The Musical Canon

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Introduction

  • Canon in music is used to describe a body of works in a particular genre (eg: symphony)
  • These works are recognised as masterpieces
  • Institutions are also linked to the canon (eg: Royal Albert Hall)
  • There are several classical canons, or smaller ones within the main canon (eg: 19th century opera, string quartets)
  • Canonical statues is shaped by performers, audiences and institutions.
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Handle - Messiah

An oratorio for SATB, written in 1741 (Baroque)

  • its superb music
  • its popularity
  • its ability to be performed by professionals and amateurs
  • relates to the Bible, descibes the events in the life of Jesus (Part 1 = Christmas, Part 2 = Easter, Part 3 = Book of revelations)
  • Mozart also had an arrangement of the Messiah, with a larger orchestra (18th century)
  • no definitive text, shaped by performers and conductors.
  • some groups (eg: Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment) aim to give an 'authentic performance', playing on the authority of the Baroque movement.
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Holst - I Vow to Thee My Country

A hymn (1921) in SATB form, created from a poem by Sir Cecil Spring Rice, set to music by Holst

  • hugely popular and well-known
  • asscoiated with important events, including armistice day commemorations and Diana's funeral
  • taken from music for The Planets, a popular orchestra work
  • poignant lyrics.
  • poem refers to the sacrifise in WW1.
  • hymn tradition from Greek Homeric hymns (8th century BCE)
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Mozart - Non Piu Andrai

a tenor aria from The Marriage of Figaro, written in 1786

  • a Mozart opera
  • undisputed part of operatic canon
  • comic opera 
  • first performed in Vienna
  • adapted from a banned play, considered risque because of comedy of the upper classes
  • great portrayal of character in opera
  • catchy march in a major key
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Cole Porter - Anything Goes

a song from the musical of the same name about an oceangoing liner, written in 1934.

  • from the Great American Songbook (GAS), a core repetoire of singers and jazz musicians from 1920s to 1960s (eg: Gershwin, Berlin, Kern and Porter)
  • sharing of common musical struture featuring a verse and chorus (32 bar chorus of AABA or ABAC form)
  • numerous versions and performances (eg: Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra)
  • links to the musical Anything Goes
  • lines incidentely used by Malcom X in a speech 
  • also features in Dancing at Lugnasa (Brian Friel), 20th century society encroaches on traditional Irish rural life
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Schubert - Der Erlkonig

a German song called Lied, written in 1815

  • from the Lied repertoire, a type of popular song written by Beethoven, Shcubert, Schumann and Brahms
  • based on a poem by van Goethe, tells the story of a child who dies in his father's arms having been killed by the Erl-king.
  • written for 1 voice who plays the 4 parts (father, child, Erl-king and narrator)
  • has been transcribed by Listz and Berlioz, also members of the classical canon
  • highly charged music which is incredibly difficult to perform successfully due to 4 parts for 1 voice and demanding piano part of rapid triplet figures. 
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Vaughan Williams - The Vagabond

from a song-cycle Songs of Travel which aimed to express an ongoing theme or thread.

  • composer was an avid collector of folk songs.
  • established the English song as part of the canon
  • poem from Robet Louis Stevenson, have simple stanzaic structures which lend themseleves to being set to music
  • demonstrates the travel theme, a predominant theme in literature at the time
  • the first part of the cycle which introduces the traveller.
  • 'all I seek is the heaven above, and the road below me'
  • AABA structure, changes denote the only point the traveller dreams of a 'fireside haven'
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Beethoven - The Symphony

nine in total, written between 1800 and 1824

  • symphony mainly developed in Austria and Germany, centred on Vienna.
  • his music was widely available in catalogues and newspapers, this attracted many reviews
  • described as 'supassing many of his predecessors' in the musical form
  • conforms to typical structure (1. opening fast movement, 2. slow movement, 3. minuet or scherzo, 4. fast closing movement)
  • eroica, use of 3 (the 3rd)
  • pastoral, use of country imagery and birdsong with Piccolo (the 6th)
  • addition of new instruments, as orchestra grew in size
  • use of Mozart and Haydn prototype
  • his deafness was part of his appeal
  • turbulence of life
  • from death onwards his reputation contiued to grow.
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The Stradivarius Violin

  • best in the world
  • Renaissance
  • musicians develop a close bond with their instruments (eg: Nathan Milstein)
  • subtle instruments
  • linked to virtousity
  • instruments used across genres (eg: Gupta's use in Raga Jaunpuri)
  • 18th century violin in a modern cross cultural context
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John Adams - Dr. Atomic (Batter my Heart

from a controversial opera, embracing several genres.

  • subject matter is political, focuses on Dr. Oppenheimer and the test of the first atomic bomb (the Trinity Test)
  • Oppenheimer enjoyed classical music and sonnet writing as well as having a deep interest in Baudelaire whose work he read before the first test.
  • part of the opera canon, in 2 acts (1. a few weeks before, 2. the day of the test)
  • the liberetto is constructed by Sellars using quotes from literary and historic documents as well as Hindu scripture and poetry.
  • Act 1 concludes with Batter My Heart, written by John Donne, a passionate appeal to God to physically hurt the speaker and shows a tension between earthy and spiritual love. It is a petrachan sonnet comprised of octave and sestet, the alliterative words battle one another, there is no clear rhythm.
  • Adams creates a highly emotional, drawn out soliloquy with Oppenheimer alone on stage, with dramatic orchestral interjection to show the turbulence experienced by him.
  • Oppenheimer enjoyed metaphyiscal poetry which was highly intellectual (think Marvel 'The Definition of Love', references to parralel lines and Donne 'A Valediction', reference to twin compasses.)
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