I have a lot of music compared to most of my peers, about 18,000 songs. I have listened to about one eighth of it so far, and probably will not enjoy half of it. Many find this ridiculous, but I disagree.
There is a certain joy for me in collecting as many tunes as possible. The pack-rats on TV who collect Coca-Cola memorabilia do not, in all likelihood, garner enjoyment from every small item of their collection. Still, they continue to collect. After all: someday, someone might enjoy that 1960’s bottle cap. Music is an expression of sound in a manner which the ear finds pleasing. Just because my ear does not enjoy a song does not mean that no one’s ear will enjoy it! I collect as much music as possible so that maybe someday I will bring someone happiness with it.
If I just admitted that I am not picky about what music I have, why do I maintain a yuppie music blog? My goal is to not only educate people about music from a factual standpoint, but to share the music that I enjoy from an opinionated standpoint.
Whether or not you as the reader care about my musical musings, I certainly hope that you as the listener can and will enjoy the music that I have to share with you!
Is it wrong to collect music that you don’t like? Personally, I don’t think so.
If you disagree with me, I encourage you to express your thoughts by commenting on this post.
Breaking the Rules: Sonata Allegro Form
The Romantic Era of music was a time of change. Riding on the heels of the Industrial Revolution, the world of music was evolved, if not revolutionized. The pianoforte took its place over the harpsichord as the superior instrument of its time, enabling greater dynamic expression and tonal quality than ever before possible. The rise of the middle class in society broadened music’s audience from a refined few to the general, musically uneducated public. Composers began focusing on emotion and mood within their compositions, in contrast with the predictable, dainty melodies of Mozart and Haydn. These changes took music beyond the boundaries established with the aristocratic composers of the Classical Era, in particular the guidelines established in Sonata-Allegro Form.
Looking back a century, the Classical Era provided the necessary springboard for the explosion of creativity soon to come. This period in music history marked the creation of the Classical Sonata, a piece of music with three to four “movements” focusing on a solo instrument. The first movement of the sonata almost always followed Sonata-Allegro Form (Sonata Form in short), a seemingly minor innovation that helped develop some of classical music’s most recognizable characteristics. The two great “strictly Classical” composers, Mozart and Haydn, popularized this refined and highly recognizable form of music whilst playing for royal courts and other aristocratic locales. In their compositions, they sought to deviate from the ostentatious clichés of the Baroque era (a la J.S. Bach) while also establishing basic forms, melodies, and harmonies that were easily recognizable and aurally pleasing. Sonata Form was, in effect, the product of these compositions.
Sonata Form in and of itself consists of a complex and surprisingly specific set of rules, leaving little room for variation in length, harmonic progression, and even melody. The form calls for three distinct sections of the given movement: the Exposition, Development, and Recapitulation. The Exposition establishes a primary theme and key (called “home key”), which quickly transitions into a relative key (typically that of the dominant) by means of modulation, development of theme, mood metamorphosis, or a contrasting phrase. The relative key section introduces a second theme, which may vary in style from the primary theme and change keys multiple times. The new key is then confirmed with a closing section, often built off of the first two themes and featuring tonic pedal point (bass repetition of the key’s tonic note).
The Development features motifs based off of the themes found in the Exposition, but it also leaves the most room in the piece for thematic variation. This section may range from a brief modulation to a broad-scale musical climax. It may build off of earlier themes, deviate entirely, or even return to home key for some time. Dynamic and melodic variation is commonly found in this section of the movement. The Development usually concludes with dominant pedal point (bass repetition of the dominant note of the key), leading into the final section of the piece.
The Recapitulation reiterates the Exposition in the tonic key. Some portions of the exposition may be varied melodically, while other portions may be rearranged or removed entirely. Many composers add a Coda (a distinct “ending”) section to the finale of the Recapitulation, which often expands upon the themes established in the Exposition before concluding the piece in the home key.
Astoundingly enough, it was not until the time of the ever-famous Ludwig Van Beethoven (1712-1773) that this cut-and-dry model was seriously challenged. Beethoven was a so-called “transition” composer, a Classical artist who later pioneered the Romantic style. The aforementioned Industrial Revolution facilitated this “transition” by broadening music’s audience to the general public. These people were not aristocrats; rather, they lived in the working-class world where ditsy harmonies lost their appeal quickly. The highly-refined, down-to-a- science Sonata Form was effectively begging to be challenged. Though ahead of his time, Beethoven accepted the challenge, sparking a series of alterations in Sonata Form by expanding upon its preset boundaries.
