transcendental Music post. Something every composer knows how to do is write a bad piece of music--sure, they try to avoid it, but they know how to do it. One of the easiest ways is to just toss in any kind of stuff without caring much whether it contributes or not. Inexperienced composers slowly learn what is gratuitous and what is germane. We have some very striking examples in film these days. How many recent Hollywood movies have been utterly ruined by just throwing in as many special effects as possible? Make up your own list. The same problem occurs in composition. The problem is to find some basic material and then work with it to build out a piece, though this doesn't tell you much! Look at any fugue by Bach for an example: there is a theme, a counter-theme and harmonic development. Nothing gratuitous. Of course, I am keeping to a simple example to illustrate the idea. There are great pieces that have a great deal more going on, but the more complex the material, the greater the risk of having the piece become directionless meandering.

As a listener I am alert to material tossed in for no particular reason, just as I become annoyed with a television show if I come to see that the writers just throw in stuff to amuse you without integrating it with the story or the character. So let's go back to that piece by Constance Demby and see where it goes astray. It happens in the first thirty seconds with those bells. Bells are not easy to integrate because they typically have a cluster of pitches instead of one clear pitch and that sets them apart from all the other instruments. Bells have a ceremonial connotation. But this is not a ceremony and using them like this is hoping to instill in the listener a sense of ceremony--without there actually being one. We keep hoping some sort of melody will emerge, but it does not. We hear small harmonic gestures, but they never gel. The bass line wanders without ever seeming to point anywhere. One almost longs for a cliched harmonic progression so as to have some kind of direction. Instead what we have is variety of tone color: string sounds, bell sounds, double reed sounds.

I am using a set of aesthetic musical criteria that probably have no relevance to this particular kind of music, but I'm unapologetic about it. This kind of music may have a useful function for meditation or relaxation that would be obviated by it having all the things I wish it had. It is probably perfect background music. But background music to an active listener is rather disturbing because you want to listen to it, see where it is going, but it isn't going anywhere! Listening to this music reminds me of the only time I spent any time in the hospital. I had a kidney infection and for some reason they gave me tranquilizers. Oddly, the tranquilizers made me a bit anxious! I realized that I was staring at the wall for quite a while, with no thoughts and found that disturbing because it was so abnormal. So very, very tranquil music also disturbs me because I think there ought to be something going on.

It's probably just me...

Transcendental Music

Isn't it odd and interesting that music to meditate by, sometimes called "New Age Music" is not so terribly 'transcendental'? I'm unsurprised, though. Things are often not what they seem at first. As Shakespeare says in Hamlet, "one may smile, and smile, and be a villain". It can be a sign of seriousness or depth in music to hold a note for a long time or use a lot of repetition, but sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. Sometimes a drone is just a drone. Here is a particularly well-regarded example of New Age Music by Constance Demby dating from 1986:

Have you ever had the experience of encountering something that greatly resembled something you had previously valued highly, only to realize that perhaps you were wrong? That's way too abstract! What I mean is, listening to this, with its obvious references to movies like Stargate and 2001: A Space Odyssey, instead of making me value this more highly through association, made me downgrade the movies instead. This is mere effect. It sounds like an introduction to something, but the something never arrives. I had the same feeling watching Lost. Layer upon layer but sooner or later you realize there is nothing there. An obfuscating introduction is a great thing if it precedes something of import. But in itself it is merely annoying. It is like someone selling you a magnificently wrapped package that, when opened contains ... nothing.

Now let's go back a little further and listen to something that was influential on New Age Music. This is the first part of Octet by Steve Reich, written in 1979:

There is still the same, static quality to the harmony, but it is underlaid by a real intensity in the rhythm. Steve Reich's music is very rhythmically oriented. This music is certainly an acquired taste, but I think there is a kind of limited transcendence there. There is real delight when the flute enters at 2:13.

Going back just a little further, here is Henryk Gorecki's Third Symphony, composed in 1976:


Unless you have your volume up fairly high, you won't hear much for the first minute as the very low bass strings creep along slowly. This music is both like and unlike the Demby and Reich pieces. It unfolds slowly, true, but there is something unfolding here. It is a very big canon, with a single melody slowly being layered on top of itself, starting from very low and rising higher and higher. There is a direction here, even more than in Steve Reich, because the harmony is not so static. There are three movements to this symphony and this is  the first movement.

Now, going back just two more years. This is Shostakovich's 15th String Quartet, composed in 1974. It uses the simplest musical means:

But transcendental music does not have to be slow or sad. I have posted this before, but the last movement of Mozart's last symphony from 1788 is almost as transcendental as music can get:

I said "almost" because there is one piece that pretty much defines "transcendental" in music. The Dona nobis pacem from the B minor mass of J. S. Bach, dating from 1749:

If that doesn't give you chills, I don't know what will. Rather ironic that possibly the greatest piece of music written for the Catholic liturgy was composed by a Lutheran. Note what this music has in common with the other ones: simple themes, layered on top of one another with a real sense of direction. In this case, as in the Mozart, a real arrival as well. At 2:40 when the trumpets and tympani come in, the music has 'arrived'.

Not much else to say.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Of Course My Tastes are Eclectic

I was thinking of saying they were not eclectic, but then I checked the definition (as one should) and yep, they are. Here is Webster definition 1: "selecting what appears to be best in various doctrines, methods, or styles". Definition 2 is "composed of elements drawn from various sources". The key word is "best". As Duke Ellington famously said, "there are only two kinds of music, good music and bad music".

I like good music. Well, who wouldn't? But it puzzles me when I ask someone what kind of music they like and they answer "all kinds of music". Maybe they mean all kinds of good music. Well, sure, me too. It seems a simple and typical situation: most pieces of music are probably not good. What's the ratio? Oh, probably 10% good, the rest bad. I've got a post saved up on bad music that I'll put up sometime.

