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This is part 2 of a series; I encourage you to read part 1 in order to provide the context for today's post.

Here's the backstory:

In 2015, Jessy McCabe, 17, petitioned one of Britain’s biggest exam boards to change its A-level music syllabus to include female composers.

Ms. McCabe noticed that Edexcel’s A-level Music Syllabus featured 63 male composers and no female ones. She had also noticed that on 8 March 2015, BBC Radio 3 managed to programme an entire day of music by female composers to honour International Women’s Day.

“Surely, if BBC Radio 3 can play music composed by women for a whole day," Ms. McCabe wrote, "Edexcel could select at least one to be part of the syllabus alongside the likes of Holborne, Haydn and Howlin’ Wolf?”

Edexel was initially reluctant to make any such change. Its head of music wrote: “Given that female composers were not prominent in the western classical tradition (or others for that matter), there would be very few female composers that could be included.”

After a Change.org petition subsequently launched by Ms. McCabe received 4,000 signatures, Edexcel apparently bowed to public pressure and changed their 2016 syllabus to include works by five women: Clara Schumann, Rachel Portman, Kate Bush, Anoushka Shankar and Kaija Saariaho.

The story is very interesting, and, depending on your point of view, inspiring or alarming; you can read more about it here:
The inclusion of female composers/songwriters in the 2016 syllabus was celebrated by some, and criticized by others. Among the critics was Damian Thompson, who, in a 2015 article in The Spectator (a conservative British magazine on politics, culture, and current affairs, according to Wikipedia) entitled There’s a good reason why there are no great female composers, asked the question: How good is [women composers'] music compared with that of male composers? 

He discussed works by several women composers – Clara Schumann (1819–1896), Fanny Mendelssohn (1805–1847), Amy Beach (1867–1944), Dame Ethel Smyth (1858–1944), Elizabeth Maconchy (1907–1994), and Thea Musgrave (born 1928) – to support his conclusion that women composers were not as good as their male counterparts, and therefore their music did not merit inclusion in the list of composers to be studied by British A-level students.

The counter-argument proposed by Ms. McCabe was that the inclusion of women composers in the Edexcel A-Level syllabus was important, “so that girls are freely able and inspired to become composers, to enrich the A-level syllabus and to ultimately ensure that women’s works are valued, as they should be.”

Here are a few thoughts further to this episode, and Mr. Thompson's response to it:
  • As I pointed out in my previous post on this topic, the article's title, There's a good reason why there are no great female composers, is not the topic on which the article is based. In other words, at no point does Mr. Thompson discuss a reason, good or otherwise, why there are no great female composers. Exploring reasons for the lack of "great" (and greatness itself is a difficult to define term; who decides what's great, and what isn't? On what basis do we make such decisions?) music by female composers would, in my opinion, be a good topic of discussion, and probably one that would open the eyes of many people today on just how difficult it was to be a woman composer previous to, say, the 1960's. 
  • Only one of the five composers selected for criticism by Mr. Thompson actually made it into Edexcel's syllabus: Clara Schumann. He spent the bulk of his article arguing against the inclusion of women composers whose work was not actually included in the syllabus.
  • All works discussed in Mr. Thompson's article were selected by him. It seems possible that musicologists with expertise in the music of the named composers might have been able to find other, stronger works by these composers for discussion; when one's intention is to prove that music by women composers is not very good, it can hardly be a surprise when the examples chosen to illustrate this point do so rather well.
  • The threshold for inclusion in the Edexcell Syllabus is not "all-time" greatness, as in equal in quality to the music of Bach, Beethoven, and The Beatles. Ms. McCabe's letter, quoted above, mentions Anthony Holborne (late renaissance British composer of music primarily for lute, 1545-1602), and Howlin' Wolf (much-acclaimed blues singer and guitarist, 1910-1976). A quick perusal of Edexcel's 2016 syllabus reveals names such as Courtney Pine (British jazz musician, b. 1964), La Familia Valera Miranda(A family of musicians from the Oriente region of Cuba that play a mid-tempo form of ‘son’, Cuba’s traditional musical style), as well as Vivaldi, Vaughan Williams, and Berlioz. So, by not including works by women, there is an implied message that no women were as worthy of inclusion as all of the male musicians on the list, and this does not seem defensible. Since popular music artists are on the Edexcel list, why not include Kate Bush, Joni Mitchell, Carole King, or countless others? Since film music composers are another category, why not include Rachel Portman (who was included following Ms. McCabe's successful petition), Sofia Gubaidulina, or any of the other names on Wikipedia's list of female film composers?
  • I'm not sufficiently familiar with Edexcel's history to know if they make a special effort to include British composers in their syllabus, but I noticed quite a few such musicians in the 2016 syllabus. If they do give British composers/musicians any kind of preferential status, which they have every right to do, why not make the effort to be inclusive of other groups within British society as well, such as women? Thanks to Ms. McCabe, and a successful publicity campaign, they now do.
  • As I mentioned above, Ms. McCabe argued in favour of the representation of women composers on the Edexcel syllabus, “so that girls are freely able and inspired to become composers, to enrich the A-level syllabus and to ultimately ensure that women’s works are valued, as they should be.” This in itself is an interesting argument – I don't know if there are any studies that prove that exposure to music by members of a target population empower or encourage other members of that target population to pursue careers in music, but it certainly seems possible. And if it is possible, then it seems worth doing.
That's all for now, but please leave a comment if you agree or disagree with any of this.

