Week One Music Research Reports and Listening Reports Excerpts, 3/23/2020:
Week Two Music Research Reports and Listening Reports Excerpts, 3/30/2020:
The Curse of the Ninth Symphony by Michael Wang, Grade 8.
There is a superstition in classical music, that composers will die after writing their ninth symphony. This was backed up by many many famous composers who this curse applies to, including Beethoven, Mahler, Dvořák, Bruckner, Vaughan Williams, and Schubert. In an essay about Mahler, Arnold Schoenberg wrote: “It seems that the Ninth is a limit. He who wants to go beyond it must pass away. It seems as if something might be imparted to us in the Tenth which we ought not yet to know, for which we are not ready. Those who have written a Ninth stood too close to the hereafter.” Mahler was perhaps the first one to believe in this superstition, and trying to get out of the curse, after writing his eight symphony, Mahler wrote Das Lied von der Erde, which was practically a symphony, but wasn’t one by name. Mahler then wrote and finished his ninth symphony, but died from pneumonia while writing his tenth, technically only completing nine symphonies.
Even though many great composers have been afflicted by this “curse,” it is still just a superstition. Mozart composed 41 symphonies, Shostakovich wrote 15, and Haydn wrote 104 symphonies. It is still interesting that so many composers only ever finished nine symphonies, but it’s probably just a coincidence. All these composers still have created amazing music in their symphonies, whether it be just nine or more. Sometimes the ninth symphony is the one of the composer’s best. Beethoven’s ninth is a stunning triumphant masterpiece, made even more amazing knowing that Beethoven was deaf while composing it and conducting it. Dvořák’s ninth, “From the New World,” is another great symphony, composed based on Dvořák’s experiences in America. It is his most popular symphony and one of his bests.
It may be tempting to believe that when one writes a ninth symphony it will be their last, but is definitely worth it for composers to compose as many symphonies as they want, and take this superstition with a grain of salt, because the quality of one’s music is still more impressive than the number of compositions.
How the Human Brain Reacts to Music by Jacqueline Oerding, Grade 8.
For this paper, I decided to write about how the brain reacts to music for multiple reasons. First, the inner workings of the human brain interest me. Second, I thought I would learn a lot by researching it, and last, I thought that it would be the easiest to explain in an essay.. While all concepts were captivating, I could not imagine writing about the earliest forms of musical notations without showing the exact forms, and the Curse of the Ninth Symphony is easily explained, even if debunked many times over. And so, How the Human Brain Reacts to Music was my choice.
Music is, in a sense, a language in itself, as many cultures around the world know. Reactions to music in the brain do vary in individuals but music overall is something that does cause reactions. Tapping the beat, bobbing your head, singing the lyrics or dancing are just some of the possible physical reactions that people have when listening to music.
When a person listens to music, there are releases of dopamine. Dopamine has many applications, also depending on the areas that this neurotransmitter is in. For example, in the frontal lobes, dopamine increases attention, while in the limbic system, dopamine increases pleasure. Dopamine affects your movement, memory, focus, your rewards system, and causes habits to form. Low levels of dopamine can cause addiction, depression, suicidal thoughts, and loads of other things, which is why music therapy has been proven to aid in the curing of depression. A study has concluded that music therapy and treatment as usual had greater short-term benefits than treatment as usual alone. Music therapy also is more effective at decreasing anxiety and cortisol, a stress hormone, than drugs designed for that purpose.
Parts of the brain that are used when listening to music include the nucleus accumbens, superior temporal gyrus, and areas used in movement, attention, planning and memory. The nucleus accumbens predicts parts of the music, forms expectations and determines if you like the music or not. The superior temporal gyrus aids in finding what kind of musical genres you like. If you listen to a new song from a genre you have listened to a lot, you are more likely to appreciate it than a new song from another genre.
There are also many differences between how a musician’s brain reacts to music compared to a non-musician, a musician being someone who makes music regularly. For example, a musician uses the occipital lobe, used for vision, when listening to music while a non-musician uses only their temporal lobe, used for hearing. Smaller changes in pitch are detected better by musicians, and longer musical experience changes how the brainstem reacts to sounds.