In the meantime, let's just admit that a lot of music is dull, unimaginative, lifeless, or even actively unpleasant. We probably can cite individual examples. Music libraries are filled with big volumes of Baroque music, for example, that feature endless pieces by forgotten composers who never wrote a haunting melody, an imaginative sequence or a lively rhythm. Long may they rest in peace! Sometimes a composer emerges from the herd to achieve fame in a later era, someone like Domenico Scarlatti, who wrote 555 keyboard sonatas and achieved his highest fame in the 20th century. But he had famous admirers in the 18th and 19th centuries--Chopin among them. Usually the bad composers are just not played. By 'bad' here, I don't necessarily mean incompetent, but rather professional composers who just were not very creative--something of a drawback in a creative field.

So, individual composers can be good or bad. What about whole genres? Are there schools or idioms of music that seem to rule out completely the possibility of there ever being a good piece? My candidate is grindcore. As the Wikipedia article avers, "Grindcore is characterized by heavily distorted, down-tuned guitars, high speed tempo, blast beats, and vocals which consist of incomprehensible growls, or high-pitched shrieks." This genre of music may certainly have a function--something related to adolescent hormones I suspect--but it would seem incapable of achieving any kind of beauty. I have found the occasional rap or hip-hop song to be interesting in its own way, but I don't hold out much hope for grindcore.

I do find real beauty and interest in some popular music and some world music. I once spent a whole summer listening to nothing but gamelan music. I had a brief David Bowie phase and became captivated by The Police and the Talking Heads. Interesting stuff. Lately I've been trying to see what people see in Radiohead, but so far not succeeding. But in pop music, the Beatles rule, of course.

There is some great flamenco by Sabicas in particular, great blues from Robert Johnson and Eric Clapton, great tango from Astor Piazzolla. Lots of good stuff out there.

But just remember, most music is not that good so when you are being eclectic, pick the best stuff.

The Case of Béla Bartók

Béla Bartók is one of the best-known composers of the 20th century, part of a small circle of well-accepted composers that includes Igor Stravinsky, Olivier Messiaen, Paul Hindemith, the Second Viennese School of Arnold Schoenberg, Alban Berg and Anton Webern and others. According to the usual litany, the Second Viennese School is so-called as a reference to the first circle of three composers associated with Vienna: Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven. Alas, things did not quite work out as expected, as the Second School has not had nearly the impact and lasting importance that the first did. Indeed, in retrospect we can see the very use of the term “Second Viennese School” as a bit of propaganda. The trio of Schoenberg, Berg and Webern were intended to be the new ‘normal’, the center of musical thought, while people like Stravinsky, Messiaen and Bartók were arms extending from this center, each with their own flavor: Stravinsky was the Russian and brought the exotic colors of that frontier of European civilization; Messiaen was French and brought another whole palette of sound while Bartok was Hungarian and brought the textures and rhythms of Central European folk music to the table. But this model has some flaws. For one thing, the Second Viennese School has ceased to be the dominant influence as the atonal methods pioneered by Schoenberg have almost entirely disappeared from contemporary composition.

Instead, it is ideas found in those 'peripheral' composers that have proved more lasting. Stravinsky, for example, set out in a number of different directions after his initial Russian period. He is known for a style called ‘neo-classicism’ which uses structures from earlier musical periods. Messiaen developed his own set of influences including birdsong, religious references and theories of rhythm and modality owing little to the Viennese composers. And Bartók, apart from a host of influences from many kinds of folk music, used some interesting concepts from mathematics including the Fibonacci series. But as we move further into the 21st century some of these composers, like Stravinsky, continue to be very important, while others, like Hindemith, seem less and less so. I think that the music of Bartók is starting to diminish in influence and importance. This is a personal view, of course, so let me lay out what it is based on. More and more, as I hear Bartók these days, I am less and less satisfied with his music. His string quartets, for example, were supposed to be the big revival of the genre in the 20th century (his were composed between 1908 And 1939) after it became more and more shapeless and flabby during the 19th century.

The Romantic Era, while succeeding magnificently in the areas of opera, piano and symphony, is notoriously weak in chamber music. You wouldn’t know it from string quartet programs these days which tend to feature large 19th century quartets in the second half, but the truth is that Brahms, Mendelssohn and Dvorak cannot compare with Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven in the area of string quartets. Bartók brought a whole new energy to the string quartet with new rhythms, new harmonies and new effects like the so-called ‘Bartok’ pizzicato (which was anticipated by blues players like Robert Johnson, by the way). But his quartets, like the rest of his music, tend to the ugly. I’m sorry, but there is just no other way to say it: the melodies are grim, the harmonies are unpleasantly dissonant and the rhythms unrelenting. The music is dark-hued and glum—all the time!

Contrast Bartók’s quartets with those of a 20th century composer I have not—intentionally—mentioned: Dmitri Shostakovich. Bartók famously satirized Shostakovich in his Concerto for Orchestra. All the members of the inner circle of the avant-garde looked down on Shostakovich for the unforgivable sin of writing music that was passé, that used obsolete forms like the symphony, that was written in keys, that was not fashionable according to their lights. But it was really Shostakovich that revived the string quartet, not Bartok. He wrote fifteen as opposed to Bartók’s six and they are performed more and more to great audience acclaim. Neither Bartok nor anyone else in the 20th century wrote a quartet as powerful as Shostakovich’s eighth. Indeed, I heard a concert last summer where the quartet played the 8th sandwiched between two particularly good quartets by Haydn and Beethoven and the audience’s most enthusiastic applause was for the Shostakovich. The Emerson Quartet made their name partly by giving concerts in which they played all the Bartok quartets in one evening and did a spectacular job. That is a good way to listen to them because it makes you really focus on them—but at the same time it avoids comparison with other composers like Shostakovich. It would be very interesting to program Bartok and Shostakovich side by side. Luckily, on the internet, we can do almost anything. First, the beginning movement of Bartók's 5th Quartet (1934) played by the Julliard Quartet:

 Now, the first two movements of Shostakovich's 8th Quartet (1960):

Theorists love analyzing Bartók, but have mostly avoided Shostakovich. There are a number of reasons for this, the first being, as I mentioned above, that Shostakovich was beyond the pale according to the Deuteronomy of 20th century composition: Schoenberg begat Berg and Webern who begat Boulez and Stockhausen and also in their tribe were Bartók and Ligeti, etc. Also, Bartók is beloved of theorists because of his methods. They have found beautiful symmetries and asymmetries, mathematical proportions, axes of pitches and so on--all stuff theorists love to get their teeth into. Just how Shostakovich wrote his music is a little less easy to uncover and most of the basic research has yet to be done.

