Sakura Salon 9/14/14 – Texture in Music

Tonight, the first thing I want to talk about is texture. Texture refers to the interweaving of the melodic lines with harmony in music. There are three types of texture in Western music, four types overall.

Before I continue, one note on wording – I will use the word “voice” to mean part or musical line. This does not necessarily mean a vocal part – it could a singer, a violinist, a trumpet part- or multiple ones performing the same thing at the same time.

The simplest texture is monophony, or single-voiced music without accompaniment. This would be a single voice by itself. The most commonly known form of this is Gregorian Chant.  (An example was played)

Heterophony refers to multiple voices elaborating the same melody at the same time – but differently or perhaps slightly offset. This is more common in non-Western music.

Homophony occurs when one melodic voice is prominent over the accompanying lines, or voices. Basically one melody, with supporting voices creating harmony. This is the most familiar texture in Western music, and almost all popular western music is homophonic.  (An example from a Beethoven piano sonata was played)

Polyphony describes a many-voiced texture based on counterpoint—one line set against another. Although homophony also can have many voices at the same time as well, the difference is in prominence. In homophony, one line is clearly the ‘melody’ while others support it, while in polyphony the various lines are independent and equally important. Think of polyphony as horizontal with homophony as vertical, if that makes sense.

Polyphony was the prominent texture in Baroque music – the music of Bach and Handel.

Bach especially was famous for a polyphonic style of music called the fugue. A fugue is the most complex polyphonic form and is based upon one, two or more themes, which are enunciated by several voices in turn. The word fugue comes from fuga, meaning to chase since each voice “chases” the previous one.  (Bach g minor ‘Jig’ fugue was played.)

There are examples of double fugues (of which Bach was quite fond), or fugues with two subjects. Such fugues can present the subjects together right away or, more often, present the first in a complete exposition followed after a while by an exposition of the second, and eventually in combination. There have been fugues with three or more subjects, but they are quite rare.  (Two examples of fugues were played, using the same theme – Handel’s “And With His Stripes” from Messiah, and the Kyrie from Mozart’s Requiem, a double fugue.)

Baroque music was primarily polyphonic, while the classical and romantic periods were primarily homophonic. However, all later composers studied counterpoint and made use of it in their works.


Mozart Symphony #41, fourth movement

The last piece we will listen to tonight is one that has astounded many music historians over the years, in its craftmanship, and is considered the finest synthesis of the musical thoughts of two separate styles and periods, and the culmination of the classical period, before Beethoven began the transition into the Romantic period.

The piece is Mozart’s symphony #41, and in particular the fourth movement which will be the only one we listen to tonight. Most of Mozart’s symphonies were light fare, unlike Beethoven’s and the later Haydn ones. Mozart’s best and most groundbreaking work were in his operas and his piano concertos. But in the summer of 1788 after not composing any symphonies in several years, he wrote his final three in just a few months, his three best symphonies and all experimental in various ways.

The first thing that was unique about all of these was that Mozart began to move the ‘center of gravity’ of the symphony to the fourth movement for the first time, a trend that Beethoven continued. Due to performance characteristics of the time, often the first movements of large works were the most important, and fourth movements were often light. In each of these symphonies, Mozart begins to shift, culminating in the incredible fourth movement of his last symphony.

Earlier in the 1780s, a Baron Sweeten, a friend of Mozart, had asked him to study and arrange the works of two Baroque composers. One was Handel, whose music Mozart was somewhat familiar with. The second was an unknown German composer who had faded into obscurity soon after his death, and with whom Mozart had never encountered – Johann Sebastian Bach.

The influence was dramatic. Of course, Mozart like all Classical composers had studied counterpoint and used it in their works – but now Mozart started to work the new ideas he had found into his own music, most notably the Requiem and this Symphony.

I will say that you cannot catch everything in this piece in one listen – it takes multiple times to fully appreciate the genius here.

The fourth movement of his last Symphony is in the most Classical of forms, Sonata form. As you may remember, Sonata form is based upon the contrast of two different themes, which is a very different concept really from polyphonic writing. What Mozart does here is, instead of his normal beautiful melodic writings, he steals from Haydn (and Beethoven) and decides to use more melodic ‘fragments’ (think Beethoven’s Fifth). But instead of using one or two, he decides to use five different fragments. The first simple four note fragment would have been familiar to audiences of the time, as a popular melody even back into Renaissance times.

I’d like you to listen to this link, which will give you four of the fragments so that you can hear them.

The passionate rhythms, the use of melodic fragments will make this sound similar to Beethoven. But when we start, start listening for the polyphony – although in strict classical period Sonata form , this movement is all polyphony, back and forth. It is a true synthesis of the Baroque and Classical periods, with a look ahead to Beethoven.

And what Mozart does with these fragments – he continuously joins them together, using them as building blocks of melodic voices, building and flowing, all within the strict confines of the Sonata form – an exposition which repeats, a development where he inverts one of the fragments, then a recapitiulation. If he had stopped here, which he almost does, he would have created a masterpiece that synthesized the two periods in wonderful fashion.

But he doesn’t. He then writes a coda, a 20-30 second ending that is the climax of the entire symphony and is a section of music that has put musicians in awe ever since.
He transitions with a soft string intro – the strings in a slow four note fragment that may sound familiar – it is! Its the first fragment inverted and turned upside down. Then right away he goes into a fugato (a small less rigorous fugue) that would have been worthy of Bach. However, this is not a normal fugue, nor a more difficult double fugue. What Mozart writes here is a quintuple fugue with all five melodic fragments as individual contrapuntal voices all over the orchestra – so many the ear cannot comprehend them all at once, but segues directly into a triumphant, totally classical period ending.

So even though we discussed that most Baroque type of all music – polyphonic – this is how we end our long look at the Classical period!


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