Monday, July 7, 2014

Listening to Music

After quite a few years of doing minimal listening for a number of reasons; I have been doing a lot more lately. Yesterday was a fairly heavy listening day as I had the time. I listened to:

  • Three piano sonatas by Mozart
  • Eighteen harpsichord sonatas by Scarlatti (disc four in the complete Scott Ross recording)
  • Symphony no. 7 by Pettersson
  • Symphony no. 5 by Pettersson
  • Symphony no. 7 by Bruckner (first movement only)
  • Symphony no. 7 by Sibelius
That took a few hours. I started comparing 7th symphonies.

Somewhere in there it occurred to me that currently my three favorite composers are Haydn, Scarlatti and Shostakovich with Sibelius running a close fourth. The funny thing is that none of them are on the New York Times list of the Top Ten Classical Composers:

Left, 1. Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750). From top left, 2. Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827), 3. Wolfgang
Amadeus Mozart (1756 - 91). 4. Franz Peter Schubert (1797-1828). From middle left, 5. Claude Achille Debussy
(1862 - 1918), 6. Igor Stravinsky (1882 - 1971), 7. Johannes Brahms (1833 - 97). From bottom left, 8. Giuseppe
Verdi (1813 - 1901), 9. Richard Wagner (1813 - 83), 10. Bela Bartok (1881 - 1945).

Sure, I'm a big fan of Bach and Beethoven and Mozart too, not to mention Schubert, Debussy and Stravinsky. But I could do without a lot of the rest of the list. But I said "current favorites" and Haydn, Scarlatti and Shostakovich are it.

How could anyone listen to anything by Haydn and not start smiling? Here is a symphony, chosen absolutely at random:

And then there are the Scarlatti sonatas. Here is the whole of disc 4 of Scott Ross' recording with sonatas K. 49 through K. 66:

I mean, wow!?!


Rickard Dahl said...

So how is the work with the symphony going? If I understood it correctly you're taking a sort of neo-classical approach by using Haydn's orchestra as a model, i.e. strings, timpani, french horn, woodwinds (bassoon, oboe, flute mainly I suppose). But what kind of approach do you take to the other elements, i.e. harmony, melody, structure, counterpoint etc. Will it also be Haydnesque or more of your own approach?

I think a more interesting approach to a first symphony would be to change the orchestration completely. Changing the regular strings to plucked strings or including lets say accordion, recorder, cornet instead of some of the other instruments. Sure, it would be crazy but more exciting.

Anyways, I typically listen to a lot of music when I study, especially during problem solving exercises. However, now I'm free from school so I basically I don't listen so much. I do however focus a lot more on my composing, ear training and piano practice, thus I actively listen to music in a more practical way nowadays.

Bryan Townsend said...

I don't get to work on it every day. In fact, sometimes a week goes by without me able to spend any significant time with it. I would say it is 80% complete unless something comes to me that will radically extend a part of it. There are four movements:

Allegro (Scherzo)
Maestoso (Passacaglia)

It might be misleading to cite influences because a piece of music might inspire me to an idea that ends up sounding completely different. But I can say that I did take some Haydn finales as inspiration for the last movement.

I did play it for a friend of mine who is principle viola in an orchestra in California and she really liked it. But we both agreed that it needs some tweaking.

As this one is close to being finalized, I am starting to sketch out a second symphony. This one, as I see it right now, will be in the form of three "images" for orchestra and the titles will be in Spanish since I will probably be trying to get it performed here in Mexico. The three titles, which are also descriptions are:

Pájaro blanco, cielo azul (White bird, blue sky)
Caminando en las montañas (Walking in the mountains)
Cara hermosa (Beautiful face)

The idea of a radically different kind of instrumentation is one I have also had. I wrote a "string quartet" for violin, harpsichord, harp and guitar that turned out rather interesting. The problem with this is that you will almost never get the music performed! If you write for standard orchestral forces, your odds are much better.

Rickard Dahl said...

Good point. I guess it can be good to write for an odd combination if the instruments are few. For instance there aren't really that many classical pieces for instruments such as accordion. Thus you might find a classical accordionist eager to learn a piece specifically for accordion rather than an arrangement of something written for another instrument. But indeed, the more the instrumentation consists of instruments not typically used in classical music the less probable it is to be performed. A "safe" bet is probably writing a concerto and keeping everything regular except for the solo instrument.