Monday, September 1, 2008

What's the fuss about harmony? - Part 1/4

We need to get technical again to understand harmony. I have used terminology such as multi-part composition without explaining it. Time to get under the hood a little bit. Disclaimer: The information presented in this section is to get a general appreciation of the concepts. This is by no means complete or accurate.

The Renaissance period (Europe) was a defining period for WCM and the seventeenth century was very important – this is called the baroque period. Several music making techniques were invented during this period which is followed to this day. Most musicians played in the church which also operated as a social meeting place. Forms such as the sonata, cantata and oratorio flourished. JS Bach was from this period – Raja considers him as his mental guru in ( WCM. According to Raja, ‘JS Bach is the most precise composer of WCM’ – now, you see where his own precision is coming from! This was followed by the classical period of WCM where techniques such as symphony which is characterized by several ‘movements’ were created. Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven were all from the classical period.

As mentioned before, every sound emerging out of an orchestra can be notated, thanks to some great work done during these periods. As most of these orchestras used several instruments simultaneously, there was a need to notate them in parallel. This resulted in music being notated in 4 parts known as S(Soprano), A (Alto), T (Tenor) and B (Bass). This is technically called SATB style of music writing – also known as 4-part score or baroque style score – all this mean the same. Raja writes all his music in the standard SATB short score format. When he writes for orchestras he has not worked with before, such as the Hungary Symphony Orchestra for Thiruvasagam project, he uses the full score format (written in 26 days! In a symphony situation, the constraints are even bigger – no electronics, no synthesizers). The whole range of musical sounds is divided into these four ranges. Typically, the melody line is represented by the ‘S’ line in the score. This is the line that the composer tries to play and get the director to approve. Adding the remaining A, T and B lines to the score is called harmonizing the tune. You create a 4-part harmony in the process.


Unknown said...

I have many a time visited this blog and read interesting analysis. I know carnatic music and its ragas but I have very less or you can say zero understanding of western classical music's concepts. I hereby offer my GURU VANAKKAM to you. Your blessings are required for me to learn faster and accurate. Raja sir to me like millions is THE GOD and THE ONLY GOD OF MUSIC. Ability to understand his works itself is a GOD'S LIFT. You have it immensely and I humbly request your assistance to understand the western concepts if I have to thoroughly understand your in-depth analysis of Raja sir. I am V.Swaminathan living at Chennai and working for IMAGE INFOTAINMENT LTD as Country Head Marketing, am aged 39. Learnt Vocal under Late Sri D.K.Jayaraman.


ravinat said...

Hi Swaminathan

Thanks for your very kind words. Not sure if I deserve all the admiration you seem to shower.

Firstly, my knowledge of Carnatic music is very limited and I do not have formal training as you have. I do understand WCM to a small degree. Most of my learning has been from a group of selfless Raja fans who share a common objective of 'learning' to facilitate music enjoyment.

I prefer further analysis, criticism of some of my posts, to emotional outbursts. Please ask questions, challenge our common understanding and that is fine by me. I started writing this blog after I realized that Raja's work deserves a serious analytical treatment.

Lastly, there is no need for you to share any personal information about yourself when you leave comments.

As I have mentioned in my initial post, there are several sources that I started with, and you can use them as well.

You also reach out to me by email which I have included in my profile if you have questions outside any particular posts. Some of these emails have driven some of my analytical posts on Raja's work.

Unknown said...

Its really mind eye opener to all the music fans