Dr. Jack Ullom Lecture
THIS LECTURE is dedicated to all of the teachers who have devoted their talents to enrich and guide the learning of their students. . . and to the memory of my ever-supportive parents . . . Mr. and Mrs. Elton C. Ullom
Johann Sebastian Bach . . .
My heart . . . beats sincerely for the sublime and magnificent art of that first father
of harmony. The immortal god of harmony. Not Brook, but Sea, should be his name.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart . . .
I tell you before God, as an honest man, that your son is the greatest composer I
know, either personally or by repute.
Ludwig van Beethoven . . .
Works of art are not created; they are there, waiting to be discovered.
I will seize Fate by the throat; it shall certainly not bend and crush me completely.
Music, in truth, is the mediator between intellectual and sensuous life. -Beethoven,
1810 I shalll hear in heaven.
Inner Tension in the Music of
Jack R. Ullom, D.M.A.
WHAT A HAPPY DAY this is for me! Today I have the opportunity to speak on a subject I fell in love with at nine years of age, to an audience of 400 friends and students. And I won't have to pass out term sheets, crossword puzzles, laserdisc study guides, or read blue books and concert reports, let alone assign you grades. I am truly grateful for the appreciation my students and colleagues have shown by selecting me as this year's Faculty Lecturer. With the assistance of Peter Raschke in Music, David Wong and Tom Zieher in Media Services, Tal Sanders in Theatre Arts, and Janice Peterson in Communication, I have had a great time preparing today's lecture, and this honor is even more meaningful to me when I consider the quality of the 10 individuals who have preceded me. I must warn you, however, that I am only accustomed to being on this stage with a violin or baton in my hand. So, if I grab this pointer and wave it around a lot, it will be more for the purpose of helping me feel at ease than for any other reason.
I became a teacher because I had such respect for my teachers, mainly because they gave me the joy of learning. I remember Mrs. Bell, my first elementary school music teacher, who used to blow a whistle when she wanted our orchestra to pay attention and who worked with me after school and taught me a Vivaldi violin concerto at 10 years of age. Her dedication and my persistence led to a performance of this piece before many people in an All-City Music Festival. My mother said that I looked as white as her freshly bleached sheets as I stood playing on the raised platform with Mrs. Bell at the keyboard. I don't remember how the playing went, but the feeling of stark terror I will never forget. I experienced it only one other time, as I pulled the pin and threw a live grenade in basic training.
Ben Herring, my junior high school music teacher, taught music with a passion and was a strong role model in those formative years. Mr. Herring was an oboist who took up the violin after he retired and with whom I have been reunited and have had the pleasure of teaching at summer chamber music workshops since 1980. How many of us are fortunate enough to teach our own teachers? What a credit to Mr. Herring's attitude toward lifelong learning and what a fine example he has been in my life. There were many other teachers also - Mr. Bronislaw Stemgenski and Mr. Edmund Weingart were my Polish and German violin teachers while I was in high school.
And I must not forget my first private violin teacher, Marian Alberillo Stewart, who now lives in Santa Barbara and is here today. Marian was a wonderful violinist (what Italians are not! ) who studied with the same teacher as Isaac Stern, Mr. Naoum Blinder, a Russian. Marian was studying at Holy Names to be a teacher and taught with an energy and enthusiasm second to none. I remember so well the day my parents took me to hear Marian solo with the Holy Names Symphony Orchestra. She played like an angel. Later, she went on to be an outstanding humanities and art teacher. Marian, would you please stand so that I may publicly say thank you?
My list is endless-my dear mentor and violin teacher, Gibson Walters, at San Jose State University, Joachim Chassman of Los Angeles, and our own Dr. Harold Dunn who brought me to Santa Barbara and has served as a very special model and supportive friend all of these years. To these caring and talented people, who have had a profound effect on my life as a teacher, and to my parents, I dedicate this lecture.
Like many forms of music, classical music has definite characteristics which are appealing because they are such powerful and expressive examples of the human experience. To me, classical music contains the prime motivations of a dynamic life - a balanced blend of repetition and contrast which creates varying states of tension and repose. The dynamic polarization of these opposing elements creates the electric current that energizes our very existence. Just a few of the opposing forces in music are:
The music we will hear today also contains the elements of structure, variety, balance, continuity, creative ingenuity, expressiveness, inner drive and profound spirituality that give our life meaning. Certainly, classical music is just one of the many aspects of life that achieves this end, but I would like to spend some time showing you why I believe that these various characteristics and a natural sense of inner tension are so well represented in the works of Johann Sebastian Bach, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Ludwig van Beethoven-hence the title of today's talk, "Inner Tension in the Music of Bach, Mozart and Beethoven."
