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String Quartet No. 1 ("The Key") by Derek Strahan (duration 26'00")
These notes were prepared for inclusion in an educational Music Kit on my String Quartet No. 1 ("The Key") which can be purchased along with the Revolve CD "Today-Yesterday", RDS 002 The CD features the Quartet and its companion piece, my Clarinet Quintet No. 1 in D ("The Princess"). The notes are more extensive than the ones in the CD booklet, and are a prelude to an analysis of form and content of the work, with examples, which forms the substance of the Kit.
Written in November 1998, they offer a composer's perspective on a work written 17 years ago.
It was intended that both this String Quartet and its companion piece, a Clarinet Quintet would both be high-spirited works serving the composer's interest in using elements of jazz and popular music in two substantial concert pieces. While that agenda is reflected in both scores, the commitment to write them coincided with an unforeseen personal involvement, whose fallout greatly affected the emotional content of both works! For the purposes of study this String Quartet may be cited as an example of how subjective emotions can be codified in musical form and how the expression of them can influence the structure of a musical composition.
Ironically, I do not hold the view that the artist should seek out drama in life in order to furnish raw material for creative work. It is rather that personal drama can be an occupational hazard for the creative artist because of the subjective nature of the work in which he/she engages. In attempting "contain" personal drama, a process of internalisation takes place, part sublimation, part self-expression, and this can result in what I described above as codification. There are some well-known instances of the literal use of code in music which might usefully be cited as follow-through for study purposes. (These are listed in the full Music Kit under the heading CIPHERS IN MUSIC.) These tend to be used when the music contains a secret. My String Quartet was indeed written to contain a secret, the name of the dedicatee, but I here express my gratitude to her, for subsequently allowing the dedication to be made public, as indicated in the liner notes accompanying the CD of this work, and for posing for the CD cover.
One form of cipher is the use of the letters of a name to create a musical phrase which spells out the name in notes. A well-known example of this in musical history is the use of the note names B-A-C-H to form a musical phrase (H in German referring to the note B ). More pertinent to this work is the example of Schumann using the letters ASCH (A-Eb-C-B) to refer to the name of the town Asch which was the home town of the woman with whom he was in love at the time of composing his piano work Carnaval Op.9.
For this String Quartet, after some experimentation I devised a five-note motif on the letters L-O-R-N-A, employing a mixture of note names, sol-fa designations and other musical terms. My reason for doing this was to arrive at a motif which contained a mixture of notes of absolute pitch and of relative pitch. The cipher reads: La-Octave-Re-Ninth-A. The actual pitch of the first 4 notes is determined by the key of the passage in which they are heard. Only the final note, A, has a pitch which is constant whenever it is heard. The term "Key" in the title of this work thus has three meanings. 1) Key, as in the "key" to a mystery, which is the 5-note motif itself. 2) Key, as in musical terminology, meaning the tonal centre of the music. 3) Key, being the last name of the dedicatee.
The use of "The Key" as a recurring motif to represent "the beloved" also has a precedent in the use made by Berlioz of an idee fixe in his Symphonie Fantastique. In the Berlioz work, however, the idee fixe is an extended melody, as distinct from the 5-note motif of this work.
Brief reference may be made here to this composer's interest in the use of dance rhythms of this century in art music, an interest already referred to above. I recommend this as a fruitful area of study for students. For over a century jazz and dance band arrangers have followed a convention of writing jazz arrangements in common time (4/4) with the understanding that, in performance, the music would "swing". Technically this simply means that players convert the written music to compound time (12/8) in performance, so that the beat is subdivided into a triple pulse as distinct from the (written) duple one. Exceptions to this rule are some versions of boogie-woogie (notably the "shuffle") and most heavy metal rock music, which both tend to maintain a duple pulse in the beat. To my knowledge, the world still awaits a thesis on this interesting fact. I have only found it acknowledged in print in some computer music software programs, where accurate mathematics in this regard must be observed!
