The first interest of this blog has been Spanish classical music. When we began these postings in May, however, we said this wouldn’t exclude the music of other nations. On a recent visit to the euroresidentes office, it was suggested that we broaden our scope to include the mainstream classical scene, which we will now begin to do. It will be a hotch-potch of personal experience and pleasures, but I hope others who read it will add their own perspectives to mine. I shall miss the Iberian focus and we will return to it from time to time, but now the field is open.
Trying to give a rough definition of ‘Classical’ in that first posting I said it was music with some serious purpose to it rather than just entertainment, that it had proved to be acceptable to people over a period of time and that it had some sort of recognisable form. N.G.D.M. suggests that musical form has literary antecedents, quoting Aristotle who said that a tragedy was the imitation of an action that is whole and complete in itself.
There is also an organic equation. Schoenberg of all people, once wrote that a piece of music ‘consists of elements functioning like those of a living organism’. Thirdly, musical form has the effect of a discourse, even a language, where the composer within a given framework creates a conversation. So these three -unified; organic; dialogue are characteristics of classical music.
There are technical terms to describe various commonly used forms. The Oxford Dictionary of Music identifies six, of which sonata form is the one most commonly used, the contrast of different themes and keys creating a structure. The opening statement of a movement may be repeated and developed, then a second theme announces itself, providing the counterpoint to the first. After many variations the first theme may then return to bring the movement to an end.
I am a virtual innocent in these matters but you can see this ‘conversation’ as well as hear it as you watch a quartet play – each musician watching the eyes of the others as together they recreate the music.
Form is the bedrock of eighteenth and nineteen century European music – emerging in purity with Haydn, magically developed by Mozart and taken in hand almost brutally by Beethoven, whom we shall meet next time.