atonality. Having no key, or 'without tonality'. A technique pioneered by Arnold Schoenberg.
Bach, Johann Sebastian (1685-1750). German composer and organist. Arguably the finest composer of the Baroque, Bach took established forms, such as the cantata and fugue, and raised them to unprecedented heights of complexity and artistry. Described by Wagner as 'the most stupendous miracle in all music'.
Baroque. The period in Western history from around 1650 to 1750. The word Baroque means, literally, 'mis-shapen pearl'. Baroque art, music, and architecture is characterized by flamboyant gestures and intricate detail. Notable Baroque composers include Johann Sebastian Bach and George Frederick Handel.
cantata. A composition for vocal soloists and/or choir orchestra, on a smaller scale than an oratorio. The art reached its zenith with the 200-plus cantatas of J.S. Bach, but 19th and 20th-century composers have also written cantatas - ie Elgar's King Olaf, or Prokofiev's splendidly over-the-top Cantata for the 20th Anniversary of the October Revolution.
chromaticism. At its most basic level, the use of the chromatic scales, intervals and chords. Composers in the 16th and 17th centuries experimented with chromaticism, but it took the music of Richard Wagner to truly explore its possibilities. The intense chromaticism of Late Romantic music prompted Schoenberg to invent the twelve-note technique, which harnesses chromaticism into strict rules and techniques.
Classical. (a) A period in Western history from around 1750 to 1830. It can perhaps be seen as an attempt to restrain the excesses of the Baroque. It emphasizes clarity, restraint, and proportion over emotional or intellectual expression. Notable Early / Middle Classical composers include C.P.E. Bach, Haydn, and Mozart. The two most notable Late Classical / Early Romantic composers are Beethoven and Schubert.
(b) A term applied to any music which looks back to the principal ideals of Classicism - balance, clarity, and proportion. Often applied to Romantics such as Brahms and Schumann.
counterpoint. The art of comprehensibly combining two or more independent musical lines simultaneously. The many different methods of counterpoint include imitation, canon, and fugue.
cyclical form. A compositional device in which a single theme, or group of themes, returns in each subsequent movement of a large-scale work, often in transormed or metamorphasized visage. Berlioz, Schumann, and Franck made extensive use of this technique.
Debussy, Claude (1862-1918). French composer. The first of the 'impressionist' school of French composers, and one of the most revolutionary composers of all time. He was a master of pianistic and orchestral colour, and influenced countless composers.
formalism. A term used by the Soviet authorities to denounce works which were deemed too 'difficult' or 'complex' for the general public. The regime used the term frequently against Prokofiev and Shostakovich, and against composers whose music was not compatible with their political philosophy.
fugue. A compositional form, in which two or more parts, or voices, state a short melody, known as the subject. Once all voices have stated the subject, the fugue continues with a developmental passage, before the subjects enter again, alternating with developmental material. The fugue is a highly complex contrapuntal method which takes many years of study to master. J.S. Bach was undoubtedly the supreme master of fugal technique, but subsequent composers have been able to combine fugues into their own larger-scale compositions. For example, the finale of Mozart's Jupiter Symphony combines sonata form and fugue, as does the finale of Bruckner's Fifth. Many composers use short fugues, or fugatos, as developmental episodes in sonata-form movements - for example, the development section of the first movement of Brahms's Second Symphony.
harmony. At its most basic level, the result of two or more pitches sounding simultaneously. Harmony can be the result of counterpoint (the interweaving of several independent melodies), or chordal writing (where a melody is harmonized, or supported, by other notes). Harmony can be concordant, with all pitches 'agreeing' with each other, or it can be dissonant, creating a sense of tension. Composers' use of harmony has evolved from medieval and Renaissance times, where chordal writing was almost entirely concordant, to the music of the 20th century, which makes increasing use of dissonance.
key. The prinicple of general adherence to a particular scale, for example G major or A minor. This concept is one of the most basic premises of Western music, but some music of the 20th century, particularly the music of Schoenberg, has often abandoned the idea of keys and tonality altogether.
Lieder. German word meaning 'art-song'.
