THY Improvisation: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives (Fall 2016)
Looking back at the history of Western art music, we can see that “there is scarcely a single musical technique or form of composition that did not originate in improvisatory practice” (musicologist Ernst Ferand, 1961). In this course, we will explore the cross fertilization between improvised and composed music, from major improvisers such as Bach, Mozart, and Beethoven, to twenty-first century trends and innovations. Relating to the all-school project, the Darmstadt School, attention will be given to aspects of chance and aleatory that became important in the avant-garde of the 1950s and 1960s, and the free improvisation movement that emerged as a result. Other topics will include the influence of improvisation on the compositional process and planning versus spontaneity in music performance. The historical exploration will be complemented by a practical component, involving short examples of in-class playing and improvising by the students.
On a personal note: having written my doctoral dissertation on this topic, and having lectured on it internationally, I noticed that while most musicians recognize there have always been a connection between improvisation, composition, and performance, normally they do not have the opportunity to explore this relationship on a deeper level, something which I hope we will be able to do in this course.
THY 20th and 21st Centuries Performance Practice (Fall 2016)
In performing music from the last hundred years, there are several special challenges: the musical language of each composer is more individual than in the common practice era of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and requires extra study time; in many recent styles there are innovations in instrumental techniques and in notation; and the type of expression and sense of time in modern works are often of revolutionary nature, thus influencing important interpretive decisions. Also, in performing brand new pieces, there is no existing performance tradition, so that the performer is responsible for introducing the piece and its meaning to the public. This course will address all these aspects, while covering a wide range of works, relating both to the students’ own repertoire, and to the allschool project of the Darmstadt School. As students gain skill in deciphering the context, expression, and performance challenges of new works, they will develop authority as musical thinkers and confident interpreters of a wide variety of recent styles.
THY Harmonic Thinking in Performance (Spring 2017)
This course offers tools that translate harmonic awareness into making informed interpretive choices. The harmonic component of music relates to many other parameters: melody, rhythm, texture, form, instrumentation, performance markings, expression, and character. Preparing harmonic reductions at various levels of passages from the students’ own repertoire will serve as a basis for understanding the harmonic structure of music: chromatic notes that deserve special attention; the presence of forward-moving or ambiguous progressions; mid-phrase expansions versus cadential punctuations; issues of harmonic rhythm and hyper-meter; and so on. At the concluding phase, the students go back to the original piece and think about possible interpretive possibilities, based on increased harmonic awareness. As they learn to analyze the music, they gain authority and become more informed performing artists.
THY The String Quartet (Spring 2017)
The most celebrated type of chamber music ensemble in the past three centuries, the string quartet has given rise to numerous masterpieces. Many composers dedicated to this intimate medium their most personal and inspired ideas, and for many performing groups presenting a complete cycle of the Beethoven or Bartók quartets is a major artistic statement. This course will combine a historical survey of the string quartet literature with a practical discussion of the necessary ensemble skills for playing in a quartet, including in-class demonstrations by the participants. Topics include: relationship between the full score and the individual parts; insights gained from analysis of the music to its performance; and finding how to translate the ideal of chamber music as conversation into practice. Among the pieces studied, attention will be given also to those that relate to the all-school project. Students can sign up as a pre-formed quartet, or as individuals.