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View Poll Results: Which way do you usually listen to multimovement works?

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  • The whole composition (in the intended order of movements)

    30 81.08%
  • Individual movements at a time

    7 18.92%
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Thread: Individual movements at a time or the whole multi-movement work?

  1. #1
    Senior Member Dim7's Avatar
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    Default Individual movements at a time or the whole multi-movement work?

    While I do also sometimes listen through the whole work, say a symphony or a string quartet, or any other composition in more than one movement, I think I usually prefer to focus on individual movements at a time. This may have to do with the fact my favorite composers tend to write rather lengthy works, but perhaps more important reason is that I find the connections between the movements usually very weak. It often feels rather arbitrary to treat them as simply a part of one composition. Often the first and last movement are somewhat similar, besides both being usually moderate or fast tempo movements in sonata form, there may be some short moments where themes are recycled for example, but otherwise the movements are almost always very unrelated.. Maybe I'm just musically dumb or unsophisticated for not seeing much reason to put the movements together, who knows. But I'm interested in knowing which way the other members of the forum prefer to listen to multi-movement works.
    Last edited by Dim7; Dec-30-2009 at 19:14.

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    Senior Member Dim7's Avatar
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    In retrospect the title seems to be saying that the options are: One movement at a time or all the movements of the work literally at the same time, rather than in succesion That obviously wasn't my intention....

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    The most important connection between movements of particular work is a balance. A symphony include first, broad, another - slow and often last - assuming movements and this combination makes work completely satysfaing, stand alone music.

    But yes, sometimes it doesn't work. Like in Mahler's Ressurection. I don't think about Jesus while listening to first three movements. The fourth one is like introduction to the subject that appears in final movement, long and independent. Just like symphonic poem.

    But sill, I always listen to Resurrection entirely.

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    Senior Member Art Rock's Avatar
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    With a very few exceptions, the complete work. I am tempted to keep Mahler's 5th (one of my least favourite symphonies by one of my favourite composers) limited to that heavenly adagietto. Can't think of any other work where I would prefer to focus on one movement.

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    Senior Member World Violist's Avatar
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    I do my best to only listen to the entire multi-movement work, but sometimes get impatient and skip to something else (ex: in the Mahler 3rd, I can listen to the whole first movement, but much of the time I lose patience after that and skip ahead to the last movement, in my opinion one of the most moving things he ever wrote).
    You get a frog in your throat, you sound hoarse.

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    Quote Originally Posted by World Violist View Post
    I do my best to only listen to the entire multi-movement work, but sometimes get impatient and skip to something else (ex: in the Mahler 3rd, I can listen to the whole first movement, but much of the time I lose patience after that and skip ahead to the last movement, in my opinion one of the most moving things he ever wrote).
    I go 1-4-6 with his third symphony sometimes, I just love the ending of the fourth movement too much!

    I sometimes only listen to the 4th movement of Mozart 41st symphony, the fugato is so marvellous, I sometimes just have to hear it!

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    Quote Originally Posted by Art Rock View Post
    With a very few exceptions, the complete work. I am tempted to keep Mahler's 5th (one of my least favourite symphonies by one of my favourite composers) limited to that heavenly adagietto. Can't think of any other work where I would prefer to focus on one movement.
    I'm just the opposite. In my opinion, the whole idea of multi-movement yet unified abstract music was, from an artistic perspective, ill-conceived.

    Most music is like some kind of journey from one place to another. Normally one movement IS that journey.

    A lot of times I get the feeling that symphony writers didn't even like it as evidenced by the highly varying quality from one movement to the next in many symphonies. They wrote multi-movement symphonies just because that's what you were supposed to do. As a result, the work suffered.

    Consider what it would be like if writers had the same burden, if a short story writer felt obligated to write four somehow interconnected stories in order to publish. When I think of it this way, I find the rationale for symphonies almost incomprehensible.

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    There are only a few symphonies that I can listen to from start to finish. I don't feel that most symphonies live up to what the composer was truly good at composing. For example, I'm not sure why Prokofiev wrote symphonies as the 5th and 7th are the only ones that impressed me from start to finish, but Prokofiev's strength, in my opinion wasn't as a symphony writer, but of other kinds of orchestral music like ballets and concertos. Another example is Vaughan Williams who may have felt obliged to write symphonies when the fact remained he was very uneasy about labeling these works as symphonies. I mean "A Sea Symphony," "A London Symphony," and "A Pastoral Symphony" aren't exactly screaming for the word symphony in the title. It is as though he was considering calling them something else.

    All of this said, I can hardly sit down to many composer's symphonies and listen all the way through without my mind drifting or wandering around, but the symphonies that I enjoy, I listen from start to finish. I think the symphony form with the four movements (sometimes 3, 5, 6, etc.) doesn't represent all of what a composer can do, unless it's Bruckner and Mahler of course, which these two composers really stretched time and people's patience with their symphonies.
    Last edited by LatinClassics; Dec-30-2009 at 19:07.

  9. #9
    Senior Member Dim7's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by kmisho View Post
    I'm just the opposite. In my opinion, the whole idea of multi-movement yet unified abstract music was, from an artistic perspective, ill-conceived.

    Most music is like some kind of journey from one place to another. Normally one movement IS that journey.

    A lot of times I get the feeling that symphony writers didn't even like it as evidenced by the highly varying quality from one movement to the next in many symphonies. They wrote multi-movement symphonies just because that's what you were supposed to do. As a result, the work suffered.

