Styles of Composition — Music

This is a sequel post to Styles of Com­po­si­tion — Writ­ing. Please read it before you read this post. Thanks.

Structural Music

On the one hand, we have com­plex, heavy, and unemo­tion­al com­po­si­tions, which are vig­or­ous and char­ac­ter­ized by struc­ture and grandeur. When lis­ten­ing to such music, per­son­al and emo­tion­al respons­es are min­i­mal, as the mind is involved in the devel­op­ment of the theme by the use of com­plex notes and their inter-rela­tion­ships set in a math­e­mat­i­cal frame­work. The Baroque and Clas­si­cal musi­cal eras — Bach, Haydn, and ear­ly Mozart — are rep­re­sen­ta­tive of this style of com­po­si­tion.

Easy Listening Music

On the oth­er hand, we have soft music, which has a flow and rhythm that makes it suit­able for easy lis­ten­ing. Men­tal con­cen­tra­tion is min­i­mal as the music is based on ele­men­tary note vari­a­tions and har­monies. But there is a sen­ti­men­tal touch to such music that involves the emo­tions of the lis­ten­er. Folk tunes, pop songs, and sim­ple melodies are exam­ples of such music.

Superlative Music

Superla­tive music is a har­mo­nious syn­the­sis of these two styles of com­po­si­tion. It involves the great­est effort on the part of the com­pos­er and offers the most reward­ing expe­ri­ence on the part of the lis­ten­er.

Here, a pro­found theme devel­oped by a sim­ple set of notes with­in a com­plex har­mo­ny is pre­sent­ed with the grace, charm, and sim­plic­i­ty of soft music.

The result is that the listener’s mind is awed by the com­bi­na­tion of melodies of the great­est strength and beau­ty with con­tra­pun­tal devices of the smoothest mas­tery and the listener’s heart over­flows in response to the poignant human emo­tion embed­ded in the com­po­si­tion.

The prin­ci­pal tech­nique employed in the com­po­si­tion of such superla­tive music is that of coun­ter­point. It is the tech­nique by which two or more melod­ic lines are com­bined so that they estab­lish a har­mon­ic rela­tion­ship while retain­ing their indi­vid­u­al­i­ty. Very much like sen­tences in the superla­tive style of writ­ing.

The mind of the lis­ten­er is awed by the devel­op­ment of the theme through inte­gra­tion of the intri­cate melodies into a coher­ent whole, and his heart is swept away by the pas­sion­ate, sub­tle inti­ma­cy of the orches­tra­tion.

It is this uni­son of the heart and mind that makes lis­ten­ing to such music a reward­ing expe­ri­ence. Isn’t the sense of ful­fill­ment that pre­vails after such com­mu­ni­ca­tion what every com­pos­er and lis­ten­er seeks?

The last three sym­phonies of Wolf­gang Amadeus Mozart offer a clas­sic exam­ple of the superla­tive style of com­po­si­tion. They are mas­ter­pieces which still excite audi­ences and baf­fle musi­cal schol­ars.

No won­der that they have been called ‘the apoth­e­o­sis of the sym­pho­ny’!

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  • Bril­liant post, mate!
    How eas­i­ly you syn­the­sise the lit­er­ary and musi­cal expe­ri­ences con­cep­tu­al­ly!
    Dis­claimer (where it is sure­ly obvi­ous and unnec­es­sary): I am not a writer, nor have any for­mal learn­ing or train­ing about what I am talk­ing about.
    There is a sub-style of per­cep­tu­al writ­ing that under­mines its essen­tial under­stand­ing of the writer. Let me say that in Eng­lish: a writer may write very easy prose and be appar­ent­ly very triv­ial about it, but may actu­al­ly be very deeply per­cep­tive AND con­cep­tu­al about it. For exam­ple, look at PG Wode­house: much as he writes with facil­i­ty, he has an amaz­ing depth of per­cep­tion of peo­ple and sit­u­a­tions, which his writ­ing style belies. When I write my usu­al crap, I tell myself that I under­score my deep under­stand­ing of psy­chol­o­gy, phi­los­o­phy, phi­lan­der­ing and philately.…oops, I think my lit­er­ary slip is show­ing! 😉

  • As far as music is con­cerned, I nev­er very clear­ly iden­ti­fied with Rand’s con­cepts in The Roman­tic Man­i­festo. After all you may say in terms of what music is all about, it is still a mat­ter of fact that no one, till date, has the same take on any one piece of music. It boils down to the tech­ni­cal­i­ties: beat, rhythm, melody, etc…
    When it comes to con­cep­tu­al­is­ing and inter­pret­ing music, each per­son (I talk only of the experts and musi­col­o­gists) does so in dis­parate ways. I don’t think there is an answer as to philo­soph­i­cal inter­pre­ta­tion of music yet. Only a sense of life that one may derive from it. I can eas­i­ly cry (don’t tell any­one, though) if left alone with Rachmaninov’s music, espe­cial­ly the first two sym­phonies. I do emo­tion­al­ly react to Beethoven’s Fifth. If a crit­ic says it leaves him cold, I just can’t agree.
    Cor­rect me if I am wrong here, as I am talk­ing once again about things that are above my lev­el.

  • Thanks, Ramana! No need for dis­claimers — if there were, I’d have to put one up on the entire blog itself!

    The sub-style of per­cep­tu­al writ­ing you describe is indeed employed by many writ­ers for humor and satire. Jerome K. Jerome, P. G. Wode­house, and a Maha­rash­tri­an pop­u­lar humorist P. L. Desh­pande — are clas­si­cal exam­ples.

    Regard­ing music, let me remind that this essay-post does not deal with the con­tent of Roman­tic Man­i­festo, it only describes the style of com­po­si­tion employed by Rand. But since you’ve delved in it, let me respond. It is a bit sur­pris­ing when you say you haven’t clear­ly iden­ti­fied with Rand’s con­cepts — since what you write is exact­ly what she writes! To quote “Until .…, no objec­tive­ly valid cri­te­ri­on of esthet­ic judg­ment is pos­si­ble in the field of music.” She also describes how dif­fer­ent peo­ple appraise the same piece of music dif­fer­ent­ly. She goes on fur­ther to offer a hypothe­ses regard­ing how one’s sense of life con­tributes to this unique appraisal.

    There’s noth­ing wrong in what you’ve said, it sounds per­fect­ly right to me!

  • Mahen­dra,
    I read it a cou­ple of times when I was a stu­dent. Long time no read. I do remem­ber how she thought music and lit­er­a­ture were avenues for sub­jec­tivists to lay in their pitch and claim that every­thing is sub­jec­tive.
    I also seem to recall that she pre­scribed some norms of some sort (real­ly vague here) that laid down cri­te­ria for objec­tivis­ing the musi­cal or artis­tic expe­ri­ence.

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