Romantic composers did not, however, undo the Classical style entirely: rather, artists like Mendelssohn and Brahms built upwards from that which was already in place. The Development of a piece, for example, may switch to the mediant key rather than the dominant; or perhaps it would deviate from the Exposition entirely, exploring broader, more dynamic sounds. This modified style appealed to emotion over format, which in turn appealed to the commoner over the aristocrat. Where the Classical was formal, the Romantic was lyrical; where the Classical was thematic, the Romantic was experimental. Sonata-Allegro Form remains one of the most widely recognizable characteristics of classical music, and yet the changes it experienced resulted in the formation of the Romantic style, one that plunged music as a whole into a whole new world of expression.
Eakle, Kit. “Sonata Allegro Form.” <http://www.musickit.com/resources/son-allegro.html>
Schmidt-Jones, Catherine. “The Music of the Romantic Era.” <http://cnx.org/content/m11606/latest/>
Green, Aaron. “Classical Piano Music Styles.” <http://classicalmusic.about.com/od/classicalmusic101/p/classicalpiano.htm>
If you were a young, ambitious director who’s just released his first movie, you wouldn’t let the moviegoers opt to watch only one scene of it, would you? Sure, you may release a trailer or two to get people pumped up to see your movie, but you most certainly would expect those who saw the trailer to go to the theater and see the entire movie. This obvious analogy applies also to - you guessed it - music.
If you hear a song at a friend’s house or in the car on the radio, and you like what the artist has to offer, take the initiative to pick up the album next time you are out. There are so many reasons to do this! First, it opens you up to more music. If you like one song by an artist, chances are you’ll like more of their work. Often times, it takes a few listens to grow accustomed to non-singles: when I heard Modest Mouse’s Float On on the radio, I went out and bought Good News For People Who Love Bad News, the album. It took months for me to begin appreciating their other music, but Modest Mouse is now one of my favorite bands because of that one purchase.
Another reason to buy albums is the opportunity to hear the entire sequence of music as it was meant to be heard. Artists organize albums in a certain order that makes sense musically. If you bought Pink Floyd’s Money without the rest of the famous Dark Side Of The Moon, you would miss out on the entire context that Money fell in.
Lastly, purchasing albums supports the music industry more than buying singles. Recent history has noted a decline in album sales and an increase in singles. Using the aforementioned tacky analogy, the single is just a trailer of what it to come. They are released before the album to promote the album. Therefore, if no one actually buys the album, why would the artist continue to make music? This is why “one hit wonders” only have “one hit.” If they can’t produce album sales, they can’t afford to produce albums. So please, do your favorite bands a favor and buy their records.
I can’t stand it when people say that “Rap is stupid.” It always seems to be rap that is the mindless genre that everyone likes, what with those mindless lyrics and all. I will not fight it that some rap music is rather thoughtless, but honestly, anyone who listens extensively to classic rock and other generally “respectable” genres will know that every type of music is guilty of some truly stupid artists. Likewise, many intelligent groups of musicians compose rap/hip hop, country, rock, blues, and so on. The truth is, genres are, in essence, an expression of personal taste.
People get mixed up in a genre crisis, and yet the whole premise is quite simple: a genre is a particular style of music, and nothing else. Rock features emphasis on the first and third beats of a measure, reggae on the second and fourth. Blues often has a “shuffle” rhythm, whereas jazz often has a “swing” rhythm. Rap focuses on rhythmic lyrics over simplified music, while most folk focuses on melodic lyrics over simplified music. Favoring one type of music over another is truly a matter of personal taste, not intelligence.
Still, the argument remains (evidenced by the previous post excerpted from musicthatmakesyoudumb.com) that there is a correlation between intelligence (or at least SAT scores) and certain genres of music. Assuming this is true, it is nevertheless stereotyping to say that one particular person that likes Beethoven is going to be more intelligent than a person that likes rap, even though they were at opposite sides of the aforementioned chart. The unfortunate truth is that certain genres are more pervaded by “stupid” music (like Lil’ Wayne, the lowest ranked artist on the chart) than others, for a wide variety of reasons. Nevertheless, the point being made here is that when judging music, don’t judge because of the genre. Just because a good deal of rap music is garbage does NOT mean all rap music is garbage.
Lastly, there is a notable “exception” to the above rule: pop music. “Exception” is in quotes because pop is hardly a genre at all, rather, a motivation. The founding premise of pop music is that it is created to sell, and that mindset works against the very art of music itself. Classifying music as “pop” is rather subjective, as some music on Top 40 radio is intelligent enough (I’m looking at you, Taylor Swift); but the primary problem with music built to sell is that it doesn’t challenge our ears. Pop music regurgitates the musical ideas that the general public is aurally accustomed to, so that the listener has to think as little as possible to wrap their heads around the song. Basically, pop is catchy, and little more. Same rhythms, same motifs, cliche sound effects and vocals, typical lyrics delivered in the same old way, little or no creativity overall. Pop is not a genre because music from every genre is capable of falling into these musical pitfalls. It really doesn’t matter what genre music falls in. What matters is whether or not the music we listen to brings something new to the table, makes us think, and is created for the benefit of the beautiful art of music itself.