    Consider what it would be like if writers had the same burden, if a short story writer felt obligated to write four somehow interconnected stories in order to publish. When I think of it this way, I find the rationale for symphonies almost incomprehensible.
    Symphony isn't even the idea of multi-movement yet unified abstract music... It isn't really unified at all, which was my complaint. Imagine if the writers would write books divided into parts which had completely different characters and wouldn't continue the plot of previous parts and maybe just sometimes having some fleeting references to what happened earlier. That wouldn't make sense, would it? I agree though that another problem is the fact that the composers had to compose certain movements for formal reasons, and thus made sometimes uninspired movements.

    Though sometimes, for example with Sibelius I would say, each symphony kind of experiments with a slightly different style. First is the gloomy, intense but pretty standard romantic symphony, second represents also pretty standard romantic style but brighter and bit more reserved perhaps, third is the neoclassical symphony, fourth is dark like the first but in more stark and stripped way and with a modernistic touch, fifth I'm not so sure about, sixth is unified by frequently used Dorian mode and overall calm, pastoral atmosphere. The seventh is actually in one movement... But overall, with Sibelius it makes more sense to put the movements together and call them one work than with many other composers.
    Last edited by Dim7; Dec-30-2009 at 20:54.

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    Senior Member emiellucifuge's Avatar
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    I always intend to listen to the entire thing, but sometimes certain movements are excellent beyond compare with the others and I will listen to it on its own.
    This is more a quick gratification rather than the experience given when the whole work is heard.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Dim7 View Post
    Symphony isn't even the idea of multi-movement yet unified abstract music... It isn't really unified at all, which was my complaint. Imagine if the writers would write books divided into parts which had completely different characters and wouldn't continue the plot of previous characters and maybe just sometimes having some fleeting references to what happened earlier. That wouldn't make sense, would it? I agree though that another problem is the fact that the composers had to compose certain movements for formal reasons, and thus made sometimes uninspired movements.

    Though sometimes, for example with Sibelius I would say, each symphony kind of experiments with a slightly different style. First is the gloomy, intense but pretty standard romantic symphony, second represents also pretty standard romantic style but brighter and bit more reserved perhaps, third is the neoclassical symphony, fourth is dark like the first but in more stark and stripped way and with a modernistic touch, fifth I'm not so sure about, sixth is unified by frequently used Dorian mode and overall calm, pastoral atmosphere. The seventh is actually in one movement... But overall, with Sibelius it makes more sense to put the movements together and call them one work than with many other composers.
    Our points are similar and I agree. This does bring up the question of WHY the symphony evolved in the first place, which is (now that I think about it) a very interesting question.

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    A quick look turned up this:
    http://www.dorak.info/music/symphony.html

    "the true model for the symphony was the Italian opera overture (sinfonia) developed by the Neapolitan composers in the beginning of the century. The most important composer for this development was A. Scarlatti (1659-1725). His overtures were in three sections in a tempo scheme of fast-slow-fast (first occurrence in 1696 in Dal male di bene). Later overtures by Conti have a more developed structure and use the sonata form in the first and last independent movements. With the separation of these sections into movements and the addition of a minuet, the symphony was born. From about 1730, composers such as Locatelli, Rinaldo di Capua and Sammartini were writing independent orchestral pieces for concerts using the overture formula."

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    Quote Originally Posted by kmisho View Post
    A lot of times I get the feeling that symphony writers didn't even like it as evidenced by the highly varying quality from one movement to the next in many symphonies. They wrote multi-movement symphonies just because that's what you were supposed to do. As a result, the work suffered.
    I think you're on to something here. A good analogy would be with the album paradigm that usually results in a few good songs and a lot of filler. Even the great symphonies I've heard usually have one or a couple of throwaway movements. Unless a work is truly great all the way through, I generally only listen to the movements I like.

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    Few works are consistently good throughout their length, as there is usually a weak element somewhere. All the same, I prefer to listen to the whole of a work. This applies to all standard orchestral or chamber or solo pieces, with possible exceptions applying to major choral works like opera or oratorios where I might pick out the odd aria or whatever. If I get distracted part-way through a long piece, I usually go back to the start of the movement where it happened.

    I think that focusing on just the more interesting/attractive parts of any work is generally a bad habit to get into. This kind of cherry-picking behaviour is exactly the kind of thing they do on popular classical radio stations. They have even started doing it on some BBC Radio 3 classical programmes, much to the annoyance of many listeners. This is not the way the composer intended his/her works to be listened to, and if you attend a concert they invariably play the whole work.

    I once spent time on another music Board where a major focus in assessing multi-movement works was precisely on this issue of discussing the consistency of quality across the whole piece. Thinks back with admiration, those were the days! I haven't spotted anything like it on this Board.

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    Senior Member emiellucifuge's Avatar
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    I think the structure of a Symphony is tailored to dramatic effect and contrast. You have a big Allegro beginning which is followed by a slower movement. This then leads to the speedy but not too serious Scherzo, and finally ends with a huge, very serious finale.

    Any decent composer who writes a symphony should be able to write with this dramatic contour, otherwise (like many others) they should change the structure to suit their own needs. And if they only wrote multiple movements because they had to it may have been better to just leave it at the one and call it an overture.

    IF you are a serious composer and you set out to write a symphony, I think it is important that you write a Symphony!!!

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