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2013年1月2日 星期三

‘Folk’ Voice as Contemporary Music

Foreword: To many contemporary composers, one of their problems is to search  new, fresh sound for their new creations. Where can they get new sound? What is contemporary sound? Sometimes, the answer is quite contradictory. The remote, past, even dimishing traditional sound in our native folk, surprisingly, becomes one of these "contemporary" voice, which greatly cries out from our present compositions.



Article:

 

From time to time, composers have tried different ways to write their music with new and modern sound.  Some composers write the music by employing total serialism, while others try to use ‘chance’ elements in their works.  No matter which compositional techniques they used, their efforts are only for one purpose; that is, to make their music sounded ‘contemporary’ and ‘new’, which is distinctive from the tonal idiom of the common practice period.  Minimal music, textural music, serial music, chance music, pointillistic music, free tonal music and many different kinds of music flourished our music garden.

 
In the course of seeking ‘contemporary’ sound for the music, interestingly, there are two main controversial issues arouse.  Some composers prefer writing their ‘new’ sounded music by using the traditional Western musical language, which is regarded as a kind of international musical language though it is rooted from European musical tradition.  They believe that this kind of musical language has been generally and widely accepted by the listeners for a long time and could be enough to express their music in a ‘contemporary’ way.  They do not depend on the national elements to produce a newly and originally sounded composition.  Another composers, by contrary, would intend to develop a unique kind of musical language and a new tonal system of their own by adopting musical elements from the musical tradition of their nations.  Therefore, the music would reflect a non-Western style and the musical sound, of course, is ‘contemporary’ or ‘new’ to the common music audiences. 

 
To Hong Kong local composers, the same issue is raised.  Some Hong Kong composers, returning from the overseas after studied abroad, started to write the contemporary music in Western-based musical language.  They believed that their music could still sound new and contemporary through this way.  They did not feel a necessity to focus on the Chinese musical elements to create the ‘contemporary’ sounded music.  However others did not agree to this belief.  They claimed that a real ‘new’ and ‘contemporary’ Chinese music is a kind of music that is rooted only from Chinese traditional music.  Only through composing in a national style, or at least putting some national characters in their music that the music can sound “contemporary,” which is distinctive from the West.  Focusing on the national elements, therefore, becomes a tool to produce a ‘new’ or ‘fresh’ musical sound, which is non-Western style to the audenices.

 
Therefore, if we really concern the development of the Hong Kong contemporary music, we will want to find out the answer.   After watching the JVC Video of The World Music ad Dance – East Asia, this tape perhaps, provides us some illuminations.

 
The content of this video can separate into two main parts discussing about the folk music of Xinjiang Ugur and Mongolia.  Both places are belonged to autonomous regions of People’s Republic of China.  Their music belongs to the minority nations’ music.  To me, as an audience without too much knowledge on their folk music, it is interesting to find that the music is rather ‘contemporary’ sounded.  I think there may be four factors that affecting the music sounded ‘modern’, that is, the traditional instrumental color, rhythm, melodic linear motion and vocal gestures. 

 
Firstly, the most notable feature that made the music of Xinjiang and Mongolian sounded ‘contemporary’ to me is the traditional instrumental timbre.  Penderecki, an important avant-garde music composer in our day, has once stated that the problem of nowadays’ contemporary music is that its sound is not ‘contemporary’ because the instruments we commonly used are too old.  We have great developments in musical style, musical techniques and musical system, but there is no change in instruments that we used in our music.  We are still writing pieces for violin, flute, or trumpet but these western musical instruments already have a few hundred years’ history.  In fact, today’s listeners are familiar with the timbre of these western instruments.  In the video, we can hear some special sound produced by xushtar (bowed instrument), dutar (plucked lute), daf (tambourine-like percussion) and many different kinds of conventional instruments but sound unconventional to the general audience.  The timbre of the plucked instruments, dutar and yangqin in the music Mashrap – circle dance and Panjgah – mukam – classical music give me a fresh impression.  These two instruments can be used for playing accompaniment to the singers or dancers and also for playing main theme in an ensemble.  The Mongolian Morin xuur (string instruments) is another wonderful instrument for producing emotional (new) musical sound.  In the song Urtiin duu, the morin xuur player plays a highly ornamented line that matches the complexity of the sung part and the effective playing skills such as trills and other fine melodic ornaments produce a sound of lonely mood and strengthen the vocal part of the singer. 

