Monday, 30 May 2016

Lili Boulanger “Pie Jesu”

General text

Pie Jesu Domine,
Dona eis requiem. (×2)
Pious Lord Jesus,
Give them rest.
Pie Jesu Domine,
Dona eis requiem sempiternam.   
Pious Lord Jesus,
Give them everlasting rest.

Text in Boulanger’s setting.

Pie Jesu Domine,
Dona eis requiem
. (×2)

Fig 1
Pie Jesu Domine,
Dona eis requiem
Pie Jesu Domine,

Fig 2
Instrumental section 1, eight bars

Pie Jesu
Dona eis requiem

Fig 3 Un peu anime.
Pie Jesu
Dona eis
sempiternam requiem.  

Fig. 4 

Pie Jesu Domine,
Dona eis requiem.

sempiternam requiem.  


This is Lili Boulanger’s last work, written as she was dying at the early age of 25 from Crohn’s disease. In my view the use of sempiternam requiem in the second half may be taken as the focus point, eternal rest, both as a personal and universal entreaty.

Garbriel Fauré’s setting is by far the best known of Pie Jesu settings, this taken in conjunction with the fact that Lili Boulanger was a pupil of the composer may easily colour one’s judgement into hearing relationships which in fact do not exist. There are superficial connections but these are so slight that close examination makes the kinship all but invalid. The one area of similarity that holds is in the setting of the words, not note for note similarity of rhythm but in their general contour, and even in this respect the rising phrase in fig. 1 from Pie Jesu Domine (G A flat B flat C) to Dona eis requiem (A B flat C D flat) makes clear the urgency of the appeal, this is not emphasised in the Fauré.

The term urgency may suggest that there is more tension in this music than there is, in reality the music is designed to articulate stillness. Take the opening phrase of 12 beats, it forms a rise and fall in thirds by chromatic movement, producing a classic ‘bell’ shape. Place this in context with the string F, G flat, F rise and fall we have tension and resolution with the G flat at the apex. I hear the harmony as outlining G minor to B flat (second inversion) to E flat9 and back in a hypnotic set of repetitions, not a million miles from the Satie-like motion of the Gymnopedies. Readers who are intrigued by this use of static figures may wish to follow up a similar outline which can be heard in the opening of the “Old Buddhist Prayer” where the harmony is a distinctive as the Pie Jesu but less chromatic.

The rise and fall figure saturates the whole score and once one’s hearing is directed towards the feature is becomes the main focus of the instrumental writing. This design is not slavishly followed, sometimes the movement is in the form of an ostinato (at figure 1) which evolves to the only genuine repeat of a bar as a chord structure, seen over bars 15 and 16 to “Pie Jesu” at f dynamic one of only two such markings, the remainder of the music being predominantly in the p – ppp level. The second dynamic highpoint is in the transition to the pedal note section which marks a significant section change in the music.

Where there is progression in the music it is gradual and often chromatic, e.g. the opening F, G flat, F figure (marked fig. x in the manuscript) gradually evolves first in groups of three pitches then two to create a sense of momentum up to the first high point (on D) which marks the change of texture with the pedal A flat. The music example given shows how the strings create momentum through gradual stepwise rises and then dissipate the tension at the close with the ostinato rise and fall outline.

When I first examined the score I considered the rehearsal markers as well placed to show the changes in the section, sectioned which are beautifully dovetailed to make the music as seamless as possible. Taking a crotchet count of the sections seemed to give a symmetrical outline

Opening to 1      48 beats

1-2                          60

2-3                          78

3-4                          60

4 to close             48 + final sustained chord of 4 beats

However, close inspection of the changes showed a different pattern, again starting with 48 beats

48 / 60 / 42 // pedal A flat 36 / pedal D 36 / transition 24.  4/4 section 24 + 24 + final bar.

Counting in groups of 6 this gives:

8 / 10 / 7 / 6 + 6 / 4 / 4 + 4 / closing sustained bar, which gives 25 groups of six for the first half and 24+ for the second, so the pedal points arrive at the halfway point of the work, marking the repeat of “Pie Jesu”.

The pedal points dominate the final part of the music, moving from the D pedal (including the transition) through C to G where the ostinato D, E, F, E provides an ambiguous ending.

The final part to consider in this overview of the work is the vocalist’s melody, which is not truly melodic in any sense. I am certain that many listeners who appreciate the sweet tones of several other works titled “Pie Jesu” will find the melody puzzling and the first rise on Dona eis from G through D to G flat where is rings out against the adjacent F natural almost alarming.  In truth the vocalist’s part is very bare, sometimes reflecting on the melodic development of the strings, but more often arising from the harmony created by the oscillations in the accompaniment. The very closing bars on A-men are the most clearly melodic with the D, E, F, E, D shape partly decorated (and clearly heard in the ostinato in the bass).

