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Harmonic Analysis of Orchestral Works?
Last post Mon, Mar 21 2011 by knolan, 8 replies.
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Posted on Tue, Mar 08 2011 19:42
by knolan
Joined on Fri, Jun 25 2010, Posts 5
Hi -

Would anyone have any earnest pointers to detailed and specific harmonic analyses of orchestral masterpieces, most especially impressionistic music by Debussy and Ravel.

I already know such sources are very thin on the ground - I've searched very hard indeed. I've studied standard Harmony books and so on so no need to provide any pointers in that regard - I am after serious, detailed and specific harmonic analyses - of any orchestral works (they are all equally masteful and worth study) - but as indicated impressionistic music is a favourite of mine. I'm sure any such pointers will be welcome resources to all orchestral composers.

Cheers,
Kevin.
Kevin Nolan
KNECT
www.knect.ie
Posted on Mon, Mar 14 2011 00:44
by fcw
Joined on Wed, May 11 2005, UK, Posts 153

How Ravel orchestrated 'Mother Goose' might be of interest; it's about orchestration rather than harmony, but it does discuss the details of the music in a way you might find useful.

Posted on Mon, Mar 14 2011 01:57
by Errikos
Joined on Tue, Jun 12 2007, Posts 1110
knolan wrote:
Hi -
Would anyone have any earnest pointers to detailed and specific harmonic analyses of orchestral masterpieces, most especially impressionistic music by Debussy and Ravel.

I don't. Quickly and off hand (as the bulk of my library is sadly inaccessible where I'm located now), I'd start with a few generalities offered in the appropriate chapters of many 'Modern Music' or 'Music Up to W.W.II' books available in most comprehensive libraries/bookstores, then some more dedicated treatises like 'Debussy: Impressionism and Symbolism' by Stefan Jarocinski, or 'Debussy: Orchestral Music' by David Cox, or even 'Debussy in Proportion' by Roy Howatt, albeit they don't just focus on harmony, indeed harmony plays a more minor part next to impressionistic preoccupations, motivic/form structures, and orchestration/colour.

Your best bet would be to try and access dedicated academic journals, and post-graduate dedicated dissertations (depending on how motivated you are). Good luck! Oops, I forgot Ravel, never mind...

If you can't notate/MIDI it yourself, it's NOT your music!

In these modern days to be vulgar, illiterate, common and vicious, seems to give a man a marvelous infinity of rights that his honest fathers never dreamed of. - Oscar Wilde
Posted on Sun, Mar 20 2011 20:49
by knolan
Joined on Fri, Jun 25 2010, Posts 5
Thanks for the pointers -

I will definitely follow up on the Ravel pointer. I have the Debussy books recommended - and although they are all very interesting, they do not provide harmonic analyses. I realise this questions sounds like a 'how is it done' question, but I feel there is a gap in general musical vocabulary at the high end of harmonic progression and their melodic / rhythmic connections that we could all do with. For example, while Piston's Harmony covers 'beyond common practice' harmony in some detail, outlining issues such as use and function of modal scales and modal chords in major keys, reducing the dominant effect, remote key relationships, independent vertical sonorities, re-evaluation of counterpoint (toward parallel consonance and dissonance..) and a new view on tonality - and while all of these are very helpful - not once in the book does he take, for example, say 32 bars from a Debussy piece like for example the 2nd movement of La Mer, or the opening of Clair de Lune, with a view to explaining what the harmonic sequences are, why the work, their connectivity with melody, their rhythmic importance and so on.

As a self taught composer (who commits massive time to study) I still can't cover it all - and I suspect that there are a great many of us who could really benefit from a few dozen detailed analyses of major scores across the classical genres to learn what they are composed of harmonically, why they work and their emotional impact.

any budding music professors out there ready to write your first book? Nail this and you'll sell tens of thousands of copies to aspiring self taught composers everywhere!!!

Thanks again for the pointers.

Kevin.




Kevin Nolan
KNECT
www.knect.ie
Posted on Sun, Mar 20 2011 23:42
by Errikos
Joined on Tue, Jun 12 2007, Posts 1110

The reason there is a gap on the high end of harmonic analysis (complex works) is because it is not easy to agree what the structure/progression is. There are quite a few analytical schools (for example of tonal music, there are those who believe that Schenker is applicable on Debussy, and those that don't), and analyzing complex works can lead to ambiguous results - the same late piano work of Scriabin for another example could be analyzed either Schenkerially, serially, or with Dernova's secondary-dominants system (at least!), and still not reveal its harmonic structure unequivocally.

Be that as it may, there is a harmonic analysis of a Ravel song in Wallace Berry's 'Structural Functions in Music' with all those dominants of dominants of dominants of dominants etc.... That's only a few pages long but the whole book is worth the expense. Some cursory discussion also in Nicholas Cook's 'A Guide to Musical Analysis' and Jonathan Dunsby & Andrew Whittall's 'Music Analysis', but like I said before, for your needs you should chase up academic journals and post-graduate theses with dedicated articles and dissertations respectively; there is more there than you could ever read.

As far as writing a book on one or two works, it has been done sporadically, but you wouldn't get a lot on "why" those compositions work and much less on their "emotional impact"; these are certainly not academically sound notions...