 
Secondly, the rhythm is another essential factor that contributes the ‘contemporary’ feeling to the music.  In the Western classical music, metric division or pulse is a significant feature (except the music in middle ages).  Music usually progresses in pulse.  There is no obvious sense of free rhythm.  In the Mongolian song Urtiin duu, it is sung in free rhythm.  If we listen closely, you will hear that the leisurely melody is structurally divided into three repeating section and it is improvised by the singer freely to express the mood of the music.  In addition, the Xinjiang Threshing song and lullaby are also in free rhythm.  Perhaps, the lullaby is truly a universal form for all ethnic groups in the world and thus, improvisation is one of the most natural ways to express the mood of the song. 
 

We often agree that Western music tradition emphases the vertical relationship, that is, the harmonic relationship.  Therefore, it will be a new experience for the listeners to hear the music that focus on melodic linear motion, but not harmonic progression.  The ensemble music of Xinjiang and Mongolian always possess melodic patterns in different parts forming a somewhat heterophonic texture.  Sometimes, a vocal line is accompanied by another instrumental line with ornamental decorations.  In the Mongolian song Urtiin Duu (The beautiful sun of the universe), the morin xuur gives pitch to the singer.  The two performers then create their melody together, with each sometimes anticipating, sometimes lagging slightly behind the other.  Also, the melodic lines are constructed from some non-western scales, for example, the modal scale.  In the Xinjiang song, Doppasorman, the initial melodic line contains many augmented seconds. These melodic patterns sound ‘contemporary’ or ‘strange’ to the audience.

 
Finally, the Xoomij, a kind of throat singing, is also an important feature to make the folk music sounded ‘contemporary’.  In the Western musical tradition, the Italian bel-canto is nearly an orthodox singing style for all kinds of vocal music.  But xoomij, is another kind of vocal style and it can produce multiphonic musical sound.  There are several varieties of xoomij, focusing on different parts of the singer’s body: the nose, throat, or diaphragm.  Each has a slightly different timbre, but the basic voice production technique is the same.  When we listen to the Mongolian song, the chestnut horse with round hooves, and the dzoroo horse that walks with small steps like a sheep, a contemporary musical sound is easily heard.  This is not the sound produced by familiar bel-canto singing style.  Of course, the judging of this ‘contemporary’ sound is based on different aesthetic. You may like it or dislike it but, unavoidably, it sounds new and uncommon. 

 
Although some of the music performed in this volume still contains many common western musical elements, for example, in the Xinjiang Group dance, Dance solo and Mashrap, we can find the obvious rhythmic pulse and meter or other western melodic characters, still, there are many non-western elements inside, which are the sources of the ‘contemporary; and ‘new’ sound.  Perhaps, it is undeniable to assert that the traditional musical elements can assist in producing contemporary sounded music.  For all Hong Kong contemporary music composers, of course, the musical tradition is not meant Mongolian or Xinjiang folk music.  Determining what is ‘Hong Kong tradition’ will be a different issue.  However, inheriting from our tradition for composing can be regarded as one of the effective and useful ways to write a ‘new’ or ‘contemporary’ composition.



David Leung (theorydavid)

2013-01-02 Published

Handel’s Oratorios and the 18 Century English Thoughts - Part II

Foreword: This is the continue part of the previous article about Handel's oratorios.



Article:



In the Part II of Judas Macchabaeus, author Morell writes:

 
To Heav’n let Glory, and all Praise be given;

To Heav’n give your Applause,

Nor add the second Cause,

As once your Fathers did in Midian


Saying, The Sword of God and Gideon,

It is the Lord, who for his Israel fought,

And this our wonderful Salvation wrought.

