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Thanks for reminding me - I haven't listened to Palestrina in a long time. It's time to pull some up again and immerse myself
Immerse away.My piano teacher just informed me that 'madrigals' might be the secular alternative I'm looking for. The learning continues...
I was having a think about the natural environment for this kind of music - large churches and cathedrals - and how this music sounds great in them. Big, reflective spaces with all that reverberation, that sense of serenity and lofty ambience. And David Byrne's argument that the space helps shape or form the music composed for it. Sound has a a long a fruitful history with space (ie the sonics of rooms). And when music like Palestrina's is recorded, it's often if not always done in churches. Which lead me to think: this music, however you now consume it (tiny in-ear headphones, home stereo, in the car) is a way of bringing some of that cathedral vibe wherever you are. The sound of the space it was written for, performed in, and everything else that space represents (gothic heights reaching for the heavens), is carried with the music. The cathedral is represented, suggested, implied by the music - and in that way becomes portable - in a way that's very much like a state of mind that you can draw on anywhere. It recreates the sense of the cathedral in your mind.Good music always represents more than is immediately apparent.Byrne does a nice talk about architecture and performance in this Ted talk:http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/en/david_byrne_how_architecture_helped_music_evolve.htmland his great blog entry on the topic ('the space even improves the music'):http://journal.davidbyrne.com/2010/02/index.html
I wanted to park some of my other notes on Palestrina here too. Future ref.Loving the balance of voices, the gentle polyphony, the lack of overt build-up to climax, the lack of well, drama. But it flows. No wild intervals or changes, no deliberate-tense counterpoint. And just enough room for the individual colour of the voices to come out. And yet it's also very slightly restrained - like it curtails strong emotion - it's modest in the exact way Romantic music isn't. Which makes me keep thinking that the technical evolution of music, the max complex potential - was all sorted and settled by the time of Baroque. Palestrina is even more calm, ordered than Baroque. And how would he've written this - he must've had the whole in mind as he scored the parts - now that is an ear.And how democratic the music is (in a sense, I don't mean voting rights) - I mean, balanced of voice and emphasis; no single leading voice or authority/personality dictating or focusing the progression and tone (all that Romantic stuff). A pure human ensemble expression of wonder, totality - harmony underpinned by structural balance, cohesion, an even distribution of voices. Now - I know this music does need a director of sorts - timing the pacing and measuring the bars/introductions with his baton or hands, otherwise people come in all over the shop. BUT - this music absorbs that element of leadership, or direction. In other words, by absorbing the impress of authority in its flow, it levels out the sense of hierarchy, command structure or aristocracy that otherwise infuse / surround music. The leader is there purely for punctuating the flow, he is not a quality of the structure. The composer is there too, but he has given himself to the whole - the thing bigger than just him. Whereas Beethoven needs a Beethoven at the podium. The music is rigorously notated of course, but the notation-interpretation falls away into the whole. And yes the church surrounds this music with its theology/sociology/Latin - but I think even that is absorbed - in the Protagorean sense. Human absolutes - wonderful - limited by human potential only, but still maximal in those parameters - of what can be achieved ensemble.I don't think we have enough names for this kind of purely human even-democratic-balance. And why rounds can also be so magical.As much as I love music with the power of personality, vision etc, I also absolutely love music without a clear/obvious leader. Kinda like the Grateful Dead for random eg, or some of the early jazz. Group mind and group expression is starting to sound so much more interesting to me now. And I guess that might also be a personal thing.I do wonder if it can be improvised, such music (why not ally with freedom), though it does seem more a written-from-counterpoint-knowledge thing. If everything's in C, it's not hard to ad lib, no? Instruct everyone to return to cadence at a certain point? Follow a quaver behind your neighbour etc.P makes the idea of holiness almost purely human, an inner sufficiency of a kind.
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