Once again, here are a couple of recordings of music by Clara Schumann, with scrolling scores:


Clara Schumann - Piano Concerto in A minor, Op. 7 - YouTube


Clara Schumann: Piano Trio Op. 17 (1846) - YouTube
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I recently came across a provocative article from 2015 in The Spectator, called "There's a good reason why there are no great women composers," by Damian Thompson, who is described in Wikipedia as an English journalist, editor and author with a Ph.D in the sociology of religion from the London School of Economics. He writes a monthly column about classical music for The Spectator.

Not familiar with The Spectator? Here is an excerpt from its description in Wikipedia, which I've abridged slightly, indicated by the ellipses (…):
"The Spectator is a weekly British magazine on politics, culture, and current affairs. It was first published in July 1828... Its principal subject areas are politics and culture. Its editorial outlook is generally supportive of the Conservative Party, although regular contributors include some outside that fold... The magazine also contains arts pages on books, music, opera, and film and TV reviews."
If you align yourself ideologically as a liberal or progressive, you may be reluctant to pay much attention to a conservative journal, but I believe in making your own mind up about things on a case-by-case basis, and not simply based on the degree to which others are expressing views that align with your own – so let's examine what the article actually says.


For starters, the article's title is misleading; at no point does it propose "a good reason why there are no great women composers;" it does not explore that question at all. In many publications, an article's title is not written by the article's author – there are others whose job it is to write headlines – so perhaps the author is not to blame for the misleading title.

Here's what the author writes:
"Last week a 17-year-old girl forced the Edexcel exam board to change its A-level music syllabus to include the work of women composers. Jessy McCabe, a sixth former at Twyford Church of England High School in London, started a petition after studying gender inequality. Good for her, you might think. But is it good for A-level students?
"A delicate question lies at the heart of the subject of female composers, and it’s not ‘Why are they so criminally underrepresented in the classical canon?’ It’s ‘How good is their music compared with that of male composers?’"
Is this a legitimate question? It is, as the author acknowledges, a "delicate" one – simply asking the question might offend some – but it is fair game to ask questions such as this? Before answering, consider whether it is okay to ask other, similar questions, such as the following:
  • How good is British music of the 18th and 19th centuries, compared with that of German and Austrian composers?
  • How good is French music of the 18th and 19th centuries, compared with that of German and Austrian composers?
  • How good is American music of the 18th and 19th centuries, compared with that of German and Austrian composers?
  • How good is Salieri's music, compared with Mozart's?
And so on…

We tend to assume that the canonical works of classical music history are the result of a Darwinian meritocracy – we perform and study Beethoven, Mozart, Bach, etc., because they represent the artistic pinnacle of human achievement within their periods in the art form that is classical music.

So, you might ask, why not ask questions such as those above?

