World Class Music - Right Here At Home!

The Great Lakes Chamber Orchestra is celebrating seventeen years fulfilling its mission to produce live orchestral performances providing entertaiment, education and inspiration for our northern Michigan community.







Fun Facts
by Robert Pattengale


Musical FAQ I
What exactly is a Chamber Orchestra?
Why several movements in most of the compositions?
What do the Italian titles for the movements mean, and why Italian?
To applaud or not to applaud is the question.
Musical FAQ II
What are the basic elements of music?
What are the 'phonies?'
'C' words
 

Musical FAQ III
What are the main style periods, the 'isms?'

Musical FAQ IV
How is music organized?


Musical FAQ I

What exactly is a Chamber Orchestra?

        Chamber music in general was written for more intimate performances in a home, with a small number of players, one on a part, as in a string quartet. The concept of a chamber orchestra was developed during the 19th century as the composer's demands expanded the orchestra in size and instrumentation. Composers of the earlier eras, Bach, Vivaldi, Handel, Haydn, and Mozart, required smaller orchestras. Many contemporary composers have responded to the challenge of writing for the smaller, more intimate chamber orchestra.

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Why several movements in most of the compositions?

        Instrumental music historically was dependent on either dance or a text from vocal music. In the Baroque era (1600 - 1750) instrumental music became independent and the problem of creating longer works was solved by combining contrasting pieces. Dances with differing tempos and rhythms were set in suites and fast and slow pieces were combined in orchestral works. Vivaldi wrote hundreds of concertos and established the fast - slow - fast format continued by composers since the early 18th century. The mid-18th century composers settled on four contrasting movements for the symphony - fast - slow - a dance - and a fast finale.

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What do the Italian titles for the movements mean, and why Italian?

        During the 17th century Italian composers were employed throughout Europe and the "new" notation did not indicate the tempo. These composer's works were copied and published, necessitating explanations for performance. Thus:

lento - slow
adagio - slow
andante - moderate speed
allegretto - a "little" fast
allegro - fast
presto - very fast
vivace - lively - generally thought to be quick
poco - a little
moderato - moderately
minuetto e trio - a minuet with a contrasting middle section
scherzo - a joke - Beethoven replaced the minuet with a quicker, more playful movement

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To applaud or not to applaud is the question.

        While applause between movements of a work shows appreciation, most performers prefer not to break their concentration and keep their focus on the challenges of the next movement. However, some movements are so energetic that spontaneous eruptions happen.

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Musical FAQ II

What are the basic elements of music?

Melody - the tune, theme, musical idea
Harmony - the combination of lines creating chords
Rhythm - the movement in time, often set in groups of twos and threes at the basic level. Larger units, phrases and even sections create a sense of motion - like a meta-rhythm.
Timbre ("tamber") the individual sounds of different instruments
Texture - the relationship between individual lines or melodies (see "phonies" below)
Design - the form of the music structurally - how many sections there are and how they relate to one another.

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What are the 'phonies?'

        Musical texture, the relationship between individual lines or melodies, has three basic modes: monophony is a single melody, homophony is a principal melody supported by less important lines or chords, accompanied. Polyphony is a combination of melodies competing for attention. See "Counterpoint" below. Composers shift from one texture to another for contrast and interest.
        A fourth "phony" - cacophony - chaotic, bad sounds, is something the orchestra tries to avoid.

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'C' words

Cadenza - A momentary pause by the orchestra where the soloist has an opportunity to present a virtuosic display - it usually happens near the end of a movement.

Canon - a special category of counterpoint where the initial melody is copied exactly and subsequent entries overlap the opening statement - think "Three Blind Mice."

Cantata - a vocal work, as opposed to an instrumental work which is frequently identified as a "Sonata."

Cantabile - to be presented in a "singing" fashion - using a sung melody as a model for an instrumentalist.

Coda - a generally brief tag, or tail, added to the end of a movement.

Concerto - An orchestral work with an identified instrumental soloist. The relationship between the soloist and the orchestra varies, sometimes the soloist is dominant and the orchestra accompanies, other times the two seem to compete for attention as in a dialogue, or even an argument.

Consonance - a pleasing combination of tones, free from harmonic tension. Its counterpart, dissonance, is at the other end of a sliding scale, depending on the era and the composer's language. What was harmonically dissonant for Mozart has become much more acceptable. Like hot sauce to our tongue, once our ears have become accustomed to a bit of dissonance, we need more to achieve the same effect.

Counterpoint - The term counterpoint, meaning literally note or point against note. Sometimes the counterpoint is brief, merely bits of imitation, and in other cases, a fugue for example, the counterpoint is the basis for the entire composition.

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Musical FAQ III

What are the main style periods, the 'isms?'

        Music history has been shaped by a variety of factors, including changes in society, changes in aesthetic taste, and changes in technology. Composers, like all artists, are influenced by the world around them, and in many respects provide a picture of their worlds through their works.

Baroque Era (1600 - 1750)

        During the late 16th century the predominant influence of the church gave way to powerful secular courts and wealthy families. The term Baroque, thought to refer to a mis-shapened pearl, represents the era which saw the development of music in almost every area. A new form of notation (with bar lines and modern time signatures) as introduced, opera was born, orchestral music began to be written independent of vocal music and dance, and the violin family replaced the viols. New forms like the sonata, concerto, cantata, suites of dances, and preludes and fugues expanded the composers' scope and challenged their imaginations.

