Whilst I have detailed the listening work that I have undertaken as part of my research for this course within my Reflective Commentaries, I thought it useful to also include them here under a designated post. I have also lifted the following guidance to listening to music from the OCA website to help me:
PART 1: Harmony with words
Lional Bart’s “Food, Glorious Food” from Oliver!
Cole Porter’s “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” from Born To Dance
Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Music of the Night” from Phantom of the Opera
My notes upon listening to these three melodies were nominal and I hadn’t settled into analysing the music I listened to at this point. I did note that the words in these songs were set very closely to the syntax and rhythms of the sentences and words, i.e. syllabic. There was no melisma to be heard anywhere!
I later went on to expand my listening for Part 1 as follows:
Benjamin Britten’s Folksongs: ‘The Foggy Foggy Dew‘
This was a very simple song with solo piano and male voice. The accompaniment part didn’t play the melody line, merely chords. The melody itself was scalic and arppeggiated in nature and had many repeated phrases. There was a variety of dynamics, often climaxing at the higher registers of the voice before dying down again. The harmony was diatonic throughout and moved through very simple progressions (I-IV-V). The song tells the story of a man who falls in love with a maid he ‘kept from the foggy foggy dew’.
It’s a very simple, charming piece and the words are set syllabically to the music.
Benjamin Britten’s Folksongs: ‘The Lincolnshire Poacher‘
This was a lively piece containing lots of dotted notes in the rhythm. Again, the piece consisted solely of solo piano and vocalist. The piano part was very different to the melody line and many of the harmonies explored sounded diminished. It maintained the rhythmic pulse of the piece. The melody line was very scalic and skipped along very happily – the words told the story of a poacher and his adventures with local farmers. The dynamics always seemed to follow the higher reaches of the vocal part, building accordingly. A simple harmonic structure again, diatonic throughout, and aside from some interesting chords in the piano part occasionally, it was very traditional sounding.
Benjamin Britten’s Folksongs: ‘The Ash Grove‘
The last of the Britten folksongs I listened to, this had a very gentle piano part which echoed the vocal line and harmonised the melody, which was very lyrical. This was a famous piece that I recognised and the tune was scalic and sequential. All the words were set syllabically to the notes with no melisma detected. Harmonically, a very simple piece and diatonic throughout. The piano played a minor tonality against the major tonality of the vocal line at 1′ 38 which was initially odd to hear but it did work and it resolved back to the major again.
John Rutter: ‘The Turtle Dove‘
A solo tenor voice entered with the rest of the chorus humming very softly beneath. The piece was in a minor tonality and the chorus soon all sang together. It was a very slow, very peaceful song, with all words set syllabically to the music. It had a very pure quality to it and I really enjoyed it, especially the tierce de picardie at the end.
John Wilbye: ‘Draw On, Sweet Night’
This had a staggered entry with the voices; sopranos and altos came in first with the tenors and basses following, all with their own lines making for a polyphonic texture. Owing to the long sustained notes in various parts, some clashed and formed suspensions which I LOVE! I want to write more of these into my pieces. Wilbye also wrote many accented passing notes which again created that feeling of tension in the harmony. Each part overlapped with the tune in sequences and also used imitation. There was some homophonic texture but it was predominantly polyphonic throughout. The harmony is diatonic throughout and does move through some inverted chords. The clarity and purity of tone is very noticeable once more; beautiful. I really enjoyed this.
Thomas Weelkes: ‘As Vesta Was’
This has a homophonic texture upon opening with lots of passing notes within the parts which changes the texture to a more polyphonic feel. It has a diatonic minor tonality that does seem to change often to the relative major and back again. It is very imitative and initially, the piece is in quite high registers. It’s hard to hear the words but I can hear enough to detect that they’re set syllabically throughout. The voices harmonise quite often in 3rds or 6ths and at times feels like a carol. I did like this piece.
Patric Sandford: ‘A Christmas Carol Symphony’
This had a very soft solo violin opening which was accompanied by woodwind. The lines were chromatic and strikingly rich in texture; warm and pastoral feeling.
There were occasional diminished notes in the harmony that hinted at a minor tonality. What was also hinted at throughout was the carol ‘Away in a Manger’, which was very cleverly woven into phrases. Different sections took part in alternating various motifs. Harmonically there were lots of interesting parallel diminished / augmented chords. The texture remained predominantly homophonic and there wasn’t one identifiable solo instrument that played a melody line as such. The texture opened up to a more polyphonic feel towards the end with all sections taking it in turns to ‘hint’ the carol theme. A sudden sfz towards the end of the piece brings a dramatic close to the piece.
Schubert: ‘Impromptu, Op.90, No. 3 in G-Flat Major‘
This opens in the key of G-Flat major, a nice strong tonality which very quickly changes to the relative minor of E-Flat minor in bar 2. The piece is characterised by the very lyrical, shimmering semiquavers moving between the outer melody and lower bass parts.