As with all composers who die young we wonder about the directions their music may have taken. The both the linear and chord formations in this work indicate an interest akin to the non-progressive harmonies that were to influence a number of later French composers, and it clearly shows characteristics that were to be of significance in the second half of the 20th century.

Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Saturday, 21 May 2016

Some composing outcomes when using O1 and O2 scales

In today’s blog we would like to share some correspondence via e-mail. The material is tidied up a little for clarity but essentially it follows our reactions to writing some (very different sounding) music based on symmetrical scales. We hope that this, and the links, may offer some ideas for further music, and if you do use these scales we would love to hear of your experiences in using them.

(Nurtan’s mail).

I would like to share some thoughts on using the O1 and O2 scales covered in some detail in our blog. (see links below).

Dealing with these particular scales, which were new to both Ken and myself, was like ploughing an unfamiliar field. In order to prepare ourselves for the exploration we required some perspective of the origins of the material. Historically the O1 and O2 scales were first examined when we were trying to understand the methods, scales and sonorities used by Frank Bridge in his Piano Sonata. While they belong to the general class of symmetric scales, these O scales have a cyclic property that results in an abundance of whole tone, whole- half tone, half tone chords. The concurrent melodies have an open chord feeling and relationships that have intriguing sonorities. In addition, as explained in the technical blog on the O scales, they are compactly interchangeable which makes them very useful tools for modulation and creating transitions. The property that facilitates modulation also creates an ambiguity. This can be advantageous in generating an impressionistic sound, but disadvantageous as well. For example, the notes required for a strong cadence or plagal cadence are not in any one O scale. This leads to either to revert to tonal writing for last few bars or define a new cadence that has similarities to the plagal as it is in the 3rd movement of my piano quintet.

My aim was to use the method and the scales in a substantial composition with more than one or two short movements. This is, of course very useful in finding out capabilities of the scales. I chose a piano quintet for several reasons, most important ones were:

a) I am familiar and experience in writing string quartet and piano pieces that are ones both substantial and complex

b) A piano quintet provides for similar and very different voices. This will help to understand the behaviour of the scales under varied sound colour.

c) The different timbres are not too varied – as in an orchestra – to distract attention from the task at hand.

My composition method is very straightforward. I plan a composition, write the music and work out some of the sonorities on my piano. In this case, this process did not change. I made a general sketch, wrote down the music, tried out some sonorities with the piano and edited the manuscript as I went along. The revisions and changes were not excessive. The sonorities did not sound any different than any other 20th/21st century music. However, it felt and it still feels that it was and is different in many aspects, especially in modulation.  Probably, the closest feeling is dabbling with colours without an idea of what to do and at the end coming up with a painting. On the other hand, it is not aleatory like John Cage or Jackson Pollock, it seeks to place motion and stress in the right places using a different harmony. But it is hard to say how that harmony is different. For the most part it sounds like a collection of open chords.

I was thinking about this in conjunction with the Japanese music reviewed in a recent blog. Many of the Japanese concepts are wholly different in practice palette, but the basic response is the same. It is only the composer using the same colours as anybody else to come up with a statement that is individual, universal and Japanese or Welsh or English or whatever all at the same time.


Ken’s reply:

Here are some thoughts regarding the O1 and O2 scales. When I composed with them I started to familiarise myself with the possibilities, filtering out collections and groups of events (as you say they are rich in references to other styles and periods). Knowing that these could be called on to create contrasts with contemporary figurations was useful, particularly as I have been exploring how we react to having a different musical context thrown at us.

As the scales have internal symmetry I made a great play of the notion of formal symmetry – “as below, so above” thinking. There is an obvious danger here in that one could end up with very static, and possibly unappealing progressions and little to offer contrast for the listener.  In order to create interest I wrote the two scales in contrary motion (O and R) crotchet for crotchet, this produced a number of interesting results and more importantly sounded coherent, particularly as the scales land on unisons on occasion and this makes for interesting phrasing.

There are limitations as regards the manipulation of these scales (transposition in particular) but the wealth of references and colour in the chords makes them very easy to work with whatever style you normally use. After a short while one can improvise with these scales and I am sure that jazz players would find them of some interest, they fall under the hands with relative ease, and your comment regarding modulation should create interest for performers of that style.

Nurtan is working on a larger scale composition with symmetric scales, the latest of which is on G+ and sound cloud, this link will take you to the first of the movements:

One of my works using the characteristics of symmetrical scales is Rehearsal Room Memories:

Thursday, 19 May 2016

Music and the incubation period.

You listen to an A section, then the B section, then the A section returns; is it the same as the first A or different? Each note is the same and usually in recordings and performances these days the music is very close to being identical. The element that changes is us, our mood is coloured by the B section. Each and every additional passage added will alter the way we perceive the preceding music.