Why has this metric vagueness persisted (and still persists) in an art form in which precision is essential? Have jazz arrangers deliberately kept "their" music in a ghetto which is inaccessible to "straight" musicians? This may be the explanation. Although jazz is now accepted in the curricula of conservatoria, it has been the "wild child" in music for most of this century. Because of its origins in American black culture it was consistently maligned by racial slurs in earlier decades to a degree that is hard to understand in the context of today's pop music.
Two easily available starting points for students wishing to investigate this are:
1) The Decca series of recordings in the "Entartete Musik" series. This features works newly recorded of European composers of the 30s whose careers were cut short by the National Socialist (Nazi) Government of Germany. The term "Entartete" means "degenerate". This was a term used to denigrate the work of artists whom the Nazis did not consider to be "politically correct"! Many of these were Jewish, their music can now be heard, and they were greatly interested in using elements of jazz and dance music in the concert hall and in opera.. The introductory notes make clear that the Nazi objection to this kind of experimentation was based on racial prejudice.
2) Sony Classical have released an album titled "Beethoven Wrote it ... But It Swings!" SMK62268, which consists of swing arrangements of well-known classical pieces. The introductory notes give a concise history of the controversy provoked by jazz earlier in this century, and explains how the opposition to this music was largely based on class attitudes.
It has always seemed strange to me that concert music in this century has remained largely separate from popular music. This was never the case in previous centuries. The names of movements in classical music are often taken from popular dances of the time. I have also found it strange that this "separateness" has been sustained by anomalies in written music, as described above. In that the "avant-garde" in music has tended to experiment in other areas, I consider that most innovations aiming at achieving "fusion" between classical music, jazz and dance music have been made in the areas of film music and music theatre - though there have been honourable proponents in concert music such as Maurice Ravel, Darius Milhaud, Igor Stravinsky, George Gershwin, William Walton, Aaron Copland, Leonard Bernstein and numerous Latin American composers, who have remained better known in their own countries.
I have made it something of a "cause" in my own work to contribute to the evolution of this "fusion" by closely observing the detail of jazz and dance music, and transposing elements of it in my own work through accurate notation, particularly in metre.
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Clarinet Quintet No. 1 in D ("The Princes") by Derek Strahan (duration 27'00")
These notes were prepared for inclusion in an educational Music Kit on my Clarinet Quintet No. 1 in D ("The Princess") which can be purchased along with the Revolve CD "Today-Yesterday", Revolve RDS002. The CD features the Quintet and its companion piece, my String Quartet No. 1 ("The Key"). The notes are more extensive than the ones in the CD booklet, and are a prelude to an analysis of form and content of the work, with examples, which forms the substance of the Kit.
Written in November 1998, they offer a composer's perspective on a work written 17 years ago.
It was intended that both this Clarinet Quintet and its companion piece, a String Quartet would both be high-spirited works serving the composer's interest in using elements of jazz and popular music in two substantial concert pieces. While that agenda is reflected in both scores, the commitment to write them coincided with an unforeseen personal involvement, whose fallout greatly affected the emotional content of both works! For the purposes of study the kit on my String Quartet, which was composed first, serves as an example of how subjective emotions can be codified in musical form and how the expression of them can influence the structure of a musical composition.
As regards form and structure in the Clarinet Quintet, the reverse is the case. For reasons explained below, I chose to write this work in the traditional four movement form used for most chamber music and symphonies. (The exceptions are the Sonata and Concerto which use a three movement form.) Moreover the structure of each movement conforms to tradition, as follows: First Movement, Sonata Form; Second Movement, Theme & Variations; Third Movement, Scherzo & Trio; Fourth Movement, Rondo.
My reasons for choosing this approach to composition arose from a chance discovery of an illustration in a biography on Beethoven, by George R, Marek, which I began to read after finishing composition of the String Quartet. The illustration was a portrait of the Princess Marie-Christiane Lichnowsky, wife of Prince Karl Lichnowsky, one of Beethoven's most influential patrons. I was immediately struck by a physical resemblance between the Princess and the dedicatee of my String Quartet , Ms. Lorna Key, and then, reading further, by an apparent correspondence in personality between the two, as indicated in the liner notes of the CD of both works, "Today-Yesterday". I express here my gratitude to Ms. Key for allowing me to comment on this resemblance and for kindly posing for the CD cover, so that portraits of both women can stand side by side above the album title "Today-Yesterday". This was intended to underline both the resemblance between the two, and the passage of time separating the portraits. This work is also dedicated to Ms. Key.