My feeling is that it is fine to ask any of these questions, but I wonder (a) where do they get us, and (b) what the motivation is behind these questions?


Where do these questions get us?

Let's assume, for the sake of this discussion, that the answer to all of the above questions, is "less good." That is, Salieri's music is less good than Mozart's; American, British, and French music of the 18th and 19th centuries is less good than that of German and Austrian composers; and women composers of these periods composed music that did not rise to the level of Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, and Brahms, which I'll group as "A-List" composers.

So what?

Does that mean we jettison the music of "lesser" composers – Berlioz, Robert Schumann, Schubert, Holst, Elgar, Rossini, Bizet, Sibelius, Smetana, Felix Mendelssohn, Liszt, Bruckner, Borodin, Saint-Saëns, etc. – from the repertoire? I'll call these "B-List" composers.

Well, of course not! Each of the "lesser" composers listed above wrote wonderful music that has moved generations of classical music lovers, and the musical landscape would be considerably poorer without their contributions.

But wait, you might shout! The "lesser" composers above were still excellent composers!

I agree! They were indeed excellent composers, whose only misfortune was failing to achieve the exalted artistic heights of Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, and Brahms.

So, let's look at a list of composers whose level of artistic achievement does not come very close to the level of the "lesser" composers above; these are composers I have heard of, and in all cases, whose music I have actually heard; they were selected (by me) from the lists of classical composers found in Wikipedia under: List of Classical-era composers.

And I will add that for every name listed below, there were probably about 10 other names I did not include, because I was unfamiliar with them. These might be "C-List" composers; some might even be "D-List:"

Wilhelm Friedemann Bach (1710–1784)
William Boyce (1711–1779)
Johann Ludwig Krebs (1713–1780)
Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach (1714–1788)
Christoph Willibald Gluck (1714–1787)
Johann Wenzel Anton Stamitz (1717–1757)
Johann Philipp Kirnberger (1721–1783)
Antonio Soler (1729–1783)
Johann Christoph Friedrich Bach (1732–1795)
Jean-Jacques Beauvarlet Charpentier (1734–1794)
Johann Christian Bach (1735–1782)
Michael Arne (1740–1786)
Samuel Arnold (1740–1802)
Giovanni Paisiello (1740–1816)
Carl Stamitz (1745–1801)
Joseph Quesnel (1746–1809)
Domenico Cimarosa (1749–1801)
Johann Nikolaus Forkel (1749–1818)
Muzio Clementi (1752–1832)
Josef Reicha (1752–1795)
Vicente Martín y Soler (1754–1806)
Anton Stamitz (1754–1798 or 1809)
Luigi Cherubini (1760–1842)
Johann Ladislaus Dussek (1760–1812)
Ferdinando Carulli (1770–1841)
Anton Reicha (1770–1836)
Sophia Corri Dussek (1775–1847)
Johann Nepomuk Hummel (1778–1837)
Fernando Sor (1778–1839)
Anton Diabelli (1781–1858)
Mauro Giuliani (1781–1829)
John Field (1782–1837)
Niccolò Paganini (1782–1840)
Louis Spohr (1784–1859)
Friedrich Kuhlau (1786–1832)
Carl Maria von Weber (1786–1826)
Carl Czerny (1791–1857)
Giacomo Meyerbeer (1791–1864)
Gaetano Donizetti (1797–1848)

Aha! Now we're getting somewhere! These composers are, at least in my opinion, significantly "lesser" than anyone on the list of "lesser" B-List composers above!

And yet they all had careers as composers, and every one of these composers has works that have been recorded multiple times by many different performing artists. In the case of the guitar composers on the list (Carullil, Sor, Giuliani), I have played their music, and professional guitarists continue to play their music regularly.

It can be fun, interesting, and instructive to consider and debate which composers belong to the A-List, which belong on the B-List, which are on the C-List, etc.

But I am still not sure where this gets us, except perhaps it might motivate us to reconsider composers whose music we had previously dismissed, and thereby perhaps discover some good music we otherwise would not have bothered with. And that would be a good thing, I think.