There are pieces of music that repeat the same units of music over and over again, these are less good for engaging our minds in the business of thinking about relationships between sections. In fact repetitive music can be very good at disengaging us from such activities. But do I go to a concert or put on a CD to become involved in a dialogue with myself about structure, or come to that any other thought that happens to occur? I don’t set out to do this, but I also know that it takes a great deal of discipline to engage without internal disruption from that “little” voice. Occupying our senses visually helps whether it is a visual scene as in a ballet or opera or a visual stimulus as in a score.

When a B section comes along it interrupts the flow of the A section. We know from psychological research that as long as the interruption is resolved it will capture our interest, only when the disrupted flow is left without resolution do we find the activity unsatisfactory. Psychologists have also shown that interruption is far from a negative effect on memory, it can aid retention. It would seem that the Classical composers used their observation of audience reaction well in their designs. We also know that taking time away from one type of engagement aids our view and comprehension of the activity on its return. The repeated music is now in need of reprocessing or reviewing.

This procedure of changing our emotional state is so well used that citing an example is largely unnecessary but the first movement of Beethoven’s fifth does well to illustrate the use of repetition. Listen to the second subject and experience how it works to lead us back into the motto figure, we cannot help but anticipate an increase in the tension, and we are not disappointed, if we ask “why have we gone back to the beginning” we have somehow disengaged ourselves from the music.

If the change of section creates a new perception of old material what happens if the change is progressive and more subtle? Holst’s “Egdon Heath” provides an excellent example of this type of writing where we respond more to the alterations of tempo and timbre than melody. This work is a truly remarkable composition, the opening is based on a collection (later transposed) which in atonal classification comes as 014679. This exotic scale may be thought of as a combination of two augmented fourths a semitone apart and a fourth (C’/G, D/G’, F/B flat), this makes sense when listening to the flutes that follow with the upper parts in parallel fourths A/D, F/B flat, E/A, and the lower in rising major thirds. Combined these give three chords (repeated) that form one of the most distinctive and beautiful sounds in British music. The quality of these harmonic progressions played out as contrapuntal lines makes for considerable contrast with the pentatonic melody (over a stepwise diatonic scale) which arrives after the rapid movement of figure 2. The You Tube recording with Adrian Boult supplies a score with rehearsal figures:

This is a remarkably good performance and one of my favourites despite its age.

It has taken Holst close to five minutes to arrive at this melody, played on the trombone and brass to emphasise the change. The fact that Holst was a trombonist might suggest that this has a particular importance in showing the effect of the previous music on the composer. The mood of the brass theme changes as the viola and strings take over the theme and later the oboe (the harmony again remarkable on the entry of the oboe. This is the return to the exotic scale formations and with the repeat of the oboe melody it is the haunting and bleak character that is intensified. The music that follows is based on open harmonies and is one of the most brilliant pieces of orchestration, but the play between moods carries on with short rhythmic passages gradually giving way to longer periods of darker textures. Even the use of dotted rhythms to add a dance element to the melody makes little impression on the darker side of the music. We have a third repeat of the contrapuntal music (with a wonderful sweeping scale figure) before the climax, where the brass theme repeats but at a subdued level, this music is not loud, it gains its potency by repetition. If you examine the final chords (played over open fifths G/D) you will notice the repeat of the very static oboe melody, but you may miss the fact that the closing bars form the 014679 formation.

The composer’s judgement concerning the use of repetition has changed considerably over the history of Western music, its importance altering between each major period. In the 20th century its use has been polarised between subtle and palpable. Whichever route the reader chooses to select if or when composing it is important to recognise that an A section can never be the same twice.

Thursday, 12 May 2016

Et Exspecto Resurrectionem Mortuorum - Olivier Messiaen
After discussing the power of musical cues in previous blogs I came by chance across Olivier Messiaen’s score of Et Exspecto Resurrectionem Mortuorum written in 1964. Reading through the score made me think about Messiaen’s use of references instead of the pitch and rhythm structures which had occupied me before. The cues are there from the start with the title which translates as “And I wait for the resurrection of the dead”.

In the introduction to the work Messiaen paraphrases passages from Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologica concerning the resurrection. As this blog is examining cues and their effect on listeners there is a necessity to understand some of the views regarding the concept of resurrection, particularly in societies like my own in which religious belief and reading is on the decline. I shall endeavour to make a very brief summary:

The raising of the dead plays a central role in Christian belief which states that Jesus died and rose from the dead. Jesus’ resurrection shows the possibility that some or all of us may be reborn in the future. Will both Christians and non-Christians will be resurrected? The conventional thought is that it is for all, but the type of resurrection may be different for believers and non-believers.

One may say with some assurance that Messiaen belonged to the believers, and it is from this angle that one should consider the first of these cues. The titles of the five sections are secondary cues to the title, here they are in French and English:

"Des profondeurs de l'abîme, je crie vers toi, Seigneur: Seigneur, écoute ma voix!"

Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord.
Lord, hear my voice!
Let your ears be attentive
   to the voice of my supplications!

"Le Christ, ressuscité des morts, ne meurt plus; la mort n'a plus sur lui d'empire."

Knowing that Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more; death hath no more dominion over him.

"L'heure vient où les morts entendront la voix du Fils de Dieu..."

Verily, verily, I say unto you, The hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God: and they that hear shall live.

"Ils ressusciteront, glorieux, avec un nom nouveau -- dans le concert joyeux des étoiles et les acclamations des fils du ciel."

The following two translations are mine as the text is a combination of partial verses.

They rise, glorious, with a new name - in the joyous concert of stars and the ovations of the sons of heaven.

"Et j'entendis la voix d'une foule immense..."

And I heard the voice of an immense crowd

The fourth quotation deserves a little closer examination, if we take the passage as a whole we have God the architect speaking from a whirlwind:

“Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?

Tell me if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements – surely you know!

Or who stretched the line upon it? On what were its bases sunk, or who laid its cornerstone,

When the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted their joy.

For me this reference addresses the whole process of creation which is also reflected in the art and music of man. I am sure that the knowledge of this extended reference is intended.

It won’t have escaped the attention of most readers that the term voice recurs both as personal (hear my voice) and as represented by the voice of Christ.  The quality of the voice changes between pleading and joyous. Do these cues suggest that the music is to take on a (particular) vocal character? Connections have been made between the melodic material of Et Exspecto and plainsong and for those interested in learning more of the correlation of the two I would recommend the commentary by J.H. Rubin at

On a more immediate and less intellectual level there is a vocal character to the music despite the use of the augmented fourth and major 7ths and minor 9ths. In its intention it has similarities to the main melody of “Stone Litany” by Peter Maxwell Davies though the treatment is more homophonic in Messiaen’s hands. A second difference between the composers is that Messiaen permits himself repetition of phrases or parts of phrases while Maxwell Davies’s melody undergoes continual variation. Though two themes are marked as plainsong based there are a number of unmarked phrases which carry the same musical design and these appear throughout the work.

Returning to the use of the term voice it is evident that there is an extension of the human voice to the sounds and style of organ technique, and this is further adapted to the winds of the orchestra. The suggestion of organ tones is blended with a vast array of percussion (including 3.5 octaves of tuned cowbells). A short historical deviation from the main work offers some thoughts on the selection of timbres, Messiaen had received a commission to write a work for three trombones and three xylophones, in contemplating how to make use of the ensemble he came to associate the trombone with an apocalyptic sonority which took him into revisiting the text dealing with the Apocalypse, the Book of Revelations. The text of Revelations leads us from the trombone to the trumpets

And the seven angels had seven trumpets

And one can imagine that the connection with fanfares is made, so we have in the opening movement a 20th century fanfare with short phrases (often of 7 notes) in a ‘super-human’ (in the sense of extending the range and timbre of the) voice.

What of the percussion? In the blog on cues I referred to the use of previous music and its forms as a stimulus to both expectation and denial, while familiarity with a wider group of musicians and their style helps consolidate our acceptance of the sound world explored in the composition. The percussion orchestra is a development of the gamelan sounds experienced by Debussy and links Messiaen through to Boulez, they make a link with the East and proclaim the universality of the music. The percussion also brings in the qualities of sound, noise and the gradual movement to silence which provides the 20th century character to a music strongly related to the past.

Just in case these cues are insufficient to stimulate particular pictorial images while we listen Messiaen offers further notes to each of these quotations shown above, some reflect more recent scientific outlooks as understood by the composer, this is on the 4th section:

"Our time of scientific precision, at the time of the theories on the expansion of the universe one perceives that the Bible always told the truth, that the number of stars are really "innumerable”.

Some parts are more religious and poetic:

The …bells and cencererros, the Hallelujah chorus of trumpets with its halo of harmonics, symbolise one of the qualities of the “glorious body”.

And as the informed listener might expect reference is made to bird-song “its joy and gift of agility.”

For Messiaen bird song and human song is all part of the outpouring of praise for God as the following quotation indicates:

“Plainsong Alleluias, Greek and Hindu rhythms, permutations of note-values, birdsong of different countries all these accumulated materials are placed at the service of colour….The sound-colours in their turn are a symbol of the Celestial City and of Him who dwells there.”

Messiaen’s Et exspecto resurrectionem mortuorum was initially commissioned to commemorate the war dead. If time permits the reader it may be of interest to compare Messiaen and Britten in their responses to similar commissions; for Messiaen, a devout Catholic, death is followed by everlasting life and this is to be celebrated. Britten makes his focus the pity of war and his cues both in text and word painting direct us to emphasise different considerations.