Schubert moves us via inversions around various chords before bringing us back to G-Flat again. This is a very beautiful piece that is always on the move harmonically. It’s texture is rich and it sounds virtuoistic for the pianist. We move constantly both harmonically and melodically through sequences. Schubert likes to reprise themes in low registers, high registers, at contrasting dynamics. A second theme in the minor tonality enters at 1′ 19 which is very dramatic. Eventually the opening theme reprises at 4′ 58 to conclude the piece to close. This is a lovely piece to listen to; it’s very difficult and challenging to play and one of my favourite impromptus.
I then explored two ‘melismatic’ pieces to understand them more and to see whether it was a style that I wanted to try in my own pieces:
Handel’s Messiah: ‘For Unto Us A Child Is Born‘ (Part 1, No.12)
The strings open this piece; it is very happy and joyous sounding. The first discernable melismatic phrase talks place at 0′ 32 in the sopranos and altos. At its longest part, 57 notes are sung to the word ‘born’. It seems to be a highly decorative technique that suits the Baroque period perfectly. It’s very ornate, very show-stopping in it’s virtuoso qualities, but I couldn’t help feeling that it was exhaustive to listen to and it’s certainly hard work to perform it. Therefore, my initial feelings about melisma as a technique were not favourable but the listening continues.
Mariah Carey: ‘Vision of Love‘
Stylistically, Mariah Carey has always favoured singing many notes when one would suffice. This hit from 1990 was the best early example of this. She likes to use 3 or 5 notes on the last words of the phrases, often sounding like a vocal ‘flick’. I think I detected the longest melismatic moment at around 2′ 23 to the words ‘sweet destiny’. It’s highly expressive and very decorative. I’m still not sure I like the technique.
PART 2: Voices Together
I listened to the following during Part 2 to help me look more closely at the madrigal and contrapuntal writing:
John Dowland – “Come Again”
Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina – “First Book of Madrigals”
Monteverdi – “Altri canti d’amor, tenero arciero” (Madrigal from Book VIII)
Yes – “Madrigal” Tormate, A Celebration 1969-1999
Thomas Morley – “Madrigals”
Thomas Weelkes – “Tan Ta Ra Ran Tan Tant”
William Byrd – “Puer natus est nobis”
Steve Reich – “Electric Counterpoint (Third Movement – Fast)”
Julian Anderson’s “Harmony” – BBC Proms, 2013 Season, First Night of the Proms, performed by BBC Symphony orchestra and BBC Chorus
Based upon Richard Jeffries autobiographical work “The Story of My Heart”, Anderson aims to make time stand still with his piece “Harmony”.
It opens with very hushed tremolo strings, which sets an eerie tone. The sopranos enter high in their register to the words “I could not enter time if I wished”, the altos following shortly in polyphonic style to the same words. The harmonies blur and it is difficult to place not only the tonality but also the key, too. Tenors enter shortly afterwards singing the text “It is eternity now”. A brief clarinet motif punctuates the texture, not in unison with the chorus but in stark contrast. Anderson completes the chorus with the basses; now we hear the chorus in full. He moves them through the text mainly in polyphonic fashion, but occasionally homophonic sections. All harmonies remain difficult to listen to, strained; as though suggesting pain. Diminished; chromatic. Rhythm is varied throughout. Anderson switches between smooth steady timing to dotted, almost frantic rhythm that carries much energy, but only in short bursts. The text setting throughout is syllabic; I could not detect any melisma.
The accompaniment throughout feels distorted, constricted, again suggesting pain. Whilst it undoubtedly supports the singers, it feels autonomous; sometimes in conflict. Mid-way through, Anderson suggests a storm, with rolling kettle drums, rain stick and tremolo strings once more. And after the storm, the mood settles resolutely to the piece’s close with the words “Haste not, be at rest. This is now eternity.”
I wasn’t sure what to make of the piece. It was an interesting composition but something completely different to what I enjoy. It was too atonal and harmonically strained for me to relax whilst listening to it. It was very clever and Anderson is clearly talented, but this would not be something I would actively pay to go and see being performed.
Verdi’s setting of “Ave Maria” – BBC Proms, 2013 Season, Proms on Four performed by Santa Cecilia Orchestra and Chorus, soloist Maria Agresta
This opened with a very gentle orchestration, strings section only. It had the feel of a quartet about it but played by a larger grouping of strings.
The soloist sings the opening phrase which is all sung predominantly on the same note. The melody line is scalic and soaring. It is sorrowful and explores a wide range of the soloist’s capabilities.
The melody at times moves more chromatically but it never jumps erratically.
Verdi keeps the soprano in the lower parts of it’s range. There are some beautiful, hauntingly executed high notes that are technically difficult for the singer given that the dynamics are so quiet. A lovely piece.