So the real question, as it applies to women composers, is not whether they were capable of writing music that matched the quality of the greatest male composers, but whether the best women composers were writing music that compared favourably with the music of any of the "lesser" composers from any of the lists above.

Everyone can come to their own conclusions on this question, but if you were to suggest that Clara Schumann and Fanny Mendelssohn failed to match the artistic level of Paisiello, Stamitz, Carulli, et al, I would suggest otherwise, and yet the music of Paisiello, Stamitz, and Carulli, et al, continues to be performed and recorded without any extramusical justification (e.g., "we're performing music by composers based in Milan from 1750-1800 on tonight's programme!), whereas I suspect many people feel that the only reasons Clara Schumann and Fanny Mendelssohn get performed nowadays are (a) they shared the same last name as more famous composers, and (b) they were women, and if they were men we would have forgotten about their music long ago.

And I would suggest that while (a) might have some validity, (b) does not; had they been men, I don't think anyone would question why their music continues to be recorded and performed today, any more than people question why the music of many of the "C-List" composers above gets recorded and performed.


What is the motivation behind these questions?

So, in the case of the article from The Spectator mentioned at the outset of today's post, the motivation seems pretty clear: To discredit women composers. They were not, the author argues, as good as the great male composers, so we should therefore stop all this political correctness nonsense and not include their music on the Edexcel exam board A-level music syllabus.

And yes, this is my own summary of the Spectator article, but you should read it yourself to see if am being unfair or overly harsh.

This motivation, if I have represented it fairly, is not in itself bad – if I were motivated to write an article about why the first movement of Beethoven's Waldstein sonata is considerably more sophisticated than the first movement of his first published sonata, op. 2 no. 1, I would like to think that the motivation is fine, as long as I were able to support my conclusion with clear and unbiased evidence.

Where this kind of motivation is problematic, however, is that the writer is starting with a conclusion that is largely dismissive of an entire group of composers, and then finding evidence to support the conclusion. This is the level of discourse you see on phone-in sports shows on radio or television ("I think Mike Trout [major-league baseball player, considered by many to be the best of his generation] SUCKS! I watched a game the other night where he make an error and struck out TWICE! Hell, I could have done that!"), or in bar discussions by drunken folk (I still remember one such discussion from many years ago between two people I knew, about whether dogs were better than cats, or vice-versa).

Ideally, we'd all find a way to look at evidence objectively and then write intelligently about what we learned from the experience, but I recognize that we are far from any kind of ideal when it comes to discourse on anything, especially on controversial matters.


As so often happens in my blog posts, I have gone on much longer than planned… I was going to look at and listen to some of the works by women composers and see if the author of The Spectator article was being fair or not, but I will save that for my next post.

In the mean time, here are a couple of recordings of music by Clara Schumann, with scrolling scores:


Clara Schumann - Piano Concerto in A minor, Op. 7 - YouTube


Clara Schumann: Piano Trio Op. 17 (1846) - YouTube
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This is the third of my short forays into the music of composers associated with the term "sacred" (or "holy") minimalism. The previous two posts in this series touched on Aarvo Pärt and Henryk Górecki.

A third composer associated with this term is John Tavener, described in Wikipedia as follows:
"During his career he became one of the best known and popular composers of his generation, most particularly for The Protecting Veil, which as recorded by cellist Steven Isserlis became a bestselling album, and Song for Athene which was sung at the funeral of Princess Diana."
Here are recordings of the two mentioned pieces; have a listen, and share your thoughts in the "Comments" section below, if you wish.

Let me know if you have any suggestions of other favourite Tavener pieces to add to these recordings; I'll happily post more recordings if I get suggestions.

The Protecting Veil: Section 1 - YouTube


Tavener: Song for Athene (King's College Choir, Cambridge) - YouTube
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One of my favourite quotes from the world of sports comes from Josh Donaldson, formerly of the Toronto Blue Jays, who, following yet another frustrating loss on May 16, 2015, said:
"This isn't the "try" league, this is the "get it done" league. And you know, eventually they're gonna find people who are going to get it done."
Although that may sound like a threat – do your job well, or they'll find someone else to do it – he was absolutely correct: Major League Baseball regards itself as the highest-level of that sport in the world, and, as a general rule, if you aren't getting it done at the highest level, it doesn't really matter how hard you are trying; you'll find yourself demoted to the minor leagues, or even ushered unceremoniously out of the sport altogether.

