Listening Log

Research Point – Das Rheingold

In this area of research I am going to be looking at how Wagner build on his musical idea to create an atmospheric start to his musical drama “Das Rheingold” as the purpose of this research was to learn how to utilise the cycle of fifths. I want to focus specifically on how Wagner managed to hold the Key of Eb for so long without this listener getting bored or loosing interest. I am going to analyse the first 16 pages which build right through until the entrance of the singers who’s manic intervals and rhythms create a frantic melody, which, arguably, could be a representation of the story line of this musical drama.

During the start of the piece we hear just a background whisper of Eb as the Contrabass starts off the whole piece, briefly followed by the entrance of the Horns. Just hearing the timbre of the horn and contra bass alone creates an atmosphere just from one note. We then hear the first snippet of melody. A four bar phrase played horn and developed and built upon to prevent an expectant and expansive beginning almost like a musical opening of the curtain. This ascending four bar phrase is repeated on top of itself creating a basic harmonic of C minor.

In this particular stage of the musical work, I feel that among the harmony the sound quality of instruments that gives them their own unique sound is an effective medium to create an affect of suspense. The phrase works its way up the orchestra each phrase is composed on top of the previous phrase causing almost the effect of a musical “round.”

The harmony begins to build and by second page we are already witnessing signs of modulation as the melody is raised up a third which lands us on a high G. In the last two bars of page two we hear the phrase being played in harmony from the bassoon section. The tune is played in it’s original key of Eb (starting on the G) by the second bassoon and is joined by the first bassoon who starts the phrase on Eb. This creates the harmony of thirds. However we are still in Eb but we hav eheard the tune played and harmonised in thirds. This harmony has now also, in a way, created a new melodic idea.

In the second half of page two the trombones hold down a new bass note of Bb and the cellos come in with arpeggios which highlight various different chords. The original four bar phrase has now become augmented and now lasts 8 bars with descending minims. In page 4 we continue to hear the melodic phrase. However, to create contrast Wagner scores the original melody line as per normal but has given it to the flute who provide a whole different timbre. On the other hand the bassoons start the phrase ascending but the phrase has then changed as it descends back down to G. At this stage the arpeggios are being built upon as well which adds to a feeling of building excitement. Page 5 introduces a new two bar excerpt which is an addition to our original four bar phrase. This new idea is then expanded through page 6 as the phrase becomes prolonged. Also in page 6 the clarinets start playing an altered version of this new two bar phrase as they run up two semiquavers before resting on the next interval. This creates the effect of driving the rhythm forward the violin cello part introduces these semiquavers throughout the whole bar which outlines the shape of this new 2 bar phrase.

The 8th page continues much the same way as the previous two pages, however the melodic phrase has augmented and now the values of the notes have increased, split in to 3 bar phrases the melodic phrase is now 6 bars long. This takes us in to page 9 where we return to two bar phrases but the melody has been raised and now the flutes are singing their top Eb’s out three ledger lines above the stave. The clarinets and Cor Anglais (English Horn) continue the driving rhythm as the string section are now all playing arpeggios. The excitement continues to build.

Page 10 takes us back to a four bar phrase. This maintains interest as it is still a very familiar idea but just different enough that we are still interested as listeners and audience members. By page 12 our phrases stretch across about 8 bars and starts taking off this feels like an increased level of building suspense. Something is coming up. Oboes clarinets and flutes take over the driving rhythm which now becomes a more prominent feature. The arpeggios are layered even thicker with the addition of more violins and cellos. The flutes shoot for the skies as their phrases now build to super G 4 ledger lines above the stave. Page 14 ascending scales are scored in which add another layer of suspense. Starting on bassoon and bass clarinet these scales then work themselves up the different timbres of the woodwind section. Rising from lower woodwind and passing through higher woodwind creates a consistent build just from the pitch of the instruments. These scales expand through page 15 now throughout the entire woodwind section until page 16 where we hear the entrance of the singers.

To summarise my analysis of the introduction to “Das Rhein Gold” I would like to outline very simply some techniques that I feel can be learned from this fantastic work. Firstly, Wagner used the timbre of the instruments from the word go to build suspense. Wagner took a melodic phrase and built upon or diminished it in order to maintain the listeners interest and – he added, basically, arpeggios and scales to add to the suspense. However he did it in such a masterful way that whilst the music seemed familiar to us after 80 bars we where not bored of hearing it. This is not even the whole amount of time that Wagner remained in this key. In total Wagner remained in the key of Eb for a total of 186 bars. Wagner’s masterful understanding of the instruments of the orchestra and melodic expansion and subtraction made for an exciting and atmospheric introduction to “Das Rheingold”


Project 14: improvisation on the dominant

the point of this project was for us to build up a harmony around the dominant and then resolve to the tonic key of the signature at the very end. For this exercise, I looked at modern composers of piano music such as Einaudi and Yiruma. I find thier almost minimalistic approach to harmony and melody highly effective.

