Composer, author, lecturer, guitar teacher

A musical find

For a number of years I’ve been exploring the symphonic repetoire from about 1890 into the C20th. I think this was a golden age for the symphony, even if many of the composers are not as well known as C19th symphonists such as Beethoven, Schubert, Schumann, Brahms, Bruckner et al. C20th composers who took up the symphony often did so with a new palette of harmony and melody, which enabled them to avoid repeating what the Austro-German composers had done with the form, and many of them were born outside that tradition (think of Vaughan Williams, Nielsen, Sibelius, Shostakovich). It is always exciting and satisfying to get a purchase on a new symphony which you know is going to give much pleasure for a long time.

This time it’s Symphony no.3 by Mieczyslaw Weinberg written around 1950, which I’ve listened to about half a dozen times in the past week or so (and I mean listened to, not  ‘had it on in the background’). Weinberg (1919-1996) was born in Poland but lived much of his life in the USSR and was a friend of Shostakovich. His music is generally tonal from what I’ve heard, and this 32-minute symphony makes a very good starting point. Part of its accessibility is its use of some folk themes. I particularly recommend the first and third movements. The third movement has a very beautiful example of changing from a major chord to its tonic minor (i.e. G to Gm), this idea being used as an important musical idea in the movement. It’s very expressive.

The recording is on the Chandos label and is a hybrid SACD – so you can play it in standard stereo, SACD stereo or SACD 5.0. Chandos have recorded several other discs of Weinberg.

In the realm of popular music a recent project has set me thinking again about the importance of various different aspects of songwriting and recording. I’ve been struck recently by the way that the musical language of popular music does change over the decades. It might be assumed to be always the same, but there are trends for using certain chord changes or progressions or certain scales for melodies. I’m not sure if anyone has ever written about these per se.

My current research has made me feel more strongly the importance of arrangement in songwriting and recording. In many cases you can line up scores of songs with the same basic progression and structure and what distinguishes them (apart from lyrics and the character of the performer) is the arrangement. Sometimes the instruments you choose make all the difference. I dealt with this subject in my boook Arranging Songs and I may have to return to it.

I hope to have news of the next book project to share with you in awhile.

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