Tag Archives: music

My compositions

On the link I will provide here you will see all my completed compositions.  All I am asking is are there any talented musicians out there who could play my music?  It is great hearing it on Sibelius 8 but to hear it live would be incredible.   So if anyone fancies the challenge then thank you very much!

JS Bach v The World (part III)

So randomly, the moment I click on WordPress to write another episode of complete drivel that no-one reads, Bach’s toccata in C minor randomly plays on my ‘Braintree Away’ Playlist.  Sounds rather odd?  Yes, but Tuesday just gone myself and my parents went on a coach to a small Essex town called Braintree to watch our beloved Dover Athletic play football.  We lost 1-0 and in the second half we were given a masterclass in how to waste time by the hosts.  So, I needed some music for the journey and compiled a list of about 90 tracks, a lot of Bach, but some Radiohead and Divine Comedy, too.  Yet don’t panic because today we beat a good Macclesfield side 2-1 and kept our spot of third in the league, two points behind the leaders Forest Green Rovers.

Anyhow, I ended the last part with a performance of what is probably the greatest piece of music ever conceived.  The solo violin chaconne in D minor is really beyond comprehension for any language to justify.  It is not of this world.   So was JS Bach some kind of alien planted here by something from the future or something vastly more intelligent than ourselves, but not quite able to compose music it would like?  No, I highly doubt Bach is an alien plant or even an alien, no evidence you see.  Drat, say all the UFO fantasists.  No, Bach just happened to be a lone sperm that made it to the egg first, and through some complicated genetic makeup and milieu managed to become the greatest musician that ever lived.  Now back to the chaconne in D minor.  Did he hear the main theme in his head first or did he just happen upon it while playing around with some other ideas on the clavier, say?  Well it obviously didn’t send him out of his mind like it would have done Brahms.

Today I became the owner of a biography of Bach and as I always seem to do, I looked at the last sentence and this is what it said:

“Truly, Bach links us with the universe.”  Klause Eidam The True Life of J.S.Bach.

That is such a beautifully simple yet elegant explanation of Bach and his music.  I always thought Beethoven was the greatest and spent a lot of my teenage years (before IMSLP) buying cheap copies of his piano sonatas from a local music shop with my meagre pocket/paper round money.  Well as long as I had enough to buy a sonata or two and get into football I was happy.   There was a hardback edition of Bach’s Well Tempered Clavier sitting proudly on the shelf above the cheap sonatas still wrapped in plastic to keep the dust off it.  I think it was about £50 so I could only dream of being able to buy it.   Now I have all of the WTCs thanks to IMSLP but they are bloody difficult to play, but what masterpieces.  Still, I thought Beethoven was the grandmaster and greatest musician to have ever graced the planet.  Now he is in second place.  Bach is like a ceiling that only people like Beethoven or Mozart can dream of getting near or above.  Yet you cannot, no-one can.  Bach trumps his competitors time and time again.   I used to bawl my eyes out when I listened to the last movement of Mozart’s Jupiter Symphony, same with Beethoven’s third, seventh, and ninth symphonies.   Then a couple of years ago I found myself in tears walking across a supermarket car park while listening to to Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto in G major.  I have always wondered why music triggers this.  Is it the way a composer develops a theme so incredibly that something in your head cannot comprehend and tells the eyes to release the water?  As a way of trying to come to terms with what our underdeveloped brains can’t cope with.  An outlet say?

Without JS Bach music wouldn’t have progressed the way it did.  Handel may have stepped up the the plate but he didn’t have the umph to do what a Bach would do.  Vivaldi is a pleasure to listen to but too repetitive to be the bedrock of classical music, and the same with Scarlatti, Purcell came too early, and Telemann all the while the most prolific of composers was nowhere near good enough to provide the next generation with the correct techniques and harmonies.  So it was just lucky that JS Bach did exist really.