In this exercise, I wrote an extended passage on the dominant (C#m) of F#m. The melody hangs these beautiful high notes of the piano in almost a style of a lament. I chose this approach because I wanted to incorporate some suspensions with my harmony as I have picked up from my listening log in Eric Whiticare’s lux arumbuque and Ben Hollings Lake of Tenderness.

Suspend 5 by David Healy-Richards

I specifically chose 6/4 as a time measure so that I could create long phrases within the piece. I chose F# minor, purely, because the dominant C# is my favourite key to work in – as I find it beautiful to listen to. The harmony of this piece though based on the dominant ventures in to Em (III of C#) Bm, (the VII) but always bases around the C# dominant. I tried to give the illusion to the listener that we are actually in the key of C# minor.

I employed the use of modern suspsensions and resolutions to vary the long phrases and even when I revert back to the original line at bar 17. I have built on the original line we heard in bar 1. The idea for that came from Yiruma’s “Kiss the Rain” I felt that even though the melody line was there the added in harmony meant that it was still just as interesting to listen to. Throughout the piece, I have, mostly, kept one line moving while one line was static. However, when I wanted to pronounce a different key I left the chord to ring through just to add contrast between moving lines and static chords. Whilst the dissonant suspensions are always moving, I only left a chord ring through if it was consonant for the listener.

Through this project, I learned about building up harmony around the dominant and then resolving on to the tonic in the very last bar. I enjoyed working with a slower tempo because it meant that I could suspended and resolve chords in the key of C# minor. I found inspiration from various modern piano composers as mentioned above, but the real foundation for this piece was to build on my knowledge of composing around the dominant and then resolving on to the tonic after having tried to convince the listener we were in a different key.


Project 13: Elaborate Cadences

Today I finished my collection of four Elaborate Cadences. In this section I focused on the Dominant-tonic Perfect Cadence. Within this project I had to disguise an upcoming perfect cadence by remaining on the dominant in the bass while allowing the right hand to tickle, tease us and to keep the listener guessing as to what is coming up next.

My first cadence was mostly entirely based on the dominant apart from one bar where I ventured out in to a different chord.

Task A in Bb major

You will see that the majority of this study the chord is heavily weighted on the F with just a bare C to G progression. This is a trick to keep the listener trying to guess what key we are in and as to whether we are major or minor. Whilst I try at all costs to mislead the listener we can tell that the weighted F in the bass asserts the key this is written in. We are in Bb Major but the recurrent use of the G leads us to believe we could be in G minor. We progress to G minor in the 3rd bar but before we know it we end up on the major triad at the end of the exercise.

For my second cadence I tried to achieve a bouncy drinking song kind of feel with the use of the 9/8 time measure.

Task B in D major

You will note that the bass line is mostly based around the A major triad (V of D major) The melody has a very lively feel and with a very limited and quick use of dissonance. The exercise keeps its lively up beat and staccato feel. This is mostly a consonant composition apart from a few very brief clashes in the melody which are used, in this instance, to subconsciously generate some more interest in the melody. We are then given a very elaborate dominant 7 chord at the start of the perfect cadence because the 7th adds the craving to get back to the tonic.

My third cadence was in the style of a waltz, almost.

Task 3 in C major

I used stereotypical waltz traits of the quick 3/4 time measure and the typical waltz beats on 2 and 3 to maintain the waltz feel. This piece rarely leaves the dominant G chord, only in a passing F# in the third bar. The melody and harmony gets nice and colourful however as the bars modulate between the second degree A minor (3rd bar), and dominant of G, D major (4th bar) before reverting back in to G major for the penultimate bar and finishing on the tonic in the final bar. I enjoyed experimenting with the different chords over the bulging G in the bass line as I felt it added a much more developed and advanced grasp of how harmony works. It added a much more interesting sound, one I should like to explore further as my degree progresses.

I saved my personal favourite until last. I wrote it in my favourite key signature (C# minor) I feel there is a serene beauty around this key and I always feel mesmerised by it.