When following Et Exspecto with a score it is possible to focus on the details of pitch and rhythmic organisation and get embroiled in the kaleidoscopic changes of material. There are so many layers of linear formations subjected to ever varying rhythmic changes set within passages of percussive sounds and silence. Take a step away from the detail and we have music which flows, sometimes slowly or very slowly and sometimes with great rapidity. This is a characteristic of non-progressive harmony intensified by the absence of a regular pulse. The use of a constant beat does occur in Et Exspecto but it is retained for the final movement and appears in the percussion, the 6 gongs beating out semiquavers against the 3 tam-tams crotchets. Its restricted use provides the energy for a powerful conclusion. The melody in this section moves in steady crotchet and minims with the minims coming at the end of relatively short phrases, it is a modern view of organum, and very effective in its simplicity.

Moving further out again and the passages form very clearly defined sections of alternating textures, and in the fourth movement for example these take on a mirror formation. (ABACABACABA) Once we are at this macro level the music is simple and direct.

Are the cues for the audience alone, or are they a stimulus for the composer, or both? Could the work stand on its own without any other references? My view is that it could, but having been introduced to the cues it is impossible to forget that knowledge and now it is integrated into my understanding of the whole work and the man and his music.

The music may be heard at:

Monday, 9 May 2016

A sampler of contemporary Japanese music.

The following passages are part of the conversation between Nurtan and myself regarding the seven Japanese pieces placed on G+ from the end of April into early May. The first part of the blog has links to the seven works and a short commentary which “breaks the ice” to entice the listener to part with a little of his or her time.

Hiroaki Minami: Electronic Symphony No. 1

written in response to the death of his daughter. Looking back on electronic music of the 1950's and 60's it is inevitable that we hear clichés, the medium with its lack of technology ensured that getting distinctive sounds was difficult. To make the music expressive is a greater challenge again but this work manages to not only express emotion but the most difficult of emotional states. The density of the music increases throughout and with it our emotional response.

Litany pour Fuji

Akira Miyoshi's music like that by Joji Yuasa is rich in textural changes but the musical language is closer to the human emotional states of fear, anticipation and uncertainty. The orchestration sometimes reminds me of Stravinsky and the melodic strands of Varese.  At times the music could be taken as film music so strong are the associations that the music invokes in the listener. Music and mountains together makes me think of Hovhaness, and in some ways they are not a million miles apart. Like so many Japanese art prints nature is a major concern, and while not dominating the music its presence is felt.

Akira Nishimura - Mirror of stars

Harmonically enticing, beautifully spaced chords. The staccato repeated note change surprises us, especially as it is followed by a return to the opening style. We are set up for a play between textures and the tension of waiting for these drives the music onward. What is astonishing is how short the interjections can be and how alien they feel to the homophonic material. Recently I saw a ladybird flying onto a blade of grass, there were a million green leaves and one tiny splash of bright red. I wondered how to represent this in music, and this piece does it very well.

Hikaru Hayashi: Concerto for viola and strings "Elegia" (1995)
Influenced by Western values?  Elegies by Elgar and Bridge are well known, and listeners who are familiar with them cannot fail to identify with the tone and mood of this work. At times is seems to be using a similar language but as the work progresses there are moments in which the Japanese character emerges (21.30). The emotional range is wide, sometimes subdued sometimes impassioned. The narrative always seems to be first person. It is of little surprise that the composer had a strong interest in opera and wrote film scores as the music communicates easily and effectively the tensions of human passions.

Joji Yuasa: Territory (1974) 

This is one accomplished musician, highly respected by academics and practical music makers. Territory gives us an idea why this is the case. Brilliant textures with instruments subtly emerging from previous sonorities.  The flute sounds in particular give an authentic Japanese quality to the music. I hear bamboo and wood and natural sounds here adding colour to an intellectual design. One of the joys of this work is that the textures are unpredictable but never outlandishly so, the changes of rhythm and pulse are always easy on the ear.

Toshio Hosokawa - Vertical songs I. for flute solo (or recorder)

The blend of voice and recorder makes a wonderful and natural pairing. The musical gestures are events framed in silence and near silence. Once again I find myself making associations with the natural world, but this is no pretty depiction but cutting and aggressive drama where rapid actions follow moments of tense anticipation.

I find that the rapidity of events within a short duration gives the work a different outlook on time, the seven minutes is over quickly but there are moments in which everything is remarkably still. I would love to see a dancer interpret the music!

Minoru Miki - Marimba Spiritual

I first heard this in a performance by Evelyn Glennie, but I am more than happy with this brilliant and dramatic performance. The opening is an exploration, widening out the scope of the marimba, and then that curious little rhythm begins to establish itself. While the other percussionists mark out the phrases, short sequences begin to drive the music forward and then we are under way gradually moving from broken phrases into a continuity of action. From 7.00 onwards it is a fast ride with a superb ending.

The following is Nurtan's response to the works shared on G+
Another pair of ears.

