Sunday, April 23, 2006

Titles of Classical Pieces.

The titles of classical pieces confound most people. Allegro in A major. Wait a minute, that Allegro title comes up an awful lot. Hey, so too does adagio, andante etc. What does it mean? There is always that penguin reference, too. What? Penguin? Yeah, OPUS, you know as in Bloom County's Opus Penguin. That egbdf and face minor major stuff too. Why can't they name them the songs sensibly for example The New Potato Caboose?

Hehehe. Well, for most classical music pieces the titles are descriptive. For example let us look at the following title: Violin Concerto in D major by Johannes Brahms, his opus 77 The first portion is Violin Concerto, a concerto is a piece of music that divides the orchestra into (usually) two parts. In this case it is a violin and the rest of the orchestra.

The violin in this case is the solo instrument and is usually played by an accomplished violinist. The piece plays out where the orchestra and the violin are playing against each other and off of each other. At times the violin will be the focus of attention, at other times the orchestra dominates the sound. Often times the solo instrumentalist is expected to improvise during their solos. We will again look at tempos as tempos also figure big in various titles. Also, we will have further blogs that explain the various musical forms in more detail.

The next piece of the title puzzle is in D major. This is something I am not too clear on but understand it to give the piece's key note. If I understand correctly the piece (referred to above) is designed around the D major note and the piece usually starts and ends in that key. When the piece progresses it rises above and below the home key and when it leaves the home key a tension is developed. Sometimes the major is replaced with a minor. Major pieces usually impart a happy mood and minor pieces impart a grim mood.

The last part is the opus 77. Opus is a sequence number of the piece's work in the author's complete set of works. So in this case, this piece is the 77th written by Johannes Brahms. Certain composers have their own catalogs. Such as WA Mozart and JS Bach. WA Mozart's catalog is referred to as The Köchel Catalogue, so instead of saying WA Mozart's opus 525 we would say WA Mozart's KV 525 (which is a piece most people would be familiar with). In the same vein, JS Bach has his own catalog and any piece prefixed with BWV is one of JS Bach's.