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  • Alright at the beginning of the Twentieth Century

  • we have a really significant movement in both the visual arts

  • and in music called Impressionism. Many people know impressionist visual art

  • because they've seen all those paintings by Monet that fill up our galleries all

  • over the world

  • and are on posters in your houses and wherever.

  • And here's a painting from Monet. This is one of his impression paintings from

  • which we get

  • the name Impressionism. At the time,

  • sort of like Baroque, it was not a name that was supposed to be

  • complimentary. These paintings

  • that Monet and his contemporaries came up with

  • were submitted to an exhibit.

  • This is a big exhibit in Paris every year and they were rejected.

  • The the people who are running the show just thought they were just too

  • weird and

  • we're not going to accept these paintings and the

  • the critics were talking about these paintings

  • and they picked up on the name "impresson" which was in the name of one

  • of Monet's paintings

  • and used that as a negative term to describe this art that they thought wasn't

  • very

  • good. So what did they not like about it? Well, you know,

  • we're looking at people who are used to having paintings that are very clearly

  • defined. The edges are

  • edges, we know that that's the end of something. The colors are

  • in rather broad sorts of swaths. So they had things they were used to seeing.

  • So here comes Monet and his friends and they're giving us paintings

  • that are little dabs of color. If you look at one of these paintings really closely

  • you'll sometimes actually see physical space between colors. So it's not like

  • I've painted.

  • I painted instead. Why did they do that?

  • Well, one of the things that they were really interested in was

  • in trying to show how things looked at different times of day and in different

  • lighting conditions.

  • Now up until this point in time they couldn't do that.

  • If you were an artist you had to go out into the field, you could do your sketch

  • with your

  • chalks or whatever but then you would have to go back to the studio,

  • mix up all your oil paints and

  • then you would be able to paint in the studio. So you'd have to try to remember

  • exactly what that light looked like.

  • Thanks to an American who invented oil paints in tubes,

  • painters could now take their whole little box of paints out into the world,

  • set up their easel in the park or on the street or wherever they wanted to

  • paint,

  • look at what they're looking at and paint it as it is,

  • in the natural light. So this was a big deal, very big deal.

  • So they were trying to make it look like it was in natural light, make it not

  • look so sort of artificially constructed

  • in the studio. So, the edges are blurred,

  • the colors keep kind of changing, you don't see solid blocks of color generally

  • in impressionist art.

  • So how does that work out in music? Interestingly it works out a lot the same way.

  • So what composers tried to do was to create that same sort of sense of

  • vagueness

  • that we see in an impressionist painting. So

  • how do we accomplish that?

  • So, we've seen how the painter creates ambiguity, How's the composer going to create the same thing?

  • So I'm going to use my little glockenspiel here to illustrate a couple of things for you.

  • So, one of the ways that a composer can create ambiguity

  • in the tonal structure of a piece

  • is to avoid major and minor scales.

  • As we know those send us somewhere. So there are a couple of different ways that a

  • composer can do that.

  • One of those is a new type of scale that we've not talked about before called the

  • whole

  • tone scale. Remember that major and minor scales have half steps and whole steps so

  • they are

  • not whole tone, they are both half and whole. So, a whole tone scale

  • has no half steps. Let's listen just to remind ourselves, this is what a major scale

  • sounds like.

  • (plays scale)

  • So that's our combination of half steps and whole steps. I want to do a

  • whole tone scale starting on

  • the same pitch.

  • (plays scale)

  • Listen again!

  • (plays scale)

  • Now, if you were keeping an eye on the keyboard, you would have seen that I got off

  • what would have been...

  • would have been the white keys so that was a difference between scales.

  • Might also have noticed that there were only seven notes in that scale instead

  • of eight. When you take those two half steps and make them one, then

  • you've lost a pitch so it's a seven tone scale and

  • it has no half-step so we don't have any places where we can naturally diverge and

  • go somewhere else.

  • It leaves us a lot of options about directions that we can move. Another way

  • that we can change our

  • tonal structure is to use modes.

  • Remember we haven't even talked about those since about 1600 when we went to

  • the equal temperament system.

  • So those are those old scale type systems that we used in Gregorian

  • Chant!

  • So, basically with a mode, if you start on any white note on this keyboard,

  • then... and you stay on them, then you get a particular mode. So

  • let's just take this major scale first. (plays scale)

  • Now let me do the mode that starts

  • on the same pitch. (plays scale)

  • Different sets of half steps and whole steps.

  • If I start on another note, a different note, then I get an entirely different

  • scale. (plays scale)

  • That first scale that I did for you was a whole-step,

  • half-step, whole-step, whole-step whole-step, half-step,

  • whole-step. The second one I did was half-step, whole-step,

  • whole-step, whole-step, half-step, whole-step, whole-step. So, the whole-steps and half-steps keep moving around

  • if you change

  • into those different modes. So if you're used to hearing major minor tonality

  • and all of a sudden you have this scale that doesn't have the half-steps and whole-steps where

  • you expect them,

  • then you have different directions that you can go and the composer can create more

  • ambiguity that way.

  • Another thing that we see composers doing in this period of time

  • is going beyond our triad. Remember when we did chords way back we had (plays example). There's a

  • chord.

  • In the Romantic Period and even a little before that we've extended that

  • one note by going (plays example)

  • to make what we call a seventh chord but as we get into this period of time,

  • the composer can keep going till we can go (plays example)

  • and now we don't know what key we're in again because we have notes from all sorts of

  • different chords. These are not our standard

  • what we would expect from that chord, and now we have

  • more routes that we can go so it's like every new mode is another door in our

  • composition

  • that we can open and go in an entirely new

  • direction. So those are things that we can do that have to do with

  • the notes, the pitches, of the

  • melody and the harmony that create ambiguity. Now let's look at some other ways that we

  • can create that

  • through rhythms and the sounds that we use. Another way that they tried to

  • create that ambiguity in the sound

  • was to get away from a really steady beat.

