Thoughts no.8 – some musical “effects” I like

Score of The Star-Spangled Banner

Score of The Star-Spangled Banner

What interests me a lot is the transformation of musical ideas. Not the kind of change that is only made clear by careful analysis, but the sort of overt change you get in Wagner’s thematic transformations. I compare these effects to the use of depth in painting (where the surface is dissolved away). When thematic connections are made between different parts of a work, I can find it quite magical. Having mentioned Wagner, I should nevertheless confess that my two favourite examples of transformation are from Boulez and from my own Magritte Weather – there is in that work a quite wonderful transformation of some initial ideas, made towards the end. And in the fourth movement of Pli Selon Pli, there occurs a superb transformation of ideas first heard in the opening movement. Enchanting.

Although you can liken these effects to recapitulations in classical sonata movements, a better comparison might be made to the altered bridge passages you find there, or to the transposed material that follows on. Incidentally, it is not at all the durchführung sections of sonatas that I like most, though you might assume so. Indeed, it tends to be only the retransitions that I like in this context. I can be fairly sniffy about all those modulations……

And come to think of it, modulations can often strike me as repulsive. The brief one near the beginning of the American National Anthem is truly, truly vulgar. And ludicrously, the music for this anthem apparently derives from a popular British drinking song. What a crass idea, to take a drinking song as your national anthem. Anyway…………

For me, though, nothing is quite so uncomfortable as a slow cadence at the end of a piece, with a long pause on the tonic. That’s like soap under the nails.

I think you could argue that both cadenzas and durchführung sections are primary sources for modern music. Therefore I should like them, I suppose. But the only thing I tend to like about cadenzas are the 6-4 chords that launch them and the perfect cadences that sweep them away.

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