Other tidbits I found during my research are interesting. I found that musicians have a greater encoding of music and speech, and are able to find words better in noise. Also, a study in 2008 described a group of musicians that were asked to play memorized and improvised songs inside a MRI. While playing improvised music, another musician came in and played along. The brain reaction of the two musicians as if they were just having a conversation, except that the area of the brain that is associated with language meaning was not being used. Finally, the practice of anything, including an instrument, thickens the myelin sheaths on your axons, and this decreases energy loss from electrical signals, making neural pathways in the brain more efficient. Overall, I learned a lot about how the human brain reacts to music.
Music Appreciation Reports on Various Pieces (excerpts) by Ryan Wang, Grade 7.
Aquarium from The Carnival of the Animals by Saint-Saens
Charles-Camille Saint-Saens was born on October 9th, 1835 in Paris, France. When he was three, he showed signs of perfect pitch. He then got piano lessons. He was a prodigy and made his debut when he was ten. He then studied in the Paris Conservatoire. He sought modern music like Schumann’s and Liszt’s. He worked as an organist for some time then started teaching. After that, he started in opera music because it was really popular. He loved to go on trips. He traveled and composed and did operas. In 1886, he composed his The Carnival of the Animals. The rising popularity of more modernized music put him out of favor. He died on December 16th, 1921. My favorite part of this piece is the beginning piano. It represents water very well and it also sounds very mystical.
Sabre Dance by Khachaturian
Aram Khachaturian was born on June 6th, 1903 in Tbilisi, Georgia. He moved to Moscow in 1921. He then enrolled in Gnessin Musical Institute with no musical knowledge and then went to the Moscow Conservatory. His 1936 Piano Concerto popularized him. His 1940 Violin Concerto caused him to win the Stalin Prize and gain international recognition. In 1942, he composed the Sabre Dance as the last movement of Gayane. In 1948, he and many other famous composers were denounced by the communists, saying their music was anti-people. He was exiled to Armenia but then was restored in December. In 1950, he started teaching at his former schools and conducted. Khachaturian died on May 1st, 1978 after a long illness. My favorite part was the ending in which it started quiet but crescendoed to a loud ending. I also liked that in the second quarter, when a new tune was playing, the drums were still quietly pounding away in the background.
Minute Waltz by Chopin
Frédéric Chopin was born on March 1st, 1810 in Żelazowa Wola, Duchy of Warsaw. He took piano lessons at six, from Wojciech Żywny. At age seven, he gave public concerts and composed two polonaises. Starting at age 13, he attended Warsaw Lyceum and then the Warsaw Conservatory. He continued to give concerts. He then started to travel. In 1829, he saw Paganini perform and he wrote several variations on his music. After he completed his studies, he gave concerts in Vienna. He then returned to compose more. In 1830, he left Warsaw and went to Paris. In 1831, Schumann said in his article “Hats off, gentlemen! A genius.” on Chopin’s Op. 2 Variations. He had his first concert later and got into the Paris musical elite. He met Liszt in around 1831. They performed together occasionally. From 1842, Chopin was really ill. His composing skills fell. In 1847, he wrote this Minute Waltz. He toured London and Scotland before returning and dying on October 17th, 1849. In the first third of the composition, the theme of “da-da da-dum dum-dum” is played. It goes on until the middle. It is a really beautiful part. I also like the scale down that leads to the end.
Dvořák’s Visit to America by Michael Wang, Grade 8.
Antonín Dvořák was a romantic era composer who was the most famous Czech composer. He was born in Nelahozeves, Czechia, on September 8, 1841. Dvořák’s early works were influenced by Beethoven, Schubert, Wagner and Liszt. He was also close friends with Johannes Brahms and Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. In 1891, Jeanette Thurber, a wealthy patron trying to integrate music into America, offered Dvořák a leading position at the National Conservatory of Music of America for $15,000, 25 times more than what he earned in Prague. Dvořak accepted, and on September 27, 1892, he and his family arrived in America. They stayed in New York, and compared to the rural farmlands of Prague, New York was a huge modern city with lots of life. He wrote home calling the city “great and magnificent.”
At the National Conservatory, Dvořák met an African American singer named Harry Burleigh, who sang traditional African American spirituals for Dvořák. He was introduced to the wonderful world of American traditional folk songs. About these spirituals, Dvořák said “In the Negro melodies of America I discover all that is needed for a great and noble school of music.” He thought that for America to establish its own music, composers there should embrace these melodies and use them to establish America’s style of music.
