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#1520929 - 09/23/10 06:30 AM Re: Walter Piston- Harmony: What the heck has happened??? [Re: gsmonks]
gsmonks Offline
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Registered: 08/17/10
Posts: 599
Loc: Saskatchewan, Canada
It sounds to me like you have the potential to become a good arranger, if not a composer. Having your ear deep in the sound is just as important as having it in the mechanics of harmony and counterpoint. More so, in my opinion.

You have a background in brass? We have that in common. Lots of more modern composers use the brasses and winds to "colour" their arrangements. This is due in part to the nature of orchestration/arranging. Lots of doubling at the unison with only a hint needed from other instruments to colour the sound. The ratios are often mind-boggling. The sound-source from a piccolo or trumpet is an area from 12.00 mm to 18.30 mm (1.2 to 1.83 cm) across, yet it can dominate an entire concert hall.

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#1521578 - 09/24/10 03:11 AM Re: Walter Piston- Harmony: What the heck has happened??? [Re: gsmonks]
Gary D. Offline
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Registered: 08/30/08
Posts: 4741
Loc: South Florida
Originally Posted By: gsmonks

You have a background in brass? We have that in common. Lots of more modern composers use the brasses and winds to "colour" their arrangements. This is due in part to the nature of orchestration/arranging. Lots of doubling at the unison with only a hint needed from other instruments to colour the sound. The ratios are often mind-boggling. The sound-source from a piccolo or trumpet is an area from 12.00 mm to 18.30 mm (1.2 to 1.83 cm) across, yet it can dominate an entire concert hall.

Speaking of how easily a single trumpet is heard, one of the most interesting experiences I had was the first time I heard the Beethoven symphonies played on "period instruments". I know there is a huge debate about how "authentic" the instruments, tuning and interpretations are, but I remember being struck by how "untamed" the percussion is in the 6th Symphony, and when the horns have to be stopped with the hand in order to play certain notes, it is just a different world. In the recordings I heard, everything sounded more rugged. Less smooth but more character.

In contrast, the instrument I played, euphonium, does not project well at all, and of all the brass instruments I believe it is the most difficult to play quietly.

And with that I probably ended this discussion, since I am WAY off topic. smile
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#1521585 - 09/24/10 03:55 AM Re: Walter Piston- Harmony: What the heck has happened??? [Re: gsmonks]
gsmonks Offline
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Registered: 08/17/10
Posts: 599
Loc: Saskatchewan, Canada
Not at all. I know exactly what you're talking about in terms of sound. It's raw, like a wooden chair made using a mallet and wood-carving set, with sweat and wood-shavings and chips flying, the smell of clean wood in the air, like a lumberyard.

You can certainly hear it in the percussion. Timpani were made of wood, with calf-skin heads, and when hit produced a robust, earthy, satisfying sound that is entirely absent in the modern version.

The old bassoons, like those you hear as an entire section in Berlioz' Symphonie Fantastique- such a big, robust, woody type of sound, full of character and drama.

The composers of that music were exploring a new-found freedom, largely because of the emergence of fully chromatic brass which, unlike trombones, could play with great speed in all registers. Walter Piston's later editions of Harmony are anathema to the freedom experienced in those days, simply because things were changing far faster than anyone could codify them. The same thing would happen again with a vengeance in the late 19th century, and the process would continue in fits and starts until between 1963 to 1965, when the wheels fell off the proverbial pony-cart.

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#1522617 - 09/25/10 07:30 PM Re: Walter Piston- Harmony: What the heck has happened??? [Re: gsmonks]
Lingyis Offline
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Registered: 09/15/09
Posts: 786
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I don't know much about Piston, in fact I don't know much about music theory other than the few years as a teenager when I was forced to learn it for those ABRSM exams.

I don't want to talk about how harmony is taught in a completely wrong way to younger students, but as a kid I didn't understand why on earth the progression I6/4-V-I is actually called that, or in easier piano pieces when the bass line goes DO-SO-DO-SO it's called I-I6/4-I-I6/4 (when it's not I-V-I-V of coruse). Because, I was taught that the I chord is supposed to end cadences and what nots.