If you can't notate/MIDI it yourself, it's NOT your music!

In these modern days to be vulgar, illiterate, common and vicious, seems to give a man a marvelous infinity of rights that his honest fathers never dreamed of. - Oscar Wilde
Posted on Mon, Mar 21 2011 15:20
by knolan
Joined on Fri, Jun 25 2010, Posts 5
Hi Errikos - Again thanks for the pointers. And I very much accept what you are saying; but, I'm not talking about THE most obscure of works - I'm talking about well known but sophosticated works across all the genres. For example, I could do with a harmonic / rhythmic / melodic analysis of a Mahler Symphony, of Venus or Saturn in The Planets, of the 3rd Suite of Daphnis and Chloe , and so on...I feel that the very best Hollywood Composers have all of this specific harmonic analysis absolutely nailed. That's why they can produce such stunning music so quickly and consistently. And I mean US, Hollywood composers because I think harmony is so important to them in particular because of the US / Jazz tradition. I've had classes in orchestration from Conrad Pope and Bill Ross, among others (where UCLA's Film Scoring programme has been run part time in Dublin over recent years) and there's no doubt that part of their exquisite capability is a supreme understanding of the sophosticated use of harmony, derived from the masters, and applied with great ease in modern, sophosticated emotional and emotive scenarios typical in films. It's what makes their scores great. And it's at a level beyond the likes of Piston's Harmony (and, I'd argue beyond man a composition teacher/professor). Piston's book, as said, is generally useful but is devoid of specific examples analysied at the chord / beat / phrase level and with their functional / emotive power explored. I'm doing a lot of it myself and slowly getting there; but I beleive there are a great many budding composers who would like to have a broader harmonic 'tool kit' at the higher end of orchestral music; but examples are thin on the ground. But your suggestions and the others given here are very helpful and I for one will follow them. I feel I'm getting there (after a lot of slogging) but I still feel there could be more work done to analyse great scores specifically harmonically, and hope someone eventually spots the potential market and goes and writes it.

Thanks,
Kevin.

Kevin Nolan
KNECT
www.knect.ie
Posted on Mon, Mar 21 2011 17:07
by Errikos
Joined on Tue, Jun 12 2007, Posts 1110

I'm also not talking about obscure works. Anyway, I've been around for a while and it seems that for the past couple of decades at least publishers haven't found it as lucrative as you have to mass-publish analyses of single works, although I'm pretty sure I have happened across some in my time, I can't remember which though. I must say I am surprised at your admiration for Hollywood soundtracks and their harmonic sophistication?!?!... And who are you referring to as "the greats"? Anyway, in my experience Hollywood harmony (even Williams, Goldsmith, Herrmann, Barry, Legrand, Rota, Morricone, Jarre, Mancini, Conti, Bernstein, North, Delerue, what-have-you) is at its best and most inspired beautiful and soaring, but never mind-boggling... It doesn't begin to compare with Prokofiev, Szymanowcki, Stravinsky, etc. A lot of great Hollywood music is indeed jazz-influenced as you pointed out, but there I must let someone else advise as I'm not at all enamoured with the genre...

I believe I misunderstood your interest. If it's Hollywood music you're after, there is a great book titled 'On the Track' by Karlin and Wright, which even though contains no serious discussion regarding harmonic structure, it comes with a lot of written music from the famous soundtracks and you can do your own analysis - they're not that hard; and it has a lot of discussion regarding context, impact, etc. which you wanted. Also, you can buy Williams' full scores (try Alexander Publishing) and knock yourself out there too; again, brilliant music but harmonically lucid.

If you can't notate/MIDI it yourself, it's NOT your music!

In these modern days to be vulgar, illiterate, common and vicious, seems to give a man a marvelous infinity of rights that his honest fathers never dreamed of. - Oscar Wilde
Posted on Mon, Mar 21 2011 21:25
by knolan
Joined on Fri, Jun 25 2010, Posts 5
Thanks again Errikos for the pointers - appreciated. I think you're pinning this down in ways I don't intend though - which I'd like to rectify to preserve the central point which I believe has real validity; that is, whether the best of Hollywood or otherwise, there's a plethora of 'orchestral harmonic vocalubary' for want of a better term that goes beyond even the best 3rd level Harmonoy Treatments, that are used commonly and hence must be well known and clear in the minds of the composers, these days. And arguably not even the case, say 15 years ago. Forget whether it's European ro Hollywood, impressionist or romantic. I believe there to be a range of classically developed harmonic 'devices' which are used these days in particular and with great nuance and sophostication, matching the nuance and sophostication of current emotion (arguably more nuanced than even late romantic music). Yet - none, and I mean absolutely none - are referred to or analysed in Piston, or evne On The Track for that matter. Surely with potentially tens of thousands of budding composers emerging these days, that there is room for a new, more contemporary and sophosticated treatment on practical, functional harmony? Anyway, I've made my point. I'm actually composing several orchestral pieces at the moment not related to media music and these issues are arising as I compose, ponder, research and muse. Thank you most sincerely for your broader-remit / deeper insight though - and you pointers - all of which has been taken on board. Cheers, Kevin.
Kevin Nolan
KNECT
www.knect.ie
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