I wrote this entry several times over and revised it many times it was bordering on ridiculous. I went to a concert last night and on the return trip home, it became very clear what I wanted to say and missed the point in all these earlier revisions. I shall keep the original introduction for a birds eye view came up and go from there.

I will start with a confession that I know very little about so called ''Eastern'' music and I usually listen to music with Western ears – well almost because I like to listen to Turkish/Greek/Anatolian music. I am a little more familiar with the Indian music than Japanese music. It is a marker that makes me a naive listener who is tied pretty closely to another sound world. I know some of the works of only three Japanese composers: Toru Takemitsu, Kosaku Yamada and Minoru Miki and not very extensively at that. All three blend East and West but mostly in the Western idiom.  I liked most of whatever Eastern music I heard, but only by chance encounters. I justified this lack of curiosity by ''I am both heavily committed and busy enough not to seek more of it.” Therefore I have to excuse my naiveté by ars longa Vita brevis.

Ken has selected a varied collection of modern pieces, probably as comprehensive in its coverage as any seven reasonably short pieces one can chose. I enjoyed listening to the seven pieces; each is beautiful in its design, sonorities and appeal. Hearing these pieces and thinking about them made me think that these contained the conflicts, sonorities, similarities and differences contained in any seven pieces you choose and listen to from the catalogue of Debussy, Bartok, Malcolm Arnold, Berio, Ligetti, Beatles, Jerry Garcia, Saygun, Shostakovich, Gorecki, Getz, Coltrain, Stockhausen, Bernstein or Boulez. In fact, the entire "Western music" literature of the 20/21st century is as varied and different within as it is the same and different between "Eastern music". We cannot explain the sonorities contained within Schoenberg's 2nd string quartet by the sonorities in Debussy’s ''Le Martyre de saint Sébastien'' or Joji Yuasa's ‘‘Territory’’ nor can we dismiss the similarities between them.

There is considerable amount of Milton Babbitt sonorities or Richard Strauss' ''Tod und Verklarung'' musical elements in Hiroaki Minami's ''Sorrow Songs the Stars sang'' and it also shares an amazing amount with my ''Quiet Sorrow''. The three composition mentioned are very closely related and similar but they are nothing like each other. Similarly, no one in his/her right mind would argue that any of the seven Japanese examples are a derivative of ''Le Martyre'' or ''Tod und Verklarung''

One might argue that there are several levels of listening to music. One might listen to and carefully to understand the musical structure of a piece, or listen for the sonorities that build the sound world of the composition. One might seek a psychologically determined reaction to the musical content or simply enjoy the technical complexity or simplicity of a piece or a passage.

After several hearings of the work one might, aided by recall start to listen to all of these factors simultaneously. The performers are analysed by the same factors and additional unquantifiable factors such as phrasing, appropriate rubato, tempi etc. One thing clearly obvious is that any one factor cannot be considered superior to any other factor by any kind of logic or data. In the enjoyment of listening to music one individually reacts pleasurably or finds the musical experience within his/her expectation criteria of enjoyable. One may argue that listening experience is not a constant and can change more or less arbitrarily. Therefore, the appeal of the music is judged in a very personal manner.

I don't believe that there is cross-cultural data on music listening and enjoyment; not even at a simple interview based research on the factors which influence a person to like or dislike a musical piece (as rigorous research this would be a bad idea). With that in mind we can argue logically why the enjoyment of art might have a commonality. From a physiological point of view, the sound reception and perception is universally the same even though it might differ in acuity by age (young hear better) and by some cultural or life style influences (quiet surroundings lead to better hearing). In all brain scanning or other neurologic investigations (some we reported) an origin or nationality based difference has not been observed. This suggests that the stimuli we receive are the stimuli we perceive irrespective of what our origin might be. The technical understanding and comparative statements are universally based on the data received and perceived, tempered, or judged by the listener's knowledge and preferences. There is likely to be cultural differences in how we process the perceived stimuli as likes and dislikes; this probably has a strong influence on our ''preferences''. This offers an explanation on the universality of music as well as how similar very different music can be.

I don't know what fraction of listeners listen to music passionately or which would be more strongly influenced by culturally learned experiences or which would be more strongly influenced by the technical knowledge of music. One is not superior to the other and the lack of technical knowledge does not necessarily diminish the enjoyment. I believe that a person who listens to music passionately or dispassionately or both has a huge universe to enjoy. The judgement of a piece can only be in multiple levels such as technically superior or flawed, interesting or boring, etc.

Last night I heard a magnificent performance of Britten's ''Sinfonia da Requiem'', Strauss' ''Tod und Verklarung'' and Elgar's ''Enigma Variations'' by Chicago Symphony Orchestra. On the return journey home I thought about these three pieces and the seven Japanese pieces. The answer to my question was crystal clear. At least, fully at the technical and partially at the passionate level.

