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Tuesday Musings

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Title : Tuesday Musings
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Tuesday Musings

As someone once said "well, that escalated quickly!" Amidst the global pandemic and the rubble of the stock market, it is nice to have a refuge. Music has always been that for me. I notice that when things are not going so well in the outside world, I often find that I have more time and energy to be creative. I started work on my song cycle during the last economic crisis. So if you are self-isolating at home, take this time to do a bit more listening, a bit more reading, and if you are a musician, a bit more practicing and composing.

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I'm reading Culture and Value, a collection of notebook jottings by Wittgenstein and ran across a passage where he mentions Mahler:
If it is true that Mahler's music is worthless, as I believe to be the case, then the question is what I think he ought to have done with his talent. For quite obviously it took a set of very rare talents to produce this bad music.
Mahler, Richard Strauss and other famous musicians were frequent visitors at the Wittgenstein family palace in Vienna. He goes on, but offers no specifics as to why he thinks Mahler's music is bad. I agree with him, by the way, but I have no specifics to offer either! I think that what holds me back, at least, is the enormous effort it would take to do an analysis of a Mahler symphony sufficient to produce such specifics. I have always liked Das Lied von der Erde, by the way.

Ludwig Wittgenstein came from a very wealthy family of Viennese industrialists. His brother Paul was a concert pianist who lost his right arm in WWI and subsequently commissioned concertos by Ravel and Prokofiev for the left hand alone. Three of Ludwig's five brothers committed suicide!

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I'm learning a pair of Bach gavottes right now and am once more amazed at the harmonic delights he creates. For example, he manages to incorporate some really severe dissonances, but handles them so adroitly that they sound beautiful and haunting, not harsh. For example:

Click to enlarge
This is the opening phrase. The so-called "Third Lute Suite" is an arrangement for Baroque lute, by Bach, of the Cello Suite No. 5 in C minor. In the cello original the harmonies are different with usually one fewer voices. What is so lovely about this opening is the minor/minor seventh chords such as the one on the first beat of the first complete measure, on D. Indeed we have a string of seventh chords on the next three beats: G7 (minor/major) then C with a major seventh, B minor/minor seventh and finally a V-i cadence in A minor with the seventh delayed onto the next downbeat. If Meghan Trainor is all about the bass, then Bach is all about the sevenths. Let's look a bit more closely. How does he get away with this string of seventh chords, some, like the one on the downbeat of the second complete measure, rather dissonant? If you look at the middle voice you see that the opening C is repeated. Bach, while he follows the basic rules of counterpoint, often interrupts a melodic line. Here, the C on the downbeat of the first complete measure is a suspension from the previous measure. It resolves into the B on the second beat (over the G bass). Then this B is suspended into the next downbeat where it forms a major seventh with the C in the bass. That B then resolves into the A on the next beat, which in its turn resolves to the G#. This whole middle voice is a series of suspensions. There are even more remarkable dissonances, which don't sound dissonant, later on in the second half. But they follow the same technique of suspension/resolution.

Look how much discussion it took to do a simple analysis of four measures of Bach! (And I didn't even mention the rising fourths sequence in the bass line.) That's why I haven't analyzed Mahler.

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Let's have three envois! First, "Das Trinklied vom Jammer der Erde" from Das Lied von der Erde by Mahler. This is Jonas Kaufmann with Claudio Abbado and the Berlin Philharmonic.


Next, the Prokofiev Piano Concerto No. 4 for the left hand. This is Alexei Volodin with the Symphony Orchestra of the Mariinsky Theatre conducted by Valery Gergiev.


And finally, the Bach Gavotte played on Baroque lute by Yair Avidor.




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