Classicism (1750 - 1825)

        Mid 18th century composers pursued a new aesthetic, away from the ornate baroque style to a simpler texture, more dependent upon melody and less on counterpoint for musical interest. New instrumental forms, the rondo, sonata form, and multi-movement forms like the symphony became important. As the explorations at Pompeii sparked intellectual interest in Greek and Roman antiquity, the changing aesthetic seemed to parallel the style, resulting in the period being labelled the "classical" era. The Enlightenment also influenced the arts in profound ways. Just as the church had been replaced primarily as the source of support for the arts, the secular courts were being challenged, and replaced through revolutions. Composers and musicians were now providing more public concerts and beginning to publish their music for financial support. The piano replaces the harpsichord, giving the composers and the performers more dynamic flexibility.

Romanticism (1800 - 1900)

        In some respects Beethoven (1770 - 1827) was hailed as the "Great Emancipator" because he sought no court appointment and relied upon commissions, public concerts, publications, and loyal supporters for his livelihood. Music became much more dramatic, innovations in instruments such as the valves in brass instruments were introduced , expanded harmonic resources were employed, and virtuoso performers like Paganinni and Liszt captured the public's imagination. Music was believed to be the language of the emotions and a great debate ensued between the so-called programmatic composers, and those who believed that music expressed only musical ideas.

Impressionism (1880 - 1920)

        Folk music, and world music began to influence composers during the late 19th century. Nationalism ignited a patriotic desire in many composers to explore folk melodies and to incorporate themes and rhythmic characteristics into their orchestral works. The World Fair in Paris in 1889 exposed European composers to music of the far east and Debussy was quick to hear a new way to combine musical materials. His harmonies and scale formations were radically different from the standard practice. At the same time French poets and painters were challenging the status quo with new visions. The period was labelled "Impressionistic" based on the harsh criticism of an early painting by Eduoard Manet titled "Impressions."

Expressionism (1905 - 1940)

        Tonality, the practice of centering a work on a specific tone, and relating melody and harmony to that center, began to break down as composers created more dissonant combinations. The coloristic and sometimes tonally ambiguous harmonies of the Impressionistic composers gave way to dark, and very dissonant works. It is as if Freud's examination of the subconscious had its musical parallel.

Serialism / 12 Tone composition (1920 - 1960)

        Tonality was replaced with an attempt to organize music avoiding any pitch center. Arnold Schoenberg created the approach serializing the 12 chromatic pitches, and his students, Alban Berg and Anton Webern, were his immediate followers. Many 20th century composers adopted a similar compositional strategy, serializing not only the pitches, but also other elements (duration, timbre, dynamics).

Minimalism (1960 - 1990)

        In an abrupt contrast to the complexity of many of their contemporaries, Philip Glass, Steve Reich, and John Adams, began to compose works by overlapping diatonic lines, creating layers of simple structures and repeating them many times with only slow, kalidescopic shifts.

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Musical FAQ IV

How is music organized?

Tonality - a system where tones move from a central tone and create tension which resolves when the central tone is reestablished. Tonality developed over many centuries through the combining of melody and harmony. As harmonies became more complex, the strong pull of the central tone began to loosen. Many composers in the early 20th century abandoned tonality as a system, although some believed that it was a force of nature. Serialism and other attempts at atonality challenged composers and audiences for several decades. For many contemporary composers, Jazz, folk music, and for much of the world music today, tonality remains the principal organizing system.

Structures - Every musical event has structure, from the individual note (pitch, duration, timbre) to the most complex combinations, all exhibit form. Composers have generally worked with the principle of contrast and balance to create extended musical forms.

        Binary form - a simple musical statement in two parts, the first part comes to a cadence which needs resolution and the second part completes the idea and resolves the tension. The binary form serves as a basic component of many larger forms.

        Ternary form - another simple musical form in three parts, A-B-A, each of which can stand alone. The second part creates a contrast to the first, and the return of the first part serves to balance the entirety. The Minuet and Trio is organized as a larger scale A-B-A form.

        Rondo - the rondo form originated as a literary form with a refrain. Composers expanded the A-B-A form to additional digressions, after which the refrain (A) returns - A - B - A - C - A - D - A.

        Theme and Variation - Perhaps the easiest form to follow, the composer varies different elements (parameters) with each repeat of the theme. The difficulty arises from posing the question of how the composer handles completing the work. The composition must not just stop, but has to come to a satisfying conclusion.

        Sonata form - sometimes called the sonata allegro, or the first movement form, often was presented as the initial movement of a multimovement work, and generally in an allegro tempo. So, how was it organized? The form relied upon a series of themes in contrasting tonal levels. The initial section (exposition) presents the themes and tonal levels, the middle section (development) fragments the themes and moves through different tonal levels coming back to the initial level for the recapitulation. The themes are restated, now generally in the primary tonal level, and the work may close with a coda, emphasizing the primary tonal level for the conclusion.

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The Vision of the Great Lakes Chamber Orchestra is that we will be
"the Resident Chamber Orchestra of Northern Michigan that produces a sustainable, high-quality product that delights the community."




Contact Info
Great Lakes Chamber Orchestra
judy@glcorchestra.org
231.487.0010
http://www.glcorchestra.org