These days, I look at it and I think this kind of nomenclature is utterly misleading. When it's I6/4-V I think it's exactly a double appogiatura. It's what you hear, it's what you expect, what else can one classify it?

Obviously I6/4 is used in many more ways than just I6/4-V. But it's pretty simple, really--notes and chords have different functions in different contexts, just like individual words have different meanings in different sentences. Moreover, music, just like language, evolved over time, and what's expected in one composer's time is not necessarily expected in another composer's time. Maybe it's just better nomenclature that's needed, or else make sure one does not lose track of the fact that music theory is supposed to only assist in the making of music, not making music itself.

Am I on track or am I completely off base here?
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#1522853 - 09/26/10 02:42 AM Re: Walter Piston- Harmony: What the heck has happened??? [Re: gsmonks]
gsmonks Offline
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Registered: 08/17/10
Posts: 599
Loc: Saskatchewan, Canada
No, you're exactly right. The job of theory is mainly to give students of music something to "hang their hat on", something which provides a semblance of structure, that semblance of structure entailing a common language so that we can all do what we're doing right now- talking about music and having a common language which allows us to do that.

The reason I say semblance of structure is that there are endless possibilities when it comes to analysing music. Walter Piston developed his Theory of Secondary Dominants as a teaching tool in the beginning, and what we're talking about here is that he went too far, intending what began as a teaching tool to become an all-encompassing, codified, written-in-stone understanding of Western Music based solely upon one person's (his) methods.

The problem here is that Walter Piston, as a composer, was doubly off-base, not only because Harmony and our view of it changes over time, but because, as every composer knows, the advanced student of music eventually synthesises an internal understanding of Western Music, which in turn finds expression, through composers, in the form of entirely new interperetations of what Western Music is, what it's inherent possibilities are, the manner in which its underlying mechanics can be manipulated and developed, and the manner in which the relationship between Harmony and acoustics can be altered in order to produce an entirely new palate of colour.

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#1522861 - 09/26/10 02:53 AM Re: Walter Piston- Harmony: What the heck has happened??? [Re: gsmonks]
gsmonks Offline
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Registered: 08/17/10
Posts: 599
Loc: Saskatchewan, Canada
Further, Harmony belongs to composers and potential composers, not analysts, and in the world of composition, less is more. Using terms like "double appoggiatura" is to clutter the tools of composition. For the composer, there is no "double appoggiatura". There is only a box of notes which may be assembled any old which-way to the composer's content. The composer may use a whole bunch of those notes to build chords, and then assemble those chords into a piece of music, the way one fits together a jigsaw puzzle, but although the composer (or anyone else who puts together a jigsaw puzzle) notices recurring patterns in the pieces, the composer knows that giving those patterns names is a fool's errand, because they're a secondary matter which is not directly related to the making of music.

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#1522988 - 09/26/10 10:53 AM Re: Walter Piston- Harmony: What the heck has happened??? [Re: gsmonks]
keystring Online   content
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I began music theory with a background. That background is that for a lifetime I did not as much as know the names of notes, but did have solfege from a primary grade - the little singing exercises that give a first feel of diatonic structure. As a child I had a piano, some inherited books of sonatines, and using my ear with that solfege sense deciphered the first notes. The patterns in that genre of music are readily absorbed: not only Alberti bass, ABA, modulations, but also how themes were developed and reiterated with variation. Some of this learning is frozen in time, because music that I invented then and kept in memory contains those same patterns. I had no instrument for several decades afterward so it's like a time capsule.

I got lessons in an instrument a few years ago, and it turned out that I was anticipating the music as much as reading it because I sensed where it would go. When I finally started theory, that theory meshed with what I had already internalized (the fact that lesson pieces are often Common Practice) helps. That meant that this artificiality of theory was not first for me - the realness that I had used for decades was first, and theory helped explain it and give it a better shape. You have the idea that there is more to it, and this gives the outlines.

