Impressionism, rhythm and pitch

Debussy – Jeux

On first listening to the complete piece I first became aware of the fragmented or non-linear nature of the music. In our listening notes it states that “the thematic motifs are [also] very short” but I didn’t expect the effect to be so dramatic. If the listening notes hadn’t mentioned that it was devised as an accompaniment to dance I might still have guessed as the irregular patterns and phrases sound as though they’re relaying parts of a story rather than a traditionally linear piece of tonal music.

The use of combined effects such as pizzicato and percussion serve to highlight sections that may have otherwise gone unnoticed because of the nature of the work and also add another layer of interest. I feel that it might be quite tiring to constantly be on one’s guard to catch the next musical idea as they keep coming.

Despite this reservation I do feel that the piece works nicely. The segments themselves are beautiful and justify repeated listening to get the full benefit of the composer’s effort.

Stravinsky – The Rite of Spring

This composition clearly makes no excuses with its confrontational manner. It seems that Stravinsky wasn’t afraid to write complex lines if he felt that the music required it, not atonal complexity for the sake of it. Once again we can draw an easy comparison between “heavy” Classical music and modern Metal. Profound, rhythmic strings playing massed chords at around 9:50, the four or eight bar phrases that come to a satisfactory resolution and the frequent use of a call-and-response technique can all be found in modern Rock.

The piece is, like Jeux, highly lyrical, linear and dramatic in its nature but Stravinsky has given the ideas time to develop, especially with the strings. Even though the primary theme is played on the bassoon, in my opinion it’s the strings that get all of the good lines with lots of lovely harmonies and contrasts between the upper and lower registers.

Stravinsky has succeeded in generating extraordinary tension without feeling the need to drown the listener in dissonant conflict to maintain interest in the audience.

Schoenberg – Pierrot Lunaire

Judging atonal pieces like this isn’t easy for me as I long for form and resolution. I’m afraid that it still sounds like two performances clashing when I hear it. I simply can’t find a reason to not give the vocal line direct instruction. I understand that it adds to the dynamic of the piece but it doesn’t tell me anything about the emotion that the composer is trying to reconstruct.

The Sprechstimme technique works well in the overall feeling of the music and the piano interludes provide a welcome breathing space between the dissonant onslaught and all factors come together to create a clearly controversial and emotive composition.

The three pieces of music clearly share a musical heritage yet none seem to feel the need to comply with what has come before with regard to form or structure. The Debussy and Stravinsky both abide by some accepted rules of harmony and rhythm but the Schoenberg turns its back on even this. None spend any real time developing one musical idea that would be accessible to the lay listener and this seems to raise the tension in all three works. None of them are a passive experience; one must take notice, even to the point of irritation in the Schoenberg.

The different styles are striking and there can be no mistake that these are produced by three different authors. The Debussy and Stravinsky are almost literal in there portraying of the subject matter through the music alone. The Schoenberg would always need the vocal part to let us know what’s happening.

Debussy – Jeux

Stravinsky – The Rite of Spring

Schoenberg – Pierrot Lunaire

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