Ken: In getting to point where Nurtan posted that reply we had shared e-mails on the blogs including the topic of what makes some music difficult. In considering difficulties it was quite natural that the cultural aspect should arise.

This particular link is being shared via the blog and is new to Nurtan, it has a junior school style of presentation but it is both useful and clear:

The following was shared by e-mail and considered the shared heritage which influenced Western views of Japan.

The drip feed of culture from the East:

You say that you are less familiar with oriental art, and that is a statement with which I can sympathise, but I think that both you and I have familiarities with Japanese art as a result of its influence in other art forms.  Lets remind ourselves of some basic facts that visitors to the grand houses of the National Trust would be all too aware of (I know it is a charity that delights visitors from the USA – I watched an aunt from NY visiting a local attraction, Erddig, with a dropped jaw expression that stayed with her for hours).

Collecting Chinese and Japanese artefacts was popular in the UK from the 17th century onwards. Finding examples of Porcelain, lacquered cabinets, screens, tables and tea services with an Eastern quality seemed to be a part of my life from my teens onwards. TV shared its part in educating me about such matters with the Antiques Roadshow regularly introducing us to everything from armour to bamboo flutes.

Most of us are aware of the restrictions on trade with Japan for a number of years, the embargo or isolation period (a better description) came to an end around 1854 (The Convention of Kanagawa). The situation with China was more fluid, there being some trade with the English East India Company, but the Treaty of Nanking opened doors not just to trade but to the interest in art objects.  The culmination of this interest came in 1862 with the Great London Exposition, where both Chinese and Japanese arts and crafts were represented.

The influence of Japan on artists was felt in two distinct ways, Whistler and Degas studied Japanese art works for their style and form while other artists – like Monet represented oriental objects as part of their own paintings. This has little difference to the cultured collection in stately homes of screens and the like without great thought for integration.

Degas, mentioned above, makes use of space in his works in a way that we now identify as belonging to the mindset of japonisme, this is to us more interesting than the inclusion of chrysanthemums as an indicator of influence. There are other indicators of Japanese influence on 19th century art, tilted perspectives are popular, but these don’t transfer into musical perspectives.  We are both familiar with Haiku poetry, I think it fairer to say that we both love this style, but it came as a surprise to me to find out that Japanese poetry was very closely associated with Chinese poetry in its earlier history:

Much of the literary record of Japanese poetry begins when Japanese poets encountered Chinese poetry during the Tang Dynasty. Under the influence of the Chinese poets of this era Japanese began to compose poetry in Chinese (kanshi); and, as part of this tradition, poetry in Japan tended to be intimately associated with pictorial painting, partly because of the influence of Chinese arts, and the tradition of the use of ink and brush for both writing and drawing.
This short extract from Wiki is interesting to me because of the association of calligraphy and drawing and the way that they are integrated. I suppose that could take us to Cage, but let’s not jump the gun.

I am sure now that I have started this trawl through Eastern influences that you will come back with more illustrations of the same.  I look forward to reading some.

Maternal Caress: Mary Cassat

It is difficult to work out how many people listened to the music placed on G+, some indicated their pleasure with a + and the usual small group added supportive comments, Giorgio shared with me a work which he came across that was new to me, thank you.

D. LO - MUSIC FOR A STARRY NIGHT... [für Ensemble, 2015]

If you have found Japanese music that has excited, puzzled or delighted you why not share it?

You may do so by responding to this blog or simply place a link to the work on the G+ pages.

It has occurred to me on several occasions that the notion of craftsmanship is strong in Japanese music; one should say the same of all serious music despite its ethnic origins. ‘Craftsmanship’ isn’t a term that appears regularly in writing about Western music, a composer like Frank Bridge stands out as one nominated in this way and I can think of reasons for why Bridge carries this distinction, both good and bad. Perhaps a reader with greater familiarity with Japanese culture might like to help me out with this thought.

Friday, 6 May 2016

Does your music target the right audience?
Firstly my apologies for what appears to be sales talk. The intention of the blog goes further than just considering financial success, it concerns itself with the way music, your music, will attract one audience over another.  Does it matter which audience your music appeals to? If your goal is simply to get your music heard by others, or sell to others, do you need to know what type of audience you are contacting? For me the answer is "yes" as feedback between you and your listener is essential to develop and refine the material you share.

Music is all about communication and no matter what your style if your exchange fails even for a moment your work is in ruins. Short of sending out thousands of e-mails and hoping for a return how can one recognise the type of audience that will listen to a particular work? One answer is to perform publicly, depending on a number of factors the response may vary from mild applause to severe criticism or ecstatic reviews, but whatever the outcome it is feedback, and valuable. Later in this blog it will be seen that the place of performance itself plays a part in the response you have to your music. What is a public performance is not possible? Composers may have a number of reasons for not getting on the road. One of the strengths of a site like G+ is that music can have a forum that has a similar function to the café and small gallery culture that has established itself in the towns and cities of the UK for the promotion of artists within that area. There is a solution to the problem of recognising your audience without meeting face to face and that is to understand the psychological profile that relates to specific types of music.