I haven’t written anything for a few days, but I did read that  JS Bach’s music sort of disappeared and wasn’t the flavour of the month until Mendelssohn rediscovered the great master in the 19th century.  Yet I read that Beethoven quotes the masterfulness of Bach and if you look carefully there are many similarities in there music.  Beethoven isn’t afraid to be bombastic and powerful and you can hear the link with Bach especially in the harmonies.  At the moment I am listening to Bach’s partitas for keyboard.  They are worthy pieces I would say nearly on par with the toccatas yet they don’t quite have the bite, but needless to say they are masterpieces and the intertwining are a joy to hear and play.  There is so much going on in these partitas and I expect the more I listen to them the higher they will go in my estimation.

Some pieces by Bach can take several listenings to really understand and appreciate what is going on.  I, you, we, must persevere.  I think it is to do with neural pathways in the brain.  When listening to a piece by Bach for the first time the brain cannot take it all in, especially if you are listening to his secular keyboard or solo instrument pieces.   So keep at it and eventually the brain will have a Bach pathway that may induce more serotonin or dopamine to flow just for his music.  That would be really interesting if that were true; surely it must be.  The brain is trying to contend with something written around 300 years ago.  That is a true test of time.  I wonder, at any point in his life, Bach pondered what would happen to his music beyond his lifetime.

This is a very interesting take on the master’s music

Well that’s part III done.  Thanks for getting this far all none of you!  Haha!  I think I will just keep this going.

The tunefulness of a tune

Is there a way, mathematically, to decipher which of the millions of melodies is the most melodious?   I wondered this about twenty years ago, even to the point where I started studying maths in the hope I could make a breakthrough.  In the end I could only work out the variables that would be needed:

average notes per phrase,

length of phrase (in bars)

pitch range (in semitones)

number of phrases per melody

number of accidentals

Really for me it was an impossible task (what with not even taking into account harmony and timbre) but I was trying to take away some of the frustrating subjectiveness that is found in music.  If I were to hazard a guess as to what melodies would be up there as the most tuneful then something by Tchaikovsky or the Beatles.  People would still disagree even if the maths were watertight.  Yet no one says things like ‘I don’t like the height of Everest’.

Note only would a mathematical equation make the subject objective it may even be able to predict even more tuneful melodies, stuff that has never been written.   You could even reach a point where you have the most tuneful tune possible.  Music is mathematical in that it follows patterns but is probably too non-linear to write down a happy equation, otherwise it would already been done.  Yet saying that,  I do get the feeling sometimes that modern pop music is composed by a machine or a software package rather than a human doing it.  Could it be that we are running out of tunes hence why older ones are getting recycled more often?  Every so often you get one catchy tune but they are getting further and further apart.

Music is simply three chords (tonic, dominant, subdominant) with forays into the relative minor every now and then.  It could finally be argued that music is simpler than we think.

Muzio Clementi 1752-1832

Composer 1752-1832
Composer 1752-1832

Any person who has ever had formal piano lessons will surely have come across Mr Clementi, and his Op 36 sonatinas.  They are mechanical pedagogical pieces that are very pleasant and useful in developing a budding talent.  Yet that is just a tiny part of Clementi’s oeuvre.  If you can find the sheet music beyond (well use IMSLP) Op 36 you will find a treasure chest of masterful, superbly crafted piano music that will not only surprise but make you wonder.   Make you wonder why this music has been historically mothballed.  It seems almost impossible to access Clementi’s music beyond IMSLP (if you wanted to buy bound copies of all his sonatas), although Amazon and Spotify have a fairly comprehensive collection of recordings mainly by pianist Pietro Spada.  Spada opens Clementi up and shows very clearly that Clementi’s music stood on the boundary of the classical and romantic periods.

