Saturday, October 26, 2019

How many of Beethoven's 32 piano sonatas end quietly? How many have only two movements?

How many of Beethoven’s 32 piano sonatas end quiety?

By my count, 13:  That is 2, 4, 5, 7, 10, 12, 16, 17, 20, 25, 27, 30, 32. 

It’s interesting that several of them are early, like #5 in C Minor, just three before the Pathetique.  Note the cute motive in the finale, and how the music winds down at the very end.

Some of the early sonatas seem to explore playfulness, and building themes out of the interplay of simple figurations or motives.  Yet as themes develop, a lot more seems to “happen” than did with Mozart and Haydn.

The idea of building up a work to a thrilling climax at the end was not common until the romantic period, and probably Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony was a prime early example. Then works in minor keys would do this with a second theme in a Picardy major key in the finale, which became more common with piano concerti.

This is hard to do with piano alone. Brahms manages to do it in Sonata 3.  Rachmaninoff did it with his second piano sonata, particularly (covered before).

Some composers, like Timo Andres, have said that quiet endings are more considerate of the listener.
Six of the Beethoven sonatas have only two movements:  19 and 20 ("two easy sonatas"), 22, 24, 27, 32. That doesn’t count slow movements which serve as extended introductions to finales (as in 21);  these still have the effect of being separate movements.

Thursday, October 24, 2019

Is classical music in trouble? NPR says, well, it's complicated. I agree -- business model problems

Northwest Public Broadcasting has an interesting perspective saying that the 2010’s have become classical music’s “decade of reckoning”, by Tom Huizenga and Anne Midgette.
That’s an apparent reference to a recent episode of “All Songs Considered” on NPR. 
Classical music seems bifurcated.  I’ve worked in development (fund raising) for the Minnesota Orchestra back in 2002-2003, and briefly selling ticket subscriptions through Arts Marketing (from Toronto) for the National Symphony late in 2003.
Symphony orchestras and to some extent large opera companies work somewhat as businesses.  They use conventional salesmanship culture and sometimes manipulation to sell subcriptions and get donors.  The Kennedy Center, at least, has uniformed volunteers. Like my karma says I should take my turn and serve a hitch as one. 

On the other hand, most younger composers write in an electronic and gimmicky style that seems like a fad to me.  But they have to live off of commissions. 

I have an idea to bring back some more postromantic music (although there is plenty of it on YouTube – some of it could be in trouble because of EU Article 17 eventually).  Actually, there is a body of music that is my own and I think actually has some historical value.  New technology in composition software, which I will have tested in the next few days, may well enable making this performable.  But since it is done without commission, I can imagine some “political” controversies.  (There is a correlated post on my “BillBoushka” main blog Oct 23 that mentions a similar concern.)

Picture:  Oakwood pts on Marquette in Minneapolis, near the symphony, where I worked for the Minnesota Orch on the second floor 2002-2003.  

Monday, October 21, 2019

You can show with measure theory (in real variables analysis) why the chromatic scale in music works

"3Blue1Brown" has an interesting video on “Music and Measure Theory”.

In graduate school in math, you study measure theory as part of real variable analysis.

The video explains that the notes on the chromatic scale have pitches that are related as multiples of the square root of 12.  It so happens that the square root of 12, when multiplied by a whole number, usually gives a multiple very close to a multiple by a rational number with a low denominator.

He also shows a trick in number theory that demonstrates that our brains don’t process geometric and algebraic intuition the same.
The musical keys don’t quite sound the same to me, and here is a site that sheds light on it.   Why does F Major work as a key for Brahms’s Symphony 3?

This topic seems to relate to the controversies of tuning scales during Bach’s time, leading to the composition of the “Well Tempered Clavier”.  This seems like a complicate topic in history, worth coming back to later.

The “math problem” solved in the video could well show up on an undergraduate math exam in an analysis course.  Maybe it could be on an AP test.  Or maybe a master’s orals.
You could look at Tibees’s YouTube channel for problems like this  (for example).  Maybe John Fish will take it up soon.

Thursday, October 17, 2019

"Introducing Mozart's Fortepiano"

Steven Devine, for the “Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment”, demonstrates how the fortepiano in Mozart’s time worked.

The white and black shadings of the keys are reversed (hence pianoforte today). 

The music still sounds clangy to modern ears (the plays a little of the opening of a Mozart G Major Sonata near the end).

He also demonstrates the “pedals” which were used for sound effects, not to reinforce legato.
What’s interesting is you can imagine being thrown into a time machine and having to experience music as it was at a particular time, in some sort of sci-fi scenario where you have been captured.

Monday, October 07, 2019

Beethoven's playful Piano Sonata #7

Although Beethoven’s Pathetique Sonata (#8) is well known, the understated Sonata #7 in D, Op. 10 #3, is a rather typical example of how Beethoven makes his early piano music “interesting”.

In the performances above by Lortie and Jando.  Notice the speed and compression of the spirited themes of the first movement, with a bit of triumph at the end (alla breve).  The slow movement is a dirge in the parallel minor in 6/8.  The third movement is a Menuetto recently quoted in the movies (I think it was “Goldfinch”) that had me fooled into thinking it was Mozart.  The Finale is a conversation of starts and stops and virtuosity before dissolving away into nothing.

Jonathan Biss has written a lot about this work on Facebook in November 2019. He describes the finale as a musical Q and A, and considers the slow movement a precursor to large slow movements Beethoven would compose later (like for the Hammerklavier). 

Tuesday, October 01, 2019

"Negative time signatures"?

Composer Adam Neely gives a spirited discussion of “negative time signatures”, like negative 4/4.

There have been other ideas like “negative harmonies”.

Neely talks about metric accents (strong and weak beats), dynamic accent, and agogic accent (held notes).  The over all impression is that his discussion applies to jazz and some pop, where off-beats make the music interesting, but the same thing happens in good piano writing, like in some of the early Beethoven sonatas.

Making rhythms interesting and part of the theme is what help build up to great music.  The handling of accents also matters when building to climaxes.