Saturday, July 14, 2007

How Is Assignment 1 Going?

How did you do with Symphony Assignment 1? Are you hooked? Did the post on forms help? Do you need more help? Or are you ready for another assignment?

The "form" post was tedious enough, but incomplete. I could have mentioned other types of musical form used in symphonies, such as ternary form. You can probably guess what I would say about that, though. If binary form has two parts (A and B), then ternary must have three parts (typically, ABA).

Another significant form, used in many songs and hymn tunes, is called bar form. The fact that many of Luther's hymns are in "bar form" may explain the ridiculous, and slanderous, myth that he based his hymns on beer-hall songs! Actually "bar form" has nothing to do with beer halls, as such. It is a poetic and musical structure that goes back to the age of bards, minstrels, jongleurs, and troubadors - a time before the printed word, when news, gossip, and entertainment circulated by means of traveling performers who sang, juggled, played instruments, danced, told stories, and delivered messages for a living. Some of these men trained for their profession in a manner similar to other trades, such as shoemaking or blacksmithing; they served as apprentices, then as journeymen, and finally became masters and members of a guild. One such guild, called the Minnesaenger, were the subject of Wagner's opera Die Meistersinger von Nuernberg. The opera depicts a competition among them, a competition to produce the highest art form they knew: the bar song, or chorale, which is shaped like this: AA'B.

To unpack this a bit, the first strophe or stanza of the song, known as the "Stollen," was part A. A second Stollen (strophe or stanza), fitting exactly the same metre, followed it, sung to the same notes as the first part. Finally, the piece ended with a longer strophe called the Abgesang, sung to different music of course. The hymn "A Mighty Fortress" is such a bar song, with a "Stollen-Stollen-Abgesang" structure both in the text (with its rhyme scheme and pattern of accented syllables) and in the music (with its AAB form, where B is somewhat longer than A). Many themes are in Bar form or something like it, essentially a binary structure. The famous theme of the final movement of Beethoven's 9th Symphony is somewhat like this.

IMAGES: Walther von der Vogelweide and Hans Sachs, two of the best-known Minnesaenger, or Meistersinger.

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