“Libera Me” by Verdi – BBC Proms, 2013 Season, Proms on Four performed by Santa Cecilia Orchestra and Chorus, soloist Maria Agresta
A strong and powerful solo soprano entrance in Italian. The chorus intersperses very gently, contrasting with bold and frightening statements by the soprano. A full orchestral accompaniment carries the voices throughout except for a short section 3/4 way through.
To the text “I quake and tremble”, Verdi writes a descending chromatic melodic motive. Even the voice seems to tremble. One of the highest notes I could detect accompanied the words “Heavens and earth”.
The soloist and chorus sing completely together with the words “day of wrath”; this is very dramatic and powerful, and Verdi brings the brass and timpani in when the words “day of calamity” – this reminded me of a storm it was so powerful.
With an almost bi-polar change, the words “Grant them eternal rest, Lord” follows the chorus bass parts singing a descending chromatic line. With these words an extremely high soprano entry which I found exceptionally moving. There was again incredible control with this singing and the fact that Verdi makes this section a cappella adds more emphasis to the haunting singing.
Anonymous: ‘Adorate Deum’ Gregorian Chant
This is a piece for a capella male voices who sing in unison throughout. It is a very simple Gregorian chant where the melody line moves very slowly in step-wise motion. The phrases are long and the words and sung syllabically in Latin. At 1’ 07 a solo voice sings a phrase which breaks up the texture, but within a few bars the remaining voices join in once more. Tonally, the piece centres around modes rather than keys, and because it is unaccompanied, there is no 4-part, homophonic harmonies to be heard – the sound is thus very pure. The piece is very serene, very peaceful and quite relaxing. The reverb from the recording suggests it was sung in a cathedral or abbey.
Anonymous: ‘Gregorian Chant for Good Friday’
Tractus: Domine, audivi
Once more we hear all male acapella voices singing together in unison. The melody line is slow, chromatic and stepwise in motion, and the phrases are very long. It is often hard to hear a specific rhythmic pattern and a melody line is almost impossible to determine. Gregorian chant is relaxing and peaceful to listen to, but after a while (and having listened to the ‘Adorate Deum’), I found myself becoming irritated by its lack of structure and lack of harmony. It sounded like it was just going round and round the modes aimlessly.
Anonymous: ‘Russian Divine Liturgy’
This liturgy is made up of 16 pieces entitled ‘Meeting & vesting of Bishop’.
I listened to the first piece. All male voices sing in harmony in homophonic texture. The harmony is diatonic and incredibly beautiful. The tempo is quite slow and stately and the words are sung syllabically in Russian.
I enjoyed this more because I could hear the tonality in the harmony; I could hear the chord progressions, the contrary motion between the parts, and the melody line could be determined. There were lots of suspensions created between the parts, especially at cadence points and the piece was very repetitive and imitative.
Poulenc: ‘Stabat Mater’
Movement 1: Stabat Mater Dolorosa
This opens with a high sustained note on the flute or piccolo and strings. The tonality is minor and it feels very pensive. It’s harmonic progression descends, making the atmosphere even more dark, and we hear both bassoon and harp in amongst the orchestral arrangement. It is very rich in texture and the rhythm is slow and simple.
Male voices enter in unison singing latin before the females join in to reiterate the main theme, which is very chromatic. This is a very lyrical piece and I found it very emotional. There seemed to be a lot of 7th chords in the harmony, sounding romantic in style, and with the chromatic shifts between the chord changes, the harmonies moved with subtlety. This is a lovely piece and I enjoyed listening to it.
Szymanowski: ‘Stabat Mater’
Movement 1: Stabat Mater Delorosa
A solo flute plays at the start with a second flute harmonising. An oboe soon takes over with strings following shortly after. There is an atonal feel to the harmony and there are many chromatic moments in the accompaniment. We soon hear a violin solo with strings and bassoon; the music feels menacing. It felt to me like a film score. At 1’ 44 a solo voice (either female or tenor) starts to sing a very simple, very high melody. Other voices join in acappella and the tonality shifts from major to minor continually. The soloist sounds at odds with the accompaniment at times, clashing. It feels tortuous, heart-rending. It was difficult to listen to and I preferred the Poulenc.
PART 3: Adding Strings
Harry Gregson-Williams: ‘Smiling‘
The first piece I listened to I am going to include as a Youtube clip because I discovered it from a TV advert for an Omega watch:
The piece of music is ‘Smiling’ by Harry Gregson-Williams, who trained to be a composer by Hans Zimmer, one of my favourite contemporary composers. The piece opens with a solo piano. A solo string note accompanies the beautiful, simple melody line and at 0′ 17, the string note changes to harmonise a little more with the piano.
The strings take over from the piano at 0′ 27. It is beautiful, pure and we get to hear the four string parts easily, given that the tempo is slow and the lines homophonic. A long pause held over a suspension in the strings takes us back to the piano part. It’s a lovely piece, exceptionally beautiful and one that I wanted to make sure I included here.
