Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Charles Amirkhanian, Church Car (1980-1)

Sorry this blog has lapsed a bit. Things are settling down here a bit and I hope to resume. Enjoy!

Click here to listen to the performance

  1. Why did Amirkhanian choose the words he did?
  2. What do you imagine the score for this looks like?
  3. Which elements of this performance could be easily notated? Which aspects would be difficult to notate?
  4. I suspect many listeners will chuckle at some point during this performance. What is humorous about it, or what about it makes you smile?
  5. Is this music? Poetry? A little of both?
Additional resources:

Monday, July 25, 2011

"Smooth Criminal," Michael Jackson, et al.

Here's the original Michael Jackson version (1987):

Here's a cover by Alien Ant Farm (2001):

Here's a version by David Garrett (2009):

Here's a version by 2Cello (2011):

  1. What instruments are used in each version?
  2. How does the form of the song change from version to version?
  3. The third and fourth versions don't have lyrics; the vocal part has been transcribed for instruments. What effect does this have on your interpretation of the song? Would you interpret the latter two versions differently if you had never heard the lyrics?
  4. How important is the video to your understanding/interpretation of the song (or, each version of the song)?
  5. Are the Garrett and 2Cellos versions classical? Popular? Which elements of each appear in each version?
  6. How do the "cover" videos relate to the original, if at all?
  7. In what ways are the latter two videos "pop" videos (i.e., not just performance clips, but something you might see on MTV)?
Additional resources:

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Samuel Barber, Adagio for Strings (1936)

This recording comes from the last night of the BBC Proms in 2001, not long after the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Leonard Slatkin conducts the BBC Philharmonic:

  1. Describe the overall mood of the piece. What musical features contribute to this mood?
  2. This piece was composed inn 1936, yet it sounds markedly different from some of the other works from the early 20th c. that we have examined. In what ways is this piece forward-looking? In what ways is it backward-looking (one might say "nostalgic")?
  3. How much could we learn about the "meaning" of the piece if we knew about Barber's life circumstances while he composed it?
  4. Can a piece of music inherently be sad (or happy, or angry)? How might one accomplish this musically?
  5. This piece has been employed in a wide variety of "sad" contexts, including post-9/11 events, the movies Platoon and Lorenzo's Oil, and memorial services for a number of important figures. How might the piece's associations with these extra-musical events contribute to its meaning?
  6. Is there a difference between sounding sad and being sad?
  7. Why do people tend to seek out sad music when they are sad (as opposed to seeking out happy music to cheer them up)?
Additional resources:

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Special "popular" edition

Pursuant to a tweet from Norman Lebrecht, today's post explores notions of popular vs. classical.

Here is today's (7/6/2011) Billboard top 10 classical albums with links to as much media as I can find:
  1. Dream with me, Jackie Evancho
  2. Il Volo, Il Volo
  3. This is the Christ, Mormon Tabernacle Choir, et al.
  4. Il Volo, Edicion en Espanol
  5. Mediterraneo, Milos Karadaglic
  6. O Holy Night (EP), Jackie Evancho
  7. 99 Must-have Mozart Masterpieces
  8. 99 Must-have Chillout classics
  9. The Royal wedding: The Official Album
  10. Men of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir
  1. Jackie Evancho is eleven years old at the time of this writing, and she was the runner-up on the fifth season of America's Got Talent, a talent show in the mold of American Idol. She was selected through a nationwide voting process over a number of weeks. Does this make her popular?
  2. Why is "O Holy Night" on the Billboard charts in July?
  3. Il Volo has two albums on the chart: one is a Spanish version of the English album. What does the fact that both albums are on the chart say about our classical music listening audience?
  4. The following is the "offical" video for Karadaglic's rendition of "Asturias" by Albeniz:

    What has classical music learned from the popular music world on the basis of this video? Why release such a video for a work like this?
  5. Both the 99 Must-Have albums are available for $4.99 on (and, yes, they do contain 99 tracks); that works out to $0.05 per track. What (if anything) does this tell us about the value of classical music?
  6. If the music on this list were put into a time capsule, how would the people who unearth it in, say, 100 years define classical music in 2011?
  7. Would you consider any of the music on this list classical? Popular?
I may answer these questions myself for the curious reader on my other blog

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Kurt Weill, "Die Moritat von Mackie Messer" aus der Dreigroschen Oper (1928)

Here's a recording accompanied by interesting quasi-expressionist crayon drawings:

(n.b. I can't find a website with a good side-by-side translation. If you're interested, you might listen to one or both of the recordings below to get a sense of the lyrics)

  1. What instruments do you hear?
  2. Does the tone of the music match the content of the lyrics?
  3. Would you classify this as opera, musical theatre, or something else? Why? What distinguishes one genre from the other?
  4. What aspects of the song are popular? Which are more "classical?"
  5. What aspects of the song make it amenable to adaptations and arrangements such as those seen below?
  6. What problems are faced by someone trying to translate the lyrics? (As a point of departure, see how Google translates the first verse from German to English.
Additional resources:

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Milton Babbitt, Semi-simple variations (1956)

Here is a recording of Milton Babbitt's Semi-simple variations for piano:

  1. Describe your general aural impression of the piece. Is it organized? Chaotic? Melodic?
  2. What is being varied in this piece? How does Babbitt vary these elements?
  3. How many variations do you hear?
  4. What might Babbitt have meant by "semi-simple?"
  5. Compare this with other sets of variations for piano that you might know (see, for example, Webern's piano variations, which had a big influence on Babbitt)
  6. Could you determine whether or not this piece was improvised or strictly organized based solely on listening to it?
Additional resources:
  • Those Who Dig take an approach not unlike mine (n.b. I found this site after putting this post together)
  • A jazz arrangement (with choreography!) by The Bad Plus:

Friday, June 24, 2011

Gyorgy Ligeti, Poeme Symphonique (1962)

Some lighter (?) fare for your Friday:

(A translation of the narration can be found here.)

  1. What is/are the primary musical element(s) in this piece?
  2. Who is performing this work?
  3. What instruments are being used? Is the metronome a musical instrument?
  4. Which elements will be the same from performance to performance? Which elements will differ?
  5. What might the score for this piece look like?
Additional resources:
  • A translation of the score of this piece.
  • Another performance of the work:

    Part 2: