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Listening to Music
Listening to Music
- Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky – Swan Lake (Op. 20)
Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake is a composition based on a German fairy tale. The story is based on medieval Germany in beautiful lands that also contain castles. Its original performance was developed for a ballet. The composition featured a 29 member orchestra. In essence, the composition captures the narrative. It develops emotion and feeling in the audience through its musical style (Fonteyn et al., 1989).
At first, the composition features a darkened tone. There is no chromatic transition in the ensuing notes. The music features a somber tone that does not evoke much emotion or thought. In fact, it feels casual. There is some sense of seriousness and order in the illusion that Tchaikovsky develops for his audience. Tchaikovsky uses this effect to portray the scene in the Castle. Alongside the performance, the audience is able to feel the coldness and seriousness that engulfs Prince Siegfried in the castle. The use of flutes, oboes and clarinets in the composition’s instrumentation creates a sense of the medieval scenario. The music allows the audience to immerse itself in the fairy tale thanks to the olden feeling sound.
The rhythm of the composition picks pace after the prince’s mother demands that he pick a bride on the following day. There is a sense of worry in the music. The composition utilizes a rising chromatic scale to highlight a sense of tragedy in Prince Siegfried’s life (Juslin & Sloboda, 2010). The audience feels the trouble in the Prince’s soul. His desire for a carefree life has been crushed by his mother. This emotion is intensified thanks to the rising volume. Tchaikovsky also uses this rising volume to transition the performance to its second act. The rising chromatic scale creates a sense of wonder and excitement in the audience. It becomes anxious to know what happens to the Prince on his quest to hunt the Swans alongside Benno.
In the second act, the music creates a sense of magical realism for the audience. The notes are brighter than before. Tchaikovsky uses a relatively constant chromatic scale with little variation. This creates a sense of floatation in the narrative. The audience feels uplifted, and it can see the beauty of the scenery of the lands around the Prince. The rhythm of the composition sets the stage for Siegfried’s meet with Princess Odette. The magical realism of the music intensifies the perceived beauty of the princess. Similarly, the audience is able to feel the excitement that lurks within the Prince. The notes are romantic, and the audience is able to feel the Prince’s feeling towards Odette and his need to choose a bride on the next day.
The magical notes that characterize the music lead the performance to the next act. Tchaikovsky sets the stage for a wonderful day through the bright notes, and magical realism. The uplifting chromatic scale creates a sense of excitement, joy and hope for Prince Siegfried and his quest to choose a bride. However, Tchaikovsky switches the composition to a tragic sequence. The chromatic scale falls. The notes darken just as well. The music creates a sense of darkness and evil around the performance. In the process, the audience feels the horror that captures Prince Siegfried. The sound signature characterizes Odile as an evil accomplice of the Baron’s demon. The arpeggio intensifies this emotion and Tchaikovsky manages to capture the evil around the scene. The audience is able to feel the tragedy of Odette’s death at the end of the composition. The rhythm slows as if in sorrow of the princess’ death. In essence, Tchaikovsky manages to capture the tragedy of the Prince’s hope for marriage, as well as the death of Odette through his style of composition.
- Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov – Flight of the Bumblebee
The Flight of the Bumblebee is a piece created as an orchestral interlude for the Tale of the Tsar Saltan. This opera consisted of four acts that go along with the composition’s flow. The performance was inspired by a tale penned by Alexander Pushkin. The tale explains Prince Givdon and his experiences while travelling to find his father, whom he had never seen before in his life. In the process, Givdon is transformed into a bumblebee when he meets a white swan. This has been done in able he can travel to see his father. Through Rimsky-Korsakov’s work, the audience is able to capture the proceedings of the bumblebee’s journey to the far away land. The musical expression captures the highs and the lows of the journey (Rimsky-Korsakov, 1986).
The Flight of the Bumblebee is a work that is heavy on chromatic transitions. Every few moments, the chromatic transition changes from a high to a low. The same also happens vice-versa. In the process, the audience is able to capture a floating feeling. The composition lifts moods when the chromatic transition rises. Similarly, it brings us back to the ground with each transition to a lower scale. As a result, the audience is able to capture the flight of the bumblebee. The upwards transition creates a sense of upward flight by the bumblebee. Similarly, the downwards transition creates a sense of landing or diving by the bumblebee. However, some moments in the composition maintain no chromatic transitions. As a result, the audience feels stationery. It is felt that the bumblebee is hovering in one location, and not carrying on with its journey to the far away land.
In the composition, Rimsky-Korsakov uses an arpeggio phase. This creates a sense of adventure in the composition. The audience is able to feel the troubles and issues that face the bumblebee on its journey. It is able to feel the sense of danger that the bumblebee faces and what happens later. When fused with the chromatic transitions, the audience feels like the bumblebee runs for its life. The audience is able to feel a sense of speed and adrenaline that captures the bumblebee. The phase creates adventure in the narrative. However, a sense of heroism is also felt in the composition. The arpeggio allows the audience to feel the bumblebee and Prince Givdon’s heroics. In some ways, the arpeggio acts to strengthen the character the audience perceives of the bumblebee. The upwards transitions take away the fear by building adrenaline for the challenge ahead. Similarly, they develop Givdon’s character as brave.
In essence, the audience feels the narrative through Rimsky-Korsakov’s composition. There is a sense of forwardness in the narrative through listening to the composition. The performance begins on a slow note. This corresponds to the relatively few occurrences that have taken place in the story. However, the composition later picks pace, as observed through the arpeggio and the increasingly upwards chromatic transitions. Here, the audience feels something is about to happen. It feels the thrill of the bumblebee gliding through the forests, rivers and valleys, in its journey to the father’s lands. However, this sense of thrill is also captured through the darkened notes that define the thrill. The audience feels danger through these dark scenarios. It is able to feel the evil lurking around. Similarly, it creates some sense of suspense. The audience does not know whether Givdon will succeed in his quest or not.
However, the ensuing sense of adrenaline enables the bumblebee to escape. He is victorious over his challengers as seen in the brighter notes that follow. Finally, the lowering chromatic scale allows the audience to feel the safety that Givdon senses. He finally arrives at his father’s land. There is a sense of happiness and victory towards the composition’s end. In essence, Rimsky-Korsakov’s composition is successful. It is able to bring out the emotion that defines the narrative. This is seen through the composition’s ability to capture the audience and its emotions.
Fonteyn, M., Hyman, T., Chu, J., Wallerstein, W., Miller, R., & Tchaikovsky, P. (1989). Swan lake (1st ed.). San Diego: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.
Juslin, P., & Sloboda, J. (2010). Handbook of music and emotion (1st ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Rimsky-Korsakov, N. (1986). The flight of the bumblebee (1st ed.). Ampleforth, England: Emerson Edition.
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