My critique is not based on theoretical loveliness, but more on things like mood and beauty. Absurd, I know! Why, with the right theoretical toolbox you can prove that Bartók wrote great music, but beauty? That reminds me of a theorist of many years ago, whose name I forget, who spent a great deal of time pointing out all the contrapuntal options Bach did not choose and how unfortunate it was. Theory has its limitations and stops just at the point where aesthetics begins. In my rather non-progressive view, the end of art is beauty. This may be achieved in many, many ways, but art that ignores beauty completely is not of interest to me (nor most audiences). Both the Bartók and the Shostakovich quartets are highly-regarded. But I find the Bartók one to be not beautiful but grim, grey, gleamless, nearly unrelenting. I find the Shostakovich to be, while deeply emotional, also beautiful. This is achieved by sensitive nuances of harmony. We could do some analysis, mentioning the unification of the whole quartet with the D E flat, C, B motif that is a translation of Shostakovich's name into notes: DSCH, but theory doesn't prove aesthetic quality with either composer. You just have to listen. So listen a few times and tell me what you think...

UPDATE: Evaluations in my mind are never final. I always like to go back and have another look. So I listened to the Bartók Third Quartet again.

The last part, from 3:30 on is very cool. I love the glissandi. What do you think?

Monday, June 27, 2011

Music Blogging

I started this blog because I thought there was a niche. There are quite a few music blogs out there,  but they seem a little unsatisfying. I discovered blogs about ten years ago in the wake of 9/11 when a lot of people suddenly discovered they had a lot to say. Blogging as such began in 1998 and after a slow start, really took off in 2001. My model blogger is Instapundit who with hundreds of thousands of readers a day is equivalent to a regional newspaper. He rarely writes more than a few words or sentences in a single post, mainly pointing you to items of interest with a link. Other bloggers like Ann Althouse delve more deeply into particular issues. Althouse has a ferociously active group of commentors while Glenn Reynolds, Instapundit, does not permit comments. I'm still feeling my way, but so far I seem to be writing medium-length essays with the occasional short post with a link. The wonderful thing about the internet for a blog about music is the ability to embed as many musical examples from YouTube as you need.

But why start a new blog on music? Well, the best Aristotelian answer is "because you can." I know quite a bit and have opinions on lots of things and I think I can support those opinions in a reasonable manner. Oddly enough I don't read music blogs very often. Sometimes Jessica Duchen or Alex Ross, but even those I don't read regularly. They don't seem to have really captured the spirit of blogging as I see it. For one thing, they don't dig into issues very much, they don't put up a lot of posts and they are heavy on activities and light on thinking about those activities. The blogging world I am used to is very opinion-heavy. It is used to arguing over issues, digging them up, scrapping a bit. I really think the classical music world could use more of that. In the last post I expressed my annoyance with the way classical music is handled in the mainstream media: it is
  • Ignored (year end summaries of music these days tend to skip classical music entirely
  • Apologized for
  • Strong opinions are forbidden lest someone be offended
These facts of life is a big reason why the blogosphere got going in the first place. The mainstream media was avoiding and papering over so the bloggers found a place they could talk about it. Now the blogosphere is where many people go to find out what is actually going on as opposed to what the intellectual elite want you to think. I'm not interested in politics in this blog, but I sure am interested in music and the way it is regarded. I am most definitely going to express opinions, but I am going to argue for them in the best way I know how. Here are a couple that I will get to: Bartok is rather over-rated and there are many other composers who deserve to be better-known. Despite the huge popularity of Mozart--usually a sign of lack of quality--he is an extraordinary composer and I will talk about how I drifted away from liking his music and then came back. I'll also put up something about some young composers and the mystery of how they got to be so well-known--because it doesn't seem to be the music!

I titled this "Music Blogging" not "Classical Music Blogging". Do you realize that "classical music" is what I believe is called a "back-formation"? For example, before the electric guitar was invented all guitars were non-electric. Once we had electric guitars non-electric ones had to be distinguished in some way so they became, retrospectively, "acoustic" guitars. Similarly, before popular music became so enormous economically, music was just music. But now we need a name for that music that is not popular. "Unpopular" seems to be a poor choice so we collectively went with "classical" though competing terms have been "serious" music or "art" music. This difficulty with terms reflects a deep intellectual problem I suspect. One I would like to delve into in future posts.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Classical Music is Rigid and Stuffy!

It seems almost impossible these days to read an article about classical music in the mainstream media without running across apology after apology. Take this for example. Sure, I know it is a simple promotion for the festival, but it seems to be apologizing for classical music. The festival is about the "less rigid side" of classical music. They want to let you know that they are hiring people with a "distinctly unstuffy take" on classical music. It is only a "so-called serious music". I love the envoi:

“We’re trying to make classical music accessible,” says Tao, who will herself be performing with her trio. “It can be fun. It can be entertaining. It’s not all serious.”
It can be just as shallow and pointless as most popular music! Oh wait, I think I just figured out why no-one will ever hire me to do promotion for classical music. Um, I doubt that classical music is terribly rigid and stuffy these days. In fact I long for the days when it was a whole lot more so. When the great Beethoven specialist Artur Schnabel would refuse for many years to record his definitive performances of the piano sonatas for fear, he said, that someday, somewhere, someone might be listening to them while eating a ham sandwich. I can almost see the New Yorker cartoon: fat, middle-aged guy dressed in a wife-beater t-shirt sitting at his kitchen table eating a ham sandwich and belching slightly while in the background is Schnabel's Moonlight sonata. Caption: "Personally, I think the tempo is a bit fast..." Reminds me of that classic New Yorker cartoon with the young boy in a tux seated at the piano onstage and speaking to the audience: "And now, god help us all, Rachmaninoff Three."

