Monday, 15 November 2010

A passion for scrunches

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Scrunches are dissonances in diatonic music, caused - usually - by having different musical lines move close-together: either in counterpoint, or progressions of harmony when the parts have some autonomy.

Generally they are transitions - in which what will eventually be a consonant note comes a bit early, or where a peculiar transitional note is used, or when a note is suspended from a previous harmony; at any rate scrunches are en route to resolution and relaxation on a major chord.

I love them.

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They usually come in Renaissance and Baroque music.

Like this Crucifixus by Antonio Caldara (c1670 – 1736):

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G6vx6NC98NM

Tell me, please, anybody - why this sublime piece of music is not world famous?

There isn't anything better than this. Different in genre and equally good, yes, but this is perfection of its kind.

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As is O Nata Lux by Thomas Tallis (c1505-1585)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6aVnt3jj7ko

The scrunches near the end are an exquisite agony. 

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Note: wrt Caladara Crucifixus: This version is slower and it is easier to hear what is going-on in the counterpoint - tho' overall I find it less musical, somehow: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8WPkfGd1q-s . This version is an amateur camcorder recording, but extremely good: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QK-bPccxLME


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3 comments:

  1. The Caldera is stylistically sophisticated, especially for its era. One can see why even J S Bach's sons gave up on the old style and tried to cash in on what was Italian.

    I can hear it's influence in Mozart's Requiem.

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  2. "One can see why even J S Bach's sons gave up on the old style and tried to cash in on what was Italian."

    The decline in musical language (not just talent) from JS to JC Bach has always stuck me as amazing.

    The music of the early Classical era always strikes me as incredibly trite and simplistic compared with the preceding Baroque.

    Could you expand further in the reasons why you think this happened?

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  3. I am no music historian. My guess is that J S Bach made the bulk of his living from the Church or commissions from royalty which were often similarly based, and times changed. The Italian style was more approachable for the public, and so perhaps more profitable in a changing world of music making for a time.

    Bach was one of two or three great writers ever, so it may be unsurprising there was a void after his death, with the process of stylistic change thrown in as well--imitation is flattery but not genius.

    Only two generations later Mozart was completely unfamiliar with old man Bach, but well aware of the work of his sons, one of whom he knew. When Mozart finally saw the product of J S Bach in manuscript while in England, he was astounded. Nonetheless, there are shared characteristics between the great German writers that are perhaps not characteristics shared by Italians. I wonder if things uniquely German are due to the effects of language, culture, and quite possibly, genetics.

    The Germans, in my opinion, valued structure, motif, and melody equally. Melody is the rarest and hardest thing to extract from the human soul. All the great writers had it, but a German might be content to craft an entire movement of a symphony without one. Beethoven's most famous single piece of music has no melody whatever.

    Perhaps unlike all other forms of genius, recognizing genius in music is easy. Analyzing it may be impossible.

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