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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