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Thread: Music which is meant to depict something

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    Default Music which is meant to depict something

    My wife who usually has a good ear for music was complaining that she can never hear the meaning of programme music. We tried Morning from Peer Gynt. She claimed only to know that it’s a sunrise because of an old TV ad. We tried other pieces. She didn’t get the thunderstorm in Beethoven’s 6th, nor the Fireworks in Handel’s music. Only Lumbye’s Kopenhagener Steam Railway Galopp was obvious to her. Do we only know what programme music depicts because we’ve read about it somewhere? Is there music where it’s obvious?

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    Quote Originally Posted by Hermastersvoice View Post
    My wife who usually has a good ear for music was complaining that she can never hear the meaning of programme music. We tried Morning from Peer Gynt. She claimed only to know that it’s a sunrise because of an old TV ad. We tried other pieces. She didn’t get the thunderstorm in Beethoven’s 6th, nor the Fireworks in Handel’s music. Only Lumbye’s Kopenhagener Steam Railway Galopp was obvious to her. Do we only know what programme music depicts because we’ve read about it somewhere? Is there music where it’s obvious?
    Play her the Storm Interlude from Peter Grimes and see if she can hear the ropes striking the masts!

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    Senior Member SanAntone's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Hermastersvoice View Post
    My wife who usually has a good ear for music was complaining that she can never hear the meaning of programme music. We tried Morning from Peer Gynt. She claimed only to know that it’s a sunrise because of an old TV ad. We tried other pieces. She didn’t get the thunderstorm in Beethoven’s 6th, nor the Fireworks in Handel’s music. Only Lumbye’s Kopenhagener Steam Railway Galopp was obvious to her. Do we only know what programme music depicts because we’ve read about it somewhere? Is there music where it’s obvious?
    Your wife is ahead of the game.

    IMO there is nothing sillier than what has been called "program music." Listen to the music as music; every work that has been said to have a program is primarily music to be listened to on its own terms. There is absolutely no need to know anything about a story, or whatever has been said the music is supposed to represent. Unless it is an opera or song, I don't consider any instrumental music as "programmatic."

    If you wish to follow a story, watch a movie or read a book.

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    Senior Member norman bates's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by SanAntone View Post
    Your wife is ahead of the game.

    IMO there is nothing sillier than what has been called "program music." Listen to the music as music; every work that has been said to have a program is primarily music to be listened to on its own terms. There is absolutely no need to know anything about a story, or whatever has been said the music is supposed to represent. Unless it is an opera or song, I don't consider any instrumental music as "programmatic."

    If you wish to follow a story, watch a movie or read a book.
    I would be on a similar position, but I think that something like The unanswered question without the program/description/explaination made by Ives would make the work a lot less fascinating and interesting.
    What time is the next swan?

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    Senior Member RICK RIEKERT's Avatar
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    Richard Strauss claimed that he could describe a knife and a fork through his music if someone paid him enough money. And in fact, after listening to a performance of Strauss' Sinfonia Domestica, a critic remarked that he could actually hear the clatter of the knife and fork, but failed to specify the passage. According to Strauss, a sensitive listener could ascertain the very hair color of some of the romantic partners of Don Juan in Strauss’ symphonic poem of the same name, simply by the sound of the music alone. Conductor Scott Speck says that Strauss uses fiery, impetuous-sounding music to convey the hair color, but I have yet to see a chart which accurately matches the varying intensities of Strauss' music to specific shades of hair color.

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    Senior Member Ich muss Caligari werden's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by SanAntone View Post
    Your wife is ahead of the game.

    IMO there is nothing sillier than what has been called "program music." Listen to the music as music; every work that has been said to have a program is primarily music to be listened to on its own terms. There is absolutely no need to know anything about a story, or whatever has been said the music is supposed to represent. Unless it is an opera or song, I don't consider any instrumental music as "programmatic."

    If you wish to follow a story, watch a movie or read a book.
    I agree with you about the music being primary, but if we're being honest about "music being listened to on its own terms," then we must honor many composers' intentions to evoke in their listener's mind's eye, er, ear, a specific image. Those are its terms. Otherwise, "program music" would not exist as such and composers would not bother to title their works as many have and continue to do. Many composers enjoy the interplay and/or tension they create between the abstract and the material. Certainly LvB was one of those when he noted that the Pastorale contained "more an expression of feeling than painting." To the other extreme, say, is Leroy Anderson's Typewriter.
    Last edited by Ich muss Caligari werden; Nov-14-2020 at 21:20.
    De la musique avant toute chose... Paul Verlaine

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    Senior Member norman bates's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Hermastersvoice View Post
    Do we only know what programme music depicts because we’ve read about it somewhere? Is there music where it’s obvious?
    I don't think it's always true (sometimes a piece of music that is supposed to depict something to my imagination brings something completely different), but I would say that there are certain pieces where the title/description seems to fit the music extremely well. If I think of Reflets dans l'eau of Debussy, it's really hard for me not to see a connection with the shimmering surface of the water moving and well, reflecting the light in all directions. It's hard not to think about the wind between the trees listening to the ending of Tapiola.
    What time is the next swan?

