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Bach and Expressionism



Bach and expressionism

Matthew Neugebauer wrote (July 24, 2002):
I feel that this is an important issue to address, and I would like to learn more about it.

I read that Tom Braatz (I hope you don't mind me using Tom instead of Thomas) found that expressionistic composers, namely Berg (one of two who were listed, but I'm sure there are more) learned and still learn a lot from Bach. Now I understand the legacy of Bach upon music, art and even humanity as a whole, but I cannot understand how this legacy extends to immoral, "alien-sounding" music.

Don't get me wrong, atonality can sound pretty cool at times, provided it isn't so pointillistic, but the extra-musical ideas in the works (such as Berg's opera Lulu) are below the mark as far as I am concerned, and pointillism can really drive a listener nuts.

By the way, has anyone invented the "harmonic tone row" (where the tone row is not simply a note, but the root of a chord)? If not, I claim it-not like a neo-baroque composer like me would dare use such a thing!

Ludwig wrote (July 24, 2002):
[To Matthew Neugebauer] I certainly do not mean to cause offense or be rude--but however please explain what you meant by 'immoral' music. I am not aware of any music being 'immoral' but perhaps the intent of the literary material to which music is set to could be.

For instance: there are certain hymns whose tunes were used to sing bawdy songs in the distant past.

As for as "alien music" what is alien and what is not alien depends on one's definition of what is music. Chinese Opera to a first time hearer from the West may sound like nothing but alot of noise but if one listens carefully it is artful "noise" and to my ears music. Music is after all often a matter of personal preference and taste.

I am not aware of what you are speaking of in terms of Harmonic tone row. From what I am understanding that you are stating; what you are suggesting is nothing more than is encountered in basic music theory and harmony or something like Bach's famous part to which Schubert added his Ave maria. Or is it you mean something like Phillip Glass's works. Tone rows are as ancient as bells (and perhaps music itself) as they are derived from the sounds of bells and the "modern sort" of which Schoenberg is supposed to have invented is actually a borrowed idea from English Change Ringing which has been around since at least the 1500s and is based on the mathematical science of combinations and permutations of the orders in which bells are rung. A full peal on 3 bells example (each number represents a bell and the order it is rung as arranged thus if the left number is 2 it is rung first and the number on the extream right is rung last. The numbers can represent any sound frequency):

321 notice the pattern here. In larger combinations
312 manipulations have to occur to assure that a row
132 is not rung more than once or before or after it's
123 time

If you mean something as a chord as c, f,a with c as the root ---there are only 6 possiblities these can be arranged without duplicating a note as a tone row. Again there is nothing new about this--it all goes back to change ringing. If you are in Europe as I suspect that you are---listen to the order and number of bells that are ringing. If you are in the States---take a trip to Europe and do this. Unfortunately, America has lost most of it's cultural heritage of using bells as they do in Europe.

Schoenburg based many of his theories on Bach's practices so perhaps that is the anwser to your question. Schoenburg, incidentally, was not formally trained in music and was mostly self taught which often causes me to wonder how he managed to get by the academic snobs to be able to teach at UCLA in California(..perhaps someone gave him an honorary doctorate??).

I would hope that it is not a too bold statement to say that Bach could be said to be the father of all music that followed after him--however radical it may seem in terms of 18th century music.

Robert Sherman wrote (March 24, 2002):
For whatever it may be worth, I understand Bach considered a trill on the tonic to be "immoral", and used it when he wanted to portray Satan.

Ludwig wrote (March 25, 2002):
[To Robert Sherman] I have never heard this and am wondering if you know the documentation for this.

There is a legend about the noted Italien composer Tartini in which he wrote a piece known as the Devil's trill for violin. I wish I could recall this piece but it is either a concerto for violin or concerto grosso. Supposedly Tartini sold his soul to the Devil for success and wrote this to please him. Another version has it that Tartini wrote this piece as a curse on the Devil. At anyrate the piece is very difficult to play.

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Last update: żApril 23, 2005 ż08:42:09