Monday, October 19, 2015

Culture Corner 10/19/15

 More and more frequently, living composers-- such as Arvo Part and Tigran Hamasyan-- are taking upon themselves the pursuit of delving into the past of their respective cultures. What results of this endeavor are beautiful interpreted hymns that are sung not quite in the way we know that they were intended, but with alterations to style that combine the genius of the composer with the tradition of the composer's birthplace.

I first found this genre of music through Arvo Part on Spotify and felt that it was the perfect music to listen to while writing, and even though writing is the one thing in which it is impossible to multitask, I still listen to it on occasion. 

                            This piece, Tabula Rasa, roughly translating to "Blank Page".

Arvo Part's work does tend to wipe the slate clean, and has helped me at times when this was a  necessity. However, it might be because of this very minimal style that he is not well known. 

                                                                    Fur Alina

Having stumbled on one of his pieces while nonchalantly browsing Youtube, I was amazed, and proceeded to herald these pieces to my fellow musicians. It was surprising that not many of them, besides the incidental composer, knew about Arvo Part despite the fact that he is a contemporary and this surprised me.

Having moved to Spotify after the initial discovery, I also found that Part had written whole symphonies in his slow, nostalgic style which combined and layered traditional four part lines with dramatic harmonies and musical themes. 

Symphony No. 4

But Arvo Part's music was not always in this evolved minimal style. In fact, if you were to watch any video in full it should be this one... Credo avoided censorship by the communists only because the conductor at the time managed not to show the piece before it premiered. You can hear the frustration and the beauty that manages to rise above it... it it really gets good at the end.

Credo in 2005

Part Two

A much more popular composer is John Tavener, but that might have something to do with the fact that he is British and not Estonian. Tavener's music is also extensively religious, and he died in 2013. Arvo Part's choral works are very different in nature and perhaps more interpretative than Tavener's.

                                                          John Tavener: Anonymous 4

And another composer whose choral works are a particular fusion of modernity and ancient culture is here: this is the piece, a fusion of Jazz and Ancient Armenian hymnal music, which drew me back into the genre which I had once loved.

Did I mention that Hildegarde con Bingen, another Medieval period composer and the earliest composer of choral works we can trace to date, was a woman? She had to say, however, that her talents were not her own, and attribute them completely to God. If she'd have said that she was the composer of the works herself, she would have been prosecuted because women weren't allowed to be composers. So, being the brilliant woman that she was, she gave up credit during her time period so that she could continue writing her choral pieces and running a convent. 

Perhaps the history of choral music is what makes it so interesting to me. Here is a link to the documentary if you want to see:

Earlier than this, in European choral music, no one took credit for their work anyway-- all art was considered common and mutually owned and there was no question of ownership. Only at a certain point, when notation became a problem, did people think to assign an author to works of art. I think we might be moving closer to this as we move forwards, as seeing more within the context of art-- further to a place where the question of ownership becomes a vital one and perhaps reverts back to the Medieval period tradition as art becomes more widespread and common practice.

When studying ancient choral music, I learned another interesting thing: that even though we have a common perception of what ancient European music should sound like, we can't really make those assumptions on any actual grounds because all of the notation we have remaining from the middle ages looks like this: 

However, even though this is the case and the works that we have are basically relics, this also offers a certain freedom of interpretation. Our perspective of ancient European music is very biased and left to the discretion of modernity, to be shaped by composers of today-- at least this, through Arvo Part and other composers like him, resulted in some top-notch musical works.  

- Anna S.

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