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    I can’t listen to the Liszt B Minor Sonata - one of my favorite pieces in any genre - without my mind making parallels to the story of the Fall of Man as imagined by Milton in Paradise Lost. I don’t know why this is so; I thought of it this way even before reading any commentaries on it. There is something epic and supernatural about it. Weird, though, that this is one of Liszt’s few works that he didn’t assign a program. So most likely it is supposed to be “pure music.” But I can never not hear it that way, from the very first strange low notes like the primordial rumblings of something cosmic stirring from the vast void of the waters.
    "If we understood the world, we would realize that there is a logic of harmony underlying its manifold apparent dissonances." - Jean Sibelius

    "Art, like morality, consists of drawing the line somewhere." - G.K. Chesterton

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    I am very sceptical of the notion that music can depict something or communicate some thoughts. If I have not read previously that Bruckner's symphonies are "cathedrals of sound" and that Bruckner was so religious, I would never suspect any spirituality in his music. The only reason I associate Bruckner with God is because I have read about it.

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    Senior Member Skakner's Avatar
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    Even "program music" generates different responses (feelings, thoughts etc) to different listeners.
    I believe that the title and not the music itself, creates correlations.
    If we give three completely random titles to a specific piece of music, we'll get three different responses from three different listeners.
    Music is by nature abstract.

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    Quote Originally Posted by norman bates View Post
    I would be on a similar position, but I think that something like The unanswered question without the program/description/explaination made by Ives would make the work a lot less fascinating and interesting.
    So... I don't quite agree. We don't need any literally story of an "Unanswered Question", for the musical elements have semiotic significance and speak for themselves.

    And really, there are just three main musical elements! The strings, the trumpet, and the woodwinds.

    The diatonic/modal slow quasistatic string chorale, even though it need not literally represent anything in a literary program like the "silence of the druids", has a clear musical signalling role. The teasing trumpet call that alternates between ending in C and B is like a kind of question in the way the pitch contour resembles the way a human being's voice would ask a question. We don't need to necessarily label it as an eternal existential question about the meaning of life, but it nevertheless evokes the feeling of a question. The woodwinds' increasingly agitated responses, even going as far to directly quote and mock the question itself, are all in the musical score. Again, we don't need to label the woodwinds as a direct literary element.

    We don't need, per se, to give these three main elements in the Ives work a literary story for their semiotic importance to produce the musical effect.

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    Senior Member SanAntone's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by norman bates View Post
    I would be on a similar position, but I think that something like The unanswered question without the program/description/explaination made by Ives would make the work a lot less fascinating and interesting.
    I have listened to that work countless times and enjoyed it, it is one of my favorite works by Ives. But I never knew it had a program. I certainly do not want to know what it is at this point.

    Quote Originally Posted by RICK RIEKERT View Post
    Richard Strauss claimed that he could describe a knife and a fork through his music if someone paid him enough money. And in fact, after listening to a performance of Strauss' Sinfonia Domestica, a critic remarked that he could actually hear the clatter of the knife and fork, but failed to specify the passage. According to Strauss, a sensitive listener could ascertain the very hair color of some of the romantic partners of Don Juan in Strauss’ symphonic poem of the same name, simply by the sound of the music alone. Conductor Scott Speck says that Strauss uses fiery, impetuous-sounding music to convey the hair color, but I have yet to see a chart which accurately matches the varying intensities of Strauss' music to specific shades of hair color.
    Strauss may wish to set that as a goal for his compositions. But I think it is a waste of time and lowers the bar for what music is able to achieve. I've never been a fan of Richard Strauss's music, in part because of this kind of statement which I was aware of, but mainly because I don't like the sound of his music.

    Quote Originally Posted by Ich muss Caligari werden View Post
    I agree with you about the music being primary, but if we're being honest about "music being listened to on its own terms," then we must honor many composers' intentions to evoke in their listener's mind's eye, er, ear, a specific image. Those are its terms. Otherwise, "program music" would not exist as such and composers would not bother to title their works as many have and continue to do. Many composers enjoy the interplay and/or tension they create between the abstract and the material. Certainly LvB was one of those when he noted that the Pastorale contained "more an expression of feeling than painting." To the other extreme, say, is Leroy Anderson's Typewriter.
    Composers have many ideas about how they wish their music to be perceived and what they might wish to evoke in the minds of an audience. However, once the work enters the public realm, the work has a life of its own. Some performers/conductors may wish to honor a composer's program, but there is no law that a work cannot be performed successfully without a reference to the composer's program.

    Anyone is free to enjoy a work and its program. For me I've never been a fan program music and ignore all extra-musical aspects, e.g. programs, biographical or historical information, etc., when I listen to a work.

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    Is there music where it's obvious?
    Stockhausen - Helicopter quartet.
    Last edited by BenG; Nov-14-2020 at 22:58.

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    I suggest stepping into the Colosseum with Ottorino Respighi, along with the beasts and the martyrs, the crowd, the horns, of Circenses that opens Roman Festivals. If you manage to avoid being eaten by the lions, you will tell others about the power of descriptive music.

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    Senior Member Skakner's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by SanAntone View Post
    Composers have many ideas about how they wish their music to be perceived and what they might wish to evoke in the minds of an audience. However, once the work enters the public realm, the work has a life of its own.
    Exactly!!
    Anyone of us, perceives and understands the work with his own unique way, which may be far from the composer's will.
    Last edited by Skakner; Nov-14-2020 at 23:24.

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