Hirschfelder’s ‘Elizabeth’ Original Soundtrack: ‘Love Theme‘
I have enjoyed this soundtrack ever since I saw the film when it came out in 1998.
This piece conveys to me love, unease, unrest, war, and everything in-between. Forbidden love perhaps.
He opens the piece with a high piercing single note from the violins that sustains against a lute or harp. The string note creates an immediate sense of menace and unease against the otherwise very gentle, almost lullaby feel of the lute/harp.
The motif descends chromatically and sequentially to 0′ 31 when the strings open up to full accompaniment role with long, sustained lines, often peppered with suspensions; it’s a very rich texture.
At 0 ‘ 59 the tension mounts and the strings are playing loudly; their prominence now cannot be mistaken. They play with the flute, lute and harp in unison. The strings (2nd violins, violas?) also provide rhythmic support, rocking between minor 3rds.
At 1′ 26 the strings take over the melody line with a crescendo to forte and they are now in control of the piece. My favourite section of the piece commences around 1′ 53; a very low unison of the strings plays a sequence that moves through a couple of different keys.
A military side drum joins in and we now feel as though we’re going into battle; the danger is palpable; your heartbeat falls in time with the drum.
We hear a french horn pierce the texture playing the accented passing notes in the melody line, which emphasises them and adds even more tension.
When the atmosphere dramatically changes again at 2’ 28, Hirschfelder drops the dynamics and strips the orchestration back to strings and harp/lute again. The strings are once again a lot higher and thinner; they sound as though there’s still something to be worried about despite the calm of the harp and lute. A wonderful piece that I listen to a lot.
Elgar’s ‘Variations on an Original Theme, Op. 36’ – ‘Enigma – 9. Nimrod‘
This also features on the Elizabeth soundtrack, but I have sung this and listened to it for many years and I think it typifies how beautiful and how moving the string section of an orchestra can be.
The piece is predominantly strings but brass, bassoon and solo soprano also join the texture to make it one of the most achingly beautiful pieces of music ever written.
It opens with the slow, homophonic string texture with diatonic tonality and simple, clean lines that move steadily through the chord progressions. Elgar doesn’t do anything complicated with the harmonic progressions, but the string parts move very subtlety and in some parts chromatically between the chords.
It’s one of the only pieces I know that sounds like it was written specifically to highlight the beauty of the strings section; it was made for the strings. I’ve heard it sung before – and indeed I’ve sung it too – but it doesn’t come close to this setting.
Elgar’s ‘Introduction & Allegro for Strings’ – Serenade for Strings’
The minor tonality makes for a dramatic opening to this piece. The strings play arco and a strong homophonic texture sounds thick and rich.
A solo violin then plays with the other parts joining in polyphonically. Elgar soon changes tonality to a major key and the piece feels more gentle. Simple melodic motifs move between the parts and we get some dramatic moments with large chords sounding together homophonically to reiterate the opening theme. The solo violin plays more often than not to the mid-range sounding very rich and warm. The solo viola’s tone is also as rich, perhaps slightly warmer. The accompanying strings are reminiscent of bees buzzing with tremolos and multiple strings moving together. The melody line moves around quite a lot and is very sequential and scalic. There is much variation in the rhythm throughout the piece also, from steady to quick scalic runs. A nice piece but it did meander.
Dag Wiren: ‘Serenade for Strings, Op.11′
Movement 2 – Andante expressive
The piece opens with very low pizzicato strings and the double basses provide the rhythmic foundation early on. The feel is subtle and very soft. Things gradually get louder and a legato melody line moves over the top of the cellos by the violins, but being in a low register, it feels ominous.
The rhythm remains steady as the diatonic, chromatic harmony moves along and the texture is homophonic. The harmony does start to move chromatically, though, and this shifts the feel of the piece to a darker more threatening feel.
The harmony then becomes very atonal and the music feels very ill at ease with itself. Lots of diminished chords. Pizzicato basses continue to form the foundation of the piece, which is in ternary form.
It is hard to hear a tonal centre during this piece and I wasn’t sure that I enjoyed this piece like I did the Hirschfelder. The strings during this piece gave a real sense of ominous threat – they’re a very powerful section of the orchestra.
Bartok: ‘String Quarter 1, Sz.40’
Movement 1 – Lento
This piece is very atonal, very polyphonic and somewhat disorientating when trying to analyse it. Immediately sad and sorrowful, each instrument joins in, gradually, chromatically, slowly. Lots of contrary motion between these parts which offer occasional moments, fleeting moments of diatonic harmony.
I really disliked this piece. It felt very uncomfortable to my ear and I struggled to engage with it, hence the short analysis.
