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Thread: How best to study specific composers?

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    Default How best to study specific composers?

    I have two in mind, what I’ve always done is either borrow cds and scores from the library or use my own and follow along. What if I want to do a deeper analysis or learn more about the techniques used in a particular work or by a particular person?

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    Senior Member EdwardBast's Avatar
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    This is going to sound obvious, but: If you have the theory skills, analyze the works in detail and try to imitate the techniques you've analyzed. If you don't have the theory skills, get them.

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    I agree with EdwardBast, imitation is the key. Also, be specific of what you're studying. For example, you could start with the harmony, harmonic rhythm and form of a piece or a passage you're interested. After that you could go to the actual texture of music, eg. how register is spread between the instruments, what special techniques are used and most of all, why are they used on that specific moment and how they correspond to the underlying structures of music (harmony, form etc.). Try to gather lots of different examples from the same composer and try to figure out, whether he/she repeats some things on certain similar places. That usually helps one to understand the musical language of a specific composer.

    Schoenberg's Fundamentals of Musical Composition is an excellent book helping out to identify some standard structures of form, harmony, rhythms and melody in western classical music, I would recommend you to get that as a supplement to your studies.

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    its actually hard to answer without knowing specifically what composers, and even what specific works, you are talking about.

    for example, if one of the composers was JS Back, I would say brush up on your counterpoint and look into Schenkerian analysis

    if you are interested in Anton Webern, I would suggest more modern theories and analytical methods

    so ask yourself, What are you doing with this knowledge? Is it to inform your performance of a piece? is it to be a composer yourself and you want to examine the compositional techniques? Or is it to deepen your appreciation as a listener?

    Before analysis of a work of music, always keep in mind what the first four letters of "analysis" are. the methods you employ to answer your questions depend on the questions you are asking, really. Think of music theory as a tool box rather than one single edifice of theory. You use the theory or analytic technique that answers your question, so the more tools in your toolbox, the more questions you can answer.

    Aside from the theoretical analysis of the work itself, there are also things like the performance practice of the era the composer lived, the historical events of the time and place where the work was written, the reason the work was commissioned...all of these things can have an influence on the piece and all of them lead to deeper understanding.

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    Senior Member mbhaub's Avatar
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    All of the above. And...when I was a beginner, a teacher of mine gave me a summer assignment: copy part of a movement from a symphony for various composers, but write all transposing instruments in concert pitch. Then go through and do a harmonic analysis, identify modulations, and make a condensed score. Needless to say, this took a lot of time and hard work but the payoff was terrific. I know why Mozart sounds like Mozart. Why Tchaikovsky could take an orchestra of Brahms and make it sound totally different. You can learn a heck of lot, but it takes time and patience. I did Mozart #40, 1st mvt, exposition. Beethoven 4th, finale expo, Brahms 2nd 1st mvt expo, Tchaikovsky 5th finale. The purpose of the condensed score was to learn how different composers would weight each note in a chord, how they spaced the voices, etc. It opens your eyes as to why some orchestration seem so clear and bright, and others just dull.

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    Very interesting. Do we know whether these great composers themselves did these types of things? For example did Beethoven spend alot of time studying Mozart to the degree mentioned?

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    Senior Member EdwardBast's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ludwig Von Chumpsky View Post
    Very interesting. Do we know whether these great composers themselves did these types of things? For example did Beethoven spend alot of time studying Mozart to the degree mentioned?
    Beethoven studied scores of Haydn, Mozart, CPE Bach, Cherubini and others. As a teen he memorized J.S. Bach's WTC. Virtually all composers studied this way. Most were excellent or even virtuoso keyboard players, so it was easy to digest just about anything they could get their hands on.

    Your frogs make me shudder with intolerable loathing and I shall be miserable for the rest of my life remembering them.
    — Mikhail Bulgakov, The Fatal Eggs

    Originality is a device untalented people use to impress other untalented people and to protect themselves from talented people.
    — Basil Valentine

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    Senior Member Haydn70's Avatar
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    mbhaub wrote:

    "...when I was a beginner, a teacher of mine gave me a summer assignment: copy part of a movement from a symphony for various composers, but write all transposing instruments in concert pitch. Then go through and do a harmonic analysis, identify modulations, and make a condensed score."

    Excellent! There is no better way of learning about a piece than be copying it, by hand, note for note. As stated, it takes lots of time and is hard work but it can't be beat. Wagner did this with Beethoven string quartets.
    Last edited by Haydn70; May-03-2018 at 17:43.

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