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Bach Chorales may not be the most exciting thing to do, but there are many ways to make the whole concept less daunting, and make your Chorales better in the process! What more can you need?
Here are some tips on how to survive (and succeed!) in Bach Chorales:
- Spot the key first. By looking at the key signature, you can easily find out what key the piece starts in.
However, occasionally it isn’t as simple – maybe the later modulations, and references towards various related keys, are confusing you. One thing you should definitely focus on is how the piece ends – look at the soprano line, and it will almost definitely be ending on the tonic note. Now that you have established the key of the piece, it makes spotting the modulations to related keys so much easier.
- Once the key, and its modulations are established (by looking at cadential points), what you should do now is harmonise the cadential points. These don’t have to be fancy at first, you just want to get the structure grounded.
- One aspect of the Chorale which gets you really good marks is having a strong, and purposeful bassline. This is why the next step is to write the bassline.
Out of all the voices in the piece, the bass has the most interest (apart from maybe the soprano) so make sure you give it lots of direction: leaps (no bigger than a fifth, apart from octaves near a cadence), but make sure these are balanced with conjunct motion, and also consider running basslines (passing notes between harmony notes).
- After this, you can fill in the chords for the tenor -and alto: but watch out for consecutives! Consecutive fifths and octaves make Bach turn in his grave: and though it may seem they can appear everywhere so easily, it’s not so hard to resolve the problem.
When you think you’ve finished your Chorale – check, check and check again! Check for consecutives between each part: first soprano and alto, soprano and tenor, and so forth – remember the niftier ones like alto and bass!
One way to avoid these consecutives is to write the bassline in contrary motion to the soprano, and make the middle parts move very little, and when they do, only steps and small leaps. Imagine the SATB voices are moody teenagers: S & B are always wanting to go against each other, and A & T want to do as little work as possible.
Hopefully, with these little tips in mind, the prospect of Bach Chorales won’t seem as overwhelming!see more
The meaning of ‘Neoclassical’ is the musical sense, is something ‘in the style’ of the Baroque and Classical era. Combining the words ‘neo’ meaning new, and ‘classical’ which refers back to the days of balance and clarity in musical form, this means that Stravinsky’s Pulcinella Suite will in some way, make compositional reference towards older forms.
However – Stravinsky was an innovator and a composer of many ideas and many styles, which means even his music that aims to recall a certain era, is no way a replication of it. He wrote it in 1920 after all, 7 years after the radical and controversial Rite of Spring! This means that this Neoclassical piece isn’t going to be as… well, Classical as one would first expect – there are still going to be many modern influences.
Therefore, to spot the features that make the piece ‘Neoclassical,’ all you have to do is find ‘old’ features that are mashed in with ‘new’ ones! We have to be very perceptive in analysing – but it is not as hard as you may think!
So, imagine you are analysing a piece that WAS composed in the time that Stravinsky is aiming to ‘copy.’ What are the features do you think you’ll see? For example, in the Gavotte and Variations, this is based on a piece by a composer called Monza in 1735, within the Baroque era – the ‘Gavotte’ being a Baroque dance form. This means that you should expect to see features of the Baroque in this piece. Try and have a think what features of tonality, harmony, texture and so forth, are prevalent in Baroque pieces.
Now, if you analyse the piece with the Baroque features in mind, and pretend that you are looking at an actual piece composed in 1735, this makes the process of spotting Neoclassical features a whole lot easier!
Let’s look at the Gavotte again: well, in a Baroque piece I’d expect to see a prominence of strings, and a defined melody in the treble part. In Stravinsky’s Gavotte – well, there are no strings in sight! The instrumentation is entirely wind instruments – and even involves instruments that were really rare in music back then – like horns, oboes, and flute. Furthermore, the melody often alternates between the oboe and the flute – and even the lower instruments take the melody every now and again, which goes against the ways of a ‘clear melody in a certain part’ in the Baroque era. Now, listen to how the instruments are played: there are some quite difficult passages, like the bassoon’s quick passages in the second variation, and the horn even has passages that would’ve been impossible on the natural horn which was around back then! From all this, it is clear that there were modern influences, and is not a direct replica of a Baroque piece: and there you have it, a Neoclassical feature!
So not everything is complicated – even something as clear as instrumentation can be indicative of a Neoclassical feature. Of course, that doesn’t mean we can’t ignore other features: think about all other aspects you study in class, and try to cross-compare between eras, and whenever you find a discrepancy between old and new, you’ve come across an aspect of Neoclassicism!see more