PART 4: Expanding the band
Carl Nielsen – ‘Wind Quintet Op. 43‘
This is a lovely piece of music and really gives you the opportunity to hear each of the 5 instruments so well but also acknowledge how well they sound when played together as a quintet.
The bassoon opens with the clarinet and flute joining in and providing a question and answer session with the horn. The tune passes throughout the group. It is a relaxing, happy piece that gently flows along. Some nice contrasts between homophonic and polyphonic texture and the piece was consonant sounding throughout so no harsh harmonies, which I was glad of.
Samuel Barber – ‘Summer Music for the Wind Quintet‘
An atonal chordal unison opening with the horn and bassoon in its high register, which always makes it sound more like a clarinet. The flute enters with a very decorative flourishing entry, chromatic and atonal in nature. The clarinet then enters and is echoed by the bassoon before playing in unison. The piece has some dissonant moments and the texture remains quite open throughout with each instrument alternating through the polyphonic texture. It feels very lazy and laid back, perhaps in keeping with its title.
Arnold – ‘Three Shanties for Wind Quintet‘
Mvmt 1: Allegro con brio
‘The Drunken Sailor’ theme tune came through this movement many times in various different guises which was fun. Arnold likes to pair up the instruments in this very lively movement, which has various styles and feels about it. It moves from its fast opening tempo to a more relaxed bossa nova style rhythm at 1.30 approx where the oboe and flute alternate with a chromatic melody line. It demonstrates the agility of the flute perfectly this movement. A very rich, polyphonic textured piece that is fun to listen to.
Mvmt 2: Allegretto semplice
This is in contrast to the first movement very gentle and lilting, with the horn alternating with the flute for the melody line. The polyphonic texture is easy to listen to, the music feels that it has enough room to breath with each instrument coming and going gently. Arnold writes into the harmony suspensions that don’t seem to get resolved, and these stand out for me.
Mvmt 3: Allegro vivace
Very dynamic and lively movement. The flute takes the melody before passing it between the other parts. It is lyrical and slightly dissonant. It almost showcases the flute and horn as being the most natural lyrical melodic instruments.
Hindemith – ‘Kleine Kammermusik, Op. 24, No. 2‘
Mvmt 1: Lustig
I wasn’t completely taken with this movement. It opens with the clarinet playing a very dissonant, chromatic line, which is then passed to the oboe. I didn’t enjoy it enough to persevere with it and I stopped listening roughly half way through.
Ibert – ‘Three Pieces breves for Wind Quintet‘
Mvmt 1: Allegro
There were some nice variations in the main theme and the movement felt open in texture. There were many dissonant harmonies, though, and the melody lines very chromatic. It wasn’t for me; it seemed to play on the squeakiness of the instruments and it was a little harsh.
Mvmt 2: Andante
This opens with a flute solo before the clarinet joins them; they work well together in this setting. It had a fugal feel with the many polyphonic lines. The clarinet takes up the main line with the flute playing higher in the second theme part – there is a nice contrast between these two instruments. The bassoon joins in with the oboe and one can really hear the difference – and similarity – in the instruments. I enjoyed this movement more than the first.
J.S. Bach’s ‘Arioso‘ – played by the St. Louis Brass Quintet
The 1st trumpet carries the melody line with the tuba taking the bass part. The other three instruments provide the harmony in-between. Occasionally, the french horn and the trombone would take up the melody for a while, but the trumpet was the predominant sound. The horn sounds beautiful mixed in amongst these other brass instruments and I think sounds better in brass that woodwind.
Albinoni’s ‘Sonata St. Mark Allegro‘ – played by the St. Louis Brass Quintet
The trumpet has the melody in this piece also. It is fast and scalic, very agile and capable of quick runs. The tuba plays the bass part once more and balances well against the trumpet. The 2nd trumpet echoes the first trumpet and we see the horn and trombone providing the harmonic support. They also get their own melodic lines which create a polyphonic texture.
Gershwin’s ‘Porgy & Bess: Summertime‘ – played by White Nights Brass Quintet
After a unison performance at the start, the 1st trumpet takes the melody with the other instruments alternating the accompanying homophonic harmony parts. When the trumpet reprises the main melody line it plays louder and it changes the colour/tone of the instrument making it richer and piercing.
Lew Pollack’s ‘That’s a Plenty!‘ – played by the Gomalan Brass Quintet
This piece is fun, brash and energetic. Once again, the trumpet plays the main tune and the bass is supported by the tuba. There’s lots of comical effects, the trombone is muted at one point. I enjoyed this piece.
In summary, it appears that the two instruments that are very obviously placed in the arrangement to lead and support are the trumpet and tuba, with the melody and bass parts assigned to them. The 2nd trumpet, horn and trombone work closely together to provide homophonic harmony notes but can occasionally get their own contrasting melodic lines that give more polyphonic interest.
