Friday, August 17, 2012

If Music Be The Food of Love

Before we begin, I want to put on my music professor cap and give everyone a little lesson in the basics of what we 'classically-trained' musicians call "serious music." 

Yes, most of us are terrible snobs when it comes to musical terms. Forgive us. It comes from hours, and hours, and hours of practicing in tiny little window-less rooms with a slightly out-of-tune piano, ugly pegboard walls and even uglier tile floors. The pegboard is supposed to serve as sound-proofing. It doesn't work. Therefore, during those hours and hours while one of us is trying to sing Ombra mai fu by Handel,

 the guy next to us is practicing a Phillip Glass concerto which sounds rather like someone is attacking a piano with an ax. [I once told this particular composer, to his face, that his compositions were "musical self-pleasure" (you figure out the correct term!) because it consisted of the same motion over and over again and the only person who got anything out of it was him. He was not amused.] Is it any wonder we are snobby, cranky lunatics? Where was I? Oh yes! The lesson! 

The general public tends to call all "boring, long-haired music" Classical Music. Music is actually divided into eras according to the style and innovations of each era. The proper delineations are as follows :
Ancient music - the music generally before the year 476, the approximate time of the fall of the Roman Empire. Most of the extant music from this period is from ancient Greece.

Medieval, generally before 1450. Monophonic chant, also called plainsong or Gregorian Chant, was the dominant form until about 1100. Polyphonic (multi-voiced) music developed from monophonic chant throughout the late Middle Ages and into the Renaissance.

Renaissance, about 1450 - 1600, characterized by greater use of instrumentation, multiple melodic lines and by the use of the first bass instruments. 

Baroque, about 1600 - 1750, characterized by the use of complex tonal, rather than modal, counterpoint, and growing popularity of keyboard music (harpsichord and pipe organ).

Classical, about 1750 - 1820, an important era which established many of the norms of composition, presentation and style. Also, the classical era is marked by the disappearance of the harpsichord and the clavichord in favour of the piano, which from then on would become the predominant instrument for keyboard performance and composition.

Romantic, 1820 - 1910, a period which codified practice, expanded the role of music in cultural life and created institutions for the teaching, performance and preservation of works of music. Characterized by increased attention to melody and rhythm, as well as expressive and emotional elements, paralleling romanticism in other art forms.

Impressionist music, 1910-1920, a period in which French composers as well as artists produced art that went against the traditional German ways of art and music. Characterized by arrhythmia, the pentatonic scale, long, flowing phrases and a use of brass instruments as the main parts in creating the texture, rather than stringed instruments.

Modern, 1905-1985, a period which represented a crisis in the values of classical music and its role within intellectual life, and the extension of theory and technique. Some theorists, such as Arnold Schoenberg in his essay "Brahms the Progressive," insist that Modernism represents a logical progression from 19th century trends in composition; others hold the opposing point of view, that Modernism represents the rejection or negation of the method of Classical composition.

20th century, usually used to describe the wide variety of post-Romantic styles composed through the year 1999, which includes late Romantic, Modern and Postmodern styles of composition. 

The term contemporary music is sometimes used to describe music composed in the late 20th century through present day.

Why am I boring your ears off with this bit of music history?   ZZZZZZZZ  Bueller? Bueller? Anyone?     

As writers we will try anything to help plant our butts in the chair and write. And for some, music really works. A few writers go as far as to create a soundtrack for their books in much the same fashion as they create a collage or storyboard. Movie soundtracks are a great source of inspiration for writers. Guess what? Most of those soundtracks are composed by people who are 'classically' trained. When you listen to the soundtracks of :   (These are some of my favorites when it comes to writing inspiration!)

The Last of the Mohicans (Trevor Jones and Randy Edelman)

Gladiator (Hans Zimmer)

Anything (and I do mean ANYTHING) by John Williams

 I am sure many of you have favorite Serious Music composers you listen to as well. This post is my effort to expand your horizons a bit. Here are some less well-known pieces and composers you might want to try.

Adagio for Strings by Samuel Barber (Try writing a love scene to this. HOT!)

Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis by Ralph Vaughan Williams
Fantasia on Greensleeves by Ralph Vaughan Williams

Enigma Variations by Sir Edward Elgar

Symphony No. 5 by Dimitri Shostakovich (The last movement is heart-breaking.)