Dvořák himself composed many of his pieces in America based on African American melodies. His ninth symphony, “From the New World,” is one of them. The symphony includes melodies that may have been borrowed from traditional spirituals, like “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot.”
Besides spending time in New York City, he and his family took four month long summer vacations to spend time in Iowa. Dvořák and his family were feeling homesick for Bohemia, and they learned of Spillville, home to a community of Czech immigrants. Spillville was a lot different from the bustling city life of New York City. Dvořák was inspired by the nature of the countryside that reminded him of Prague. There, he composed his Symphony No. 9, String Quintet No. 3, and his American Quartet. The American Quartet includes the use of the pentatonic scale, and it has many influences from African American music.
Dvořák’s vision that African American music would form a new school of American music was correct. A few decades after Dvořák’s time in America, a new musical genre called “jazz” started becoming popular. Jazz was mostly built on the blues, which originated from African American musical traditions. Dvořák absorbed some elements of African American spirituals and his compositions reflect this integration of Bohemian and American music.
Dvořák returned to Europe in 1895, and continued composing, conducting, and also acting as a professor at the Prague Conservatory. Dvořák died on May 1, 1904. He will be remembered as a great European composer, but he will also be remembered as the person who jump-started America’s musical culture.
The “First Viennese School” and the “Second Viennese School” by Jacqueline Oerding, Grade 8.
I chose to write about the “First Viennese School” and the “Second Viennese School” because I had never heard about them before and I thought it would be interesting to learn about. Both are groups of composers who lived in Vienna, Austrian not actual schools where the composers attended.
The First Viennese School is a term first used in 1834 by Raphael Georg Kiesewetter, an Austrian music historian. It refers to Ludwig van Beethoven, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Joseph Hadyn, and sometimes Franz Schubert is included. The First Viennese School included these composers who wrote in the classical style and lived in the late 18th century to the early 19th century. There have been attempts to add other composers to this list, including Anton Bruckner, Johannes Brahms, and Gustav Mahler, but they have been unsuccessful.
The Second Viennese School encompasses Arnold Schoenberg and his pupils during the early 20th century. Schoenberg was the founder, but two other men are onsidered to have higher authority in the group. They are Alban Berg and Anton Webern. The members of the School’s music are characterized by expanded tonality, later a technique called atonality, and later another called twelve tone technique. Atonality is music that does not have a key. It also describes music that is neither tonal or serial. Tonality is when in a series of tones, the tonic becomes the basis for the rest of the music. Serialism is a method of composition including the twelve-tone technique, which is a means of making sure that all twelve notes of the chromatic scale are sounded equally, preventing the emphasis of any one note.
Music Appreciation Reports on Various Pieces by Ryan Wang, Grade 7.
Annen Polka by Johann Strauss
Annen Polka is a very great dance. It is very light and the music is very happy. Very good song to dance to. Johann Strauss is an Austrian composer. Annen Polka was composed in 1852.
Rakoczy March by Berlioz
Many parts of the march are full of power. Very good use of pizzicato. There is a lot of immediate dynamic changes(sub. p or sub. f ) Hector Berlioz is a French Romantic composer. He used Rakoczy March in his La damnation de Faust. It was added in 1845.
Spanish Dance from Swan Lake by Tchaikovsky
Spanish Dance to me is a very classic tune of a dance. It is very happy. Very quick steps by the sound of it. Tchaikovsky is a Russian composer. It’s in Swan Lake, which was composed in 1875-6.
Star and Stripes Forever by Sousa
I have heard this march many times in parades and stuff like that. Like many marches, it radiates a lot of power. John Philip Sousa is a late-Romantic American composer. The music was composed in December 1896 and the lyrics in May 1897.
Anitra’s Dance from Peer Gynt Suite no.1 by Grieg
This dance starts out very mysteriously. The tune and rhythm slightly resemble his In the Hall of the Mountain King. Somewhat slow, it is also very light. Edvard Grieg is a Norwegian composer. He composed it in 1875.
Hungarian Dance no.5 by Brahms
This dance is very different from those I usually hear. There are many sudden tempo changes. This dance doesn’t sound as happy as the other ones. Johannes Brahms is a German composer. He composed his famous Hungarian Dance no.5in 1869 as part of his 21 Hungarian Dances.
In my opinion, marches are full of power and dances are light.