TV SITCOM THEME TUNES
In preparation for the 4th assignment, I thought it important to understand what sitcom theme tunes had already been written to see if I could get any clues:
Only Fools & Horses – Opening Credits – written by John Sullivan
This sitcom is about a pair of brothers making their livelihoods out of market trading, wheeling and dealing and trying to become millionaires. This theme tune is a song based upon the 12-bar blues. Instrumentation is quite simple with drums, guitar, piano and vocals. It is simple and catchy.
Only Fools & Horses – Closing Credits – written by John Sullivan
This is different to the opening credits and opens with a solo drum. Vocals then come in speaking the lyrics, not singing them. Then a guitar and piano join in to accompany the voice singing. Again, it is very simple with chords moving between I-IV in the verse. It is catchy once again; a tune that you can remember after only a few listenings and one that you can hum.
The Good Life – Opening Credits – written by Burt Rhodes
This sitcom is about a married, working class couple who try to live ‘the good life’ by being as self-sufficient in their garden as possible whilst living next to a typical middle-class couple who have delusions of grandeur and who look down on their efforts.
This is a bright, catchy theme tune with piano, bass guitar, and trumpet. It alternates between set chord patterns (I-IV and then V-I). It has a very light-hearted feel to it, as well as being comical.
The Vicar of Dibley – Opening Credits – written & arranged by Howard Goodall
This sitcom is about a female vicar who resides in a small village called Dibley. It follows her interactions with her parishioners, her council meetings, the village community life.
Howard Goodall takes the famous psalm ‘The Lord is my Shepherd’ and arranges it for 4-part harmony, giving the theme tune a religious feel, which is suitable and in keeping with the plot. Initially a string quartet outlines the main theme with a church organ before a soloist sings the first verse. The choir then joins in. The theme is serious, solemn and doesn’t belie the sitcom it is written for.
Fawlty Towers – Opening Credits – written by Dennis Wilson
This sitcom is about a small hotel by the sea and the management of it by Basil and Sybil Fawlty. It juxtaposes the capable and natural hotelier Sybil with the insufferable, clumsy and socially inept Basil. He spends most of his time being shouted at by Sybil and in turn, he then shouts at the staff and the guests.
This is a very comical theme tune played by a string quartet which sets a very classical, upper class feel for the programme. Perhaps it suggests that the Fawltys have illusions of grandeur? The tune varies in the middle with doubled notes and it slows right down before the main theme is picked up again.
Blackadder – Opening Credits – written by Howard Goodall
This sitcom is about an individual called Blackadder and his sidekick Baldrick. Each series is set in a different period of history and the theme tune changes in style and arrangement accordingly. Series 1 is set in fictional King Richard IV’s era and the theme tune has a medieval feel to it. The melody is played on a trumpet and has drums to accompany it. Series 2 is set in Elizabeth 1’s era and the theme is played by a recorder over a light string accompaniment before getting a rock feel with electric guitar doubling the melody towards the end. Series 3 is set in George III’s reign, a more elaborate, decorative world where frivolity and Bourgeois ruled. The theme tune changes to match this period, played out in a Concerto Grosso Baroque style with oboe, harpsichord and cello with drums entering before the end. Series 4 is set in the Great War of 1917 and thus, Goodall writes a military style arrangement of marching drums, trumpets and whistles. It is a very catchy theme tune and varied beautifully to suit the historical period the series relates to.
Dad’s Army – Opening Credits – written by Jimmy Perry & Derek Taverner
This sitcom is about the Home Guard during World War 2 following a group of local volunteers otherwise ineligible for active service. The theme tune was supposed to be a gentle pastiche of wartime songs and it features a song ‘Who do you think you are kidding, Mr Hitler?’. It has the feel of the old wartime tea dance music with drums, strings and trumpets and a vocalist. It’s very tongue-in-cheek and sums up the attitude of the volunteers poking fun at Hitler. It’s extremely catchy, as with all of the theme tunes, and you end up humming it for days after hearing it.
One Foot In The Grave – Opening Credits – written, composed & performed by Eric Idle
This sitcom is about Victor Meldrew and his long-sufffering wife. Victor is always moaning about life and usually as a result of the exploits he puts himself into. A grumbling old man who is not getting old gracefully. The theme tune is a titular song. It is comical, tongue-in-cheek and jovial. Again, highly catchy and completely appropriate for the sitcom it opens.
Porridge – Opening Credits
This sitcom is about the life inside prison.
When I first researched this theme tune I kept coming across a ‘theme tune’ that didn’t actually have any music written for it. Instead, it was the audio track of a judge passing sentence upon the lead character, the sound of keys jangling, doors slamming, keys in locks; every possible sound that is synonymous with prison life. Very powerful and effective. As I did further research, I came across a piece of music that was a song called ‘We Dig Another Tunnel’ which was written by Max Harris, but I couldn’t find the original song to listen to. It seems that it would have been a very fitting song given that the lead characters were locked up and always scheming on their next escape plan.
