Friday, October 28, 2011

Musical Genres and Musical Forms

These are fascinating and revealing topics, but ones that are not susceptible to analysis leading to a clear conclusion. But I won't let that stop me! Please accept these remarks as informal musings. Hey, it's a blog!

Here is the Wikipedia article on musical genres. Musical forms are a little clearer. Here is the Wikipedia article. For the sake of simplicity, I'm going to go with these definitions: musical forms are those structural aspects that we usually parse out with letters. A piece in ABA form has an opening idea or theme, then it goes to a different one, then returns to the first one. Musical genres, on the other hand, are described in more concrete ways as the feeling of a specific genre, such as a waltz, is defined by the meter (3/4) and tempo. A concerto, which may or may not use the classical forms typical of a concerto, is defined by the opposition or contrast between a solo instrument such as the violin, and a larger body of instruments, such as an orchestra. There are innumerable genres and sub-genres and composers may blend them together to achieve unique effects. Chopin's Nocturne in G minor has been described as combining a mazurka rhythm with the nocturne and also using religioso passages.

Here is an easy way to distinguish form from genre. The baroque suite was comprised of a number of different dances sometimes preceded by a prelude. The form of these dances was usually the same: AABB or two distinct sections, each repeated. Harmonically the first section begins with tonic harmony and the second section ends with tonic harmony making for a tidy conclusion. In a major key, the first section usually ends with dominant harmony and the second section works its way back to the tonic. In a minor key, the first section often modulates to the relative major--the major key that has the same number of sharps or flats as the minor tonic. So if the form is basically the same for all these dances, what distinguishes one from the other? The answer is genre. Let's look at Bach's Cello Suite No. 1 for an example. Here is the courante, which is in two sections, each repeated and the first section ends with a cadence on the dominant. It is also in 3/4 meter.

Immediately following this is the sarabande which is in the same key, G major, the same meter, 3/4, also in two sections of which the first cadences on the dominant.

So the two movements share the same form. Why do they sound so different? The answer is that a courante is a different genre than a sarabande. The courante, a dance that divides into two sub-genres, is quicker than a sarabande. The two types are the French and the Italian. This is an Italian type that is the quicker of the two and is rhythmically lively with running passages. The sarabande, a Spanish dance, is much slower and, in contrast to the courante, stresses the second beat. Immediately after the sarabande are a pair of dances with, again, the same form: two sections, the first ending on the dominant and also in 3/4. These are the two minuets. The tempo is slower than the courante and the rhythms are simpler and more graceful. The first minuet, AABB with the first section ending on the dominant, is followed by the second minuet, which is in the parallel minor--the minor key with the same tonic as the major of the first minuet (G major, then G minor). Then, the first minuet returns, but this time without the repeats.

All three dances are roughly in the same form with the same key, same modulations, same sectional layout and same time signature. But they sound so different from one another that they can immediately follow one another in the suite without the listener becoming bored. The reason is that they are of very different genres. The dance genres are responsible for the different tempos and the internal rhythmic structure.

One of the things that was largely lost in the move towards musical modernism was this repertoire of genres that composers could make use of. They are still available, of course, but composers have usually avoided them in the last hundred years.


Jon Silpayamanant said...

Interesting way to put it--and I wonder if this abandoning of genres and a movement towards more freeform[?] type of composition has anything to do with just a general abandonment of a perceived 'old style?'

What I do find interesting is that while Turkish Classical composers (composing in what used to be referred to as Ottoman Classical Music style) have explored more freeform styles of composition, many still compose in the old fasil genre that has been the basic genre in Ottoman Classical music since the 1500s. I actually find the genre to be remarkably similar to baroque suites--all are movements are based on various dance genres from countries that would have been found in the Ottoman Empire.

The biggest difference is how the movements would have been differentiated since each and every one would be based on the makamlar (roughly 'scale' though that's really a terrible translation of the term). Since Turkish Classical music is heterophonic and doesn't realy use any functional harmony in the Western sense differentiation happens more due to the rhythmic modes which are the basis of the various formalized dance movements. Sure, there's different melodic material, but since makams are also a compositional procedure with rules for melodic direction so much of every movement of any particular fasil could sound so very much like the next to untrained ears. The rhythmic modes do much better to differentiate the individual movements, as do the improvisational taksims that would be formal movements within the Turkish fasil.