What, exactly, does classical music have to apologize for? For taking music seriously? If someone is going to take up my time, asking me to listen, I really hope they take what they are doing seriously. If you read this blog you know that I particularly like music that can be whimsical and fun. I detest music that is crude and annoying. I'm just afraid that people are having trouble making that distinction. The problem isn't that classical music is inaccessible--it's that audiences have become a little deaf.

Best wishes to the chamber music festival, by the way. I just hope that in their feverish efforts to get an audience out that they don't throw out the baby with the bathwater.

Playing the Aranjuez

There are several pieces that every young classical guitarist wants to learn: something by Bach, the Bourree in E minor, perhaps or the Chaconne in D minor. Asturias (Leyenda) by Isaac Albeniz and the Concierto de Aranjuez by Joaquin Rodrigo. For many, these are achievable goals, though the Chaconne is going to be a challenge. Few guitarists who are not established professionals ever learn the Aranjuez, however. It is a wonderful piece, one of the most popular concertos of the 20th century. As some have said, it sounds exactly like what a Spanish guitar concerto should sound like.

I learned it in the 80s. It wasn't the first concerto I learned, I think that was one by Karl Kohaut, originally for baroque lute. Then, perhaps, the Vivaldi Concerto in D. For my junior recital I played the lovely concerto by Castelnuovo-Tedesco and for my senior, the Fantasia para un Gentilhombre, also by Rodrigo. So I thought I was ready for the Aranjuez. But it is considerably more difficult, as I discovered. There are two ways to make it easier. The first, which nearly everyone takes, is to simply change the notes, leaving some out, transposing certain chords an octave lower and thinning out the texture when necessary. This was the first path I took. Some of this is necessary as Rodrigo, while writing fantastic music for guitar, also tended to write music that does not quite fit on guitar. The other path is to seek solutions that enable you to play virtually every note as Rodrigo wrote them. Very few guitarists take this path, but among them are Pepe and Angel Romero. Luckily, Angel edited a new edition of the concerto (I first learned from the old one) that has fingerings that solve most of the problems. After playing a few times with orchestra, I still didn't feel in command of the piece so one summer I went to Salzburg, Austria where Pepe Romero used to give a month-long master class. My main purpose was simply to work through the piece with him. Fantastic experience. He is a wonderful teacher and I came away with a far better command of the piece and of technique in general. This is Pepe Romero and myself at the Hochschule fur Musik "Mozarteum" in Salzburg in 1988:

I also learned some interesting musical things, such as where the orchestra tends to speed up and where you have to give the conductor a cue. Pepe shared some of the background to the piece as well. When Rodrigo composed the music, he and his wife were living in Paris and she was pregnant with their first child. Alas, she suffered a miscarriage and the emotional depth of the middle movement, the Adagio, came out of that experience. There is a considerable range of emotion, from deep sadness to anger to acceptance. The ascent of the guitar to the highest B harmonic at the end could be seen as the ascent of the baby's soul to heaven. The third movement begins with a two-voice fugato that represents the loving couple who, even after losing their child, still have one another. The first movement? Well, as some guitarists like to say, apart from it being a wonderful piece of Spanish color, it might have been written to give the guitarist a real challenge--or headache!

Here is a photo of me playing the Concierto de Aranjuez with the Victoria Symphony Orchestra:

While in Salzburg I was invited to play a recital in the smaller recital hall at the Mozarteum, the "Wienersaal".

The summer spent in Salzburg at the Mozarteum was one of the most exciting musical experiences I have had. Not only did I spend several hours each day with Pepe Romero and many outstanding guitar students, but I also attended concerts in the Salzburg Festival, one of the world's finest classical music festivals. That year the Alban Berg Quartet played all the Beethoven quartets. I also got to attend one of their rehearsals. Karlheinz Stockhausen was there with his ensemble and they did a whole week of his chamber music. After one of those concerts I met the composer and we had a fascinating discussion about his music.

 But back to playing the Aranjuez. It is one of the most challenging and satisfying musical experiences available to a guitarist. There are many recordings available, but alas, the recording made by the CBC of my performance with the Victoria Symphony has been lost. Instead, I offer some clips from YouTube. It is amazing what you can find there! Here is a clip of Pepe working on the Aranjuez first movement with a young Korean guitarist:

Some things to notice: Pepe teaches by not saying much. He teaches by demonstration. The young guitarist is using the "m m i m" right hand rasgueado fingering that Angel uses in his edition. Pepe takes the guitar, shows her that he is planting his 'a' finger for stability and then does the rasgueado just with his index finger. There it is, and he didn't say a word. He plays a bit, then shows her again how he is planting 'a'. He also says "don't run" or better, "don't rush" (the rests). He silently communicates a solid tranquillity. If you get flustered, you sure can't play this music! The thing he can't give you is his fingers, though! Notice how she has long, slender fingers while Pepe's are shorter and stubbier. He showed me how he flexes his left hand tip-joints playing that nasty descending scale in triplets. But his tip joints are much shorter than mine. With mine (and hers) the tip joint is a lever that is too long to flex quickly enough. Notice a little later on, when he is showing her the hemiola in the scales that he actually does those really, really fast repeated notes just after. Most guitarists don't even try. I remember talking about that passage with Oscar Ghiglia and someone proposed dropping one of the three repeated notes and he just laughed and said, "hey, drop two of them, just play one..." Honestly, he's right, if you are more comfortable with one, then do it. The audience is going to prefer that you be comfortable than that you be struggling! But Pepe plays all three... It does look really easy when he does it. And then she does it too! Pepe transfers a lot of confidence when he teaches. OK, here he is playing the Aranjuez first movement in 2007:

Right off, I see that he is using the "m mim m" fingering instead of just the index. Heh. You have to remember that players are constantly changing how they do things and in many cases, there are different options you might use at different times. Another great performer of the Aranjuez is John Williams. Here he is, playing the first movement:

So different! This is a very smooth, elegant performance with very good interaction with the orchestra. Notice that Williams takes several passages down an octave that Pepe plays up, as they are written. Williams also plays two repeated notes instead of three in the passage mentioned above. But it all works beautifully. I think that Pepe brings off the rasgueado with more verve, but I like the tone color that Williams delivers better. These two players have a very different right hand technique. Pepe uses 90% rest strokes as we see in the closeups, while John Williams uses 90% free strokes. Both great performances, but different.