Task 4 in C# minor

Using the mechanism of dynamics, articulation, key signature selection and harmony, I composed a brief musical portrait of un-settling anticipation which eases in to a simple C# minor chord right at the very end. The melody doesn’t leave the dominant G# until the next bar when the melody is written around a D# chord. The third bar dabbles in A major then the penultimate bar starts with the arpeggio of F major 7 and is responded with an augmentation back in to F# minor(aug). This happens while the bass line draws in back to the perfect cadence. I found this to be a pleasant surprise! The Perfect cadence felt un-expected but still worked in the context of the piece.

Personal Development

Walking in the Shadows of Giants

In the early 19th Century, Gothic Architecture was still around in great abundance. However the community wanted a church so they raised funds to start building this church in 1827. The man in charge was Decimus Burton. However by 1974 the church was labelled as redundant to pastoral needs. The church was left abandoned and once again the community did not want to waste this beautiful building. The Tunbridge Wells Civic Society raised a petition to find a better public use for this building. They were granted 6 months. Within that time it was decided that Trinity would be a Community Arts Centre and a whopping £50, 000 was raised to fund the cause. By 1977 the lease was signed and the transaction complete it was now the Trinity Theatre.

In June of this year I set up, with the help of my Wadhurst Brass Band committee, a concert in the historic Trinity Theatre in Royal Tunbridge Wells. This theatre has seen the likes of Westlife, Take That and Rodger Waters (song writer for Pink Floyd) The concert was a programme of show-stopper tunes from the west end and was hosted by Louise Stewart, Former BBC South East political editor and a dedicated advocate of CRUK.

This was to be a reward for my Band for all thier work and input that helped us achieved yesteryears success. The opportunity to play in such a prestigious venue where we can put on a full show with lighting and sound technicians was such a temptation, I simply couldn’t resist!

Trinity auditorium

We were fortunate enough to be joined by three very talented singers for the occasion. Two of whom had performed in many a variety of concerts including a regular spot in Glyndebourne Opera House. Many Thanks to Tom and Charlie Snee and George Tero for thier incredible performances throughout the night.

From a conducting point of view there was an additional layer I had to think about while performing. I had previously been one of two conductors where there had been a choral master leading a choir and myself leading the band. As we had solo singers I had to look at the musical aspect for the singers as well as my band.

During the concert we asked Louise to talk about her experiences battling cancer and her parents who also suffered at the hands of this horrendous disease. In the middle of the second half we had a poignant dedication to all those who had ever suffered or lost thier battles with cancer. The band played “You’ll Never Walk Alone” with all the singers at the front. The audience joined in instantaneously and the whole hall united in a show of defiance against The Despicable cancer. Once again, music brought everyone together with a common purpose.

Firstly, while organising combining the band and vocalists, I had to make sure that the singers where happy to sing in the key that our music was in. In order to do this I had to prepare a vocal sheet. This meant taking the melody line from whichever instrument had it wherever it was in the score. In doing this, it also made sense, in some cases, to add the lyrics. This meant researching the lyrics to make sure the band phrasing and the lyrics matched up.

Secondly, whilst I was conducting the band – I had to make sure I was really clear to the singers when I cued them in. Any ambiguity in my beat pattern or body language could have lead to a catastrophically obvious mistake! luckily that only happened in a rehearsal leading up to the concert! In some cases I had to give the vocalists some vocal advise which was a stretch beyond my comfort zone (as I should not be allowed to sing, ever) however help was at hand when one of the bandsman, who was far more vocally adept, was able to run through a particularly trying piece with one of the vocalists.

Wadhurst Brass Band Perform “There’s no Business like Show Business” from “Annie Get Your Gun” arr. Goff Richards. Under direction of David Healy-Richards.

As part of the hire fee for this beautiful venue we were provided a technical manager who could advise us as to how to get the balance right for the singers it was difficult to tell from where I stood what was the best thing to do to get the best sound from our singers. I am glad we had our technical manager Katie, who turned out to be an old friend from my school orchestra days. Many thanks to Katie for her help with the lighting and sound.

In this project we managed to earn a further £2, 500 for CRUK it certainly developed me as a musician in that I learned about leading vocal soloists with a band. I learned what the necessary steps where to ensure a successful performance in this context. The production of the vocal lead sheet was a necessary tool in order to communicate and work with the Vocal soloists and discuss thier concerns if they had any. Over all, the thanks goes to the Wadhurst Brass Band, Ian Morgan chair of Cancer Research UK in Tunbridge Wells, The steward team at Trinity and the Technical Manager, my vocalists, band manager and Louise Stewart.