Perhaps Mr. Donaldson was channelling his inner Yoda, from The Empire Strikes Back:
"Try not. Do… or do not. There is no try."
As it turned out, both Josh and the team did indeed get it done that year – Mr. Donaldson won the American League Most Valuable Player award, and the team came first in the American League East Division for the first time in twenty-two years.

I was very excited – yes, I am a huge baseball fan – but that is besides the point of today's post, which is: How can we apply this to composing, and to compositional training?


Well, for starters, if you are studying music, I'm not sure how useful it is to try to figure out if you're currently in the "try" league or the "get it done" league, although I really feel we should all aspire to reach (and stay in) the "get it done" league. I'll explain what I mean below.

If you're in the process of developing your compositional skills, I'm not sure you're in a league at all, but if you are, perhaps it would be the "learning how to get it done" league. Baseball has various instructional leagues, as well as high school and college programmes for this purpose, and music has universities, schools, conservatories, and less structured modes of learning as well, such as teaching yourself, learning from peers, and emulating musicians you admire.

But, even in the training process, there are probably things that we can identify that we need to get done, such as the following:
  1. Finishing a composition.
  2. Finishing a composition by a deadline.
  3. Finishing a composition by a deadline, and being satisfied that it is as good as you can make it in your current stage of development.
  4. Everything in number 3, plus making sure that all score details and other matters of score presentation are as clear and unambiguous as they can be.
  5. Everything in number 4, plus getting the score and parts to performers in plenty of time for them to learn it, assuming you're hoping to have it performed in an upcoming concert. 
  6. Everything in number 5, plus doing whatever it takes to address any concerns the performers (or commissioner) has, including modifying sections of the score if necessary. This is something I plan on writing a post about in the near future, by the way.

At times I have taken an absurd amount of time to work on the ending of compositions. I have spent weeks rewriting the ending on a daily basis, until I eventually found one that I felt did the piece justice, because I never want people to hear my piece and say, what the hell just happened there at the end? It was all going pretty well up to the last minute or so! Or, perhaps more importantly, I don't want to think such thoughts about my own piece when I hear it in a concert.

There is plenty of justification for taking the time necessary to "get it right," not just in the ending, but in every section of your composition (I guess, if you want to keep using sports slogans, you could call this the "get it right" league), but, most of the time, composers face the challenge of both finding a way to both get it done, and get it right by the deadline, since in most cases, we have deadlines to meet.

My general advice is to always try to get it right, but never allow that to get in the way of finishing by your deadline.

Why? Here are some of the negative outcomes that may result if you "get it right" but miss your deadline:
(a) The performers in many cases will not play your piece,
(b) The performers may resent you for not giving them sufficient time to learn the piece well,
(c) Your reputation will probably take a hit, particularly if writing for professionals, and
(d) If it is a commission, you may not get paid!
Developing the habit of finishing by a deadline is, I would therefore suggest, essential for composers, and, lest you feel inclined to beat yourself up because in order to finish by a deadline, the ending or any other sections are not as good as you would like, I feel your pain, but just remember that you can always make further changes to the composition after the first performance. If you can find/make an opportunity for a second performance (which itself can be a challenge), that version of the piece may be the one with which you are fully satisfied.

