Monday, June 20, 2011
Of course it's perfectly fine to just listen to a Beethoven symphony for the "vibe" - I do it all the time, especially since I have music playing every waking hour. But it's always worth mentioning that Beethoven is not just giving us "notes" - there's human drama and comedy splashed all over those string textures.
Here's a few ideas that have helped me to "read" classical music:
Listen for how each instrumental group (winds, horns, strings, percussion) enters
the piece. Then follow how B. uses each of these groups. In general, the strings are the lead instrument and the horns are used for extra "oomph".
Listen for the main motif or melody and break it up into it's "parts". By parts I mean the antecedent/consequent (call/response) nature of a theme melody. It's fun to listen to a melody and see how it gets echoed by other instruments and altered in different ways. My research on my blog post on homophonic forms was pretty handy to learn about theme structures.
Listen for the larger structure of the work - notice when the exposition repeats, how the development develops, and how the recap retransitions into the original theme. These are all signposts saying things like "You are now entering the State of Lyrical Theme in Dominant Harmony". If the work is in variation form, compare how Beethoven develops and twists the original theme.
These all may sound like school homework assignments I suppose, but after awhile this kind of "active listening" becomes as easy as recognizing when a commercial comes on during a TV show and it all just adds to the experience. When an action movie slows down for some "romance", you don't have to think "oh it's the lyrical part". But you do recognize it as a change in the mood and pace and this is exactly the kind of thing Beethoven wants us to feel during one of his symphonies.
The idea for today's post on "listening" came from an article about how reading and doing crosswords can block your ability to hear.
Piano Sonata #31 In Ab, Op.110 (1822)