Liszt, Franz (1811-1886). Hungarian composer and pianist. Generally assumed to be the greatest piano virtuoso of all time. His music, which includes hundreds of piano pieces, as well as symphonic poems and vocal music, had a profound effect on composers such as Wagner, and also on the course of Romanticism.
modulation. The musical technique of changing the key in the course of a composition through a series of harmonic changes.
neo-classicism. Literally, 'new Classicism'. Any music which utilises forms, structures, harmonies, or stylistic mannerisms of the Classical period. Notable neo-classical composers include Prokofiev, Poulenc, and Stravinsky.
oratorio. A large-scale dramatic work for soloists, choir, and orchestra, usually based on a religious subject. Famous oratorios include Handel's Messiah, and Mendelssohn's Elijah.
orchestration. The art of writing for orchestra. A work that is well orchestrated, using efficient combinations of string, wind, and brass instruments, will sound much 'clearer' than a work that is poorly orchestrated. The masters of orchestration include Beethoven, Mendelssohn, Bruckner, Mahler, Saint-Saens, Elgar, and Prokofiev.
ostinato. A short musical passage that is repeated several times.
programme. An extra-musical explanation applied to a piece of music. For example, Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique is a 'programmatic work', with the movements specifically describing locations (a ballroom, the countryside) and feelings.
Renaissance. French word meaning 'rebirth'. In music, it refers to the period from around 1400 to 1650. Notable Renaissance composers include Palestrina, Gabrieli, Tallis, and Byrd.
Romantic. A period in Western history, particularly in literature and music, from around 1830 to 1900. Romantic art, as opposed to Classical art, is characterized by an emphasis on emotional expression rather than structure or proportion - although there are many Romantics who believed in Classical principles. Romanticism is a very broad term, which also encompasses many composers of the 20th century. Notable Romantics include Berlioz, Mendelssohn, Schumann, Brahms, Bruckner, Wagner, Liszt, Mahler, Sibelius, and Vaughan-Williams.
Schoenberg, Arnold (1874-1951). Austrian-born composer and teacher, and perhaps the single most influential figure in 20th-century Western music. Inventor of the twelve-tone method of composition, and pioneer of atonlity. Although he has long been regarded as the 'dark prince of modernism', his music is now recognized for its beauty and drama.
Second Viennese School. The trinity of Austrian composers in the first half of the 20th century who utilized the twelve-tone technique - Arnold Schoenberg, Anton Webern, and Alban Berg.
song-cycle. A group of songs, devised by the composer to be unified in subject matter or mood. Famous song-cycles include the three great Schubert cycles, Die Winterreise (Winter's Journey), Die Schone Mullerin (The Fair Maid of the Mill), and Schwanengesang (Swan Song), Schumann's Frauenliebe und Leben (Woman's Love and Life), and Mahler's Kindertotenlieder (Children's Death Songs).
symphonic poem. A descriptive, or programmatic, work for orchestra, usually dealing with subjects from Romantic literature. Liszt and Strauss were its main exponents.
thematic inter-relationship. A musical device, similar to cyclical form, where a theme from one movement of a large-scale work returns in subsequent movements.
tonality. The concept of adherence to a certain key throughout a composition.
twelve-tone. Compositional method invented by Arnold Schoenberg, in which the twelve notes of the chromatic scale are treated equally, and the traditional key structure longer applies. The premise behind twelve-tone composition, or dodecaphony, is the idea of the 'tone-row'. A tone-row is simply an arrangement of the twelve notes of the chromatic scale in an order that does not suggest a key or tonality. This row can then be repeated, transposed, inverted, or played backwards (retrograde inversion). Composers such as Berg, Webern, Boulez, Copland, and Stockhausen utilized this technique in their own compositions, and others, such as Britten and Shostakovich, used certain aspects of it. Also 'twelve-note'.
Wagner, Richard (1813 - 1883). German composer, poet, and conductor, whose output consists almost entirely of opera. He was one of the most influential composers of all time, redefining the very foundations of opera itself into a new, organic form of 'music-drama', as well as introducing revolutionary harmonic and structural ideas, most notably the use of chromaticism and leitmotifs. His mammoth cycle of five operas 'Das Ring des Nibelungen' is one of the most staggering creations in all Western culture. The legions of composers indebted to him include Bruckner, Mahler, Strauss, Elgar, and Schoenberg.
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