But, when faced with a deadline, try to channel your inner Josh Donaldson, your inner Yoda, and yes, even your inner Queen Elsa from Frozen (!), and let it go.
Sorry. ☺️ No more slogans or catch-phrases, I promise!
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Another Górecki piece (with scrolling score), quite different in character from the Symphony of Sorrowful Songs. Here's the write-up of this piece posted at the publisher's website:
Three Pieces in the Old Style were written in 1963, in answer to a friendly accusation on the part of Tadeusz Ochlewski, then director of PWM Edition, who stated that Górecki's works were lacking in melody. Work on the new composition lasted from 28 November to 23 December 1963, and its premiere took place on 30 April 1964 in Warsaw. 
This work was a sort of novelty - for here in the art of a young composer who had already openly declared himself as supporter of the avant-garde, there suddenly appeared three miniature pieces combined in one small cycle, characterized by a very strong reference to the style of Renaissance music. The composer himself mentioned years later that they had been an antidote for him, an attempt to go beyond the aesthetic of sonorism and post-serialism flourishing at the time. 
Written for string orchestra, this little work encompasses three segments, maintained in different tempi and differing in character. The outer movements of the cycle, reminiscent of lively dances, surround the nostalgic second piece. About this piece, Tadeusz Zieliński wrote in 1975: The purposefully simple, but at the same time tasteful dosage of purely sonorist values of string sound, variation and contrast in its density and dynamics, lead us to the very essence of Góreckis individual style. These pieces represent a modest (as it were, simplified, adapted to the archaic theme), but effective and charming sample of this style and the typical aesthetic-technical issues of their creator. 
Duration: 10 minutes
Henryk Górecki - Three Pieces in Old Style (Audio + Score) - YouTube
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This is a list of most of the blog entries posted so far, organized loosely by topic.

This is not a completely comprehensive list; entries relating to class business – reminders of deadlines, concert congratulations, order of class presentation, etc. – are omitted.
→ Exploring the Creative Process; Struggles and Solutions ←
Strike While the Iron is Hot! (includes section on "writer's block")
→ Planning ←
→ Playing With Expectations; Musical Dichotomies ←
→ Composition Techniques 
→ Form in Post-Tonal Music ←
→ Atonality; What's in a Name? ←
→ Winning and Losing; Judging and Being Judged; Reference Letter Do's and Don'ts ←
→ Audience Response to Contemporary Classical Music and Marketing ←
→ Composition Issues (10-part series that started this blog) ←
1.1. The quality of ideas may not matter very much in assessing compositions that emerge from them; and
1.2. The degree to which these ideas are original may not matter very much.
2.1. Study the music of others.
2.2. Compose as much as you can.
2.3. Invite criticism from others.
3.1. Live with it for a while.
3.2. What is it about?
3.3. Does it change character?
3.4. What is its function within the context of the piece?
3.5. Structural Analysis.
3.6. Harmonic (or Pitch, Scale, etc.) Analysis.
7.1. Less is more / More is more
7.2. Always leave them wanting more / Give them what they want
7.3. Don't treat the listener like an idiot / There's a sucker born every minute
7.4. There can be too much of a good thing / If you have a good idea, then stick with it!
7.5. The George Costanza approach.
8.1. Three models for the role of a composer
8.2. Mastery or Mystery?
8.3. The value of a plan
8.4. Getting stuck, and possible workarounds
8.5. Don't obsess
8.6. Challenges = Opportunities
→ Composition Projects ←
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Last week I wrote about one of the most popular works written in the last fifty yearsFratres, by Arvo Pärt – and a compositional approach/ideology that is known by many names, two of which are Sacred Minimalism, and Holy Minimalism.

Henryk Górecki (1933-2010) was another composer associated with this movement, and he wrote what is without any doubt the most popular classical composition of the past 50 years: Symphony No. 3, known as the "Symphony of Sorrowful Songs" (1976; just one year prior to Pärt's Fratres).

How popular did it become? Consider this:
  • It became a "smash hit" in 1992 when it was released on the Elektra-Nonsuch label, featuring soprano soloist Dawn Upshaw and the London Sinfonietta, conducted by David Zinman; this recording has sold over a million copies to date;
  • This recording reached number 6 on the mainstream UK album charts (note: these are the pop music charts, not classical);
  • It reached number 1 on the US classical charts, and stayed there for 38 weeks;
  • It remained on the US classical charts for 138 weeks. 
  • Wikipedia reports that "it probably counts as the best selling contemporary classical record of all time."
All of these achievements pertain to just one recording, but it has also been released on many other discs; it would not surprise me if the overall number – the one that includes ALL recordings sold of this work – is in the neighbourhood of 1.5 million, but this is just a wild guess on my part.