Clementi was slightly eclipsed by giants like Beethoven, Mozart and Haydn yet, I personally feel, his music is on par with the latter two and some of former’s early piano sonata repertoire.   Of course Beethoven went off in a direction that no mortal could match.  I will at this point admit that a few of Clementi’s works (mainly the sonatinas) are a touch twee and rigid but there is a selection of his sonatas that puts him at the top of the minor composer’s pile (although I will argue he is not a minor composer, but I will use that term for now).  The Op 40, 46, 47 and 50 collection of nine sonatas are all masterpieces that really should get more attention.   If I could compare him to such contemporaries as Dussek, Kalkbrenner and Hummel then he ever so slightly pushes the boundaries of originality and breadth.  While Hummel composed some worthy sonatas ,No 4 and 5, and the fantasy in E flat major, a lot of his work is lacklustre and contrived.  I point towards Clementi’s Op 47 sonatas, or capriccios.  This is No. 1 in E minor.  It has a very long introduction, one of the longest I have ever come across.  Listening to the first movement you can see music paving a way towards Schumann, Chopin and Liszt.  Whether this music ever did influence such composers is not clear although it is well documented that Beethoven had a fondness for Clementi’s music.

Clementi’s style is unique in that he explores, almost mathematically, the vast variety of motifs that are possible to compose.  Each sonata has a little nugget that gets bent and twisted throughout the movement.  This is done before Beethoven and it seems that Clementi influenced him in the use of introductions to works which can be long (a mentioned above) or just a few bars.  These mini preludes set the tone and act as a warm up; Clementi normally includes some hemidemisemi quaver (32nd notes) glissando to ready the performer’s suppleness.   He uses the full toolbox of sonata form artillery that works superbly  on all occasions.   In fact I find it hard to find a weak sonata produced by Muzio. They are melodious yet modulated in a heart beat making the piece strecthed and pulled.

Personally my favourite sonata is the Op 50, No. 2 in D minor.  It has, what I believe, to be the most haunting first movement of the classical period.  It is powerful and brooding, there is no room for any major key ditty in F major because is rolls along with some inner strength,some inner meaning.  What is Clementi trying to convey in this sonata?  He is a man we seem to know little about but he must have been something special to produce something akin to a middle period sonata of Beethoven’s.  D minor is an evocative key and all works that adopt it are mysterious and dark (Mozart’s Requiem Mass, Beethoven’s sonata No. 17 and symphony No.9, Bruckner’s symphonies No. 3 and 9).  Clementi has given the world something that is precious but is lost to humanity.  The finale of this sonata is authoritative and the wonderfully mastered entrance to the coda makes my back tremble every time I play or hear it.

I urge people to give Clementi a chance.  He is so close to becoming a grandmaster of the classical romantic bridge-in fact he built the bridge and his back was the bridge to aid the greats like Beethoven.  Of course there was his incredible Gradus ad Parnassum that is a fine collection of studies and shows Clementi’s full breadth of his craft. This is the beautiful beginning to one hundred impressive variations that only a genius could produce.

So there is more to Clementi then just  a few sonatinas.  There is more then I expect we will ever know.

Is sonata form important to humanity?

Outside of musical circles sonata form is rarely mentioned, I’d imagine.  But it is staple to the form that our lives take.  With sonata form there starts two opposing themes that almost battle it out to become the main developed theme in the middle section.   There is a contrast, mixing oil with water is an example.  Life is like that, we always have a battle to fight, no matter how small, every day you meet a contrast that can’t be resolved.

Sonata form has a huge scrap in the middle section and what happens?  The original theme returns, at truce with the contrasting theme that follows.  The piece ends with no resolution, but a mere ceasefire.  Neither theme won.  Like in life you never really win in the long term.  And this fits in nicely with entropy in the second law of thermodynamics.  The absolute best you can hope for is to break even, which is rare.  The body is merely an energy conversion machine carrying a code that needs to be passed on.  Everything roughly follows the same pattern, to a point where there is no point.

From what is known about life everything we think or sense is chemical.  No matter what we don’t understand about the mind is not an excuse to make things up.  Perhaps humans will never know how is really works.  But what right do we have understand it?  Whatever it is doesn’t care whether it is discovered or not.  And what shall we do when we understand whatever it is we want to understand?  Try and convince the people who are no better then flat earthists.

So many questions.  There will always be questions; always be that person saying ‘…but why?’

And, like a good scientist does, reply with ‘well, I don’t know.’