So basically you have a set of movements with the same overall melodic direction, in the same makams, very often with similar 'forms' as far as sectional arrangements of melodic or motivic material is concerned that is highly differentiated primarily by virtue of rhythmic modes and the alternation between improvised taksims and set composed movements.

And this is a compositional template still being used 500 years after it was first introduced and codified throughout the Middle East. I'm just glad that the Mus2Okur project is preserving the (or at least indexing) the 24,000 extant scores of this music!

Bryan Townsend said...

Wow, Jon! What a great introduction to Turkish music. As I'm not familiar with it I went and listened to some. Like this:

Sounds very much like the music of a great empire. Very interesting observations on the problem of differentiation. I believe I can hear some of the rhythmic modes you are mentioning.

How is this music notated? Yes, as it is basically monophonic or heterophonic, there is no need to notate polyphony, but how do they notate, for example, the rhythms?

Jon Silpayamanant said...

You've managed to pick a composer, Dimetrius Cantemir (otherwise known as Katemiroglu in Ottoman sources), that is probably one of the earliest sources for notated music in the Ottoman Empire!

Until the introduction of Western notation and instruments into the Ottoman Empire (1828) nearly any scores would have been written out in various Armenian notation systems (which borrowed heavily from Byzantine notation). For the most part, this was still an oral tradition--so melodies and rhythms would have been transmitted aurally.

Usually how these compositions were notated included the melodic line and a text note about the rhythm (or rhythms) to be played. Modern notations will include such info as the form or genre of the music and in some cases, the makam and melodic compositional rules for any improvised section within the work. The biggest difficulty, other than the fact these were highly ornamented works (sometimes I think of Ottoman scores as similar to unrealized figured bass parts) is adapting Western notation for all the microtonal elements in the makams. There really isn't an official standard though most modern composers or transcribers have adopted a relatively narrow set of symbols to notate these things.

I believe there used to be well over 100 makams in usage (though far fewer today--maybe 20) and nearly as many rhythmic modes (some of which can last up to 100 beats or so before being repeated).

I've almost never seen the rhythms notated other than the brief textual note (or possibly a set of measures to outline one cycle of the mode). Usually, the canaonical works are so well known that percussionists would know which rhythm(s) to play with the piece.

The other thing (for the older compositions) is that instrumentation is never specified. Until the 20th century the classical Ottoman ensemble (and equivalents throughout the Middle East) was pretty much set. Each instrument would play the line while also performing the idiosyncratic ornaments and 'instrumental fills' usually played on those instruments. With the adoption of larger ensembles came the adoption of writing out many of these things especially when a large string section is included in the ensemble. I think you can understand how this evolution of the ensemble into a small orchestra can shape the nature of the much more improvisatory styles found in the classical Ottoman ensembles.

This may interest you--a collection of many scores of Turkish Classical music--these will show you some of the things I described above:

This video may better illustrate the idea of instrumental fills (the soloist plays the melody and the rest of the orchestra does the fills) as well as some of the ornamental and improvisational aspects of Middle Eastern performance:

Bryan Townsend said...

Great discussion, thanks Jon. The video was very interesting indeed--like an Eastern cello concerto! And performed in the Cairo Opera House. I will have to do a post on it. If this were a Baroque concerto I would call what the orchestra is doing the ritornello.

I looked up the music notation you mention. Yes, derived from old Armenian church notation, itself derived from Byzantine notation, which itself comes from ancient Greek music. I believe the problem with all these systems, including the one developed much later by Hampartsoum Limondjian, is that they cannot accurately record rhythms, which is why, as you say, much was transmitted orally.

I did some graduate study of notation and my understanding is that an accurate notation of melody was only developed around 1000 AD in southern France and northern Italy with the brilliant invention of the lined staff. And it took another 500 years of struggle to develop a system to notate rhythm--the one we still use!