Last of the Summer Wine – Opening Credits – written by Ronnie Hazlehurst
This sitcom follows the antics of a trio of retired OAPs in Yorkshire, the exploits of whom were often at the expense of their wives or each other. There is a lovely, English countryside feel to this theme tune. Acoustic guitar, gentle oboe playing the main theme. Strings and horn accompany and create a rich, lilting accompaniment. A harp enters to pick up occasional harmony notes and a xylophone plays in unison with the oboe on the melody line towards the end. It’s quite sappy and quintessentially British. Catchy but not a favourite.
Open All House – Opening Credits – written by Max Harris
This sitcom follows the trading of a small family run greengrocers up North. This sitcom in particular was one that I wanted to research given the brief for Assignment 4, and I couldn’t quite remember it before I found it on Youtube. I was surprised at its simplicity; a solo trumpet plays a slow, reflective tune that felt a little melancholy. It summed up for me that this shop has been running for many years through many generations and perhaps the music was supposed to reflect this.
Rising Damp – Opening Credits – written by David Lindup
This sitcom follows a landlord and his medical student tenant of a Victorian town house. Various other tenants come and go, one of whom is a lady who the main character falls in love with. The theme tune is played by a piano with a banjo and double-bass accompaniment. It has a ‘rag and bone-man’ kind of feel, someone who is down on their luck. Woodwind join in half way through the tune before it fades. I liked this theme tune.
PART 5: An Exploratory Finale
Shostakovich: ‘Jazz Suites No.1’ – played by the Russian State Symphony Orchestra
This opened with piano and banjo as the accompaniment with trumpet playing the melody line. I recognised the piece as one that I have always enjoyed but never known who had composed it. The melody line is very scalic and quite decorative. The clarinet takes over from the trumpet which lightens the texture and creates a humourous, cheeky atmosphere. A virtuoso violin line takes the melody line which lends a sophisticated moment. What surprised me was a xylophone coming in lightly in the background; it really changed the texture and I loved it! I must remember this for future arrangements.
There was a lot of instruments playing at once or alternating, and the tonality changed as much as the instrumentation. It was a lovely, characterful piece and I enjoyed it.
Shostakovich: ‘Jazz Suites No.1’ – played by the Russian State Symphony Orchestra
This had a trumpet opening with piano and xylophone accompaniment. Again this tuned percussion instrument is used and I really liked the way that it defined the accompaniment but subtly; it helps to maintain the rhythm whilst echoing the pitch of the piano, so offers the best of both worlds.
We then hear saxophone and trumpet, the latter being muted I believe. The piano continues to accompany but with the addition of a banjo. The piece is very comical and has bags of character created with glissandos at the ends of phrases from the saxes and trombone.
A side drum joins in after the first minute which adds more strength to the rhythm and a clarinet and double bass make an appearance, too. The tune moves around all the instrumentation throughout and the piece, although short at 1’ 36 is really fun and a joy to listen to.
Shostakovich: ‘Jazz Suites No.1’ – played by the Russian State Symphony Orchestra
3. Foxtrot (Blues)
At 4’ 17, this is the longest of the first jazz suite pieces. It opens with a bold, dramatic, homophonic texture with all instruments playing. It is rich and powerful. Initially in a minor key, this foxtrot oozes sultriness with formality. A side drum beats rigidly throughout every bar to every crotchet, providing the disciplined rhythm. After 20 seconds, a solo saxophone enters with the melody line, softly accompanied by piano and banjo echoing the side drum crotchet beat with chords. At 55 seconds in, a cymbal crash heralds a change in texture all at once to loud, strong and powerful again, with full homophonic playing between all the instruments. A violin takes the melody at 1’ 13 with the piano and banjo continuing their accompaniment. A big surprise was the appearance of a Hawaiian guitar taking the melody line 16 seconds later. It really did feel like Shostakovich was sending the piece up.
Teddy Wilson: ‘Handful of Keys’
This was a very fast-paced piece with a virtuoso piano part that opens the music. A clarinet and saxophone play together with the opening melody line with a frenetic drum kit accompanying. With plenty of cymbal crashes and the occasional xylophone part, this piece is completely ‘full on’. It doesn’t sit still for one moment. It optimises the jazz era; lively, loud, brash and fun. I enjoyed it immensely but admit to feeling quite exhausted upon listening to it.
Michael Torke: ‘An American Abroad’
This has a big brass sound, very brash and very ‘in your face’ right from the start. There is nothing subtle about this piece and perhaps Torke was trying to convey the stereotypical American standing out from the crowd in a strange land?
There is a lot of brass with percussion, mainly timpani. There is a chromatic violin underscore and a very syncopated melodic rhythm. The harmony is quite discordant.
