Music Listening

In this theme we reflect on three types of music to be heard: Western classical music, especially that of three periods: Renaissance, Baroque and Classicism; jazz music and flamenco music.

We will nuance the difference between hearing and listening (pdf intelligence and musical tastes: beginning: hearing and listening). We will reflect on three possible levels of listening: technical, evocative and sensitive. If the latter belongs rather to the theme of dance developed in theme 3, the technical and evocative levels (combined in different ways) correspond more to the “music to be heard”, from which we have chosen three repertoires for reflection.

On the occasion of the music of the author, we reflect on the importance of knowing in order to capture more “messages”, and better than if we simply applied an evocative listening, although they are two levels that can be combined in different ways. Knowing compositional techniques, even in a non-specialized way, helps us, for example, to grasp the form, the way to accompany a bass to a melody, the orchestral timbre, the interweaving of the voices (texture)…

The hearing of Renaissance repertoire (Palestrina polyphony) can introduce us into the magic of modal music. There is talk of how important it is to know the context of music in its time of composition, or in the “interior” of its culture. Baroque music, especially Bach’s, will help us to consider the progress of instrumental music in this period, the concept of bass (continuous). It will be easy to see the difference between the baroque style and the classical one, which in certain questions was a simplification of the previous one.

On the occasion of jazz music we will hear SummerTime, sung by Ella Fitzgerald and with Louis Armstrong on trumpet, later in other versions (Manhattan orchestra, Latin orchestra…). Also This Year Kisses, by Billie Holiday and Lester Young: From the first one we will analyze how a 2nd audition, after deepening in its melody, its bass, its orchestration, the singer’s timbre, the history of the song, the versions (more than 25.000)… can make us hear the piece in a very different way.

Here is an instrumental version. In this respect a work can be done, for those who are interested in the subject, with the following two links, one in Spanish (a website) and another in English (pdf, very detailed). From the second, we will try to deduce that it is necessary to learn to value how art and its ability to transmit messages, often is in small details, e.g. simple melody, but original interpretation, “different”, with some kind of perfection or originality.

Technical listening and evocative listening

The “technical”, “evocative” and “sensitive” listening are three levels of listening, usually compatible, especially the first two, to which we will dedicate this entry.

In the technical listening we apply the analysis to unravel the parts, to know better the structure, the formal ideas that govern the construction of a piece. It helps us to discover the compositional purposes of the author, or rather the way in which he decided to treat his musical ideas in that piece.

Evocative listening

To introduce us to the evocative listening mode, it is better that we use less structured works, or at least works in which, in some way, the feeling prevails over the rational organization.

The purpose of the activity we propose below is to arouse or enhance the taste for listening to good musical pieces. It also aims to help discover one’s own capacity for reflection and admiration, something that today seems to be hidden and extinguished by the external noise of haste, of the culture of the image in which we are immersed.

To take full advantage of this activity, it is recommended not to hesitate about how to carry it out. It is a question of listening to the proposed pieces, then reading some data such as those proposed here and taking note of one’s own opinions, without much doubt or delay. Otherwise, the activity could turn out to be tedious and nothing further from the purpose pursued, among others the opening of the mind to music that we may hear little and the acquisition of new perspectives of hearing. This activity focuses above all on a type of listening, evocative listening, reinforced by technical listening (we talked about both in the previous entry). We begin.

To hear a version of the work of Bedrich Smetana (1824-84). El Moldava (Symphonic Poem. Epoch: Romanticism). The best thing is to hear a first version without suggested images: only of the orchestra that interprets it. For example this one, that although it is only an acceptable and somewhat slow version, the realization and quality of the image are not bad (1). Then, after the audition, he writes a first personal impression on the piece.

Read some data about the composition of this piece and the program written by Smetana himself. Once you know something of the purposes that moved the author to compose the piece, hear the piece again. The following version is proposed. The images are of the Vltava river, from its source to its mouth (2).

After this second “illustrated” audition, answer these questions: Have you perceived the work differently? Has there been a change in your attitude, assessment, impression or perception of the piece? If so, briefly describe it.

To hear the Stabat Mater by Giovanni Battista Draghi, alias Pergolesi (1710-1736), period: Full Baroque. It is recommended to hear at least 10 min of the piece and once the page appears, click on the proposed link). Since the piece is made up of several sections, if you are not going to hear the whole piece try to hear some other passage, for example the end of this version from min. 34, 20” What main feeling does it suggest after hearing a few minutes without knowing historical or musical data of that work? Have the images of the performance influenced your perception: the orchestra, the place, the singers, the conductor etc.?

Read some biographical data of the author and the circumstances in which he composed that work. Hear the work again, after that reading in the version proposed by the author of the article, which is good, a little more dynamic and in a tempo a little faster than the previous one. After a while of listening, does your evaluation of the piece change? Detail, if appropriate, that new assessment. It is very probable that the data you have read in that blog have influenced your different consideration of the work, you may also have perceived some difference between the two versions, and so on.