Chapter 1: Duration

 

LISTENING LIST 1.1

Listening Guide 1.1.1

 Historical Background

Composer: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)

Era of music history: Classical

Nationality: Austrian

Life and work: Born to a musical family, Mozart became a famous child prodigy and, under the guidance of his father, toured Europe with his sister, also a brilliant pianist. Eventually, Mozart settled in Vienna, Austria, where he was a freelance musician.  Though he had some notable public successes, he often struggled financially.  His posthumous fame has far exceeded anything he experienced in his lifetime.

Piano Sonata in B-flat major, K. 333. I. Allegro (1783)

Instrumentation: piano

Duration: 7 minutes

Mode: major

Form: sonata-allegro (Exposition, 0:00; Exposition repeat, 1:56; Development, 3:50; Recapitulation, 4:44).

Comment:  The exposition and recapitulation in a sonata form almost always have two themes, the second of which appears in the middle of the section.  Note the appearance of the second theme here at 0:42 (exposition), 2:36 (exposition repeat), and 5:30 (recapitulation).

Listening Guide 1.1.2

Historical Background

Composer: Franz Liszt (1811-1886)

Era of music history: Romantic

Nationality: Hungarian / German

Life and work: Born to a musical family, Liszt’s amazing talent and dashing good looks made him a superstar pianist starting in his 20s.  He remained a major presence in European music through the 1870s.  Though as a composer his reputation is not as strong as some of his contemporaries, many of his pieces are very highly regarded, and he is widely considered one of the nineteenth century’s most innovative composers.

Mephisto Waltz No. 1 (1862)

Instrumentation: piano

Duration: 11 minutes and 40 seconds

Mode: major

Form: Free (Introduction, 0:00; Theme 1, 0:52; Theme 2, 2:55).

Comment:  As is often the case with Liszt, the form is loose and particular to the individual composition.  You should perceive, however, that the music begins and ends at a fast tempo and that there’s a slow section in the middle.  Like a sonata, the music is about the interaction of two themes, both identified above.


 

Listening Guide 1.1.3

Historical Background

Composer: John Corigliano (b. 1938)

Era of music history: Twentieth-Century

Nationality: American

Life and work: Born into a musical family, Corigliano has been in steady demand as a composer for decades, in addition to teaching composition at The Julliard School and Lehman College, both in New York City. 

Etude Fantasy (1976)

Instrumentation: piano

Duration: 18 minutes and 35 seconds

Mode: freely atonal and tonal

Form: in five interconnected sections: one, 0:00; two, 4:18; three, 6:52; four, 9:33; five, 14:00

Comment: Listen for how music from previous sections comes back to haunt later ones.  For example, the opening of section one returns at 9:40.

 LISTENING LIST 1.2

Listening Guide 1.2.1

Historical Background

Composer: Franz Schubert (1797-1828)

Era of music history: Classical

Nationality: Austrian

Life and work: Born into a family where music was a pastime but not a profession, Schubert went on to a modest but significant career as a composer.  Whereas most composers in his time also performed, had aristocratic patronage, or taught, Schubert earned his living simply as a freelance composer, one of the first persons ever to do so. 

Impromptu, op. 90 no. 2 (1827)

Instrumentation: piano

Duration: 4 minutes and 30 seconds

Mode: major then minor

Form: ternary with coda. A, 0:00; B, 1:15; A, 2:49; Coda, 4:02

Comment: Not only is the piece in ABA form overall, but each section is as well.  Listen also for the change to minor in the B section.

Listening Guide 1.2.2

Historical Background

Composer: Fryderyck Chopin (1810-1849)

Era of music history: Romantic

Nationality: Polish / French

Life and work:  The son of a tutor to Polish aristocrats, Chopin’s passion for music showed itself early, and his family encouraged him.  He went on to make his living primarily as a piano teacher in Paris, though his was well-known as a composer.  He had a long affair with the novelist George Sand, during which she also supported him.

Barcarolle, op. 60 (1846)

Instrumentation: piano

Duration: 8 minutes and 45 seconds

Mode: major

Form: ternary with coda. A, 0:00; B, 3:00; A, 6:06; Coda, 8:18

Comment: Even though this piece was written only twenty years later than the Schubert, it’s clearly the work of another era.  Listen for how Chopin’s B section contrasts less strikingly with the A section than Schubert’s.  Romantic-era composers were more interested in blurring the lines between formal sections than their Classical-era predecessors.

Listening Guide 1.2.3

Historical Background

Composer: Robert Schumann (1810-1856)

Era of music history: Romantic

Nationality: German

Life and work: Born into a family that was not musical, Schumann was encouraged to study law, though his first loves were music and literature.  He eventually turned to composing, music criticism, and conducting, achieving prominence in all three.  Mental illness took its toll, and he died a few years after attempting suicide.  Thanks in large part to his wife, Clara, a famous pianist, his compositions have been in the repertoire since his death.  

