Music  Composition Assignment for 10.20.2017

 Music  Composition Assignment for 10.20.2017

Composition scholars, my sincere apologies for neglecting to get this to you. I hope it is not too much to digest in a short time. Also, as a heads up, my uncle passed away Tuesday afternoon. It is possible that I will be out this week if his funeral is scheduled for Friday. I don’t yet have information on that. Mr. William is already subbing in another class, so everything could devolve into chaos in short order. 🙂 I will do my best to either avoid being gone, or leaving you in the best hands that I can. Please be prepared to present your compositions in an orderly way. If I need to be gone, most likely the sub plans will consist of a lab day for you, where you can work on your semester project (remember that!) in class. Please bring any laptops, pocket keyboards, earbuds/headphones, or whatnot that you would need to be able to work independently. If I am there, we’ll continue on with the Baroque period as planned.

We discussed the Renaissance period this week, roughly from 1400-1600 AD. The philosophical characteristic of the time was humanism, or a focus on the individual. This is different from the Medieval period that largely focused on the community, and individuals were less important than the community. That is reflected in the major musical style of the period that we call polyphony, or many voices. Polyphony is more than a melody with harmony. Each line is equally important and independent of the others, though they sometimes meet up in ways that create moments of harmony.

Examples of excellent vocal polyphony can be found in Palestrina’s (1525-1594) masterpiece Sicut Cervus. You’ll notice that each line repeats the initial melodic fragment at different pitch levels based on the voice part, and then passes it around until the next idea is introduced. This video also has the score for you to watch how the voices interact. The text is in Latin, but is from psalm 42, “As the deer pants for the water….”

An excerpt of an instrumental example by Josquin de Prez (??-1521) is found here. We listened to El Grillo (The Cricket) in class.

Another fine instrumental example is the Canzon XVI by Giovanni Gabrieli (1557-1612). He worked at the famed San Marcos basilica in Venice, known for its construction that allowed for double choirs/ensembles to be used, meaning part of the group would be in one balcony with another part in another balcony, making a kind of double polyphony. Pretty cool.

If you want to completely nerd out on early Renaissance polyphony, I can highly recommend the Vespers by Claudio Monteverdi. This video is about an hour and 45 minutes and one of the finest recorded examples of this work. Another of my favorites is the much shorter O Magnum Mysterium (O Great Mystery) by Tomas Luis de Victoria (1548-1611). Notice that this one ends on a definitive major chord!

One last choral piece that just makes me happy to listen to it was composed a little later than our agreed upon end of the Renaissance, but is interesting nonetheless. Allegri’s Miserere, mei was likely composed in the 1630s for Holy Week services at the Vatican, and combines elements of Medieval chant, Renaissance polyphony, and even foreshadowing early Classical chordal construction. The performance in this video is by men and boys from King’s College. For a funny take on the piece, watch this short video from April Fool’s 2014 (it will make much more sense if you watch the “real” performance first.)
Your assignment this week is to compose an original polyphonic piece with at least 2 voices, and at least 24 measures in length. Remember each line needs to be independent and all lines are equally important. The composers of the Renaissance period were still using church modes in the early part of the period though major and minor came more into play later, and you have the option to use major, minor, or a church mode in your composition.This is not an easy one! After all, it only took 200 years or so to perfect polyphony, and you are doing it in a week. 🙂 Do your best, and I hope you find the challenge to be a fun one, or at least gain an appreciation for the craft these Renaissance composers developed. I’m looking forward to hearing your creativity on Friday!

My musical happy moment this week is an animation of the Ride of the Valkyries.

Heather R. Nelson, PhD

Singing Voice Specialist

Voice Teacher