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Does Classical Music Have To Be Tuneful To Be Good ?

   Well ,for one thing , it depends on what you consider to be tuneful .  Not everyone agrees about this .  Melody is certainly an important part of what we call classical music ,  but not all music  ,particularly  atonal and  12-tone  works of the 20th century is  conventionally melodious .  It should be remembered that while  all  12-tone music is atonal ,not all  atonal music is 12-tone in the Schoenbergian sense .

    Some classical works by  famous composers are  very tuneful , and  listeners find this very appealing ,  and why not ?   The most  popular classical works  usually have catchy melodies ,and  this is one reason  even  people who  have little or no knowledge of classical music can easily recognize them . 

    But  many great works by  many great composers  are not full of  immediately  appealing  melodies  , such  as  the music of the so-called  "Second  Viennese School ",  ie , the music of  Arnold  Schoenberg and his  two most famous  disciples  Alban Berg and  Anton Webern .  Or other important 20th century composers such  as  Olivier Messiaen ,  Elliott Carter ,  Milton  Babbitt ,  Pierre Boulez et  al .

    However, this is no reason to reject  their music out of hand .  You simply need a different mindset , as well  as  some  patience , to  appreciate it .  It also helps to have a decent or better background in  music theory , but this is not  absolutely essential  .

    The  12-tone works of Schoenberg  are not  conventionally tuneful , and you're not likely to  exit  a performance of them whistling  the tunes . But they DO  have recognizable  MOTIFS , that is  short recognizable  recurring  (sort of  ) melodic  ideas  .  A melody might be defined  as  a  tune of some  length , but  a motif  might be described  as  a very brief (sort of ) melodic idea .

    While melody is certainly important in classical music , nice hummable melodies  alone do not  great music make .  What matters is what the composer DOES with those  melodies or themes .  This is what  creates  masterpieces .  The themes ,or melodies if you insist on calling them this ,  are merely the basic building  blocks ,the raw material , of  any given  classical work , whether a symphony , concerto, sonata , or what have you . 

    Many of  the themes in Beethoven's music ,  for example ,  are not particularly interesting  in and of themselves . They're just simple  themes consisting of  rising  and falling  melodic lines ,  scalar  ideas , that is ,melodies  rising or falling by short intervals , or  with disjunct  intervals  of wider leaps .  But  Beethoven's  genius consists in his  ability to  transform  these  simple  basic ideas by constantly altering them in the most  ingenious manner . 

    In any given  symphony , concerto or sonata etc by Beethoven ,  those basic  themes  are constntly varied and altered ;  by subtly changing the  basic  shape of the melody ,  using different orchestral instruments to play them , thus varying the tone color ,  switching  the themes from major to minor or vice versa ,  using  augmentation and  diminution of the  themes  by  lengthening or  shortening the  length of the notes,  using counterpoint ,or having  the basic ideas  played  as different  voices  going on at the same time  but  not beginning  exactly at the same time ,  and  many,many other ways .

     You might compare this to a novel or short story ;  each consists of a story  with a varity of different characters , and  a symphony could be called  a novel in music , with  a variety of different themes occurring through the different  movements .  Each movement might be compared to a chapter of  a novel ,  although  symphonies  , concertos  & sonatas  usually have only  three or four  movements ,  occaisionally  more or fewer than this . 

     As in a novel or short story , the themes are like the characters ; they never remain the same and are constantly  changing  and evolving over time .  The hero or heroine of a novel is never the same as in the beginning ,nor the other characters .

     A theme and variations is a work where a composer takes a preexisting melody from some other work , either by another composer or  himself  , and  subjects  that  melody to  constant  changes  over a period of time  .  It iusually consists of the basic  theme ,  which  keeps changing  , in  separae sections ,  vraration 1, 2, 3,4, 5,  and  more ,sometimes more than 20 .  Orthe theme could  be  a  popular melody or  folk song .

     There are so many of these by so many great composers , such as Haydn,Mozart, Beethoven , Brahms , Tchaikovsky ,Rchmaninov , to name only several , and they are can be for solo piano ,  piano and other instruments , or for orchestrra etc .  Some individual movements of symphonies or sonatas etc , consist of  themes and  variations , one of the most famous being  the famous  Schubert quintet for piano and  strings  , the so-called  "Trout  Quintet ", where the composer   takes the melody from one of his songs , which happens to be about a  fisherman  fishing for  a trout in a stream and  subjects it  to  variations .

    Schubert music is known to be very melodious ; but  what makes his music  great is not the melodies alone .  And this is true of so many great composers .  Catchy melodies  without  a great composer's  genius in  working  with them  are not really worth  much .  So when you listen to any  classical masterpiece , you should  always try to be aware of what the composer ACTUALLY DOES with the melodies to  gain  true enjoyment  and understanding of the music .

Posted: Mar 24 2014, 10:53 PM by the horn | with no comments
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