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MUSI2081 Ass_#3

Zimou CHEN (Simon) 3035453921

You are going to see a hypothetical concert program note which may or may not exist


Theme Concert: Making sense of the non-sense

Programs served:

1. Schoenberg: Piano Suite, Op. 25, Prelude and Minuet and Trio

2. Cage: Sonatas and Interludes, Sonata 5

3. Delia Derbyshire, Doctor Who (1963) Theme music


1. Schoenberg: Piano Suite, Op. 25, Prelude and Minuet and Trio:

Arnold Schoenberg (1874-1951) was an Austrian, later American, composer and music

theorist. He was associated with the expressionist movement and a lot of his works are

featured with Twelve-tone Technique, which was applied to eliminate any possible tonal

feeling in the transitional Western classical and romantic music by arranging the 12 tones in

some particular orders. Those specific arrangements will blind audience’s ability to identify a

key or tonal center as they are designed to give as less emphasis on any particular note as

possible. For example, one of the most often used ways of realizing such music is serial

treatment, where composers write a row of notes with various intervals that do not follow any
tonal function (say, A-D#-Gb, which is combination does not exist in any key), and then it

will be transposed to different pitch while remaining the relative intervals the same (say,

moving from A-D#-Gb to C-F#-Bb) or changed to retrograded position (Gb-D#-A).

This piece, from Piano Suite Opus 25, which was the composer’s first 12-tone composition

written between 1921 and 1923, was an interesting example of the 12-tone composition as it

does not follow the serial treatment, but also mocks the counterpoint technique, which is a

typical composition technique used in traditional Western music. However, not like a canon

or fugue, the rows, or subjects in this case, are barely identifiable. And therefore, it achieves

an irony of being well-organized on paper but sounds totally destructed. Yet this is the point

of being an expressionist, who distorts the daily mundane materials into some novel shapes

and thereby refreshes our notion of what they actually are, and hopefully trigger even deeper

questions about the fundamentals of life.

2. Cage: Sonatas and Interludes, Sonata 5 (1946-48):

John Cage (1912-1992) was an American Avant-grade composer who was a pioneer of

indeterminacy in music. This piece is written for prepared piano, which is, interestingly,

normal piano being modified in one way or another that there are changes in its sounds or

timbre. This unconventional composition notion, provoked by the fundamental question

of “what is music?”, of changing the instrument itself, instead of the composition

technique, steps further to explore the possibility of music as sound and how it is

In this particular piece, the strings on piano is interrupted by iron nails, and the sounds

turn to very alien to audience. By doing so, it blurs the boundary of music itself and the

sounds it makes, and at the same time removes composer’s subjectivity, as there is a

disconnection of the music written and the way it is reazlied (even though it is also done

intentionally). This makes a piece hard to be categorized and thereby it is left to the

audience to wonder. Indeterminacy is hence addressed in the realization of the music.

Again, this is a further step to explore the possbility of music itself as pure sounds and to

what extent audience still perceive such sounds as music. Though things are going here

are very abstract, but certainly there is a purpose behind of those experiments and hence a

logical flow is leading to such a purpose. This offers us a good reference of how to

appreciate such music.

3. Delia Derbyshire, Doctor Who (1963) Theme music:

Delia Derbyshire (1937-2001) was an English musician and composer of electronic

music. Her famous work was the music made for the TV series Doctor Who, where she

applied tape manipulation using advanced technology available at the time to make

various sounds. Another feature is that the music comes out along with the visual aids,

that is, the audience will simultaneously perceive both sounds and images and detect the

connections between these two elements. For this particular piece, every note has to be

created as a separate piece of tape. Each piece was then cut together to create the rhythm

and the melodies. There was no multi-tracking at that point, so the final mix was done by
playing back the various pieces of tape together and hoping it would stay in sync from

start to end.

This manticulation again is not the transitional way of writing music, and by doing so it

assumes that highly-intellectually organized sounds can be perceive as music as it has the

effect to impact on people’s moods and trigger emotional response, though sometimes

this could be only more obvious with other tools of realizations, such as visual aids.

Now please enjoy