In both lesson pieces to play, and music theory, I have personally encountered a curious phenomenon. Sometimes the music is dummied down for the student (or the theory contains only some components). It no longer meshes with what is sensed, and in me it creates a feeling of distress or confusion. The first time it happened I didn't know what was going on. It has to do with reaching toward the invisible structures that ought to be there ... but aren't because of the dummying down ... and then having to work blindly. It's a conflict between where you sense it should go, and what has been done to it. The dummied down version is no longer whole. I have had that feeling a couple of times with harmony theory, and if I chase it down, often there is something else which was left out "in order to not confuse". OR there is a feeling that the music explanation was made to fit with the theory. Which is what you are saying.

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#1523009 - 09/26/10 11:41 AM Re: Walter Piston- Harmony: What the heck has happened??? [Re: keystring]
gsmonks Offline
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Registered: 08/17/10
Posts: 599
Loc: Saskatchewan, Canada
I'm glad you brought this up because it is a perfect parallel example of what has become broken in Harmony. Solfege teaches students to be sensitive to music in real time, something that disciplines like Harmony have always lacked. Solfege is therefore excellent when it comes to sussing out musical inaccuracies and fallacies.

The "dumbing down" you're referring to has become a glaring problem in the way our young people are educated, and concerns far more than just music. You also find it in the sciences, in mathematics, in what passes for "grammar" these days, to put a name to just a few disciplines.

There didn't used to be this "pass the explanation off till later" disease that has infected modern schooling. Once it had crept in, this mental laziness became worse, to the point that often the explanation simply was never forthcoming, that the "passing off" ended up being done past the point of graduation.

Parents in my childhood used to read their children Shakespeare, and would stop to explain the difficult passages and answer questions, for example. As a result, as a young adult I found Sesame Street insulting and appalling. And that was four decades ago!

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#1523129 - 09/26/10 04:06 PM Re: Walter Piston- Harmony: What the heck has happened??? [Re: gsmonks]
keystring Online   content
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 12/11/07
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I could write a book about education, but will desist. wink

I downloaded the book by Goetschius on musical form. A couple of things struck me:
- He starts with a general idea of form being a mix of predictability and variety, and consisting of the elements of rhythm (time), vertical (harmonic) and horizontal (melodic). This kind of broad picture is missing from all my modern books. Up to where I am so far, he always keeps this in the background.
- He stays with all three elements: vertical, horizontal, time.
- Students are asked to explore a multitude of excerpts for whatever concept he has introduced. However, he says that we will not be able to find everything because our ears are still developing, and to not sweat it - hear what you can hear, and don't worry about what you cannot yet hear.
- There is a sense that music is subtle, composers work in a subtle manner, and not everything can be defined or should be defined.

All of this seems in contrast to other more modern books. How does Goetschius fit with Piston time-wise or otherwise?

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#1523184 - 09/26/10 05:26 PM Re: Walter Piston- Harmony: What the heck has happened??? [Re: gsmonks]
Gary D. Offline
4000 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/30/08
Posts: 4741
Loc: South Florida
I have to comment. smile
Originally Posted By: gsmonks
Further, Harmony belongs to composers and potential composers, not analysts, and in the world of composition, less is more.

I totally agree. I would say that all analysis is an ATTEMPT to explain why things work (or are effective) that already work perfectly. Furthermore, the problem is that analysis always plays "catch-up". Whatever it is that we call "harmony" already exists before people begin to attempt to describe what it is, or existed before people tried to explain it in the first place.
Quote:

Using terms like "double appoggiatura" is to clutter the tools of composition. For the composer, there is no "double appoggiatura". There is only a box of notes which may be assembled any old which-way to the composer's content. The composer may use a whole bunch of those notes to build chords, and then assemble those chords into a piece of music, the way one fits together a jigsaw puzzle, but although the composer (or anyone else who puts together a jigsaw puzzle) notices recurring patterns in the pieces, the composer knows that giving those patterns names is a fool's errand, because they're a secondary matter which is not directly related to the making of music.


