Starting to listen to the Set Works
Begin by listening to all three AoS 1 pieces, by Handel, Mozart and Chopin, and start to think about which you prefer and why. When forming an opinion, try and think about musical reasons why you like or dislike a piece. For instance I prefer the sound of the piano melody in Chopin’s Raindrop Prelude than the choral sound of Handel’s ‘And the Glory’.
If you’re listening in school and can’t access YouTube, click on the Grooveshark widgets below:
Please email your paragraph to [email protected], and use AoS 1 Comparison Paragraphs as the Subject line.
Extension task – compare recordings of the Chopin by listening to another one online. I found an excellent one on YouTube by Marta Argerich, a very famous pianist. Notice how a different pianist plays the piece in a very different style. Why might they do this?
Context and Genre Task
To put the piece into context of when and why it was written, find out the answers to the questions below:
- And the Glory is a small movement of a much larger piece by Handel. What is the name of this piece, and what genre (type) is this large work an example of?
- Who’s life story is told through this piece?
- In what year was this piece first performed?
- In what decade did Handel move to London?
- What period of music do Handel’s compositions come from?
Jot them down in your notes under the heading Context and Genre, and try and learn them. No need to email the answers to me. There will be a brief quiz in class to test this information.
Extension Task – find out more about this period of music using this brilliant webpage. There’s tonnes of stuff to read, listen to, click on… Also, why not also listen to this 20 minutes from the BBC Radio 3 Discovering Music website about the piece? It is extremely useful and informative.
Four Themes Task
Handel’s piece is based on four themes, which he uses throughout the piece. Each one has its own distinctive character.
- Find the themes in your score, and highlight them, using a different colour for each theme.
- Now find three more examples of each theme and highlight them.
Extension task – find every example, and highlight them all.
Harmony and Tonality Task
(If you have forgotten what Harmony and Tonality mean, then refresh your understanding by visiting the DR GC SMITH webpage). Write all your answers on your score.
- What is the key of this piece of music?
- What are the main modulations used, and where in the music do these modulations first happen? (Bar numbers)
- What does this tell you about the tonality of this piece?
- What is the final cadence of this piece? Use the Cadence Help Video below to guide you.
You might also like some help from this webpage.
Extension task – Can you identify all the modulations in your score? Remember this includes modulating back to the original key too.
(Remember, instrumentation includes voices too!)
- What is the instrumentation of this piece?
- What is the basso continuo? This question always crops up on the exam papers.
- What is a countertenor? They are used in the choir which sings the recorded version of the piece provided by EDEXCEL. You will need to learn this information.
What is a basso continuo?
This is a combination of a keyboard instrument and a bass instrument. The keyboard instrument was either a harpsichord or an organ (the piano wasn’t established as a popular instrument until after 1760). (If you want to find out more about the harpsichord, watch this YouTube video here.) The bass instrument was either a cello, double bass or bassoon. Music for these instruments looked like this. Notice that there are some numbers written above the left hand. These are chord symbols, 1730s style! The keyboard player would use these to busk in the right hand part, whilst playing the left hand part, along with the cello. In this piece, the melody part is played by a flute.
In ‘And the Glory’ the basso continuo is made up of a cello, double bass and the organ.
Baroque Orchestras and Choirs
The orchestra in the Baroque period was quite small. Watch this video of the Academy of Ancient Music. They are singing a famous piece by Handel called ‘Zadok the Priest’ which has been performed at every British coronation since the 1730s. Is the orchestra bigger or smaller than you would expect?
Countertenors are male altos. They sing ‘falsetto’, and have a unique tone. The music still says alto, or part of an SATB choir, but the recording for our GCSE Music is using countertenors. Have a listen to this solo aria (Italian for song), which is by Handel, called ‘The Land Brought Forth Frogs’ (I know, funny text!) by clicking here.
Instrumentation information will also help you with the topic below too.
Task: Ensure that you learn the exact instrumentation in ‘score order’, including voices and what the basso continuo is. What is meant by the orchestra doubling the choir?
Extension task: Extension task – find another movement from Handel’s ‘Messiah’ to listen to online. How does it compare with ‘And the Glory’? Jot down your thoughts in your scores.
Other Musical Features
In AoS 1, there are three main types of texture (combination of parts) that you need to understand:
- Monophonic texture – a single line of music, or parts in unison/octaves.
- Homophonic texture – a melody plus accompaniment, often with the parts moving at exactly the same time.
- Polyphonic texture – two or more overlapping melodic lines, sometimes using imitation (direct copying of parts).
Handel uses a mixture of homophonic and polyphonic textures in the main, with one example of monophonic texture.
Task: Below is an example of each texture, taken from the Handel – can you identify which is which, just by looking at the score samples below? (Click on images to enlarge)
Extension Task: Mark on your score all the different textures, and when it changes from one to another.
The piece uses a quick 3/4 tempo, with a one-in-a-bar feel. This means that the tempo is too quick to keep beating in 3-time, so you only beat the 1st beat – one-in-a-bar feel.
A hemiola is a rhythmic feature which makes the music feel like it is in 2-time instead of 3-time for a short moment, usually at the end of sections, as the music approaches a big cadence. The first example is in bar 9-10 in the orchestra, and below is one from bars 36-37. The red boxes indicate the 2/4 bars within the 3/4 bar structure.
Task: Find the hemiola in bars 9-10, and mark the 2/4 bars on your score as the illustration above demonstrates.
Extension task: Find all other examples of hemiolas, and mark them all in your score. Practice listening to the way the metre (beat) changes at the point of each hemiola.
Dynamics are all terraced in this piece, and much other Baroque music – in other words, they change from one distinct level to another, purely by altering the number of parts singing or playing – the more parts involved, the louder the dynamic will be. In general, there are virtually no dynamic markings in the score of the Handel.
Task: Mark into your score some different dynamic markings – find one piano, one mezzo and one forte dynamic.
As with all the pieces, there is a three-way process to learning everything you need to know about the piece:
- Know the basics (C) – title, composer, key, time signature, instrumentation etc. This needs learning to start with.
- Understand the detail (B/A) – the technical details of the piece, and how they relate to DR G SMITH. This needs you to have written up all the detail onto your score. Listening to the piece lots whilst following through the score is what is needed here.
- Hear the detail (A/A*) – being able to recognise the sound of all the technical language in the pieces, with no score in front of you. Listening to the piece without the score is what you need to do here.
This check list document should help you with this process.