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Question and Answer Department - Conducted by Arthur de Guichard

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Musical Inspiration or “Rule-of- Thumb” for a Composer?
Q. Just how is music composed? Can a piece be composed without inspiration? Docs one have to be advanced in Harmony, Counterpoint, Canon, Fugue and Composition, in order to compose? If so, can one study these subjects successfully by oneself?—L. P.—19, Amarillo, Texas.

A. Music is composed in just the same manner that literature is written, or any other language, for that matter. For music is a language, universal as speech, having differences of styles, scales and idioms, as practiced by different nations. It has its scales or alphabet, its laws of Syntax, Prosody, and so forth. Before attempting composition, a fundamental working knowledge of Melody, Harmony and Counterpoint must be acquired—Canon, Fugue, Instrumentation and the higher forms, of composition can be studied later, but upon that foundation. These subjects form a Grammar of the musical language, without which the musician’s language cannot be correctly conveyed, any more than can the story-teller’s anecdote be related in grammatical and attractive style, without a thorough knowledge of the working principles of grammar and rhetoric. A species of piece can be constructed without inspiration—the species described by a pupil as “a sort-of-a-kind-of-a-piece that tells you nothing!” To compose a “piece,” or a story, there must be a story to tell—original for choice; and originality means inspiration. By a specially gifted intellect, the subjects named may be studied successfully by oneself. But experienced advice and example are of the greatest assistance and will shorten the novice’s initiation materially.

Sonata—Concerto.
Q. (i) What is the chief form of classical composition? (it) What is a Concerto, and for how many instruments should it be written?—Bertha, Kalamazoo, Mich.

A. (i) The chief form of instrumental (classical) music is the sonata form; the sonata, string quartet, quintet, sextet, septet, classical overture, concert overture, concerto and symphony all belong to the Sonata Form. (ii) A concerto (in concert with) is a composition in sonata form for one or more solo instruments with an orchestral accompaniment.

Pitch—How Determined—Various Kinds.
Q. What is it that determines the pitch of a note? Are there various kinds of pitch to-day, or is there one universal pitch? How does the pitch now in use compare with that of the time of Handel and Bach?—A. C. D„ Providence, R. I.

A. The pitch of any given note is determined by the number of vibrations per second necessary to produce the note, and as related to the accepted standard of pitch. The different pitches in use are: For the note C (third space, G clef): English (or Concert), 540 vibrations; German, 528 vibrations; French, or International (generally adopted in this country), 517 3-10; Classical (as used by the classical composers, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, &c.), 512.

Different rhythms combined simultaneously.
Q. Does it ever occur that two different times, or rhythms—such as duple and triple measures—are combined and heard simultaneously? Will you kindly mention some composition as an example?—East Kearsley St., Flint, Mich.

A. About the best example of this clever witticism is to be found in Mozart’s “Don Giovanni,” first act finale, consisting of a Minuet in 3-4 time, a Gavotte in 2-4 time, and a Danza Tedesca in 3-8 rhythm, all heard simultaneously.

The Ancient “Barytone” Instrument.
Q. While reading some music of the seventeenth century, I have come across the word “Barytone.” Is this meant for the voice or for an instrument, and, if the latter, does it refer to the brass instrument like the euphonium?—Orchestra, Hamilton, Ohio.

A. It could not refer to the last named, which is spelled “baritone,” because this belongs to the althorn or Saxhorn family and Sax, the inventor of the instruments bearing his name, belongs to the first part of the nineteenth century. Nor does it refer to the voice. The instrument here meant is described by Grove as “a Viola da Gamba, having sympathetic strings of metal passing under the fingerboard.” It dates from about the year 1620. Grove gives a picture of it. The following is a better description of the instrument: A Bass-Viol strung with six or seven strings played with a bow, and having a variable number of metal strings which pass under the others and through a double neck. These last mentioned vibrated sympathetically with the bowed strings, and they were also sometimes plucked with the left thumb. It was a very popular instrument.