Torke used the entire orchestra and the piece sounds dynamic and ever-changing. The tonality is difficult to place; he shifts constantly between major and minor keys and the melody line is moving around lots also. Overall, a very percussive, brash, loud, piece. I couldn’t say that I loved it but I didn’t hate it either.
John Adams: ‘Short Ride in a Fast Machine’
A solo wood block starts the piece striking on every beat, which is in three, and fast. Woodwind follow and then trumpets, which play a major 2nd interval between them, sounding discordant and clashy. They have a slightly different rhythm to the woodwind and wood block, and their rhythmic pattern changes every 4 bars becoming ever more complicated. Their harmonic interval also progressively gets wider as the 4-bar patterns move along. We hear flourishing flutes and piccolos over the top in a very high register at certain points.
The harmonies in the trumpets eventually form an inverted chord and so establishing the tonal centre of the piece is almost impossible. Drums start to play emphatically on every other beat to the wood block and the texture thus changes to sound even fuller and richer.
Trumpets change rhythm to sound quavers yet still in harmony with one another and their parts continue to build over the wood block.
Chimes can be heard softly creating a lighter, shimmery effect, and cymbals occasionally roll. Strings then join the trumpet parts in a pulsing rhythmic chordal pattern. It is now clear that the wood block is playing at a slightly different metre to the rest of the instruments.
It becomes very tense and dramatic, very atonal and discordant at around 1’ 30 where Adams writes lots of percussion; timps, drums, cymbals crashing.
The accompaniment starts to alternate with the wood block in a very fast pace creating a lot of energy – the piece is now really building and one isn’t sure what will happen next.
The tune moves to the lower brass instruments making the texture darker and richer. In trying to discern their melodic pattern, it sounds like a set pattern; twelve-tone?
At 2’ 55 the wood block stops against a backdrop of very loud, brilliant fanfare-esque trumpets. Everything is now working in contrary motion, at odds with each other. It is completely frantic at the end before the trumpets conclude their fanfare in a major 3rd interval to the close of the piece.
A very exciting piece and fascinating to analyse.
Michael Nyman: ‘The Piano Concerto’
Movement 1: The Beach
An atonal orchestral opening set of long, sustained chords creates an immediate dark atmosphere. A solo horn occasionally pierces this thick texture and a piano can be heard in the background, both hands playing at extreme registers. The piano sounds like both hands are playing different rhythmic patterns which are quick and moving in contrary motion movement; the parts sound at odds with one another.
A bassoon enters intermittently with stabbing notes. The piano sounds shimmery. Flutes are played at their very lowest registers, which I always think sound menacing. The piece builds steadily and the piano remains in the midst of the overall texture, not in the foreground or as a solo part as one would expect on a concerto.
The piece feels extremely sad, heart-wrenching, tormented. There are no rooted chords and again, this piece like the others I have listened to, really doesn’t indicate a tonal centre; harmonically it doesn’t feel ‘settled’ or ‘belongs’ anywhere, which is unnerving to listen to.
I didn’t enjoy this piece. It unnerved me and it felt at odds with itself. A very clever piece nonetheless but not for me.
Philip Glass: ‘Company’
The strings enter in unison playing a minor 3rd motif against a string accompaniment. I feel the time signature keeps alternating between 3-8 and 3-4; such change in rhythm keeps the feeling of unrest. Quavers then take over bringing a different pace whilst violins play a high sustained pedal note above. Two string instruments (probably violins) play alternating minor 3rds as quavers beneath in a lower register contrasting with the higher note.
Glass gets lots of parts playing together with different patterns of notes and rhythms all playing at once. We get discordant and then diatonic shifting harmonies. The piece builds and then drops in dynamics. The whole piece is based upon contrasts. I wasn’t sure whether I enjoyed the piece or not. Again, the conclusion was that it was a clever piece but I’m never sure I take to the overall effect of strange melodic patterns playing a multitude of rhythmic motifs all at once.
Steve Reich: ‘Eight Lines’
A piano opens the piece playing an erratic pattern of notes that repeat up and down the keyboard; an ostinato. Two violins play together in harmony, slightly discordantly. After 4 bars, Reich adds a further string note at the start of each bar changing the rhythm slightly. Woodwind are then added (clarinets and saxophones I think) and they play a pattern alongside the strings. The piece continues to build, layering different melodic and rhythmic patterns; occasionally an instrument is dropped from the texture, or one is added at an extreme register, such as a very low bassoon or a high flute.
I couldn’t detect any percussion in this piece; all the rhythm is created in the continually repeated sections of music played by the other instruments.
These pieces gave me lots of ideas for my own minimalist project and taught me that this style of music is one that constantly builds and grows. Rhythm can change within a few bars, often from compound to simple time, and with melodic patterns, there is much contrary motion and arpeggiated notes. The use of extreme registers and extreme dynamics also seems to prevail.