Psychologists group listeners into five types, and this blog will consider the two which most directly concern the act of composition. The classification with which contemporary classical musicians would identify most readily is “openness to experience”. It is also a powerful influence on other genres in which complexity plays a part, e.g. jazz, particularly varieties heard from the 1950’s onwards. One feature discovered from studying openness amongst individuals is that this acceptance of different styles is not universal, in particular the simpler forms of popular music are less well liked. (This reminds me of comments made by Jonathan Harvey in a BBC interview in which he singled out the repetition in popular music as being reprehensible to him). Another finding is that those with a low level of openness like to have the music played in research tests repeated while those high in openness preferred new pieces.  Following this through means that the listeners most likely to enjoy complex works are the least inclined to repeat the experience regularly. If this is correct then contemporary taped music should have a short shelf life and works with a free structure a longer life, recorded music – short, performed music – long, highly determined – short, aleatoric – long. To determine the truth of this matter takes us back to the question of what is difficult music which has been covered in a previous blog.

People who display openness enjoy analytical involvement. To communicate well with his/her audience the composer must provide hooks which offer the opportunity for reflection and comment. How does one engage an audience in such a way? Programme notes and scores may help along with visual clues; in George Crumbs “Voice of the Whale” several visual cues are provided e.g. the blue lighting of the auditorium. In one performance of “Ludwig Van” by Kagel I saw multiple pages of music pasted around the auditorium (projectors were in their infancy). “Ludwig Van” is interesting in the context of this blog in that it has no original music but permits the open minded listener to engage with familiar complex forms in an unfamiliar context, thereby extending the degree of openness offered.

Further research demonstrated that openness brings about a preference for many themes over a single theme in music. Taken at face value this would suggest that a monophonic Haydn movement would rate less highly than a work with two contrasting themes, but this is to undervalue the degree of inventiveness and variance provided, which engages the listener in the process of analysis and commentary (internal during the concert) mentioned above.

The second type of listener is an energetic extrovert and goes under the term psychological term extraversion. The extroverts preference is to more conventional harmonic language driven by dance rhythms. Repetition is welcomed by such listeners and the type of listening is less focused in that it can just as easily be background music or music that co-exists with another (usually physical) activity. Composers writing for this group may be surprised to know that their listeners are content to have several different themes and changes of mood, though their preference is towards faster rhythms. The question of pace is particularly important in recognising the difference between the two groups, more of this later. In many cultures work songs are still a vital part of daily life, I referred to the tradition of beating cloth in the Shetlands in a previous blog, this co-operative venture is one example of the function of energetic extraversion in society.

So, on to the matter of pace and how it affects the emotional world of those who incline to “openness”. Such listeners often describe highly intense responses to sad and slow music, and their descriptions of the music often note sensations of peace, awe and melancholy. When considering why a work like Gustav Holst’s First Choral Symphony isn’t more frequently played we must consider his fragmented, and therefore novel, settings of Keats poetry. This use of Keats’ poetry presents the listener with a succession of emotional cues. However the use of such cues can also be problematic particularly when mixing emotional cues which can lead to the wrong sort of complexity and lead to dissatisfaction with the work as a whole. Works with direct cues to emotional response can be hugely popular, Barber’s “Adagio for Strings” with its readily grasped composing intentions (dynamics and register) is such an example, and shows us the role that age, association and place has in developing the response we have despite our listening preference.

Even though our genetic makeup directs us towards a preferred listening style each person is an individual and no formula will work for all. This pull towards belonging to a group is intensified through education and the society we live in and acts as a motivating force on the choices made by the composer before a single note of music is written.  What is only now being understood is the potency of the situation in influencing the listener’s appreciation and judgement; listening to Mahler 8 in a concert hall is a different experience to listening to the same work in Liverpool’s Anglican cathedral. There is less that the composer can do to affect the place in which the music is played, but where possible the association of place and music needs to be considered. Messiaen would be more than content to have a number of his works played in the mountains and great open spaces, and I equally happy to have the opportunity to hear his music in this way.

There are studies on gender differences in approaching music and the alterations in our perception of music as we age (from cradle to grave). These issues will be of considerable interest to particular composers but lies outside the range of this particular blog. Having said that writing for a particular age group as the Who did with their rock operas demonstrates their inclusion of group identity, gender issues and sonic preferences with lyrics and music. Understanding the wholeness of their intention demonstrates an intelligent and emotive understanding of their audience, all of which plays a part in the huge popularity of their music. Smashing their equipment on stage can be seen as more than a theatrical whim when considered in these terms.