  • A lot of music we listen to (clap, clap) it's there, you can hear it.

  • As we listen to the impressionist piece that we're going to examine,

  • you'll find it very hard to tap your foot to it.

  • Part of it is that there's very little percussion happening so you don't have a

  • drumbeat to follow anyway,

  • and the other is that it's very flexible

  • so there's like speeding up slowing down and sometimes there's just

  • silence.

  • And when there's silence and you didn't have a good sense of

  • where the beat was in the first place, you can't maintain that sense of beat so

  • you're going... what happened... where's it coming back?

  • What's happening with the rhythm here? So we hear that

  • sort of blurred rhythmic construction as well.

  • Things do not quite what you expect them to do. Another way that composers

  • tried to copy what their visual art

  • counterparts were doing is in the use of color. So as I said when you look at

  • an impressionist painting up close you can see that they're often dots of

  • color that don't quite connect to each other

  • or what we perceive as being a

  • color block is actually several different little colors

  • right next to each other that our eye has blended into a single color.

  • So what composers do is take our instrumental colors,

  • our timbres, and use those to create that same sort of

  • effect. So instead of say if we imagine that Mozart Clarinet Concerto

  • that we listened to

  • and the clarinet plays, clarinet plays, clarinet plays, clarinet plays, clarinet

  • stops.

  • Well, in an impressionist piece what we might have is the melodic line

  • and the clarinet plays but then the flute sort of picks it up

  • and they cross over for a little bit and then the flute goes on and then maybe the

  • Oboe come sneaking in with it and they

  • blend a little bit and then they separate so you don't get that clearly

  • defined...

  • "Hey, we're done with that instrument, we're going on to something else."

  • And a really good composer will choose those timbres so that it's really hard

  • to tell that it changed and all of a sudden you realize, "Oh, hey look,

  • that's not oboe anymore, that's a French horn playing now."

  • So again we get that sense of not quite knowing what sound we're in,

  • we've blurred our colors just like we've blurred our beat,

  • and then we've blurred our tonal center. Another thing that composers can do that

  • has to do with the

  • tonal center and melodic part is to use a lot of chromatic

  • notes. We talked about scales as being whole steps and half steps,

  • there's actually a scale that's nothing but half steps. (plays scale)

  • So a chromatic scale uses

  • all the possible notes, and if you're going to use all those notes

  • it's just like using those odd

  • chord structures, you can go anywhere. Once you hit any note you can go in any

  • different direction because you haven't established any sense of key

  • out of that. So we have chromatics as a way to do that.

  • Another thing the composers will do is to

  • create a sense a dissonance so sounds that

  • are unresolved, not necessarily clashing or ugly, but they just...

  • they feel like they need to go somewhere and what the composer will do

  • is

  • fail to go somewhere. So you're you're hanging there like I-

  • I-I have to go, I have to go, this has to go somewhere else,

  • and then they either don't go anywhere at all, or they go somewhere completely

  • unexpected.

  • So it upsets your sort of

  • aural balance because you expect this chord to go in a certain place and all of a sudden

  • it goes

  • somewhere else. That's another way of keeping that sort of

  • ambiguity that we expected that. So

  • in the pieces of music that we hear in the Impressionist Period

  • most of them are relatively small, short,

  • sort of compact kinds of pieces. Probably

  • maybe because we can't deal with that much ambiguity on a long scale you know, 20

  • minutes of that kind of ambiguity

  • would be stressful for you as a listener. So what we tend to see is much smaller

  • sorts of forms

  • so the composer can really illustrate all those things that they're trying to do.

  • So let's look at a composer now who is sort of the king of impressionist music and that is

  • Claude Debussy

  • or as some people say Deb-boo-see depends on how snooty you wish to be about

  • his name.

  • So he lived from 1862 to 1918. He died

  • right as Paris was actually being liberated at the end of World

  • War One. So he was there

  • during World War One. He wrote

  • lots and lots of beautiful pieces of music

  • and we have a certain sound that we tend to associate with Debussy and that

  • is that

  • impressionist sort of sound. So we are going to listen to

  • his Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun. And that's an f-a-u-n faun not

  • not Bambi fawn. In the Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun what he has done is

  • taken a poem

  • by another -ism this is by a symbolist poet

  • so this is a symbolist poem. And nobody sings it,

  • there's no talking, so this is an example of a type of program music

  • but he's taking this poem and he wants you to get

  • the sense of the poem. He's not trying to strictly represent the poem, he's not trying

  • to say here's where this happens here's where that happens

  • particularly the overall sense

  • of what this poem is about. So let me read to you

  • the text of this.

  • These nymphs, I would perpetuate them, so light

  • their gossamer embodiment, floating on the air

  • inert with heavy slumber,

  • was it a dream I loved, my doubting harvest of the bygone night

  • ends in countless tiny branches,

  • together remaining a whole forest they prove alas

  • that since I'm alone, my fancy triumph

  • was but the ideal imperfection of roses.

  • Let us reflect, were supposed

  • those women that you idolize were but imaginings

  • of your fantastic lust?

  • So you know if you want to interupt poetry there you get a whole big job working on

  • that because there's a lot of

  • things going on there. So the faun in this is this half-man-half-goat

  • who's