Monthly Archives: September 2014

La Traviata: Verdi (Focus on introduction)

Beginning with the introduction of this opera, a certain atmosphere is being created, which in my opinion, is different than the introductions of previous operatic pieces which we have come across so far. The opera begins with a rather mysterious mood, which is created through a mixture of major and minor pitches played by violins. However, this mysterious and somewhat anxious atmosphere is beautifully released with a consonant interval or pitch which leads to a beautiful transition towards a more romantic and joyous melody and atmosphere! Also, this new part after the transition resembles the music which is played during elegant ballroom dances and therefore reflects a romantic atmosphere. Similar to the way in which Mozart’s “Don Giovanni,” introduces all the various elements which the audience will be exposed to, the introduction in “La Traviata,” communicates to the crowd that the following opera that they are about to witness reflects a romantic drama, due to the mysterious opening combined with the transition to the joyous and romantic atmosphere. Also, this introduction also resembles the introduction of L´Orfeo for instance, due to the presence of a ritornello! The ritornello in this opera is identical in melody, with the difference that the melody is played in lower pitches the second time. When trying to identify whether this opera should be considered seria or baffa opera, then I would say that this piece contains aspects and elements from both each operatic style. It suits the baffa style, due to the existence of characters which reflect nobility, servants and figures of real social classes. Also, the beginning scene in Act 1 contains several comedic moments which hints towards the baffa style. At the sime time however, the Seria operatic style is very much present as well due to the abundance of singing in this piece. In Act 1, scene 1, singing dominates the progression and action of the opera, which is a trait of the Seria opera.


“Die Walküre”

Watching Die Walküre, I noticed how seamlessly Wagner blended the musical and theatrical components of the production. This fluidity came, in part, from the way Wagner’s music complemented the affect of each character’s words. So much so, that if the words of the opera were removed and only the music remained, the audience would likely be able to understand the type of action that was taking place in each scene (tragic, violent, mysterious, etc). For example, at 1:09:34 in Act 2, Scene 1, Wotan defends the love of Siegmund and Sieglinde. As he expresses compassion for his children, the music is soft and the melody is simple. However, the moment before Fricka begins to attack Wotan’s reasoning, we hear an abrupt, staccato sound (1:09:50). When she specifically attacks the couple for breaking a wedding vow at 1:10:03, the music gets louder, darker in mood, and overlaps with Fricka’s words. Wagner seems to very purposefully choose when to make the music louder than the words, and the heightening of the music’s volume when Fricka specifically speaks about marriage vows gives a sense of the tension and betrayal Fricka feels towards Wotan.

Similarly, in Scene 4 of Act 2, in the exchange between Brünnhilde and Siegmund, Wagner utilizes distinct textures and styles of music depending on who is speaking and what they are communicating. For example, at 2:09:14, the music sounds majestic as Brünnhilde tells Siegmund that she will support him in Valhalla. When Siegmund begins speaking at 2:09:47, the music slows down and becomes lower; Siegmund’s words overpower the low music and become the focus of the moment. Right before he asks the dramatic question about whether he will be able to see Sieglinde in Valhalla, there is a pause (2:10:16). This momentary silence clues the audience in on the importance of what Siegmund is about to say. Once he begins to ask whether he will get to see his wife, the music also starts up again. As Siegmund’s voice gets louder, the texture of the music becomes more complex and the music gradually crescendos. Thus, the increase in intensity in the music parallels the drama of Siegmund’s question as it slowly makes its way off of his lips. There is then a drastic shift in musical affect as Brünnhilde replies that Siegmund will not be able to see Sieglinde. While the escalation of the symphony coupled with Siegmund’s question created a sense of hope just moments before, the music now tapers to a much softer, somber melody. The subdued music complements Brünnhilde’s sad reply. In Wagner’s opera, the music thus seems to frame what the characters say, helping to complete and emphasize the character’s emotions through volume and texture changes. The overall effect is that the musical and theatrical components weave together to create a very holistic and fluid production.

Perotin, Alleluia nativitas (organum, 13th c.)

This piece was interesting to me because although it was a chant, it seemed to portray a happy feeling that was missing from first piece. It starts with a polyphonic sound but switches between polyphony and monophony. A single melody seemed to lay on top of a more steady set of long sustained notes but at times, more layers were created. This gave the song a continuous feeling until the first break with a brief pause. A monophonic melody followed, perhaps signifying the significance of those specific lyrics. This monophonic melody was much stronger and sounded deeper than the other melodies, further supporting the significance of the lyrics. The constant switching between monophonic and polyphonic or homophonic help to distinguish certain parts of the song and make the monophonic lyrics stand out.

Although there are pauses and cadences, it doesn’t seem like there is much build up of tension or release. The song also ends on a sustained note that doesn’t really relieve the piece and in terms of volume, the entire piece seems consistent and once again there isn’t much build up or release. Generally, the harmonies created were seemed to be major and the pitches seemed to fit well with each other to create consonance. Although various pitches were sang, and there were separate melodies, all the voices had the same timbre, thus making the song still feel chant-like. It was also interesting how the meter was created by the melody itself rather than an accompaniment whereas we usually think of melodies as more free flowing and the accompaniment or percussion usually creates a sustained beat or rhythm; however, any sense of meter or a beat is lost when the melody became monophonic. Overall, this piece maintained certain elements of a plainchant but at the same time seemed to explore the use of multiple voices to make it seem like a bridge between plainchants and more complex polyphonic and even homophonic music.

Machaut, Douce dame jolie (chanson, 14th c.)

At the beginning of the song there is a guitar or some string instrument that makes the pace of the song and it also provides the background music. The singing is visibly louder than the music in the background, which means that the composer wants the audience to listen to the music rather than the music; on the same note, the singing goes at the same pace as the string instrument. The string instrument and the flute are playing the same chords throughout the song. Maybe once or twice the chord switches to a higher or lower octave but it is mostly the same. When I first heard the song I thought of the medieval times, it sounds like something that would play in the back of the show “Game of Thrones”.  There is one voice that is singing throughout the song. I believe she is in a major key because the song is relatively happy. There is the background beat of the piano, which keeps the string instrument and the flute in place. It is a monophonic because there is one female voice singing throughout the entire song.

The rhythm is very catchy and there is also a distinct melody.  There is also a flute or something like a flute playing which makes me think of a bird or the wind whistling through a forest or castle. It seems like the medieval days when in a village. I can see stone streets and small one story houses and then I can see a castle in the background. The volume of the song stays relatively the same the entire song there are no crescendos or decrescendos throughout the song. It does not seem like there is any dissonance within the piece, because the voice and the background music go together almost perfectly. The song seems like a love story because of the calm music in the background and the singing is slow and steady.  When reading the lyrics it sounds like a love song, or the singer is professing her love to somebody. When I read the lyrics it sounded like somebody was also admiring something. When the singer sings “For always, without treachery/Cherished one/I have you, and humbly/All the days of my life/Served/Without base thoughts”, it could mean that she has somebody that she can serve to all the time. Also she will keep being loyal to this person while acting humbly and without trying to harm them.