Tuesday Trivia

I’m going to skip around, so bear with me. But first, some trivia!


We know what harmony is. We know what a harmonic progression is. We know what harmonic reduction is. We even know what harmonic rhythm is. But what in the world is “true harmonic pulse”?

Answer here: paragraph three.


Truth be told, I don’t mind Bernard’s assessment of Thomas Ades’ Violin Concerto’s complication. After all, Bernard used the magic words, “to my ears,” which absolves him of overprecise commitment. That doesn’t mean I agree with him; it just means that I can’t refute him, despite not knowing what “true harmonic pulse” actually is.

Though I’d sleep better if I knew why it was qualified with “true” or why

Complexity is a matter of content; complication is a different and less praiseworthy quality.

Guess I’m doomed to a life with insomnia.

On the other hand, judgments beginning with “clearly,” “obviously,” or the like, should have some degree of objectivity, like, “Surely, according to the pie chart, party clowns are better because they own a greater percentage of stock in...”, or “By far, there are more bananas in the jungle than walruses,” or “Certainly, the conductor was becoming irritated by the percussionist’s refusal to stop texting his BFF.”

Without a certain amount of objectivity the argument, in my opinion, becomes weakened, like using the passive voice and the phrase, “in my opinion.”

By far the most successful passage comes about halfway through the long central slow movement.

See? After the “by far the most successful,” we need some qualification, some objectivity. We know where it was successful. But why was it so successful?

Here Adès, abandoning for a while the intricate rhythms that have made much of the solo music a trial for any soloist, allows the violin to sing its heart out in a sequence of sustained, easefully diatonic phrases.

In essence, what Bernard is saying (I think) is that the passage was successful because it was easy, uncomplicated, that the rhythms were no longer intricate.

Which totally negates a previous statement.

A listener coming unprepared to the work, 20 minutes long and subtitled "Concentric Paths," could be forgiven for thinking it relatively easy to play, for the prevailing effect of the solo part is simple and songful [...]

If the entire piece seemed easy, then why would that particular passage be “by far the most successful”? Because it was diatonic? I’m pretty sure that’s, by far, subjective.


More Trivia:

What do Ades’ Violin Concerto, Mussorgsky’s Night on Bald Mountain, and Stravinsky’s Firebird have in common?

Answer here: paragraph five.


Strini said...

I think what he means by "true harmonic pulse" is that sort of breathing pattern of tension and release that can propel music through time. I don't know the Ades concerto, but if that phrase means what I think it does, BJ has told me something objective about this music and given me an opinion about it: He misses that harmonic drive. That's an economical way to convey quite a bit of information.

I see and share your other problem with the review. BJ creates an image of barbed rhythm resisting momentum and smothering lyricism, and then describes the pleasure of feeling the sudden freeing of the singing impulse. Both of which are fine. But we've already been told that the rhythmic complication is imperceptible and the music sounds simple,so all three statements cannot be true.

Sator Arepo said...

More soon, but I haven't look at the "more trivia" answer. Hmm. Let's see...were they all orchestrated by Rimsky-Korsakov?

Empiricus said...

Sounds good, Strini. I'll buy that.

But even if that's correct, I still don't get it: when talking about a piece of such complexity (or aesthetic, whatever), there are probably other, more relevant ways of looking at the work, instead of some sort of tension/release paradigm. To place the work in an "impossible" context doesn't accomplish much. I don't think that's what the Ades piece was "about," you know? It seems more a statement of BJs level of familiarity than anything else.

Any thoughts?

Strini said...

I agree that harmonic drive is not necessarily the beginning and the end of music. Really, it's pretty much a Western music 1600-on thing. Still, you hear a lot of newer music that is intended to be teleological and tries to go over the top just by getting noisier. In such pieces, I miss that harmonic push to climax, and it sometimes sounds as if the composer just didn't know what to do to get it. I'm not saying that's the case with this Ades thing, but I do see how such an objection on Jacobson's part could be reasonable. On the other hand, it could be unreasonable, like getting mad because there's no counterpoint in an art song and you just happen to like CP above all.
Now my head hurts.
Good night. -- Strini

Sator Arepo said...


I can only assume that "CP" = Coldplay.


Substantive dialogue resumes tomorrow...

AnthonyS said...

...allows the violin to sing its heart out in a sequence of sustained, easefully diatonic phrases.

Isn't easefully an adverb? It seems to be modifying sequence, but that would take the adjective form (easeful), wouldn't it? Or is it just a weirdly placed modifier of "sing" (as in, 'allows the violin to easefully sing its heart out in a sequence of sustained diatonic phrases')?

And CP clearly stands for Captain Planet.