It is interesting that you used the term "jigsaw puzzle". I frequently make the point that when 100 people assemble the same complicated puzzle, we only know that the result is the same. From the result we have absolutely no idea of the individual strategies that people use to put that puzzle together.

There are relatively rare instances in which I would see the "double-appoggiatura" idea as valid, although I would still not use the term myself. However, the I64 chord would have to move VERY quickly to the V(7) chord so that the voices move in the rhythm we would expect with an appoggiatura. Even then I feel uncomfortable. In Mozart's sonatas there are numerous instances in which the appoggiatura notation is used to both show appoggiatura-like melodic movement AND to discourage players of the time from further embellishing his melodies with extra ornamental notes.

I still think that the whole issue of anlaysis comes down to descriptivism vs. prescriptivism. Prescriptivists attempt to make rules, laws, and formulas that attempt to prescribe what is right and wrong, hence the name. One of the most famous examples of a fine composer butting heads with such people is Debussy. Such hard-headed, limited thinking is certainly not limited to harmonic analysis (or theory in general). We all know that Chopin's way of teaching technique was all but damned by most teachers, who basically told their students: "Don't study with that young Polish guy. His technical ideas will ruin you."

Descriptivists, on the other hand, are only interested in what was done, what is being done now, and where all of this might lead to. They basically say, here is the music, here is what composers A through Z from different time periods *did* or *do*, now you form your own conclusions.


Edited by Gary D. (09/26/10 05:27 PM)
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#1523201 - 09/26/10 05:59 PM Re: Walter Piston- Harmony: What the heck has happened??? [Re: gsmonks]
keystring Online   content
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 12/11/07
Posts: 11560
Loc: Canada
All that being said, we still need to have something to work with. I've been learning about chords, and qualities, and degree names, and how the dominant likes to lead to the tonic - and from there it is an easy jump to some aspects of modulation. These are tools to hook into, and they give us insights. I see it as ** A ** way to understand things, and * an ** aspect of the stuff of music. Having spent some 40 years without the name of anything, or any description of any structure of any kind, I don't recommend that kind namelesness.

It's like when you study languages and linguistics. Language is the way that we represent our thoughts and our realities. We have objects and actions: matter and motion. From there in language we get subject and predicate, a thing and what that thing is doing, and description of both. Each language has tons of rules and things to memorize and if we have only one language we can get stuck thinking that's all there is. But when you start working with various languages that are quite different from one another, you're back at that initial reality of matter and motion. But then to be able to talk about it, we still need some kind of vocabulary: subject, predicate, direct object, verb, noun, adjective. These things are not real, but we still need them as tools. It's the same with music.

The dominant, and dominant of the dominant tells me another aspect of what I used to know as "Now G wants to call itself Do instead of Sol" - and I find I have another handle for doing what I want with the music because of it. The more ways we have of seeing a thing, the better. I don't know if this makes sense.

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#1523212 - 09/26/10 06:33 PM Re: Walter Piston- Harmony: What the heck has happened??? [Re: keystring]
Gary D. Offline
4000 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/30/08
Posts: 4741
Loc: South Florida
Originally Posted By: keystring
AlI don't know if this makes sense.

It makes very good sense to me. smile
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#1523549 - 09/27/10 09:04 AM Re: Walter Piston- Harmony: What the heck has happened??? [Re: keystring]
gsmonks Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/17/10
Posts: 599
Loc: Saskatchewan, Canada
Originally Posted By: keystring
I could write a book about education, but will desist.


Ha-ha! No, please, don't desist! This is exactly the kind of book we need these days!

The Goetschius method is one of a number of similar methods developed by educators, and is as valuable a teaching-tool as Solfege because it acts as a real-time template that is always running in the background. This sort of thing serves to give students badly needed confidence and awareness in the early days.

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#1523552 - 09/27/10 09:08 AM Re: Walter Piston- Harmony: What the heck has happened??? [Re: Gary D.]
gsmonks Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/17/10
Posts: 599
Loc: Saskatchewan, Canada
Originally Posted By: Gary D.
I have to comment. smile
Originally Posted By: gsmonks
Further, Harmony belongs to composers and potential composers, not analysts, and in the world of composition, less is more.