 
  The above text provides a typical answer. Like many other Handel’s librettos of Israelite oratorio, albeit hedge the bets, the point of defending the Christianity is still clear. Morell’s commitment to the defence of Christianity is rather endearing. Here he contributes directly to the orthodox defence of the evidence of miracles and places great emphasis on God’s salvation and mercy, but at the same time, adding rational explanation to meet the Anglican’s teaching. Although contemporary biblical commentaries by orthodox believers reflect the difficulties inherent in the rationalist position in their attempt to present miraculous events as both mysterious and explicable, the librettists of the Israelite oratorios try to have it both ways, giving a rational explanation, or simply the ‘second cause’ while claiming divine intervention. In Belshazzar, Cyrus conquer Bablyon with intelligent strategy as well as the aid of a God-sent dream; in Jephtha, Jephtha has skills of an outstanding general as well as the support of cherubim and seraphim; and in Joshua, Joshua’s men have courage as well as the help of a stationary sun by God to win the battle[1].

 
  The deists also tried to attack the traditional plank of ‘proof’ by discrediting the application to Jesus of the Old Testament prophesies of the Messiah and of the miracles he would realize. Charles Jennens, another librettist of the well-known Handel’s oratorios of Messiah, Saul, Israel in Egypt and Belshazzar, stands clearly on the side of defending the Christianity. He again paid attention on the Old Testament and to prompt renewed efforts to validate Christian revelation and its concurrence with the Gospels. The traces of this part of the debate in his librettos are particularly striking. In the libretto of Messiah, Jennens showed the parallels of Old Testament prophecy and New Testament fulfillment and the ‘harmony of the gospels’ with each other, and the actual verbal correspondences between Old and New Testament texts. Although the deists had pointed out that citations of the Old Testament in the New do not always correspond to the Old Testament text as we have it, Joseph Hallet jnr (1729-1736), a famous scholar, asserted that ‘among almost three hundred citations the far greatest part are exact’, while only ‘about twenty differ’. At least fifty one of the eighty biblical verses in Jennens’ libretto are either conscious quotations, or echoes, of the Old Testament in the New, for example, Isaiah XL.3, heard in the opening recitative, is quoted in Matthew III.3, Mark I.3, Luke III.4 and John I.23[2]. As a result, the 18th Century religious thoughts absolutely have a great impact on the librettos of Handel’s oratorio. Meanings that the texts conveyed to the public were clear. On one hand, Handel maintained the rational ground of the belief of Anglican’s teaching by permitting the second cause adding in the librettos; while on the other hand, together with the contributions of his orthodox religious background of his librettists, Miller and Morell were clergymen, Jennens was a scholarly evangelizing Christian and Humphreys wrote commentary to defend Bible, Handel re-emphasized on the Divine salvation, miracles and prophesy fulfillments of the Old to New Testament in order to defend the Christianity against the deism. Perhaps, this was the factor of the success of Handel’s Oratorios in his day.

 
  We have just discussed that the importance of music theatre as a vehicle for political messages. Music and musicians also served as a prime analogy for the state and statesmen. It was not surprising for the 18th Century English audience to expect the presence of political themes in the artworks and entertainments. From the moment that Handel first arrived in England, he was involved in producing music for national events. The librettists would have been unusual if they had excluded political themes from their texts, and the oratorio audience would have been behaving anachronistically if they had not found political themes in them[3]. What were the political events and thoughts of the oratorio years which the librettists could have absorbed into their texts?

 
The main national events in the oratorio years were decades of wars and the rumours of war. Relations with other European powers were deteriorating throughout the 1730s. In 1731, there was a French invasion scare, serious enough for the British fleet to be deployed in the Channel. Also, the war of Polish Succession in 1733, the trade war with the tough rivalry Spain in West Indies for overseas commercial interests and the threaten of war with ambitious the Frederick II of Prussia in Europe for his political expansion in the Continent were the subjects of major debates in Parliament and were extensively reported by the press. The newspaper-reading member of the oratorio audience would have been aware of these popular issues: the foreign policy of the European alliance, the British army, the navy, and colonial and commercial expansion[4]. Therefore, all these political events in the oratorio years nourished the common political thought of the 18th Century British Government and people, that is, the ‘Patriotism’.
 