I also sought to find a musical equivalent of the "Today-Yesterday" theme, and it was for this reason that the idea developed of writing a work whose musical content contained elements of "Today" but whose form and structure were of "Yesterday". Once I had decided to move in this direction, I found that the musical ideas which came to me reflected aspects of the period of Beethoven, that is to say, a combination of struggle and optimism. At the same time, the ideas also reflected my original intention in writing for the clarinet: to pay tribute to the great clarinetists of the "swing era" of "today", notably Woody Herman, Artie Shaw and Benny Goodman. Goodman, in particular, was not only a great jazz musician, but also a devotee of Mozart, whose Clarinet Concerto and Clarinet Quintet he recorded for RCA, along with both Clarinet Concerti of Carl Maria von Weber (1786-1826).
Thus evolved the particular character of this Clarinet Quintet. I am happy to report that, since the recording of it became available in 1982, it has been regularly broadcast, at least once or twice a year to my knowledge, on the ABC and on other fine music FM stations, including 2MBS in Sydney, and MBS stations in other capital cities.
I wish to stress the importance I attach to the fact that, at the time of composition, the summer of 1980/81, I was writing in a style which was quite unlike music being written by "contemporary" composers during that period. This work is full of "tunes" and it makes extensive use of the rhythms of popular music, both jazz, rock and folk, as the following analysis will make clear. Dance music is built on repetitive rhythmic patterns. During the three decades of the 60s, 70s and 80s, the 'avant garde' in contemporary music reigned supreme! The emphasis was on "deconstruction" of the elements of traditional tonal music, and this meant eschewing the use of outright, accessible melody, discernible repetition in metre and rejecting tonality itself. By writing this work in the way I did, at that time, I was breaking all the rules!
Subsequently, attitudes towards composing have become more pluralistic. The movement in music called "minimalism" resulted in a reacceptance of elements of melody and tonal harmony, though many (including myself) found the element of repetition excessive. Many younger composers today have "rediscovered" tonal music and are also reflecting their own experience of pop music in the work they do for the concert hall. Personally, I find this pluralism healthy. I don't believe that a composer should restrict himself/herself to any particular school or style. They are all valid, and different elements in sound, rhythm and melody can be bonded to reflect the needs of a particular inspiration. An important principle in art is the principle of freedom of expression.
Freedom in any area of human activity requires political support, and I mention here a related subject for study, having to do with music of the period of Beethoven. The events which inspired my Clarinet Quintet are a closed episode which occurred 18 years ago. They are part of my own personal history, commemorated in this work. However, as a lasting legacy, there is one topic which I continue to explore in my own reading, and which emerged, originally, when reading about the relationship between "The Princess" and Beethoven. (The relevant extract from George R. Marek's Beethoven biog is reproduced at the beginning of the music score of the Quintet). Princess Lichnowsky, in addition to her beauty, was highly intelligent and versed in the ideas of the 18th century Enlightenment, ideas of "Liberty, Equality, Fraternity" which resulted in modern democracy. She was an important influence in the life of Beethoven. Students wishing to access my own findings on this topic are invited to explore the "Beethoven Files" on my website (see below). There is some indication that Beethoven was closely associated with a notorious secret society known as The Illuminati, a connection which began during his student days in Bonn, and perhaps continued after that society went underground and merged with Freemasonry at the time of the French Revolution. Beethoven's Choral Symphony, among other works, is an expression of revolutionary ideals. The original title of Schiller's "Ode To Joy" used as libretto for that work, was "Ode To Freedom". The title had to be changed to avoid political censorship! More factual data linking Beethoven's works to his political views can be accessed on my website at: http://www.dot.net.au/revolve
While this work is primarily intended as a musical portrait of "The Princess", there is no doubt that my awareness of her philosophical and political interests was a factor in the compositional process influencing the Quintet to flow towards an optimistic and positive Beethovian conclusion!
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