Slovak Suite by Vitezslav Novak

Adagio in G minor by Thomas Albinoni

Concerto in D Major for Lute and Orchestra by Antonio Vivaldi 

Requiem by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

That's a good start. I could go on for days about this subject. (Too late, you say?) There is a wide world and centuries of music out there to inspire, to entertain, to teach, to soothe and lets face it, as writers, we could use one or all of those things - sometimes simultaneously. How about you? Are there any composers who inspire you? Any particular pieces? And does anyone know what the musical term is for a piece of music associated with a particular character i.e. Darth Vader's theme from Star Wars?


Gwyn said...

Not answering your question because I really don't remember. What I do recall is Peter and the Wolf is one of the best examples! LOL

I can't write with music on, but I do nearly everything else with accompaniment. I'm a huge fan of Russian composers, and although most violin music just rubs my last nerve raw, I adore Vavaldi. I also love old instruments like the harp, hammered dulcimer, zither, and harpsicord, so my tastes are eclectic---at best. And we mustn't forget the bagpipes. Love them, but I think most of us who do are born with the gene. *G*

Louisa Cornell said...

You are spot on with Peter and the Wolf. I used that piece many times to teach the term I am looking for!

Yes, bagpipes are definitely like opera. Either you love it or you hate it. I love bagpipe music and I still want to learn to play them one day!

I love all of those instruments you named. In addition to Bach's harpsichord music you might want to try pieces by the Scarlatti's and Corelli.

Lauren said...

Love this blog! Such a good source for inspiration. I'm a huge Hanz Zimmer and John Williams fan. It was on my bucket list to see him perform live and i got to. I actually cried!

Anyways, back on topic. I always make playlists for characters and books when i'm writing and right now I'm rocking out to Katie Herzig's song Lost and Found. Beautiful!

Beth Trissel said...

Wonderful post. I love music and share many of your favorites.

Louisa Cornell said...

Lauren, I am SO jealous! I have been lucky enough to see and perform with many well-known conductors and composers, but I have never seen John Williams live! I would have cried too!

I create soundtracks for my books with music for love scenes, emotional scenes, funny scenes and heartbreaking scenes. The soundtrack for The Raven's Heart was Mozart's Requiem which was perfect for a Gothic Regency with a touch of paranormal!

Louisa Cornell said...

Beth, thank you so much! I think there are some composers that simply speak to writers, Composers, after all, are storytellers too.

M.V.Freeman said...

Iam a fan of Baroque. But, honestly, my favorite music is:

Pachabel Canon(which my friend the violinist shudders at) but played well evokes great emotion in me.

I like music like Enya.

You are going to kill me--then I branch into things like Five finger death punch...sigh.

I am sooo wrong...

But before all is lost--I love opera, tenors. Don't ask me to name one--I just love to listen to the music. Can't understand a blessed thing.... :)

Louisa Cornell said...

LOL, Mary! One of the many ways I have managed to shock my niece and nephews is to allow them to prowl through my collection of music. First they were fascinated by my huge collection of vinyl and then they were stunned by the things they found in my CD collection, such as Kid Rock, Metallica, George Thoroughgood, Aerosmith. Good music is good music. My only criteria is that it take actual talent to produce it - not sound stages, not mixing, not massive editing - sheer musical talent. It is a far more rare commodity these days than most people think.

And operatic tenors most definitely have real talent! Nobody sings Nessun dorma from Turandot by Puccini like Pavarotti in his prime. Nobody!

And if you like Pachelbel's Canon try the Vivaldi piece I suggested. An interesting note, if you have ever watched a later John Wayne movie called The Cowboys one of the young men plays the second movement from the Vivaldi around the campfire. It really is a lovely piece of music, very poignant.

JoAnn said...

I love, love, love The Last of the Mohicans soundtrack. (Love, love, love the movie too. "I'm looking at you, miss." YOWZA.)

I was very lucky -- my mother loved music of all kinds, from jazz to symphonic to broadway show tunes and raised us with music constantly in the background. I hope I passed it on to my children.

Suzanne Johnson said...

Ah, I'm such a heathen. I listen to classical music when I'm stressed out to the breaking point, usually chamber music.

For writing, when not completely stressed, I listen to indie pop music by French Canadian singer-songwriters (yeah, I know, GEEK). I have a little stable of them I rotate between, although David Jalbert (the singer, not the pianist)has been constant lately.

Debra Glass said...

I too spent many an hour on a piano bench. I taught for several years as well and have listened to Fur Elise more times than I can count.