B-fa—B-mi—Cliff—Clef.
Q. What is the meaning of the terms “B-fa,” “B-mi,” and “Cliff”?—Q., Jenkintown, Pa.

A. “Cliff” is an old name for “Clef.” In an old work “On the Skill of Music,” there occurs mention of a “B-Cliff.” It was used as a key-signature is to-day. When employed to sharpen a note it was known as B-mi or B-sharp; when employed to flatten a note it was known as B-fa or B-flat. Used in this manner the word Cliff was the forerunner of the key-signature.

Some Obsolete Terms.
Q. Will you please tell me the meaning of these terms which I am unable to find in my dictionaries? “Triplex,” “Tut,” “Regal”?— M. R., Denver, Colo.

A. “Triplex” is an old term for triple time. Shakespeare uses it in “Twelfth Night”: “the triplex, Sir, is a good tripping measure.” “Tut,” in lute playing, was the sudden deadening of a note just played, by damping or stopping the vibration of the string with the next finger. “Regal” was a small, portable organ, with a single set of pipes and, occasionally, with a double set, termed “a pair of Regals,” producing its music by means of reed-pipes set in vibration by air from bellows at the back of the instrument.

Saint Cecilia, Patroness of Music.
Q. Who was Saint Cecilia? Why is she considered as the Saint-Patroness of music? When did she live? Any particulars about her will be welcomed.—Cora W., Boston, Mass.

A. Saint Cecilia was a noble Roman woman martyrized as a Christian about the year 230 A. D. Her house in Rome was converted into a church where, after many years, her remains and those of her family were placed (821 A. D.). Her history is so obscured by legends that it is impossible to give any positive information concerning her. Tradition has it that the charm of her singing attracted an angel to earth; but nothing further is known as to the reason for making her the patroness of music. The first known authentic mention of her as such was in 1502, when a musical society at Louvain (Netherlands) was given her name and placed under her saintly protection. Thereafter followed a musical association at Evreux (Normandy), in 1571; another in England, in 1683, and so forth. It is still the custom in the cathedrals and churches, notably of France and England, to hold musical festivals in honor of the Saint, on her day, November 21-22. Odes and Masses have been written for these occasions by the most celebrated composers and poets of the different periods, including Dryden, Purcell, Handel, Congreve, d’Urfey, Greene, Blow, Pepusch, Boyce, Addison, Adam, Niedermeyer, Gounod, Ambrose Thomas, and a host of lesser lights, poetical and musical.

Cebell or Gavotte—An Old English Dance.
Q. Was the “Cebell” only another name for the Gavotte, or was it a separate dance-form? Whence comes its name? Grove’s Dictionary says, “It was a name … for the dance-form now generally known as the Gavotte.” Was it French or English? - Violinist. Back Bay, Boston. Mass.

A. The dance was English, very similar to the Gavotte; but the name appears to be of French origin, although its derivation is unknown. It may have been a variation of the French Gavotte, or an independent invention. Then, again, while its musical construction was similar, its dance form and steps may have been different. It was danced quicker than the Gavotte. It is worthy of note that Lully, the court musician to Louis XIV, the French King, contributed some compositions both for the Cebell and the Gavotte, to an English book of “Lessons for the Harpsichord and Spinet,” both compositions similar in style. In passing, it may be said that the name “Gavotte” is derived from the natives (Gavots) of the Gap country (Dauphiné, France). The origin of this dance dates back to the sixteenth century.

A Biographer of Wagner.
Q. Can you inform me as to the Chamberlain who has written extensively about Richard Wagner? Who was he? Was he a musician?—L. M. N., Troy, N. Y.

A. Why the past tense? Mouston Stewart Chamberlain is the son of an English admiral, educated in England, France and Germany; intended for an army career, but prevented by a long illness; he then studied natural science, medicine and the theory of music. His knowledge of the last-named subject in conjunction with special critical work in philosophy and art equipped him for his special investigations and notices of Wagner and his compositions. Since his marriage, in 1909, to Wagner’s daughter, Eva, he lives in Bayreuth, Germany.

 

 

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