What's music about then?

As our website is all about music, music of all kinds from string quartets to ceilidh bands, from jazz bands to barn dance bands, it seemed only sensible to write you a bit about what music is and how it relates to you. So, what's music all about then? Music is most peculiar. It is considered an art form that is quite different from other art forms. A painting or a statue is a physical object that doesn't change over time, and can be touched, exhibited and sold for vast amounts of money. Indeed, as it gets older its value increases, and it's used as a form of investment. Whilst music certainly can generate some people a lot of money, such as the Beatles, the jazz big bands of the 1940s and the very top string quartets on the concert and recording circuits, in general, it isn't an investment. Composers, in particular film music and jingle composers, can make a lot of money, but their value isn't tradable, and is specific to the person, or as in the case of Edward Elgar, their descendants was the music is in copyright. After copyright is elapsed, its value almost completely disappears, whereas painting by one of the great masters can retain and increase its value for hundreds of years.

I'm going to have a look at all kinds of music, but here critically focus on classical music, which inevitably means the Symphony Orchestra. Although at The Midsummer Music Agency we don't have, all organise any orchestras, many of the piece of music that our string quartets play at weddings and other functions are in fact arrangements of orchestral music. This might be music by Handel, Bach or Mozart, where the string quartet is not so very far away in size and make up from the orchestras that would have originally played much of this music, with other music is by romantic composers, or film music composers, where very large orchestras would be employed. Although the string quartet is 1 million miles away from larger orchestral lineups, from any piece of music a string quartet can perform a decent rendering, because it encompasses all the vocal parts equating to the soprano, alto, tenor and bass, which is reflected not only in the string quartet with its 2 violins, viola and cello, but is effectively reflected in much of the music written for large symphony orchestras. So let's have a look at the subject:.

Why is this? Music isn't a physical object, it is transitory, movement of sound. The pattern of movement is discernible to the ear, and visible to the trained eye in the form of written notation. Music consists of 4 kinds of pattern; rhythmic patterns and metrical patterns, much like the rhythms and metres of a poem; the patterns resulting from the flow and line of melody; and the extension of these through the interplay of 2 or more melodic lines played simultaneously.

I mentioned above rhythm and metre. Rhythm is the subdivision of time periods within the metre, where the metre is the pulse or beat of the music. This could be 3/4 time or fall/fall time, and many other combinations including strange ones like the Greek 7/8 time of their dance music. What is significant about this is where the accents fall, typically in four-time the accents are strong, weak, middle strength, weak.

Added that the of the changes and notes that comprise the melody, a standardised set of intervals which is different in different cultures around the world. This, simplistically is the basis of music. Not much to it, but capable of producing an almost infinite range of options.

There are many forms of music, ranging from folk through jazz to classical, where a major difference between styles is that some music is composed by one person, written down and then performed probably by someone completely different, as with classical string quartet, whereas other styles of music such as jazz or barn dance music is originally played by ear and passed from person to another by oral tradition. This kind of music has now become written down, that's not its primary form of composition. Here we are talking about a classical tradition of written music that has been composed as an intellectual exercise. This applies whether it's a Joseph Haydn string Quartet or Brahms Symphony. Let's have a closer look at the composer's world. The composer lives in a world of sound fancy as opposed to pictorial images and spoken words that most people's imaginations working. When I refer to fantasy, it's about images and thoughts being produced by your brain, from the imagination, quite separate from what's coming in through your ears, eyes and other senses. The majority of people, as I said, imagine things or daydream in terms of images and the spoken word, but most people can imagine sounds will hum a tune within the head or maybe inventors simple tune. The composer has developed this auditory imaging ability to the extent where they can hear anything from the 4 instruments of the string quartet playing each part, to hearing in their head a complete Symphony Orchestra.

As an example, Beethoven wrote to a friend "every day I come nearer to the aim which I can feel, though I cannot describe it, and on which alone your Beethoven can exist. No more rest for him!" Another quote; "I live only in my music, and no sooner is one thing done than the next is begun." Such a person is, to say the least, musical. They have a creative musical urge, which makes the composer.

Composers were writing from orchestras, but orchestras have changed through history, comprising anything from 2 people, through the string quartet assembly of up 440 musicians. The orchestras we know it today is a very recent development in the history of music. The word "orchestra" comes from the Greek meaning "a dancing place." This was to do with the arrangement of the Greek theatre, in ancient Greece, when dances were performed between the stage on which the drama took place in the space reserved for the chorus, in front of which set the audience. Nobody really knows what Asian Greek music was like, but that is not important.

 So let's jump forward to the 1600s, where something is known about the music of the time. Back then an orchestra was basically a string quartet plus harpsichord. It would consist of the viola to gamba (now developed into the cello), harpsichord, 2 guitars and 2 flutes. Such an orchestra was used by Emilio Cavalieri in "The Representation of the Spirit of the Body close quotes. This was followed just a few years later by Monteverdi's opera "Orfeo" which was scored for full orchestra of 2 harpsichords, 2 violins, 2 guitars, 2 base of viols, ten tenor viols, one double harp, 2 organs (these would have been small portable wooden organs) to viola to gamba, for trombones, one regal (a kind of small organ), 2 cornets, one little octave flute, one Clarion and 3 muted trumpets. The orchestra by now has grown hugely from the quintet used by Emilio, but it still is only 35 musicians, the size of a typical modern chamber Orchestra, and only one 3rd the size of a modern symphony orchestra. Though the orchestra had grown significantly, the music they played was extremely simple and very similar to vocal choral music. Typically, instruments just doubled up the singers, playing exactly the same notes.

By 1650 the elements of the orchestra of today were established. The orchestra had become divided into 4 sections, the strings, woodwind, brass and percussion. This is the kind of orchestra that was written for by the composer Purcell (1658 to 1695). Mozart (1736 to 1791) brought innovations to this and Beethoven (1772 1827) extended the orchestra still more with perhaps the ultimate being with Berlioz (1834 to 1867) and Wagner (1835 to 1885) who wrote for gigantic orchestras that dwarfed everything before it.

The orchestras had got so large that the king of Prussia, during a meeting with Berlioz remarked "I understand that you are the composer who writes for 500 musicians". Berlioz answered, "your Majesty has been misinformed. I sometimes write for 450." Although this is something of an exaggeration, Berlioz did write in a book about orchestration that the ideal orchestra should consist of 242 strings for of which were to be tuned an octave below the double bass, 30 grand pianos, 3 harps and enormous numbers of wind and percussion players. He had big ideas, and with royalty as his patron didn't have to worry about MU rates and being able to pay the musicians. But even in those days, Berlioz requirements were totally impractical.