Music inspires me. I create playlists on my iTunes for each book I write. A staple on nearly all of my playlists is Thomas Newman's score to Fried Green Tomatoes. I have several Newman scores in my music library. I write a lot of Civil War romance and Newman seems to capture the humidity, grit, and delicacy of the South in his pieces.

I adore James Newton Howard's soundtracks for Peter Pan, Water Horse (Give this a listen if you write Scots or Irishmen), and King Kong.

Another favorite is Danny Elfman. Who doesn't love that haunting piece in Edward Scissorhands where he makes snow for Wynona Ryder? He also wrote the score for Black Beauty and Sommersby - both gorgeous and lush. Whoda thunk it from the frontman for Oingo Boingo?!

New favorites include the soundtracks to Pride and Prejudice and Jane Eyre by Dario Marianelli.

As far as classical music goes, I love the 3rd movement of Brahms 3rd Symphony, and most anything by Rachmaninoff and Satie.

I'm a big fan of the Mohican soundtrack, too, but have grown bored with James Horner. Everything he writes sounds like Titanic and I can't visualize anything but DiCaprio declaring he's the king of the world.

Great topic!

Chris Bailey said...

I know nothing about music--oh, except I can read well enough to follow the proper up and down notes and rests in a hymnbook. But music does move me. Some music. Like when I took my daughter to see Beauty and the Beast. Yep, the animated Disney version. But the opening music was absolute Beauty.

Louisa Cornell said...

JoAnn, that is my FAVORITE line from The Last of the Mohicans! And your musical taste is definitely a great gift to pass on to your children. My parents always had music on the radio or stereo when I was growing up. As a result, I love Big Band music and lots of early country music - Patsy Cline and Hank Williams. I also listen to jazz and blue grass too.

Anonymous said...

I love music, and wish I could listen to it when I'm writing, but I can't. I need to have it pretty quite. Lovely post, Louisa.

Louisa Cornell said...

Suzanne, chamber music is a great choice for relaxation! It was meant as a sort of background music for social events - the quiet babbling brook behind the dinner conversation.

And David Jalbert has a great voice!

Cari Hislop said...

As a teenager I combed through all the records at the library. I once checked out a Glass Opera just to hear what it sounded like. I did not become a fan. Seriously that would make a great scene in a romance if one wrote modern romances and one of the main characters was a musician dealing with a modernist composer! Or what about a Regency where Philip Glass gets transported back in time and tries to make a living as a musician... Maybe that would be mean. ;)

The last album I bought was Muti's version of Mozart's Requiem! Heavenly.

I was up late one night and caught the end of the Chinese movie Red Cliff...oh my goodness the music was amazing. The last song...River of no Return by's sung in Chinese which I don't speak so I can listen to it on endless replay as I write. The movie and the music were stunning. If you haven't seen it the end is SO romantic.

Louisa Cornell said...

Ah, Debra, my commiserations on the Fur Elise assault! I taught voice lessons for a number of years and I still cannot listen to Caro mio ben without cringing!

Danny Elfman has written some gorgeous music! The Sommersby score is a favorite of mine!

Louisa Cornell said...

Chris, I love the entire score of Disney's Beauty and the Beast! Another recent Disney score I listen to when writing is the score for Tangled. There is some great adventure music on it and some really lush score work.

Louisa Cornell said...

Ah, Ella, I know a number of writers who have to have absolute silence to write. And I must admit there are times when I need it too. Certain scenes simply cannot be written unless I have silence.

Louisa Cornell said...

LOL, Cari! Yes, Phillip Glass is definitely an acquired taste and I am so glad I never acquired the taste. He went to music school with one of my grad school professors and came down to USM to teach a master class. My poor grad prof nearly choked on his tongue when I made the remark I made about Glass's music.

I don't have Muti's version of Mozart's Requiem. Need to look that up. I'm always interested in hearing a conductor's take on Mozart.

I will definitely look for Red Cliff!

Lexi said...

I want to be one of those writers who listens to music but, alas, I have the attention span of a gnat. Still, I can listen to soundtracks sometimes, if they don't have lyrics. Definitely checking these out. Great post, Louisa!

Louisa Cornell said...

Thanks, Lexi! I completely understand. Sometimes the only way I can write is with absolute silence. On the other hand, sometimes if I am having trouble with a scene listening to music can jog my writing and help me see the scene.