‘Ars Nova, Renaissance and Baroque Music ‘ has been one of my favourite parts so far. There has been an awful lot to sink my teeth into. J.S Bach himself is worthy of decades of studying. I find the complexity of his fugues overwhelming and mesmerising, like riddles that need solving. Earlier this year I paid a visit to the Bach Museum in Leipzig and the various churches in which he worked. Looking at his manuscripts and listening to how the instruments from the era sounded was illuminating. The Bach Museum had a room where you could listen to his work performed on early instruments and you could solo and select what sections you wanted to hear. I spent a couple of hours in there and felt like I really learnt a lot from ‘building’ my own Baroque orchestra. I have an appreciation for early instruments and even though they can be cruder and sometimes shrill sounding they do provoke a more primal emotional reaction in me. For instance, I love the sound of the Shawm because it cuts through and calls to attention. The shrillness makes a lot of sense considering most music started off being played outdoors.
I also found the Music Theory Project really interesting. In April this year I attended a week long residential (in the French Pyrenees) composing master class with Gavin Bryars. A couple of his lectures were on Pythagorean tuning and Just Intonation and he illustrated his teachings by using examples of pieces he had written for the Hilliard Ensemble and for Trio Mediaeval. I must say, the sound was so pure and the pitching so sublime, it made me feel like a lot of beauty has been lost with equal temperament. Another area Gavin Bryars explored was the writing of Madrigals and how his are informed by old manuscripts and based on Petrarch. Whilst I was there I worked on my own modal piece under his supervision. It has become an area of great interest to me and this course module was fortuitously timed when it comes to my own music. I have found some of Monteverdi’s recitative style very helpful to learn from, when it comes to solving some of my own composing conundrums. This is something that I came across thanks to the coarse material and listening suggestions you’ve given.
For the assignment I picked the score reading task, which was quite difficult for me and slightly beyond my reach. It has taken me a lot longer to complete than the previous assignments and I can’t say I am entirely happy with the result. I feel like I could have observed a lot more with more practice. However, I do think that it was really worthwhile to push myself even at the risk of failure, in order to learn more. I feel like the attempt has paid off and was worth the extra effort. It is the difficult tasks that result in the biggest progress and leaps in understanding.