Welcome back to Austin classical music / San Antonio classical music 101! Today we’re discussing part TWO (of five) in our series of symphony terms to help the unacquainted become more familiar with this rich and treasured musical art form.
Counterpoint – The art of comprehensibly combining at least two independent musical lines at the same time. Some methods of counterpoint include imitation, canon and fugue.
Cyclical form – A compositional device in which a theme or group of themes returns in each subsequent movement of a large-scale work, typically in a transformed manner. Berlioz, Schumann, and Franck made extensive use of this technique.
Debussy, Claude – French composer born in 1862. Debussy was the first of the ‘impressionist’ school of French composers and is generally considered one of the most revolutionary composers of all time. He was a master of pianistic and orchestral color. Debussy died in 1918.
Formalism – A term used by Soviet authorities to denounce works that were considered too ‘difficult’ or ‘complex’ for the general public. The regime often applied the term to Prokofiev and Shostakovich, and against composers whose music was not compatible with their political philosophy.
Fugue – A compositional form, in which at least two parts or voices state a short melody, known as the subject. Once all voices have stated the subject, the fugue continues with a developmental passage, before the subjects enter again, alternating with developmental material. It’s a highly complex contrapuntal method which takes many years of study to master. J.S. Bach was undoubtedly the supreme master of fugal technique, but subsequent composers have been able to combine fugues into their own larger-scale compositions. Many composers use short fugues, or fugatos, as developmental episodes in sonata-form movements.
Harmony – the result of at least two pitches sounding simultaneously. Harmony can be the result of counterpoint (the interweaving of several independent melodies) or chordal writing (where a melody is supported by other notes). Harmony can be concordant, with all pitches ‘agreeing’ with each other, or it can be dissonant, creating a sense of tension.
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