When this concerto was first written, in 1939, I doubt there was a single guitarist in the world that could actually play it very reliably. Now, many can.

The Music of Firefly

Firefly is a science fiction series created by Joss Whedon that sadly got canceled midway through its first season. DVD sales were so large that a feature film, Serenity, was made following up on the series. Alas, it failed to score at the box office so fourteen episodes plus the feature is all we have. I say 'alas' because in my books this is the best science fiction ever filmed. One reason is the extremely effective use of music. Here are the opening credits:

The first thing to notice is how utterly different this is from other theme music to science fiction shows. This is a simple country song with guitar and fiddle. No bombastic orchestra or synthesizer noodling. Joss Whedon wrote the lyrics and music for the song. But there were a lot of different kinds of music used in the show. Here is a scene from a ballroom dance in the episode Shindig:

The music is the Alla danza tedesca from the String Quartet op 130 by Beethoven. Here is an interview with Greg Edmonson, composer of the music for the series (though not the feature film). Here is a link to the CD of the soundtrack.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Teaching Music

I had a prospective student ask me if it was easy to learn music. I said there are three requirements, a teacher, an instrument and the desire. I know we have two of the three; only you can tell me if we have the third. Which is, I guess, a fancy way of saying, "you tell me". I'm sure you can teach music, I've done it for many years. But I'm also sure that it is really the student that teaches themselves. All the music teacher can do is hand over the rudiments, the basic vocabulary, put things in context, expose the student to some (good) influences and arrange some career connections. Actually learning how to play is still up to the student. But then I see a student from a bad teacher and I realize that there is a great deal a teacher can do to hinder a student!

The Concert With No Audience

This is a kind of follow-up on the last post, "The Album With No Name". Only the Beatles could put out an album with nothing on the cover except The Beatles  in small print and embossed in white on white. You really had to look to see it. They had previously put out two albums with only photos and drawings on the cover. But a concert with no audience? What's the point? And don't we actually call that a "rehearsal"? The Beatles quit touring and doing any performances except on radio or for television in August 1966. Their newest music couldn't even be performed in public as a lot of it could only be created with the equipment in the recording studio. They achieved some great things in the studio: Rubber Soul, Revolver, Sergeant Pepper's, Magical Mystery Tour and The White Album. But after the latter album, even during its recording, tensions between band members had begun to take their toll. Paul is doing the drum part on "Back in the USSR" on The White Album because Ringo had quit the band that day. A lot of The White Album is really individual rather than group effort. On another occasion George quit the group temporarily, which is why John is playing the lead guitar part on "Get Back". They had huge financial problems as well as the personality issues that loomed larger and larger. In an attempt to restore a good musical and personal atmosphere, it was proposed that they do some live performances of new material and film the process. The result was the film and album Let It Be which, ironically, showed what the breakup of the most famous popular musical act in history looked like. One of the problems was they could never agree on where to stage the live performances. This was actually a bigger problem than it sounds because the logistics of a Beatles live performance had gotten so difficult that it formed part of the decision to stop touring. Apart from the danger of assassination, simply getting themselves and their equipment to and from the concert without being trampled by fans was nearly impossible. And that was before they released some of their most successful albums. By this time the Beatles' Apple Corps had purchased a building in central London, 3 Savile Row. On January 30, 1969, desperate for some sort of live performance footage to end the film, they just dragged their gear up to the roof and played a forty minute set including "Get Back", "Don't Let Me Down", "I've Got a Feeling", "One After 909" and "Dig a Pony". As this caused considerable disruption in central London at lunchtime, what with cars stopping in the street, pedestrians gathering and the surrounding rooftops attracting knots of listeners, the police eventually arrived to stop the show. Ringo was hoping to be dragged off his drums as he thought it would make a splendid end to the film, but things ended less dramatically.

And that was it, the last public performance of the Beatles. Remarkably, they sound like a pretty good band despite the months of rancor. George brought the keyboardist Billy Preston to the sessions partly because the presence of an outsider tended to, in Harrison's words "cut the ice that we'd created among ourselves."

Friday, June 24, 2011

The Album with No Name

I was just becoming musically aware during the 1960s (yes, I'm really that old!)--a process that still continues. Around 1970 I converted to classical music, which is a bit like being a Franciscan monk, but you don't have to get up so early in the morning. Before then, I was a pop musician. I had three memorable experiences in pop music. The first was hearing the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan show in 1964, which made little impact at the time. The second was hearing "I Am the Walrus" on radio. It was actually released as a single, the 'B' side to Paul's "Hello, Goodbye". The wild thing about hearing it on the radio, that you miss completely hearing it on CD is that in the middle of the song, the radio seems to fade out and into a different station--something we were used to hearing with poor radio reception. It is very unsettling to realize that this is actually part of the song.

