Caissons are horse drawn wagons. Military caissons carried ammunition and artillery. The ammunition box is at the front of the wagon and the artillery is mounted at the back of the wagon. Photo from the American Civil War.
Funeral caissons carry the casket of someone who has served in the military or government. The horses often wear plumes on their head, and an honor guard escorts the caisson.
Featured Composer of the Week:
U.S.A. 1937 -
Listening Example: "Glassworks"
Philip Glass is an American classical composer of a style of music known as minimalism. His works include a collection called Glassworks, the opera Einstein on the Beach, and other compositions. Glass describes himself as ‘a composer of music with repetitive structures’. He is considered one of the most influential composers of late 20th-century music.
Minimal music is a form of ‘art music’ that developed in the United States in the 1960’s as a type of experimental music. It uses simplicity of form, as can be compared to examples of minimal artwork.
Minimalism in Visual Art
To really understand the concept of minimalism in music, the listener needs to hear an entire piece to experience the changes in the music. Our listening example is a short excerpt from Glassworks.
LISTEN FOR . . . Listen for steady, repeating rhythm patterns and polyrhythms, different patterns layered on top of each other. The music contains short melodic units instead of a real melody. You may hear a single tone being focused on throughout the music. The harmony in the chords changes slowly and subtly. The overall effect of the music can be either hypnotic, trance-like and soothing, or it can be monotonous, because of its repetitive nature.
MUSIC LISTENING LINKS
Listening Example: "Metamorphosis 2"
The metamorphosis of a butterfly
Philip Glass was one of several composers experimenting with new compositional techniques that came to be known as the New York Hypnotic School in the downtown New York scene of the 1960’s. They used limited or minimal musical materials to create the concept of a work in progress.
Minimalist composers of the New York Hypnotic School Philip Glass Steve Reich Terry Adams
Many creations go through a process of change and gradual transformation. They may retain some of their original characteristics while adding to and enhancing what is already there.
The features of minimalist music are: 1) repetition of slowly changing chords, which is harmony; 2) rhythm with a steady pulse; 3) repeating phrases, or smaller units such as motifs and cells; and 4) a continuous, flowing form without interrupted sections.
LISTEN FOR . . . Minimalist music requires a new approach to the way one listens to music. The listener must focus on the internal process of the music, instead of melodic goals or the motion toward those goals. Our listening example is “Metamorphosis 2”. At the beginning of the music, the harmony, pulse and rhythmic foundation are presented. At about two and one-half minutes, the music enters the next phase of its development. There are two examples to choose from: one played on harp and the other played on piano.
MUSIC LISTENING LINKS
Metamorphosis 4 below has a faster rhythm and a more jazzy feeling to it.
Listening Example: "Knee Play 1" and "Knee Play 3"
from Einstein on the Beach
Have you ever watched re-runs of the old TV series called Twilight Zone? This was one of the first well-known uses of minimalist music. It was hypnotic and just plain weird. People still sing it today to refer to strange situations. Click below to listen to this example. The familiar opening ends at 10 seconds.
Today we have two short excerpts of music from Glass’s opera Einstein on the Beach. They’re short because you won’t want to listen to them for very long. Einsteinon the Beach, written in 1975, was Glass’s first and longest opera score, based on the historical person, Albert Einstein. It lasts five hours without an intermission. Given the length, the audience is permitted to enter and leave as desired.
Our listening examples are called "Knee Plays". Five “Knee Plays” frame the opera’s structure and appear as interludes in between acts. Glass states that the knee refers to the joining function that humans’ knees perform.
MUSIC LISTENING LINKS
LISTEN FOR . . . “Knee Play 1” begins with a bass line played on an organ, then adds a vocal chant that changes the grouping of music beats from four to six to eight.
LISTEN FOR . . . “Knee Play 3” presents this challenge: “How fast can you sing “1-2-3, 1-2-3-4”?
Watch the inside workings of a piano as each key struck activates a hammer that strikes a piano string in Glass's "Mad Rush".
Listening Example: "Short Ride in a Fast Machine"
The early compositions of Glass are somewhat simple, with little embellishment on the principal theme. These works are for small instrumental ensembles, and Glass often performed in these groups. They contain organs, woodwinds—particularly saxophones—and vocalists. His current works are more sophisticated. He often performs with his own group, the Philip Glass Ensemble.
Steve Reich Composer Steve Reich’s [raish] works have more emphasis on mallet and percussion instruments. The music of Reich and Glass drew early sponsorship from art galleries and museums, where their music was presented along with visual-art minimalists.
The music of Philip Glass continues to be heard fifty years later. He has also written music for films, including the award winning film, The Hours and a new musical score for the 1931 film Dracula.
John Adams John Adams is another well-known composer of minimalist music. His works are written for more traditional classical instrumentation, including full orchestra, strings quartet, and solo piano.
John Adams, minimalist composer
LISTEN FOR . . . Our listening example today is John Adams’ composition called “Short Ride in a Fast Machine” written for orchestra. As the music develops, you’ll get to see some interesting views of the orchestra.
MUSIC LISTENING LINKS
LISTEN FOR . . . Dreamy music from John Adams' piano concerto Century Rolls. This second movement gets its title (Manny's Gym) from Emanuel Ax, the pianist for whom the work was written. It also alludes to similarities of French composer Erik Satie's Gymnopedie No. 1.
Lollapalooza--something extraordinary and special; an unusual example; "a lollapalooza of a birthday party"
Dracula Listen to Philip Glass's music rescored for the 1931 film Dracula as you watch a scene from the film which starred Bela Lugosi. The music is more freely structured than other examples of minimal music. (Duration: 10 minutes)
Listening Example: "Little Fluffy Clouds" by The Orb
Today we will listen to music influenced by Steve Reich [raish], who pioneered minimalist music along with Glass and John Adams from the ‘60’s into this century. Like Glass and Adams, Reich is one of “a handful of living composers who can legitimately claim to have altered the direction of musical history”.
Philip Glass and Steve Reich at a reunion concert
That direction exposed a new generation of listeners to the composer’s music through his work called Electric Counterpoint from 1987. Electric Counterpoint was written for two electric guitars, and featured Pat Metheny performing with Reich. You can hear Electric Counterpoint under the listening links below.
Electronic Techno musicians
The legacy of Glass and other minimalists has been incorporated into new musical genres, including new age, alternative, techno, meditation and relaxation music. Soft minimal music, such as Metamorphosis, is often played in beauty spas. Its repetitive, free-flowing form creates an atmosphere of timelessness that allows one to temporarily ‘escape’ from thoughts of daily routine.
Inside a spa
Steve Reich also wrote versions of "Clapping Music" similar to that heard in the film Pitch Perfect. You can hear those examples below. Parts of Reich’s Electric Counterpoint were incorporated into the 1990 recording of Little Fluffy Clouds by the English electronic music group, The Orb. When he heard it, Reich was very flattered by The Orb’s use of his work and instructed his record company not to sue the group for using his music without his permission.
Rickie Lee Jones
LISTEN FOR . . . You will hear repeated patterns in the guitars. But the signature of the piece centers around the repeated phrases sampled from the voice of singer/songwriter Rickie Lee Jones as she tells about the picturesque images of clouds from her Arizona childhood.
MUSIC LISTENING LINKS
Listen to "Clapping Music for 5 Performers" by Reich.
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