I totally agree. I would say that all analysis is an ATTEMPT to explain why things work (or are effective) that already work perfectly. Furthermore, the problem is that analysis always plays "catch-up". Whatever it is that we call "harmony" already exists before people begin to attempt to describe what it is, or existed before people tried to explain it in the first place.
Quote:

Using terms like "double appoggiatura" is to clutter the tools of composition. For the composer, there is no "double appoggiatura". There is only a box of notes which may be assembled any old which-way to the composer's content. The composer may use a whole bunch of those notes to build chords, and then assemble those chords into a piece of music, the way one fits together a jigsaw puzzle, but although the composer (or anyone else who puts together a jigsaw puzzle) notices recurring patterns in the pieces, the composer knows that giving those patterns names is a fool's errand, because they're a secondary matter which is not directly related to the making of music.


It is interesting that you used the term "jigsaw puzzle". I frequently make the point that when 100 people assemble the same complicated puzzle, we only know that the result is the same. From the result we have absolutely no idea of the individual strategies that people use to put that puzzle together.

There are relatively rare instances in which I would see the "double-appoggiatura" idea as valid, although I would still not use the term myself. However, the I64 chord would have to move VERY quickly to the V(7) chord so that the voices move in the rhythm we would expect with an appoggiatura. Even then I feel uncomfortable. In Mozart's sonatas there are numerous instances in which the appoggiatura notation is used to both show appoggiatura-like melodic movement AND to discourage players of the time from further embellishing his melodies with extra ornamental notes.

I still think that the whole issue of anlaysis comes down to descriptivism vs. prescriptivism. Prescriptivists attempt to make rules, laws, and formulas that attempt to prescribe what is right and wrong, hence the name. One of the most famous examples of a fine composer butting heads with such people is Debussy. Such hard-headed, limited thinking is certainly not limited to harmonic analysis (or theory in general). We all know that Chopin's way of teaching technique was all but damned by most teachers, who basically told their students: "Don't study with that young Polish guy. His technical ideas will ruin you."

Descriptivists, on the other hand, are only interested in what was done, what is being done now, and where all of this might lead to. They basically say, here is the music, here is what composers A through Z from different time periods *did* or *do*, now you form your own conclusions.


That is an excellent point you've made here, that each composer comes up with a "strategy". This describes exactly what a composers is and does. Each composers approaches entail a different or modified strategy to solving the same old problems.

More later.

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#1523560 - 09/27/10 09:25 AM Re: Walter Piston- Harmony: What the heck has happened??? [Re: gsmonks]
gsmonks Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/17/10
Posts: 599
Loc: Saskatchewan, Canada
Music is and always has been about strategy, and when those strategies get stale, everyone involved desires new strategies.

3-chord Rock is a perfect example that has been around a lot longer than Rock. Back in Purcell's day, he and a lot of other musicians were tired of the sound of their own music. So one day Purcell added a chromatically altered figured bass to one of his tunes (Dido's "lament" from Dido and Aeneas), which dramatically altered the possibilities of where the harmony and melody could go, thus immensely enriching the music.

Now, as a few of you have wisely pointed out, there was no name yet in Harmonic terms for what he had done. As a composition it was really "out there", and was a foreshadowing of things to come in the following centuries.

A parallel example in reverse is the manner in which modern songwriters don't know squat about songwriting or music. We've all noticed how lame modern songwriting is, and one of the most glaring elements that's missing is the absence of textual declamation, aka the art of making the words and the music reflect each other. Without textual declamation, a song lacks one of the key elements that mades a song a song.

In educational terms, this means that modern songwriters are both functionally illiterate and musically illiterate. The latter was noticed by jazz musicians in the 1960's. Miles Davis, to name a specific example, said of the 60's generation that "they dont know anything about music".

Don't know anything about music! Think about that for a moment. Don't know anything about music.

Don't know anything. That's what we're up against.


Edited by gsmonks (09/27/10 09:27 AM)
Edit Reason: fixed a "the"

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