Understanding Music Journal

Listening Journal – Understanding Music Hildegard of Bingen: Alleluia, O virga mediatrix This song is a chant from the middle ages. It is in the Latin language and is monophonic by nature. The medium is that of voice only. The lyrics are melismatic. The timbre is somber. This is a religious chant that was most likely performed by monks originally in church. Most people could not understand the lyrics that were being chanted since it was not the language they spoke. The church did not believe in dancing so there was no beat to the music to help prevent people from swaying to a beat.

Notre Dame School Organum: Gaude Maria virgo Like the title says, this song is an organum. There is an underlying chant with a melody over top of it. The song is very melismatic with multiple voices being heard. Music was performed in Latin. As per Wikipedia: “The history of Organum would not be complete without two of its greatest innovators, Leonin and Perotin. These two theorists were ‘the first international composers of polyphonic music. ’ These innovations are grounded in the forms of Gregorian Chant, and adhere to the theoretical rhythmic systems of St. Augustine. Much of the background on where chant was performed applies as well to organum. Raimbaut de Vasqueiras: Kalenda maya This song is an example of a troubadour dance. The music has both voices and instrumental. There is a definite beat you can move to. Timbre of the song is festive. Song itself is somewhat repetitive. The troubadour dance was the “party music” of the Middle Ages. It was enjoyed in both rural farms as well as in the courts of royalty. Unlike the chants and organums that were religious in nature, the dance was celebratory music and featured rudimentary instruments to help create a beat that people can dance to.

Josquin: Ave Maria … virgo serena This song is a motet from the Renaissance. A motet is a chant with extra melodies. There are many lines and many voices performing simultaneously. The music is vocal only with no instrumentation. Much of the song is in “the round. ” In the Renaissance people wanted to “return” to the ideals of humanism. Religion itself gets shaken up significantly with the Protestant Reformation spurred on by a monk named Martin Luthor. This results in the creation of the Lutheran church.

Lutherans still use music in their service, like the Catholics, but in the vernacular of the citizens so they can join in and understand the message. Palestrina: Pope Marcellus Mass, Gloria A mass is a ‘text’ that is set into song and performed daily in church services. The structure is that where it starts off in chant format then multiple people sing monophonically. The dynamics of this performance is varied. It goes from very soft to loud. The mass is part of the counter-reformation of the Catholic Church. The church sticks to its ideals of continuing to be in Latin.

The mass is a perfect example of the ritualism of the church, using the same prayers day in and day out. Religious service becomes more of a ritual to the patrons then that of seeking enlightenment. Farmer: Fair Phyllis This song is a madrigal. Madrigals are love songs with four-part harmony. As opposed to motets and masses, madrigals are secular in nature. This song was performed in English. There is heterophony and simultaneous ornamentation. Voices only are heard. The madrigal is a good example of how society is becoming more secular and people are enjoying “being human” and celebrate the emotions of being so.

There are more songs being written about love, death and the individual. Not every form of music is about God and the church. Dido’s Lament This is a Baroque opera. Song features both instrumentals and vocals. There is no beat to count. Music is extremely somber. Starts with a sort of recitative where in an opera would be used to move the story along. Song then kicks into the aria which is the ‘musical’ part of the opera. The singer is very melismatic. Operas were loved in the Baroque period. They went all out with very lavish costumes and stages. The typical language of Opera was Italian.

The performances were long and generally based on Greek drama. In the Baroque period there was the practice of castrating young boys that were already good musicians to help preserve their very high voices. A castrated boy is called a Castrato. Bach: Cantata No 80, A Mighty Fortress Is Our God This is a Cantata, or a church hymn. The song is both instrumental and vocal. Very polyphonic. There is “a round” in the background. The beat itself is nonmetrical. The singers’ almost sound like they’re yodeling at some points. There’s a very wide scale of notes being sung since there’s very deep and very high pitched voices.

A cantata is a church hymn that would be used for Sunday worship. It is based on a Lutheran chorale and sounds very similar to an opera or oratorio. This was a great way to teach the patrons religion if they were illiterate and couldn’t actually read the hymns. Handel: Messiah This is probably my favorite song we’ve covered thus far, partially because I’ve heard it all my life though I never knew what type of music it was. This is an example of an oratorio. Initially the piece starts off with one performer singing with the orchestra. The song is very melismatic. Then the aria kicks in telling of the birth of Jesus Christ.

Further along the entire choir sings together and it sounds like a chorus of angels is celebrating the birth of their lord. An oratorio is very similar to that of an opera but it is religious by nature. Also, unlike an opera, an oratorio is not acted out. One would typically go the church and just see a choir on a stage standing their performing the song. Oratorios are theatrical by theme and paints an image to those listening to the songs so in many ways it was sneaking theater into the church. Vivaldi: Spring, from The Four Seasons This is a concerto that features a violin soloist with a orchestra backing it up.

It is instrumental only. The music changes many timbres and at time is very happy then paints an image of being tense and sometimes even angry. It is a programmatic piece so when listening along you could follow in the program what the music is representing. This song illustrates many of the characteristics of Baroque music. The rhythm is very repetitive, the dynamics are very terraced and the texture has tons of counterpoint. Concertos, like sonatas, are always performed in movements and generally followed a form of having a ritornello (chorus) followed by the soloist.

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