Thank you so much for the link to the scores of Turkish Classical music. Fascinating!

Jon Silpayamanant said...

Exactly! The fills (in Arabic, they are called lawazim; singular - lazimat) are functionally the same as ritornello! My first thought was that if the Concerto had developed in Egypt rather than Italy, this might be what it would sound like!

Eastern notation is endlessly fascinating to me. I think in many ways it much more appropriately captures the melodic content found in those regions and I do think it is interesting that this flows again from the Christian Church, albeit the Eastern Orthodox branch. Hampartsoum notation being one end point of that tradition and Russian Znamenny chant notation being the other. My first introduction to this notation was the latter through a friend who did her masters in that particular field of Russian music study.

The issue of notation is an interesting one, and while the Western Church did eventually create the lined notation which unambiguously designate pitches, it was very much a line of evolution suitable for the types of melodies based on scales found more often in the Western world which is why some experts believe the indigenous notations from various parts of the Near East more accurately depict non-Western scales. But there's the obvious problem of notation rhythm which the West worked out in ways very suitable for the Classical music tradition!

You're very welcome for the link to the scores. Here's the Mus2Okur project website--I keep hoping they develop software in English for those of us who don't read Turkish, but there is a freeware version of the program which allows you to hear some of the structural aspects of Ottoman Classical music--especially the makams--as well as excerpts of a number of the thousands of scores:

Bryan Townsend said...

Jon, I'm most grateful for informing me about a whole universe of music that I have never explored before. I will investigate further.

One question comes to mind. I can see how the original notation provides a context that a different notation would not, just as performance on a 16th century lute gets you much closer to the original than a guitar performance would, but could you think of a specific example of something melodic that was communicated in the original notation that would not be captured in modern Western notation?

Jon Silpayamanant said...

Yes, if you noticed the key signatures of some of the Turkish scores, various symbols had to be created to notate the variou 'microtonal' elements of certain makams. This isn's something new to the West, obvious as we have composers (e.g. Harry Partch, Ben Johnston, Ezra Sims) who have had to extend Western notation in the service of their extended microtonal scales systems, but all of those are individual idiosyncratic inventions while in Turkish and Arabic music the makams/maqams are system wide aspects of their musics.

I think the lines of the stave are perfectly suited for unambiguous notation of diatonic pitches (with key signatures and accidentals filling in rest of the gaps). The difference between a note place on a line as opposed to a space either above or below it will designated either a whole or half step difference. But notating quartertones or eighth tones become much more cumbersome (though not an insurmountable task) with the addition of half sharp/half flat or quarter sharp/quarter flat symbols.

The other example where Western notation fails is when a scale system, such at those found in Southeast Asia, aren't based on whole and half tones. Since the scales in Southeast Asia are 7 equaltempered scale steps, only one pitch will actually fall on a line or space (usually, for simplicity's sake it will be the tonic pitch) since each interval in the scale is just slightly smaller than a whole tone interval, but much larger than a half tone interval.

The improvised aspects are also difficult to notate, for obvious reasons, but that isn't something peculiar to non-Western musics as Western classical music (as we both know) had some tradition of improvisation (e.g. baroque figure bass and ornaments; classical era cadenzas).

Some Turkish music theorists even believe the quarter tone/eighth tone notation fails to accurately capture Turkish classical music since in the tradition, which borrowed heavily from the Arabic treatment of ancient Greek music theory, the smallest interval used is the comma. Turkish music theorists generall divide up the Western whole tone interval into 9 commas. Ozan Yarman is one of the biggest proponents of a much finer grade division of the octave for Turkish scales--this paper gives a nice overview of his ideas:

And I just happened to look at the Wikipedia page for Turkish Makams, someone has really been busy since the last time I checked--there are now 590 makams listed!

Bryan Townsend said...

Thanks so much for the discussion of microtonal notations. I had no idea that scales in Southeast Asia used seven equal steps. Have to do some listening in that area. It seems to me that a staff would work very well for that music: but the lines and spaces would just have different referents.

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