a guide to the music in “thoroughly twisted“
submitted by CONOR LYONS
twisted pearl’s upcoming concert, “thoroughly twisted” features some of the earliest examples of the symphony – a type of music that has become indispensable to the repertoire of classical musicians today – as well as some of the music that played a role in the development of the symphony. but what even is a symphony? why are they played? who are they for?
usually, symphonies are larger scale works. this means that they require more people in a larger space than smaller scale works for the home and the family! the earliest symphonies could be performed with as few as four people, but as time progressed, populations in europe increased and talented amateur musicians were easier to come by, meaning more and more instruments were added to the mix. at first, the band was just strings: two violins, a viola, a cello, and a bass, often with harpsichord as well. then they added a couple oboes to double the violin parts – doubling just means that the two different instruments are playing the same tune. then they added a couple flutes. then horns. then clarinets. then trumpets…symphonies today often require upwards of 50 people in the ensemble! symphonies can be short or long, and they got longer and longer as time went on, but usually, they express a range of emotions and ideas through separate sections, or movements, and often use a few small musical ideas as the basis for the larger piece.
the symphonies we are playing in november are some of the very earliest existing examples of the genre (yes, symphonies are a genre!), but we are also playing some other types of music that predate symphonies, but served an important role in their development. two of the pieces are concerti grossi, “big concerts,” by the italian composer pietro antonio locatelli. this type of music normally features soloists within a larger orchestra, and often has three parts, usually a fast first part, a slow and passionate second part, and a brisk and joyful last part. you’ll see how similar they are in a lot of ways to the “authentic” symphonies by the later composer franz xaver richter at the end of the set, even though they are from around 40 years earlier! the other non-symphonic type of music we’ll introduce is the suite. a suite is a set of multiple pieces of dance music that often begins with an exciting overture. suites were very popular in 18th century france – the french loved to dance more than anyone else – but this type of music established itself elsewhere because of the exportation of french fashion and taste to the rest of europe. at first, suites were actually meant to be danced to, but later examples were probably only for listening, though you still could dance to them if you wanted to! even though the suite was originally a french style of music, it became popular elsewhere, and some composers in other places were known for their ability to flawlessly imitate foreign styles – hence the suite we’re playing being by a german composer, georg philip telemann. these types of music were often written by a composer working on commission for a wealthy noble who wanted a constant supply of music to listen to. the only music in this time was live music! other composers published their music for amateur musicians to play at home with their friends. that said, this music was originally meant not for a dedicated concert hall, but the living rooms of eager listeners and impassioned musicians just like us!
the suite in france and the concerto grosso in italy, both styles of music that made their way far beyond their countries of origin, in some ways came together to form the symphony, which was born in germany and austria. the symphonies we’re playing are by a german pioneer of the genre, franz xaver richter. you’ll hear that his music possesses characteristics from both styles, but changes more dramatically within sections. toward the end of the baroque era, composers began favoring homophony – one tune at a time – instead of polyphony – multiple tunes at a time. further, whereas earlier composers usually thought it was important that each part of a large piece should only express one or a couple affects – or emotions – to avoid confusing the listener, richter and his friends were beginning to experiment with changing the character of the music dramatically, often, and without warning. this makes the music very exciting to listen to, but almost bipolar in its affect. you’ll hear that the italian and french music demonstrates much more stability in its affect, and thus, the different parts in the pieces are shorter. but the richter symphonies are all over the place and send the heart in a new direction every few seconds! this means the music can be longer and still retain its interest. if only richter had known that 200 years after him, mahler and other composers would be writing symphonies more than an hour long!
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