American Concert Traditions

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Piano Sonata Op.26 4th movement (4/4) - Samuel Barber

Samuel Barber’s Sonata for piano 4th movement (Fugue)
A good Fugue, in my opinion as a composer of over 600 works, is the most difficult type of music to compose. Many “great” composers avoided it altogether. Personally, I have written my fair share of fugues and fight with them all the way to the end.
A Fugue is an imitative, polyphonic piece of music. Barber was often criticized for writing “beautiful music” by the academic world, so this particular piece silenced them once and for all. Interestingly, he made this piece not only perfect in the category of fugues, but often beautiful as you will see. On a personal note, a similar thing happened to me in my early ears of composing so I decided to write a “double fugue” just to shut the critics up. What I found interesting is that none of them had ever written one.
A fugue begins with something called an “exposition” containing a Main theme, (short melody) called a “subject” and a secondary theme (new short melody) called a“countersubject”.
This particular fugue by Barber contains a 4-entrance exposition of the main theme (subject).That means that you hear it 4-times in different ranges of the piano.
It then is followed by the secondary or new theme called the counter subject.
I will give you a counter number format so that you can follow the performer and performance.
This will be your first true listening experience of an instrumental work. It’s not a “song” in that no one is singing, so call it a “fugue”.
Counter Number:
0-9 Subject (main theme) Right Hand Describe this melody in your own terms.
:09 Subject again now called the answer in a new key or scale in the Left hand> The right hand is playing something called, “counter-point”. Describe the counter subject compared to the subject.
0:16 Subject in original key Right hand…left hand has counterpoint (a freer moving line)
0:21 Subject (answers) in new key Left had…other hand counterpoint
0:28 COUNTER Subject (new melody) notice how different and less leaping than the original subject. Is this easy to hear?
Now the “Episodes” begin. Episodes develop the subject and at times the countersubject too.
0:36 Subject is being developed: Why did I say “developed”? Think length and textures
O:43 Subject
0:50 Subject again How is this subject the same or different from 0:43
0:56 Subject again
0:58 Counter subject
1:10 Subject in Left hand octaves: What are the dynamics like to the subject at 0:43?
1:20 only second half of subject
1:27 there are two slower versions of Subject taking place; one in the left and one in the right hand. It’s difficult to hear on a “one time” hearing. How many times did it take you to identify these two subjects? Be specific as to what it was that finally caught your attention.
1:40 Counter Sub in very quick rhythms: easy or difficult to recognize?
1:47 Only second of Subject
1:55 A very jazzy version of the Subject (what makes it so?)
2:19 Subject higher register of piano fragmented and slower rhythms, at least in one part.
2:51 Subject
3:16 A cadenza section. How and why does this sound so different from the other parts? Remember my explanation and the texts concerning “cadenza”
3:27 Counter subject
3:36 faster version of counter subject
3:49 A slower and heavier chord-like version of the subject: Describe some elements making it sound slower and heavier.
4:01 to end the buildup and finale.
After listening to this several times, address the following questions:

1.    Address numbers requiring a written response. Think rhythm, tempo, range on piano (higher or lower) texture between hands and dynamics (loud and soft ranges.
2.    In addition (and very important) please describe anything unique in at least three sections of this work required of the pianist physically. Remember that he is playing that which is written.
3.    Discuss in brief what you learned and gained from this critical listening assignment.
4.    List or discuss two things about classical music and classical music from America from “Intro to Classical music” recorded and posted lecture.
5.    What additional information did you gain from the recorded posted lecture “Classical Music part 2”?
6.   How did the taped lecture from “Classical work from the text” help you to better understand the written information from the text and the pieces from the CD listening list?
7.   Please describe sections from Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue”. Use the recorded lecture “Classical Music from the text” to help guide you.
8.   What was your favorite work from the CD selection selections covered in the “Classical work from the text” tape? Please give some good reasons, and not just “it had a good beat”.
9.   Overall all, how would you describe your knowledge of American classical music before and after the information and listening you received in this class.
10. Aaron Copland’s “Billy the Kid” is broken down under “Announcements”. Describe if and how these guides actually helped you to understand the piece.

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The opening subject begins loudly at a quick tempo with an upward arpeggio that lingers on a dissonant note before descending, zigging and zagging toward the middle register when the second entrance, the answer, comes in with the same figure in the left hand.

The counterpoint in the right hand harmonizes the left hand subject at a lower volume. Rhythmically it is more sparse than the subject with spaces of silence between the more active subject heard in the left hand. It also occupies a much narrower range than the subject.

The countersubject enters after the four entrances of the subject have finished their cycle. The countersubject marks a striking contrast from the exposition by its lower volume and lighter touch. The short-lived melody is taken over by the developmental episodes in just a few seconds, making the countersubject a sort of transitionary melody...

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