I don't know of any analysis that explains why this work became so popular, and I'm not sure that such an analysis is even possible. The reasons behind anything going viral to this degree are a combination of things you can analyze (e.g., "it's a beautiful work;" see more listed below), and momentum, like a snowball rolling down a hill becoming increasingly bigger, to the point where it can wipe out anything in its path.

But at least some of the reasons for its popularity may be:
  1.  The work really is very beautiful – the harmony is always tonal/modal, albeit with lots of "blurring" (sustained notes, layered on top of one another) – so listeners unfamiliar with classical music (and those that are) are not hearing anything that might come as a sonic shock to them;
  2.  It has a calm, soothing quality, for the most part – a quality associated with other works in the "Sacred Minimalism" style (including last week's example, "Fratres");
  3.  Being a type of minimalism, there is lots of repetition, but nowhere near to the degree you find in pulsed minimalist works by, say, Steven Reich, or in static minimalist works by Morton Feldman (although, there are elements of stasis in Górecki's piece as well);
  4.  The text is about things that anyone with any degree of empathy in their makeup can relate to; it consists of three laments, told from the perspective of a mother grieving dying (in the first movement) or dead (in the third movement) son, or, in the second movement, told from the perspective of an 18-year old girl imprisoned in a gestapo prison in 1944, and later killed. The text is below.
First Movement
My son, my chosen and beloved
Share your wounds with your mother
And because, dear son, I have always carried you in my heart,
And always served you faithfully
Speak to your mother, to make her happy,
Although you are already leaving me, my cherished hope.

(Lamentation of the Holy Cross Monastery from the "Lysagóra Songs" collection. Second half of the 15th century)

Second Movement
No, Mother, do not weep,
Most chaste Queen of Heaven
Support me always.
"Zdrowas Mario."
(*)
(Prayer inscribed on wall 3 of cell no. 3 in the basement of "Palace," the Gestapo's headquarters in Zadopane; beneath is the signature of Helena Wanda Blazusiakówna, and the words "18 years old, imprisoned since 26 September 1944.")
(*) "Zdrowas Mario" (Ave Maria)—the opening of the Polish prayer to the Holy Mother
Third Movement
Where has he gone
My dearest son?
Perhaps during the uprising
The cruel enemy killed him

Ah, you bad people
In the name of God, the most Holy,
Tell me, why did you kill
My son?
Never again
Will I have his support
Even if I cry
My old eyes out

Were my bitter tears
to create another River Oder
They would not restore to life
My son

He lies in his grave
and I know not where
Though I keep asking people
Everywhere

Perhaps the poor child
Lies in a rough ditch
and instead he could have been
lying in his warm bed

Oh, sing for him
God's little song-birds
Since his mother
Cannot find him

And you, God's little flowers
May you blossom all around
So that my son
May sleep happily
(Folk song in the dialect of the Opole region)
It is a very long piece –54 minutes – so be prepared; it gets off to a very slow and quiet start, so quiet that, if you are listening to this through your computer speakers, it is very difficult to hear anything for the first few minutes. For this reason, I have the video below cued to start shortly before the soprano enters, but obviously you should feel free to go back to the start of the piece and listen to the whole thing if you wish.

Its length, stasis, and repetitiveness have led some to wonder how many of the people who bought this disc actually listened to the whole thing, and, for those that did, how many listened to it more than once (this question is referenced in the Wikipedia article).

As always, share any thoughts you may have in the comments section below.

Henryk Górecki Symphony no. 3 - Dawn Upshaw (soprano); David Zinman & London Sinfonietta - YouTube
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A former student initially suggested this piece as an example of "music with no melody," although he later changed his mind on that (I think), but, while I don't consider this to belong to the "no melody" category – beautiful melodies abound – I do think it's a beautiful piece, and well worth listening to.