I have intentionally chosen the version without video so you won't be distracted. Imagine hearing this on commercial radio! Weird time, the 1960s. The third memorable experience was November 22, 1968. I rarely listened to AM radio, but for some reason I was still awake. It was a Friday night. Just after midnight, probably following some commercial of some kind, the DJ said, "we have it." Now I had no idea what he was talking about as I didn't keep track of the news either. Then I heard this:

Right away I knew it was the Beatles. A new Beatles song was a pretty big deal in 1968. By the way, for that graphic of the album cover, they had to highlight the name: in the original, there is no print whatsoever on the front of the album. The name "The Beatles" was just embossed so you can see it if you hold the cover at an angle to the light. After this song came TWENTY-NINE more. Holy cow, a double album! Of course, this only became evident as they played the album. Imagine, AM radio and they just played all four sides in a row, with no commercials. Also on side one was this tune:

I don't remember if I recognized the guitarist playing that big solo. I was a big Clapton fan even then, but George Harrison, who wrote the song, could do some pretty great guitar solos too. Then on side two was this gem:

Side three had this:

And side four ends with this song, sung by Ringo:

That comes after the notorious "Revolution #9" the eight and a half minute long tape music collage that is possibly the most radical piece of 'pop' music ever. Then "Goodnight" which sounds like something from a 40s musical. Wow. It's now about 2 in the morning and I'm overwhelmed. The DJ comes back on and says,  "Wow. Let's hear that again." And plays all four sides over again, which I stayed up to listen to. Imagine, four hours of AM radio without a single commercial. By the way, the album, which has no printing on the white cover, really has no name either. It is universally referred to as The White Album.

Robert Johnson and the Blues

Robert Johnson is well known to blues aficionados but his music is not as widely known as it could be. He was born in 1911 and died in 1938, age 27. He only recorded twenty-nine songs (and twelve alternate takes) in two recording sessions in 1936 and 1937. His recordings started to be re-issued in 1961 when they became a huge influence on a whole generation of English rockers like Eric Clapton, Led Zeppelin, the Rolling Stones and Fleetwood Mac. Here is one of his most well-known songs:

The most famous 'cover' of this song is that by Eric Clapton. Here he is, with Jack Bruce on bass and Ginger Baker on drums in the Cream reunion concert at Royal Albert Hall in 2005.

As you can hear, this is hugely different from the original, as are most rock versions of Robert Johnson songs. But in 2004, Eric Clapton released a CD and DVD entitled Sessions for Robert Johnson in which he offers both electric and acoustic versions of Robert Johnson's music. For one session, they returned to the original location of one of Robert Johnson's recording sessions: 508 Park Avenue in Dallas, Texas. Because he is attempting to return to the original music and atmosphere, this appeals to the historical musicologist in me! Here is Clapton with Doyle Bramhall II on slide guitar doing "Hellhound on My Trail".

Maybe this is a blues version of the "Early Music Movement" where they try and re-create historical musical styles.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

One Song Three Times

Way back in 1967 Bob Dylan recorded an album called John Wesley Harding. I think I bought a copy around that time. One of the best songs on the album is "All Along the Watchtower". Here are the lyrics:

"There must be some way out of here" said the joker to the thief 
There's too much confusion, I can't get no relief
Businessmen, they drink my wine, plowmen dig my earth
None of them along the line know what any of it is worth.

"No reason to get excited", the thief he kindly spoke
"There are many here among us who feel that life is but a joke
But you and I, we've been through that, and this is not our fate
So let us not talk falsely now, the hour is getting late".

All along the watchtower, princes kept the view
While all the women came and went, barefoot servants, too.

Outside in the distance a wildcat did growl
Two riders were approaching, the wind began to howl.

The thing about Dylan's lyrics is that they are only slightly less opaque than his liner notes. But there is always something very evocative about them--in this case they seem to echo the words of Isaiah, chapter 21. Six months after this was released, Jimi Hendrix released a cover version of the song that really made it popular and was one of his few hit singles.

Hendrix spent a lot of time in the studio taping and re-taping the song over and over again--to the point where his bass-player Noel Redding left out of sheer boredom. But even Dylan liked this version and altered his performances to reflect it. And that's the story until March 2007 when an episode of Battlestar Galactica featured this song in the season finale. It was set up in the most fantastic way--well, if you knew the song. There are four humans who are actually Cylon 'sleepers'  but don't know it. They are activated by means of this song. At first we just hear unidentifiable snatches of static. Then each character quotes a line from the song. At first we don't realize it: "there must be some way out of here" isn't too odd a thing to say. Neither is "there's too much confusion". But when one character says "says the joker to the thief" we know something is up. In my case, it worked perfectly. Suddenly, from some deep well of memory (I hadn't heard the song in maybe twenty years) came this recollection. I think I had goosebumps! And then the song starts:

Wow. That is spectacular to say the least! I got so hooked on the series and the way they used this song I even quoted a bit of one of the counter-melodies in a song I was writing at the time.

But as time went on, and as Battlestar Galactica itself went completely off a cliff I started wondering about all this. The original song has a kind of enigmatic, hypnotic charm. But it seems the more it is puffed up into something grandiose, the more it loses that charm. I think there is a deep aesthetic principle here having to do with proportion and truth. I don't quite know how to state it in a way that doesn't seem a tired bromide. Perhaps: the truth of something can better be revealed obliquely in art rather than by grandiose bellowing. I'm very tempted to go back to the original song and pare it down to its essentials. But what if I find that everything has been squeezed out of it?

Just Some Really Good Music

I was talking to one my readers today and I realized that most people really don't need my clever critiques on middle period Mendelssohn--they just need some pointers to good music. So here we go. Good pieces of music from old to new:

The Late Middle Ages/Early Renaissance

"Goodbye to those good wines of Lannoy" This is one of the very first songs written that really expresses personal emotion. You might think of Guillaume Dufay as the beginning of a long road that leads to John Lennon.

The Renaissance

"Flow my Tears" was one of the most popular songs of the day. They loved the emotion of melancholy in Elizabethan England. One of the best-sellers was The Anatomy of Melancholy. Like a self-help book if you titled it "You're OK, I'm Really, Really Sad".

