Music Review

Choose any two of the questions below and reply to them with written responses. Each should be around 300 words.

Like the weekly writing assignments, these essays should be centered around your listening experiences and the lecture materials, not outside sources. Try to have fun with these responses! Take risks and be creative! Push yourself to discuss the music at hand in the greatest possible detail and to the best of your ability. And please be sure to answer all parts of the prompts. (My lists of things to consider—”instrumental color, texture, density, articulation…”—are helpful suggestions, not requirements.)

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Question 1 — Revisiting Repertoire

Listen to Hélène Grimaud’s performance of Erik Satie’s Gymnopedie No. I (Links to an external site.), then listen to Claude Debussy’s orchestral arrangement of Gymnopedie No. 1 (Links to an external site.) performed by the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields. After listening, address the following questions in an essay (300 words): How does Debussy’s writing transcend the expressive and mechanical capacities of the piano? Conversely, how does Debussy’s writing seem to emulate or echo the pianistic qualities of the original? Consider musical features such as instrumental color, texture, density, articulation, or anything else you are hearing and can describe. How does this significant shift in medium—from solo piano to large orchestra—alter the character, atmosphere, or mood of Satie’s Gymnopedie No. 1? Finally, compare Debussy’s arrangement of Satie’s music to Webern’s arrangement of Bach’s Ricercar, discussing at least one approach or facet they share and one they do not.

Question 2 — Dualisms

Write an essay comparing two musical works from the lectures or homework assignments from the perspective of one of these dualisms (300 words):

Originality / Appropriation
Repetition / Variation
Past / Modern
Obfuscation / Clarity

Write about how the two different pieces of music you choose illuminate and exemplify the two sides of the pair you are discussing. Make a clear case for how the composer uses musical techniques, compositional strategies, and/or extra-musical elements (e.g. texts, titles, and images) to project one side or the other or (more than often) both! Do not just talk about the two pieces separately from one another; be sure bring them into dialogue and discuss the relationships between the two!

Question 3 — Extrapolations

This question asks you to listen to a piece of music that we have not discussed and analyze it through the lens of the course concepts we have explored thus far. The piece at hand is Grandmaster Flash’s The Adventures of Grandmaster Flash on the Wheels of Steel (Links to an external site.). Here, Grandmaster Flash—one of the early pioneers of hip-hop and turntablism—interweaves fragments of different funk, disco, rock, pop, and hip-hop tracks—including Chic’s Good Times (Links to an external site.), Queen’s Another One Bites the Dust (Links to an external site.), The Incredible Bongo Band’s Apache (Links to an external site.), Blondie’s Rapture (Links to an external site.), and Sugarhill Gang’s 8th Wonder (Links to an external site.), among many others. All of this music is played from vinyl records on two turntables. Using turntables and a mixer (a device that controls volume), Flash cleverly jumps from one record to the other, overlays both of them, and makes percussive scratching noises. (Not required, but if you’d like more technical insights, you can watch this video (Links to an external site.) of Flash demonstrating a wide array of turntable techniques.)

In sum, Grandmaster Flash is making music from other music, an idea we have seen at play in numerous pieces throughout the quarter. I would like you to locate any two of these pieces from the course and write an essay comparing them to The Adventures of Grandmaster Flash on the Wheels of Steel (300 words). Consider the music we have looked at that draws upon folk melodies, quotations of popular and patriotic songs, and other allusions to music from the past. Compare how these composers and Grandmaster Flash integrated, manipulated, collaged, juxtaposed, etc. these musical sources. Do not just talk about these three pieces separately from one another; be sure bring them into dialogue and discuss the relationships between the three!

Question 4 — Intermedia

Watch Francis Picabia and Rene ́Clair’s surrealist film Entr’acte (Links to an external site.) (1924), which features a soundtrack by Erik Satie, one of the earliest examples of a synchronized film score! Entr’acte is a satirical critique of the political and aesthetic effects of World War I. It is regarded as a landmark film due to its early eschewal of conventional narrative forms and use of experimental camera techniques and special effects. After watching, pick any 2-3 minute excerpt from the film you really enjoyed (please make note of the timestamp in your response), and write an essay (300 words) discussing how Satie’s music interfaces with the film’s narrative, imagery, camera and film effects (e.g. slow motion), personalities or behaviors of characters, pacing, or affects or temperaments of scenes (e.g. ominous or lighthearted), just to name a few. Try to describe the music in the greatest detail possible. Consider the instruments, loudness, repetition, density, texture, expressive qualities, or anything else you are perceiving. At the end, briefly discuss how, or if, Satie’s music underscores Picabia and Clair’s satirical critique of wartime technology, modernity, and industrial capitalism.

Question 5 — Two composers walk into a café…

Imagine a scenario where any two of the composers we have explored in the lectures and assignments decide to dine together and chat about music. Write a script (300 words) describing their dialogue following this three-part structure:

Scene 1: Very briefly outline a phone conversation where the two composers deliberate where to grab dinner. Try to imagine a restaurant with a particular ambience and cuisine that would suit both of them based on the aesthetic character of their music. (Only spend a couple sentences on this part!).

Scene 2: Both composers arrive at the restaurant and begin a conversation around a shared musical interest; this could be a very broad concept (e.g. stasis) or something quite specific (e.g. medieval chant). Write out a conversation where both express their shared and differing approaches to this particular topic in their music. At some point, each composer should bring in an example of a specific piece of theirs (one we discussed in class) to illustrate whatever point(s) they are trying to make. The scene concludes with some sort of interruption.

Scene 3: The conversation resumes, and they each begin to chat about a piece of music they want to compose in the future! Based on what you know about these composers, imagine what kinds of musical and extra-musical ideas each composer might want to explore in their new piece. Come up with something whimsical, fantastical, and imaginative, but rooted in the proclivities of the particular composer. For more information on Music Review check out:

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