  According to the drama historian Murray Roston, ‘Handel succeeded in glorifying in Biblical terms the confident patriotism of the English people as they rose on the wave of imperial expansion, convinced that they were carrying the true God to the pagan corners of the world. The heroic, martial splendour of Deborah, of Judas Maccabeus, and of Joshua was adopted enthusiastically as symbol of English integrity and courage.’[5] Undoubtedly, Roston’s saying points out that the essential idea of the librettos of Handel’s oratorio is a kind of ‘patriot libretto’. But how could the political events and the patriotism be absorbed in the so-called patriot libretto? Ruth Smith gives us the answer.
 

  The libretto absorbs all the political ideas in allegorical form. The mid-eighteenth century audience had been taught to regard the scriptural protagonists whom oratorios portrayed not just as figures from the semi-mythological history of a remote race and culture but, in a tradition dating from early Christian times, as reminders of their own redeemer, connected with their own individual lives. The preachers, the scholars and the press habitually identify modern Britain with ancient Israel and they make recurrent specific parallels which bear on the subjects of the librettos. God of Israel is paralleled with God of Britain. English is paralleled with the Israel. The enemy of Israel, such as Egypt, is paralleled with the rivalry of Britain in the Continent. The following comparisons show the commonplace:

 
The Stuart Family                       Saul and his descendants

George II                                     David or Solomon
 
The Glorious Revolution            The crown of Israel passing from Saul and his family to David and his family

Catholic Europe                           The Philistines

The threat of Popery                     ‘Egyptian bondage’ of heathen rites

Irreligion                                       Israelite idolatry

Licentiousness                              Israelite neglect of God’s laws
 

  All the figures and circumstances in the right- hand column are subjects of one or more of the Israelite librettos[6]. This kind of analogy was routine, God could intervene in the lives of the British nationals as He had done in the lives of the Israelites. We can take several examples to illustrate this: the Israel events in the libretto are equal to politics events of Britain, the patriotism of Israel is the model of the patriotism of English.

 
  Newburgh Hamilton’s libretto of Samson, written in its initial form by autumn 1741 and dedicated in the wordbook to the Prince of Wales, reflects the prince’s support of the war with Spain for which the Patriots had clamoured. But Samson contained more political context as time passed and even after its first performance, the political scene changed considerably. While Hamilton was writing his libretto the press was reporting the parliamentary ‘motion’ to remove Walpole, the ruling body of England, and commenting on the criticism of British foreign policy since 1725 with regard to the conflict in Europe, the attacking of the conduct of the West Indies War and the arraigning corrupt government at home. Here, Samson who was the Israelite hero, could well symbolize this Britain – native strength shackled by maladministration. At the same time, Samson might also represent an actual national hero, Admiral Vernon. He had achieved a few triumphs of the Spanish war and was a sharp and bold critic of that government as Member of the Parliament. His image forced to remind us the image of Hamilton’s hero, Samson, a figure of suffering the insults from his enemies and critical of his compatriots. As time passed, the symbolic role of Samson changed accordingly. In early 1743, Samson’s initial incapacity and eventual triumph over Philistines must have been seemed to represent the British fortunes in the war in the Continents and Low Countries. The allied navies of Spain and France invading the British Mediterranean fleet in 1744 undeniably reminded the English audience of the vivid image of the helpless Samson under his rival, Philistines’ hands. What would be the fate of the Great Britain? The patriotic oratorio audience might have been inspired much by the chorus in Act III, scene I of Samson:

 
How thou wilt here come off surmounts my Reach;

Tis Heav’n alone can save both us and thee.

With thunder arm’d, great God, arise;

Help, lord, or Isr’el’s champion dies:

To thy protection this thy servant take,

And save, O save us, for thy servant’s sake[7].