Early Baroque

Musicians in the 17th century had a lovely tradition. When one of their circle died, they wrote a very special sort of allemande to commemorate it called a "tombeau" or "tomb". M. Blancrocher, the subject of this tombeau, must have had a lot of friends because three other composers wrote tombeaux on his death. Part of the tradition was if the notes go up at the end, he went to heaven, but if they go down...

Late Baroque

Rameau is one of the biggies. He wrote the first good book on harmony (yeah, he "wrote the book"!) and some great music for harpsichord (not to mention dozens of operas).


There are few really funny composers: Haydn, Debussy, Shostakovich and, uh, gimme a minute... This is the last movement of a quartet that has the nickname "The Joke". I am NOT going to give the joke away, but just mention that some people are really afraid of clapping in the wrong place...

You've been very patient so far, so you deserve something really nice: this is one of the most transcendental things ever written--the music just keeps spiraling up into the infinite heavens...

The Romantic Era

Arthur Rubenstein plays Chopin. That's really all you need to know. I saw him play a concert in Spain in the early 1970s and it was ... magical.

Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg is the least gloomy opera by Richard Wagner and this is one of the loveliest songs in the whole opera--heck, in any opera. The singer is Lauritz Melchior, recorded 1939.

Early 20th Century

We sometimes think of 20th century music as being either painful or dreary, but Debussy always wrote beautiful music, if not always serious music. This is "Golliwog's Cakewalk" from the Children's Corner suite for piano. Played here by Julian Bream and John Williams in their transcription for two guitars. Debussy interrupts himself to quote the opening of Wagner's Tristan--just for fun.

If this were any more Russian, it would be illegal. The Allegro molto from Shostakovich's 8th string quartet. If you listen closely you will hear over and over, at different speeds, the same four notes: D E flat, C, B natural, which, in German, spells DSCH or Dmitri Shostakovich.

Music by Osvaldo Golijov, a young composer of today, from a film. He later expanded it into "Lullaby, Doina and Gallop" for chamber ensemble.

And then came the Beatles... I will have to do a post on this song sometime. Just notice one thing: there is a wonderful guitar solo just after the 3 minute mark consisting of a mere nine notes altogether. Take that Jimi Hendrix!

Thanks for listening to this magical mystery tour of the last six hundred years in music.

Monday, June 20, 2011

A Beethoven Moment

Without a doubt there has been something of a Beethoven cult since his death in 1827. For the next hundred years a host of composers, starting with Brahms, were terrified to be composing in his shadow. Brahms wrote and destroyed twenty string quartets before he came up with one that he could live with. What is it about Beethoven? Or was it just a passing fad? Nowadays the academic world seems to want to avoid Beethoven as much as possible. One musicologist saddled a passage in the 9th symphony with a rape metaphor, but many seem to regard him as something of a crazy uncle--just a bit embarrassing.

When I was just starting out in classical music I bought a lot of records. I wanted to hear everything. Somewhere I had read about the late quartets of Beethoven so I purchased a box of LPs with performances by the Guarneri Quartet. I remember stunning a room full of people once by playing them the Great Fugue without comment. I had a friend who was a fine pianist and from her I heard references to mysterious things like "op 111". It took me a lot longer to discover the piano sonatas. But I've been listening to Beethoven for a long time.

The late quartets are a remarkable group of compositions: each unique. The first to be written was the one in E flat, op 127. Here is a recording of the first movement:

This first movement is often described as being extremely lyrical and it is. But the thing in it that has always struck me is a moment of violent dislocation. The movement starts with big chords in E flat, maestoso (majestic, meaning played with a certain gravity or splendor). Then the theme itself starts, a charming tune in triple time (the maestoso was in duple time). The second theme is rather more energetic, accompanied by repeated notes chunking along in the lower instruments. Normally in a piece in E flat in sonata  form you would modulate to the dominant, the key of B flat. Not so here: Beethoven heads for G minor. There is quite a lot of stressing of G minor with trills and little pauses and then that opening maestoso is repeated, but now in G major. This announces the second part of the movement. The development wanders back to the flat keys, but this time more C minor than E flat major (they have the same key signature). Then the maestoso comes back again, but this time in C major! Just after this--around 3'28 in the recording--comes the dislocation that has always struck me. The instruments expand outward to a widely spaced C major chord and then, syncopated, on the second beat and subito forte there is a horribly clashing chord: E [G] Bb Db! (The G comes later). This is the VII diminished 7 of F. Sorry to get technical! What that means is that Beethoven, not only with no preparation, but as clashingly as possible, goes to a chord that sets up the key of F, which not only have we not heard yet, we aren't even going to hear it, except briefly. And he keeps hammering on this wild harmony for four measures. Where we are going is just back to E flat by way of A flat, so all this chord does is destroy the C major. This is the most jarring harmony I have ever heard, with the possible exception of the time the rhythm guitar player in the band I played in when I was sixteen thought we were doing a different song and played the wrong chords. Afterward the movement continues to a very beautiful and relaxed finish.

But what about that dislocation? I don't have an answer really,  but it adds a dimension to the movement that makes it more complex, more profound. What puzzles me is why I've never seen any of the numerous writers on the string quartets even mention it. So there you have it: a Beethoven moment. Something he would do that probably no other composer would.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Writing Prose and Writing Music

I ran across this review of a book by Stanley Fish on writing prose and this paragraph stood out:

Learning to write sound, interesting, sometimes elegant prose is the work of a lifetime. The only way I know to do it is to read a vast deal of the best writing available, prose and poetry, with keen attention, and find a way to make use of this reading in one’s own writing. The first step is to become a slow reader. No good writer is a fast reader, at least not of work with the standing of literature. Writers perforce read differently from everyone else. Most people ask three questions of what they read: (1) What is being said? (2) Does it interest me? (3) Is it well constructed? Writers also ask these questions, but two others along with them: (4) How did the author achieve the effects he has? And (5) What can I steal, properly camouflaged of course, from the best of what I am reading for my own writing? This can slow things down a good bit.
Isn't that a lot like writing music? As, I believe, Stravinsky said, "composers don't borrow, they steal." And it is a big part of the way I listen to figure out how the composer has gotten a certain effect. These days, especially with harmony. I have to admit that my mind tends to the contrapuntal: I think in terms of how each voice moves. But that is only half the picture and it is the other half, the purely harmonic, that gives me the most trouble. I'm hoping this is a good thing and just means that I'm engaged with the problem of harmony and not just ignoring it like some composers (*cough* Vaughan Williams *cough*).