Fratres (1977), by Arvo Pärt, is a hugely popular modern classic, and it exists in many different versions because it was written with no specific instrumentation. It has been described as a “mesmerising set of variations on a six-bar theme combining frantic activity and sublime stillness that encapsulates Pärt’s observation that ‘the instant and eternity are struggling within us.’” (Wikipedia)

Pärt considered this to be an example of a compositional style he called "Tintinnabuli," described as follows by Wikipedia:
"This simple style was influenced by the composer's mystical experiences with chant music. Musically, Pärt's tintinnabular music is characterized by two types of voice, the first of which (dubbed the "tintinnabular voice") arpeggiates the tonic triad, and the second of which moves diatonically in stepwise motion. The works often have a slow and meditative tempo, and a minimalist approach to both notation and performance. Pärt's compositional approach has expanded somewhat in the years since 1970, but the overall effect remains largely the same."
Check it out and share your thoughts on it below in the "comments" section. Also, I invite you to suggest any other pieces that are in some way related to this.

Arvo Pärt - Fratres For Strings And Percussion - YouTube


Pärt's music is considered by some be exemplify a movement in late-19th-century composers called "Holy minimalism," or "mystic minimalism," "spiritual minimalism," or "sacred minimalism." Here's how this is described in Wikipedia:
With the growing popularity of minimalist music in the 1960s and 1970s, which often broke sharply with prevailing musical aesthetics of serialism and aleatoric music, many composers, building on the work of such minimalists as Terry Riley, Philip Glass and Steve Reich, began to work with more traditional notions of simple melody and harmony in a radically simplified framework. This transition was seen variously as an aspect of musical post-modernism or as neo-romanticism, that is a return to the lyricism of the nineteenth century.

In the 1970s and continuing in the 1980s and 1990s, several composers, many of whom had previously worked in serial or experimental milieux, began working with similar aesthetic ideals[3] – radically simplified compositional materials, a strong foundation in tonality or modality, and the use of simple, repetitive melodies – but included with them an explicitly religious orientation. Many of these composers looked to Renaissance or medieval music for inspiration, or to the liturgical music of the Orthodox Churches, some of which employ only a cappella in their services. Examples include Arvo Pärt (an Estonian Orthodox), John Tavener (a British composer who converted to Greek Orthodoxy), Henryk Górecki (a Polish Catholic), Alan Hovhaness (the earliest mystic minimalist), Sofia GubaidulinaGiya KancheliHans OttePēteris Vasks and Vladimír Godár.

Despite being grouped together, the composers tend to dislike the term, and are by no means a "school" of close-knit associates. Their widely differing nationalities, religious backgrounds, and compositional inspirations make the term problematic, but it is nonetheless in widespread use, sometimes critically, among musicologists and music critics, primarily because of the lack of a better term.
Check out some of these composers' music, and share any suggestions you may have for pieces to listen to in the comments section below!
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Welcome to my advanced composition students! I look forward to working with you this term.

At the end of this morning's class, I played an example of a short, character piece for piano and flute in which all chords were classifiable as "poly-harmonies," which means the superimposition of different tonal harmonies to produce a non-tonal (i.e., post-tonal) result.

Be aware that some chord superimpositions do not produce a non-tonal sonority, however. For example, if you superimpose an F chord over a G chord, the result is a G11 chord, not a new, post-tonal sonority. If you want to try writing a piece using poly-harmonies, make sure the resulting chord is not classifiable as an existing tonal harmony, and, more importantly, make sure that a chord that might possibly be classifiable as an existing harmony does not function or progress in the way that chord would in tonal music.

One of the most famous examples of poly-harmonies is the so-called "Petroushka Chord," in which F# major and C major triads are superimposed; this was the starting point of the piece played in this morning's class.

If this topic interests you, check out the three blog posts I wrote on Post-Tonal Harmony Ideas; each has audio examples and score examples to follow:

Post-Tonal Harmony Ideas (1)
Post-Tonal Harmony Ideas (2)
Post-Tonal Harmony Ideas (3) – This is the post that contains the piece played in this morning's class.

Finally, although this next link takes you to one of the posts I wrote on a different topic (ostinatos), it has examples of a related topic – bitonality – from The Rite of Spring: Ostinatos; making a lot from a little (2. Rite of Spring). This too may interest you.

If you read any of the above blog posts and find them interesting, please leave a comment in the "Post a comment" section below (you have to be signed-in to your Google account in order to post comments).
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