 
  The political ideology in the text is clear and, perhaps, this is the charm of Samson, of Hamilton’s libretto, of Handel’s oratorios.
 

  As we have examined before the main idea of the Handelian oratorios is Patriotism, it is not surprising that the text of the Handel’s oratorio was conveying the ideal of self-scarifice whenever the conflict between public and private interests occurred. In Morel’s Jephtha (1737), the author chose the biblical version of the classical topic concerning the offering up of a daughter for the sake of national success, instead of the private interest. In the story of Jephtha of the Old Testament, Jephtha vows that he will sacrifice to God the first being he encounters on his return from battle if God grants him the victory. His daughter, unfortunately, is the first one he met. He is shaken but his daughter accepts the fate and keeps alone for her whole life to serve God. Morell, undoubtedly, conveyed a message of a patriot king, Jephtha and a patriot daughter. He writes:

True, we have slighted, scorn’d, expell’d him hence,

As of a Stranger born; but well I know him;

His generous Soul disdains a mean Revenge,

When his distressful country calls his Aid –

And, perhaps, God may favour our Request,

If with repentant Hearts we sue for Mary[8].

  (Part I Scene I)

How godlike is it to be great!


When Greatness, free from private ends,

The Good of all Manking intends!                
 
 ( Part III Scene II)

 
  Morell here expresses the Patriot King’s noble aspiration to a public life guided by moral principles. ‘Virtue my Soul shall still embrace; goodness shall make me great’ shows that Jephtha ‘s whole family shares his moral principle. Jephtha’s daughter, also, put the national interests above her personal favorite. Therefore, the whole libretto, main characteristic of Patriot drama uses predominantly family relationships, rather than those of lovers as a source of trial, pain and tenderness[9]. This gives more touching aptness and can immensely attract the oratorio audience. Besides the charm of the text, the patriotic theme is again obvious. We can conclude that the Handelian oratorios not only reflect certain moral teachings of the 18th Century English, but also promote an image of a Patriot King of England, or an ideal Government, with its patriotic standards set in Miller’s Joseph and his Brethren, Morell’s Judas Macchabaeus, Joshua and Solomon that the general English people had long been expected.
 
  Undeniably, 18th Century English thoughts have a tremendous impact on the librettos of Handel’s oratorios. Although it is rather difficult to assert that the ideas influence the texts more or vice versa, one important point is that the oratorios possess more meanings to the audience in Handel’s days than to the modern audience. The oratorio and the theatre were the essential centres of conveying messages, both of religious and political affairs. Oratorio audiences habitually accepted the allegorical meaning of the wordbooks. Christianity defending and the Patriotism were the hot topics in 18th Century England and linked the daily life of the people. What the 18th Century English people interested were mainly religion and politics. There was no conceptual separation between issues of Church and state, religion and politics. Handel’s oratorios could probably fulfill the necessities of the people, the government, and the country in his day. The plentiful meanings conveyed in Handel’s oratorio were valuable and essential to them. Therefore, this is the secret of the dramatic success of Handel’s oratorios to the 18th Century English people, or perhaps, to some extent, to the oratorio audience in the present.


**********Finished*********







[1] Smith Ruth, Handel’s oratorios and eighteenth-century thought, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995, pp146-147.

 


[2] Smith Ruth, Handel’s oratorios and eighteenth-century thought, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995, p149.

 


[3] Smith Ruth, Handel’s oratorios and eighteenth-century thought, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995, pp10-11

 


[4] Smith Ruth, Handel’s oratorios and eighteenth-century thought, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995, pp175-176

 


[5] C.V. Palisca, A History of Western History, 3 ed., W.W. Norton, New York, 1981, p443.


[6] Smith Ruth, Handel’s oratorios and eighteenth-century thought, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995, p220

 


[7] Smith Ruth, Handel’s oratorios and eighteenth-century thought, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995, pp298-299

 


[8] Smith Ruth, Handel’s oratorios and eighteenth-century thought, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995, p341

 


[9] Smith Ruth, p341
 
 
 
 
David Leung (theorydavid)
2013-01-01 published