Listening Log

Lux Aurumque – Eric Whitacre

Today, I listened to a mesmerising piece by Eric Whitacre which had me in a completely different dimension for 4 minutes of pure listening pleasure. After hearing this piece I wanted to try and work out what chords he used to produce such an enchanting listening experience. The following post is my analytical memoir of this beautiful music.

When Eric Whitacre was interviewed about this piece of music he so eloquently spoke of this piece as a “breathing exercise” and that is instantaneously relatable from bar one as the music crescendos and diminuendos or “expands and contracts” like ones breath in a state of meditation. You can feel the phrase begin down in the tenor and bass and the low register of the alto, to start with, as the breath comes up through the body, starting from the diaphragm before it is joined by the nose and throat opening up to inhale the oxygen that allows us all to breath. This most relatable composition mechanism occurs throughout the whole piece.

The harmony is so rich and beautiful. We open the piece we start with a C# minor chord that gently transitions in to a beautiful C#sus4 for the first 4 bars. I likened this to a breath of the most delicate tranquillity. It is because of so much tranquillity and tenderness that I had to create a new term “tranquilicious.” Lux just means “light”, the opening four bars can also be associated with delicate beams of light trickling through a forest canopy.

In bar 5 the Soprano Solo begins as if from no-where. Whitacre pulls the first two notes of the soprano melody, from the chords we heard in the intro. The top G# appears from the dark but somehow it doesn’t take us by surprise. A gentle introduction to the minimalistic melody. The phrase then sinks back in to the breaths. It’s the breath expanding even more before we sink in to the lower voices of bar 9 onwards. My meditation deepens. I have now sunk in to an enormous sense of personal well being. “Calida” means warm “light” and “warm” the sun is musically glowing on the listeners faces.

The chord remains the same but it has been voiced much deeper the Basses are voiced in thirds with the Tenors. They re-affirm the delicate higher tones from the soprano and alto C# becomes B7sus9/F#, and what a chord that is! The shivers gently caress my spine in pure majesty of the chord echoing and reverberating through the hall (or church).

we find this lovely contrast in bar 13 “Gravisque” which, in this particular instance, simply translates to “and” it’s the most gorgeous, possibly the longest “and” you will ever hear! Whitacre patiently descends out of the previous section as the poetic verse that inspired this piece changes its stanza. As we change, the choir starts with an inverted A minor chord, we travel through E major chord after a suspended 4th when the tenor and soprano sings thier G# on the fourth beat of bar 13. In bar 14 we eventually land on a G minor on the second beat before we descend again through an F#m /G#in bar 15 then an inverted C#minor in beats 3 and 4 of bar 15. Then in order to add contrast on the last “Gravisque” in bar 16 we ascend through from an A major through to a B major before the next section “pura”

When we get to the new section in bar 17 we have a similar effect – as the very beginning with the expansion and contraction of the chords as they suspend and resolve and suspend again. In bar 18, we experience an inverted F# minor travel in to either an F#m sus4, sus 6 or a D sus6, sus9 We then settle back in to an F# minor for bar 20 before another suspension in bar 21. Until bar 23 we are at a pleasant and quite bold Mezzo-Forte in bar 23. One of the mechanisms I adore is the crunching D# and E suspension in the soprano line. However odd a semitone chord should sound, in this instance, it is as beautiful as Eric introduces the start of the next chord in the fourth beat of the bar. Whitacre then treats us to another very gradual resolution through the chords as the orchestra sing “canunt” which means “they sing” This is the angels singing about the birth of Jesus the descending tones as the angels fly down to deliver thier message to us on earth. The message is the word of God and it starts in the heavens before it descends and trickles down to earth and those on earth start to deliver the word. This is only one possible interpretation of this particular section.

In bar 29 we hear one of only a few solid resolutions. This is a simple F# major Whitacre settles this divine major chord when he finishes the word “Angels” a tiers de piccady. The angles are the stars of the song. We start to wind back down in bar 30. The breathing returns, we are gently brought back in to the room. We still hear echos of those suspensions so we can meditate upon the message of this beautiful music. The soprano holds a beautiful suspension even in to the change of key in to C# major to uplift us. Or maybe it is a reference to the new-born baby as a new era begun on that night,

Eric Whitacre based this meditation on this beautiful verse

calida gravisque pura velut aurum
et canunt angeli molliter
modo natum.


warm and heavy as pure gold

and the angels sing softly

to the new-born baby.

Edward Esch

In writing this piece Eric kept true to the message of this verse and added his own genuine beauty to it. I hope this music becomes as immortal as the message it carries and I thank Eric Whitacre for sharing this beautiful meditation with us. I don’t just listen to this piece, I experience it.