Essay about MUS 320: Developments in Rhythm

Submitted By segall
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MUS 320

Developments in Rhythm from the 18th to 21st Centuries

Music can be broken down into a number of aspects. Each aspect influences the creation, study, and performance of music. Music is composed mainly of harmonic and melodic progressions, and rhythm. Rhythm is the organization of the time element in music. Music is often composed between the two parameters of pitch and rhythm. Rhythm is made up of beats, which is the heartbeat (pulse) of any piece of music. From the beginning of notated music spanning back to the 10th and 11th centuries of Gregorian Chant, rhythm was notated in what we consider “non-conventional” ways. The music was grouped differently, and notated differently. By the time a modern 5-line staff had been developed and implemented, so had a system for rhythm. Johann Sebastian Bach, one of the foremost influential composers of the 17th century, composed thousands of works. Many of his works are in the same form with a very defined and metric pattern. When analyzing his Fugue #22, B-Flat Minor (BWV 891), published in 1742, it is easy to see that he has a very strict organization of rhythms. The meter is set in 3/2, indicating 3 half notes per measure. This time signature is very precise, and does not change at all in the piece. The composition only makes use of whole notes, half notes, quarter notes, and eighth notes. In modern day practice, this is very limited in a rhythmic approach, but for the day of J.S. Bach, this was different from anything in the past. This piece was on the edge of what people were used to during this time. J.S. Bach was the first major stepping stone in the forward development of rhythm. By the time the 20th century had come around, the rhythmic aspect of music had branched off in hundreds of directions. Many composers had expanded the walls of rhythmic perception and started using concepts such as polymeter, multimeter, nonretrograde rhythms, syncopated rhythms, and ametric music. Pierre Boulez, a leading composer of 20th century music in France. He composed a piece, Marteau Sans Maître (The Hammer Without a Master) for a sextet that included flute, voice, pitched percussion, violin, cello and guitar. The piece took the idea of rhythm to a much more extended level. Boulez made use of multimeter, switching between non-traditional time signatures from 3/8 to 3/2 and even to 4/3/2. He also used complex rhythms that included lots of syncopated triplets and condensed passages (4:5 in 5/8 time over 4 eighth-notes). This piece could be considered ametric, as there is no definite beat. To many listeners, the music sounds very garbled, random, and lacks clear organized thought. Another man, Giovanni Scelsi, a 20th century Italian composer, was taking rhythm to new levels with a different approach to that of Boulez. In Scelsi’s composition Four Illustrations for Piano, movement IV, Krishna-Avatàra, written in 1957, Scelsi decides to completely abandon the idea of a specific meter for the movement. The piece is based off Avatar’s of Hinduism. These avatars refer to a deliberate descent of a deity (God) from heaven to earth, and can best be paralleled for learning purposes to reincarnation. Vishnu is the Supreme God of Hinduism. In Scelsi’s work about this, the lack of time signature allows the musician to elongate and interpret the notated rhythms in any manner. There is a tempo marking of quarter note = 56, and can be very free flowing, as the quarter note = to 56 does not have a specific downbeat to match up with. Scelsi approaches this from a much more ‘inner-soul’ idea then that of Boulez. As the end of the 20th century approached, even broader expansion of rhythms began to appear. An American composer by the name of William Bolcom began composing works in the latter half of the 1900’s. Two of Bolcom’s teachers included Darius Milhaud, and Oliver Messiaen. He wrote a set of compositions, 12…