Author: David

I am happy to report that I have successfully defended my doctoral dissertation, my final obligation as a student. My dissertation is a 15-minutes work for 17 chamber musicians called Invisible Victories. Using one of each member of the orchestra (plus an additional violinist and percussionist), this...

There is no shortage of Beethoven works that many (including myself) consider to be pivotal in the history of Western music. The Eroica Symphony broke through the symphonic barrier that Haydn and Mozart had erected in the 18th century only to construct a much more massive barricade that would overshadow symphonic composers for the next two hundred years. Remember that Beethoven embarked on his Third shortly after returning from his introspective sojourn at Heiligenstadt where he resolved to live on despite the agony of his demons because he still had things to say with his art. In many ways, his Third represents a similar turning point for the symphony - it would no longer be the charming, graceful instrumental genre that Haydn and Mozart articulated. The symphony now had something meaningful to say. Beethoven didn't make things easier on symphonic composers with his fifth, seventh, and, of course, his ninth symphonies either. And his single-handed advancement of sonata form guaranteed the form's enduring presence in the 19th and 20th centuries. But it is quite possible that Beethoven's most significant contribution to the Western musical tradition is through his string quartets, which continue to challenge the wits of todays performers and theorists alike. One in particular, his op. 133 Grosse Fuge, is in many ways confounding. Have listen if this one isn't familiar to you:
Writing about music is hard. Standing at the very end of a very long degree (DMA composition), I still haven’t managed to figure out how to do it with much fluency. In the past two weeks alone, I’ve written 26 pages of music analysis on the likes of Milton Babbitt, Edgar Varèse, Olivier Messiaen, and Thomas Adès, and I still have those moments at which I want to pull every hair out of my head. Today will not be one of those days, however. How do I know? I know because I have ten more solid pages to write on my British friend, Mr. Adès, in the next 8 hours and I really don’t have a choice in the matter. The paper is due at 4 p.m. this afternoon. That’s scary.
About a month ago, my professor and mentor, Brian Head, asked me to come up with the 10 most important reasons for an undergraduate music student to study music theory and aural skills. He and I (mostly he) are reworking the freshman and sophomore theory curriculum at USC so that it can serve the diverse educational goals that exist at this school. This is no easy task, as USC offers majors in music industry, popular music, composition, as well as the usual (and some unusual) performance-oriented majors. But I come from a background that emphasizes the liberal arts, which to me means that learning ought not to be a means to an end, but an end unto itself. In other words, we best serve ourselves as learners and musicians when we learn as much as possible without an a priori agenda. I've seen in many of my own students a selective approach to learning that often leads to failure. This happens because 18- and 19-year-old students cannot know what any one piece of their education will mean to them five or ten years in the future. I made similar mistakes as an undergraduate and will do anything I can as an educator to break that trend. So with that in mind, here are my Top 10 Reasons to Study Music Theory and Aural Skills:
This is a blog about music. Specifically, new music, but that will just be a general rule. I want to use this space to communicate some of my opinions and ideas about what I think about music culture, aesthetics, composers of different sorts, and probably healthy portions about me (it's MY blog after all!). To get started, I thought I would post a video of a piece that has really blown my mind lately. It's a piece by Alfred Schnittke, a Russian polystylist composer who spent most of his life behind the Iron Curtain. Schnittke is underrated. This is perhaps due to his post-modern tendencies, which for lesser composers can be a veil for lack of substance. That's not the case in this piece. Take a listen to the fifth movement of his Concerto Grosso No. 1 (1977).  It is a great example of how Schnittke freely takes from disparate styles to create an unpredictably effective result.