Beethoven wrestled with harmony his whole life. Here is one fascinating bout in that struggle:

The first four minutes of this, the fourth movement from the early quartet, op 18 no 6, is a very strange piece which, also very strangely, Beethoven titles La Malinconia. It acts as a slow introduction to the fast movement and also briefly returns towards the end. Without going into technical details (which don't tell us much anyway), what Beethoven does is take us through an harmonic labyrinth in a way that no-one had done before. Frankly, I'd love to steal it, but I'm not sure how and I have no idea what I would do with it. But it is a marvelous piece of harmonic experiment...

BBQ, Beers and Mahler

This is one symphony orchestra that seems to have figured out how to appeal to younger audiences. These kind of stories often make me itchy because it always seems to come down to either "if we really, really dumb down the music, we might be able to stave off bankruptcy a little longer" or "bitter in-fighting between union and management means we can't focus on the audience right now." But I don't see anything wrong with the Toronto Symphony's way of doing things. First of all, it does bring in a younger audience; second, they don't seem to be compromising the music; third, what's wrong with barbecue and beers? One audience member said, “The symphony is the same price as the movies and it’s way more fun. We bring a lot of friends to shows and it’s nice that we're not stuck with tickets from the bottom of the barrel.” Well, that's what I think!

I also liked this bit:
Known to be an enthusiastic audience, tsoundcheckers are as open to Bruckner and Tchaikovsky as they are to the New Creations Festival. As evidenced by the sold-out Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony late-night concert last year, the under-35s aren’t interested in a superficial experience.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

What is Counterpoint?

Simply put, it is just “note against note” as that is what the original Latin means. But in a world where a typical musical texture might be somebody singing a blues or gospel-derived tune over a drum machine with some guitar strums, further clarification might be in order. We are used to listening to accompanied melody, or sometimes the accompanied form of chanting known as ‘rap’. But in any case, just one melody at a time. Counterpoint began with the organum of Léonin and Perotin who were working at the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris in the 12th and 13th centuries. Before that, pretty much all music everywhere was melody with or without some form of accompaniment—usually a drone. There was a big repertoire of Gregorian chant that was used in every church. Léonin and Perotin’s contribution was to write down some ways of decorating that chant. The idea was that the people singing the chant would stretch each syllable out for a long time, while another singer would sing a different melody in quick notes over top. This was quite an exciting idea. It immediately led to the idea or problem of harmony. Put simply, some notes sound very smooth and natural together (the 4th, 5th and octave) while others sound more complex (3rds and 6ths) and still others quite stressful or ‘dissonant’ (2nds, 7ths and tritones). So there had to be ways of putting notes together that took into account these differences. This was the first time in music history that we have real evidence of harmony, by the way. Here is a little alleluia by Léonin:

Things progressed step by step from there. From one voice singing quicker notes over another voice singing long notes (called a cantus firmus) to two quicker voices was not a big step. The rules of harmony were pretty simple at the beginning as well: you had to start with a consonance (the smooth natural sounding combinations or intervals) and end with a consonance and use a consonance on stressed syllables and in between you could use the other notes. One day, some brilliant fellow came up with the idea of canon. Take one of those melodies and sing it against itself! Perhaps it was discovered by accident when Brother Wilbur came in late one day, but it sounded good anyway. You have to be careful writing a canon, because the melody has to be written just right to combine with itself and obey the rules of harmony. Here is Bach showing off by writing a 'Crab' canon, meaning not only that the top voice and the bottom voice are the same, but that they are reversals of one another. The bottom voice is the top voice backwards. The whole piece is a palindrome:

Of course, soon after it was realized that you could combine the idea of quick notes over top of slow ones and the idea of canon. What if you wrote a canon that would work if one of the voices always had notes twice as long as the other? There is even a name for it: canon per augmentationem.

This is Bach really showing off! Ok, the first voice plays a melody. After four measures the second voice enters playing the same melody BUT down a 4th, in note-values twice as long AND in contrary motion, meaning everywhere the first voice went up, this voice goes down--inverted in other words. In Latin this is a canon per augmentationem in contrario motu. Just for laughs, in the second half, from about 1'50, the two voices switch--now the lower voice starts and the upper voice comes in four measures later, up a 5th, in note-values twice as long and in contrary motion. Whew!

Another brilliant idea was to realize that a canon was nothing but one voice imitating another and you didn’t have to stick to whole melodies—you could just imitate short phrases. Well, that led to being able to tie together the whole texture of a piece with those short phrases, echoing around among the voices. And sure, you could to all those tricky canon things as well including imitating or answering the short melody with itself in longer notes, or upside down or even backwards. A piece that does this kind of thing was a specialty of J. S. Bach and is called a fugue and I've posted a few of those. You can have a fugue on one theme or on two or more, called a ‘double fugue’.
Counterpoint developed a set of rules that help the voices to remain distinct from one another. For example, it is better for the voices to move in different directions—this is called ‘contrary motion’. Some movement in the same direction sounds good, such as in 3rds and 6ths, but one of the big sins is moving in 5ths in the same direction, the dreaded parallel 5ths! One of the best tricks in the counterpoint biz is ‘invertible counterpoint’. Say you write a melody, then you write another melody to go with it. If you are careful to write them in such a way that they will also work together if you flip them, then you have invertible counterpoint. Bach could do this in his sleep with a quill pen. You see, the problem is when you flip—invert—the melodies, the intervals change. One way, the interval might work, but it might not the other way. Unless you’re careful. But if you can do it, it is a very neat thing.

It's not Justin Bieber!