Papillons (“Butterflies”), op. 2 (1831)

Instrumentation: piano

Duration: 13 minutes and 15 seconds

Mode: major and minor

Form: In twelve discreet sections, preceded by a short introduction.

Comment: Schumann’s idiosyncratic work is based on passages from a masquerade ball scene a popular novel of the time.  While the work is very disjointed, notice how the opening waltz returns at the end.

Listening Guide 1.2.4

Historical Background

Composer: Maurice Ravel (1875-1937)

Era of music history: Romantic / Twentieth-Century

Nationality: French

Life and work:  Born into a family where music was a pastime but not a profession, Ravel was encouraged in his musical studies,   Despite a lack of success at music school, Ravel went on to become a world-renowned composer, fulfilling engagements as a conductor and pianist of his own works.  His works remain popular with audiences.

Gaspard de la Nuit (1908)

Instrumentation: piano

Duration: 21 minutes

Mode: freely tonal

Form: In three movements—fast, slow, and fast respectively: I. Ondine, 0:00; II. Le Gibet, 7:26; III. Scarbo, 14:28

Comment: One of the great virtuosic masterpieces of the piano repertory, Gaspard is inspired by three poems by Aloysius Bertrand.  “Ondine” is a water nymph who is trying to seduce the poem’s narrator; “Le Gibet” presents a desolate desert scene where someone has just been executed; ”Scarbo” evokes the nocturnal adventures of a fiendish, playful goblin.

LISTENING LIST 1.3

Listening Guide 1.3.1

Historical Background

Composer: Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)

Era of music history: Baroque

Nationality: German

Life and work: From a profoundly musical family, Bach was employed as a musician by churches, royal courts, and schools throughout his life.  While he had a prestigious position at the end of his life, his music was almost entirely forgotten until the early nineteenth century.

Prelude in E-flat minor

Well-Tempered Clavier, Book I (1722)

Instrumentation: piano

Duration: 4 minutes and 30 seconds

Mode: minor

Form: Bach’s preludes do not tend to fall into discreet sections.  Instead, they more often take a single musical idea through different permutations before reaching a climax and subsiding.

Comment: This piece offers a wonderful example of something called a “deceptive cadence.”  This is when we’re in one mode and come to the end of a phrase expecting a chord of the same type but instead hear one of another type.  In this case, at 3:33, we expect the music—which is in minor—to come to a rest on a minor chord, but instead we hear a major one.

Listening Guide 1.3.2

Historical Background

Composer: Franz Schubert (1797-1828)

Era of music history: Classical

Nationality: Austrian

Life and work: Born into a family where music was a pastime but not a profession, Schubert went on to a modest but significant career as a composer.  Whereas most composers in his time also performed, had aristocratic patronage, or taught, Schubert earned his living simply as a freelance composer, one of the first persons ever to do so. 

Impromptu, op. 142 no. 2 (1828)

Instrumentation: piano

Duration: 7 minutes

Mode: major

Form: ternary: A, 0:00; B, 3:08; A, 5:03

Comment: Like many ternary-form pieces, this one has sections that are organized by something known as “rounded binary form.”  Rounded binary form follows the following scheme: a-a-b-b.  During the b section, the main melody from the a section returns.  During the final ternary A section, the two binary sections do not repeat, creating an a-b scheme instead of an a-a-b-b scheme.  You can follow the form by referring to the timings below.

Listening Guide 1.3.3

Historical Background

Composer: Johannes Brahms (1833-1897)

Era of music history: Romantic

Nationality: German

Life and work:  Born into a musical family, Brahms worked as a pianist and choir director before achieving fame as a composer.  During the height of his career, he was regarded as a standard-bearer for traditional musical values in an age that placed too much emphasis on flashy originality and formal ambiguity.  His music has remained in the repertoire since his death.

Four Piano Pieces, op. 119 (1893)

Instrumentation: piano

Duration: 14 minutes

Mode: minor and major

Form: This is a set of four short piano pieces that in some ways resembles a four-movement sonata.  Piece one begins at 0:00, piece two at 3:02, piece three at 7:39, and piece four at 9:06.

Comment: The first two pieces are in ternary form.  Also, both B sections are in major, whereas the A sections are in minor.  Refer to the timings below to follow the forms.

Listening Guide 1.3.4

Historical Background

Composer: Federico Mompou (1893-1987)

Era of music history: Twentieth-Century

Nationality: Catalan

Life and work:  Born into a non-musical family, Mompou achieved some success as a pianist of his own work.  But his shy personality and need to earn a living prevented his musical activities from receiving much attention, though his output was not unknown during his lifetime.  Today he is known mainly for his piano works.

Musica callada (“Music of Silence”). Book 1 (1959)

Instrumentation: piano

Duration: 21 minutes

Mode: freely tonal

Form: This is a set of nine short piano pieces.

Comment: These meditative pieces are often loosely ternary in structure.  But their quietness and elegance, as well as their unconventional approach to harmony, suggest the freely flowing progress of thought.