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Music Composition

Essay by review  •  November 4, 2010  •  Essay  •  4,091 Words (17 Pages)  •  1,141 Views

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Music is the most intangible art form. You cannot grasp or hold it, as you can other art forms. It is there for a minute, and it vanishes as soon as the last chord fades away. The great works of music are timeless. They remain with us after all the instruments have been packed away and the players have all gone home, in our heads, playing over and over. We hear them everywhere from shopping malls to commercials, even after their composers have been dead for hundreds of years. However, as technology grows and our lives get seemingly busier in this new millennium, the appreciation for this amazing art form has waned considerably. With digital synthesizers and greedy producers, the music that makes people feel their true existence has vanished. And I, being a devote musician, have grown up with the desire to recreate such music, to give people the chance to get swept off the dance floor and evoke great emotion. In order to do so, I am exploring the history of great musical pieces, so that the facts behind the composers' melodies, and their process in creating masterpieces will be as timeless as the music they made.

I began exploring the musical world in second grade, when I begrudgingly started piano lessons following in my older sister's footsteps. What began as a struggle turned out to be an ongoing experience I find in both my exploration of piano and viola (started in 5th grade). I am not a prodigal player, and whether I am a talented composer remains to be seen, but I find unexpected yet comforting roots among the musical world. With each day I learn more about various composers and get to know them and their styles. From Mozart's pure melodies, Beethoven's harmonies, to Chopin's ability to seamlessly modulate from key to key I find finesse, detail and ease. I am fascinated by their abilities to pull a melody out of thin air and embellish it. I feel that I am not the only one gripped by the music composers create; the whole human race enjoys listening to music, whether it is classical, jazz, rap or one of the many other forms of music the world has to offer today.

Music has always been an integral part of human life. Not only has it followed us throughout our history, but it has its own history. It has changed and morphed along with the times. I have challenged myself to provide a short history of the musical world and its affect on the world and myself.

Music composition has evolved and changed throughout human existence, becoming more sophisticated and complex, as our society has simultaneously become more advanced. Because of this, music is generally split up into five major groupings, based on the time in which the music was written, and the styles and techniques that were prevalent during that time in our history.

Music written from the beginnings of civilization through the Renaissance is all grouped together under the heading of early music. This is the most diverse and widespread category, because it encompasses music from a variety of cultures and time periods that weren't necessarily in contact with each other, therefore, results were in different styles. However, it is in this music that western music has its roots. From about the seventeenth century to halfway through the eighteenth century, what we now call Baroque music reigned. The Classical period lasted from the end of the Baroque period through about 1825. The music composed from 1825 to approximately 1900 is now known as Romantic music. During the twentieth century, music styles became much more diverse with the advent of electronics, and this music is generally called modern music (Swafford table of contents).

It is impossible to know much about early music before the start of the Christian Church in 200 CE (Smith 52), because written records from before then are rare and hard to interpret (Rossi 7). However, it can be assumed that the earliest music was most likely the most simplistic, basic music - vocal and monophonic. Monophonic music means that there is a single melodic line with nothing else going on (Smith 52). This would have been before any instruments had been invented, so the music would have been vocal. Eventually, with simple percussion instruments at first, instruments would evolve in many cultures. Archeologists have found simple whistles that are dated all the way back to the Old Stone Age (Rossi 3). This means that music was being created, composed if you will, since the dawn of humanity. Unfortunately, although we have found some instruments, and pictures that were created on cave walls of how these instruments were played, we will never know what music came out of the instruments, since there are no records of that time.

Similarly, not much is known about the music of ancient Greece, as only eleven fragmented melodies survive, out of what must have been thousands of songs (Rossi 7). However, the famous Grecian mathematician, Pythagoras, was the first to uncover the connection between math and the relation between pitches in music. He correctly identified the mathematical ratios between notes in an octave, fifth and fourth (Rossi 7). Also, the Greeks developed twelve modes to write pieces in. These modes were different scales based on the relationship between each note to the next. Since then, it has been narrowed down to two modes, which we now call major and minor. This information has been the foundation of all Western music theory.

Continuing on to around 200 CE when the Christian Church was founded and its monks began keeping accurate records of their time, music continued to evolve. These records, for the most part, have survived to the present. From these records, we know that songs called plainchants were sung during their church services (Smith 39). Monks would copy these pieces out on to parchment, so copies of these pieces still exist. However, since modern music notation, which denotes the pitch of the note and the time it is to be held for, was not invented until around 1225 CE (Rossi 13), the copies of the pieces only show the basic shape of the melody. These were monophonic, vocal pieces that were sung in unison. Often known as Gregorian chants, they were the main form of music until about the fourteenth century and the rise of polyphonic music.

Polyphonic music is music that has more than one line going on simultaneously, or more than one line being sung at once. The lines are often equally important to the melody of the song, with no line more prominent than the others (Smith 52). Composers such as Guillaume de Machaut began experimenting with this new style, and eventually began coming up with the laws that have been the building block of western music theory for years. European composers gradually accepted the idea of the modern twelve note octave, and the harmonies that these notes created when put together

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