Tempo

A composer chooses the tempo, or how fast or slow he or she wants the music to go. Listen to the following two examples of music: one has a fast tempo; the other has a slow tempo. How does the tempo affect the mood of the music?

Violin Concerto by Samuel Barber, 3rd movement (YouTube recording)

Johann Sebastian Bach Orchestral Suite in D Major, BWV 1068 2nd movement: Air

Duration is related to tempo.  Duration means the length of time something continues. What is the duration of your ability to stay under water without coming up for air? Notes can be short and quick or last a long time.

How does changing the duration of the note change its feeling?

This is a cool video that shows the duration of notes visually.   The coloured bars are different lengths depending on how long the note is held.

The music is the same Air for Strings as above.

Paintings have tempo too. Look at the following 3 paintings. What is the tempo of each painting?

Claude Monet: Argenteuil

Georges Seurat: The Circus

Umberto Boccioni: Car and Hunting Fox

Articulation

Articulation is a fancy word to describe how notes connect to each other. In string instruments, the articulation is changed by how the bow is used. The bow can be bounced on the string, it can hit the string sharply, it can be smooth and connected, or it can be eliminated completely (pizzicato is the word for when the string is plucked with a finger). That changes the articulation a lot! Articulation can also be described as texture, or the way something feels to touch. When the bow bounces and the notes are short, they sort of sound like a rubber ball bouncing up and down. Smooth bow can sound like a piece of soft silk. Sound can also be rough like sand-paper, sharp like a tack, or fluffy like a cloud. Watch the ACO play this movement of a Quartet by Edvard Grieg. Look at their bows and listen for the articulation and the texture. How are they using their bows? What textures do you hear?

Here are two more examples of articulation and texture. Beethoven’s 5th Symphony starts with a rough, bouncy, and sharp texture but around :40 the sound changes to become smooth and fluid. But not for long! (Listen through 1:15.)

Beethoven Symphony No. 5 1st movement(YouTube recording)

The beginning of Richard Wagner’s Siegfried Idyll is silky and velvety!  (YouTube recording)

Here are some paintings with texture. Look at all the different surfaces in the following paintings. How would you describe them? How would they feel to touch? How might they sound? How did the artist create the effect of the different textures?

George Stubbs: Brown and White Norfolk or Water Spaniel 

Johannes Vermeer: The Music Lesson — in this one, notice the differences between the textures of the rug, the floor, the walls, the windows, the ceilings, the vase, and the chair. Did I miss any?  What other textures can you find?

Rembrandt: Elephant

Dynamics

Dynamics is the musical term for changes in volume. Composers write in the music how loud or soft the musicians should play. Usually these words are in Italian. For instance, if the composer writes “piano” (or just the letter p), this means to play quietly. If the composer writes “forte” (or the letter F), this means to play loudly.

Also Sprach Zarathustra

This is the title of a very famous piece by Richard Strauss. You might recognize it! Listen to the beginning: Mr. Strauss wrote a huge crescendo – this means the orchestra starts soft and then gets louder incrementally, until it’s really loud!

What if he had written a diminuendo (to get softer) instead – how would that have changed the effect of the music?

The object of dynamics is to provide lots of variety for the music. Nobody wants to listen to someone speak only loudly or only softly all the time; it’s boring. Using different dynamics provides contrasts within the music. This symphony by Joseph Haydn is nicknamed the “Surprise” Symphony. I think you’ll figure out why! How does Haydn use dynamics to make contrasts and create his surprise?

Haydn “Surprise” Symphony in G Major, Op. 94, 2nd Movement  (YouTube recording)

If you want to hear some really Forte (loud!) playing, listen to the end of Piotr Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture. Actually, it’s Fortississimo (very very very loud)!  (YouTube recording)