What I especially enjoy in this kind of music is its ability to combine all of these attributes into a composite musical experience that can be totally enriching. Like most things, the quality of the experience is proportionate to the amount of effort we put into understanding and doing it. We have a very short time today to look at several aspects of the classical musical experience - so let us begin.
The foundation of anything is its basic structure. This structure, like all of the elements we will examine, is based upon the synergic relationship of repetition and contrast of the smallest parts to the skeletal frame of the whole. I am going to survey three different pieces, the Bach FUGUE IN G MINOR for the organ, Mozart's SYMPHONY NO. 41, the "Jupiter," and Beethoven's SYMPHONY NO. 5 IN C MINOR.
Johann Sebastian Bach
Let us begin with the Bach fugue. A fugue is a form of music based on a repeating melody which appears in several registers, high and low, much like the layers of wood in a piece of plywood or the layers of noodles, cheese and sauce in lasagna. Here we have a Macintosh Lasagna to illustrate how the musical layers would appear in a fugue if they were equated to a lasagna. Just as a piece of plywood with its many laminated layers of wood forms a very strong building material, a fugue has an inner tensile strength that is exceptional.
The melody or fugue subject of Bach's FUGUE IN G MINOR has variety, balance, continuity, creative ingenuity, expressiveness and an inner strength, built upon just three notes of the scale. Like many of his fugue subjects, it begins slowly and builds in intensity.
This fugue subject has a sense of natural propulsion with a great deal of variety. However, its basic structure is very simple. The notes are 1, 5, 3, 2, 1 of the scale, with a special emphasis on 1, 2 and 3 of the scale.
These three notes give it an expressive quality of sadness or, at the very least, a serious, solemn nature. Bach built a complex melody out of the simplest and most primal notes of a minor scale - Do, Re, Me, Re and Do. Each part of the melody seems to have a purpose: the beginning sets the serious mood, while the next part is an elaboration upon 1, 2, 3 and 5 of the scale, giving us interest by ornamentation and rhythmic variation. Notice how the end of the melody again emphasizes 3, 2 and 1 of the scale. These continuous ornamental notes propel the tune toward its ultimate resolution on the primary note of the scale.
As an example of how this fugue is still vital today, listen to a portion of the fugue played on a Roland D-50 synthesizer, Roland MT-32 tone module and a Yamaha DX-7 synthesizer driven by Vision software and a Macintosh computer. These are the instruments used by current music students in Peter Raschke's Electronic Music classes. As I listen to Bach on these modern instruments, I cannot help but notice the timeless nature of his music and the ease with which it adapts to modern musical technology.
How or where did Bach learn the skill of constructing fugue subjects? He learned by copying the works of other Italian, German and French composers. He studied assiduously and worked toward perfection of his contrapuntal skills (writing melodies against melodies), even in his mature years. He learned the Italian style through imitation and transcription of Vivaldi concertos. When he first encountered the Italian music of Corelli, for example, his Germanic contrapuntal skills excelled, but he lacked the melodic clarity and balance of the Italian themes. He perfected this skill by writing fugues based on themes of Corelli, Legrenzi and Albinoni.1 Thanks to the Italians, he developed a thematic incisiveness disciplined by Italian simplicity. A good example of his growth can be seen by comparing an early theme which is "mechanically patterned and long-winded," with a more mature theme which is "unified through its simplicity and has a strong harmonic basis."2
In the immature theme, the sequential 16th note pattern, beginning in the second measure, is repeated too many times and our interest wanes,
but, in the mature theme, variety and repetition are more effectively balanced.
In a fugue, the melody repeats many times, but without being boring because it appears in higher and lower parts and different harmonic keys. While it is repeating, another melody called a countersubject carries on a musical dialogue with the fugue subject, much the same way two people would converse.
This dynamic communication between the parts of a fugue gives it a vitality and strong sense of forward motion not found in any other musical form. What you see on the screen (see Appendix A for line score) is called a line score and is a blow by blow description of what is happening in the music. If you look on the right side, you will recognize the fugue subject and countersubject, and, on the left side under Events, the activity of this musical material is described. Above this is a timeline showing the relative length of each event in relation to the entire piece. The numbers in the bottom row refer to the corresponding number of the event. Let us listen to the first five events to see how it works. You can tell where you are in the piece by quickly glancing up above to the event number at the bottom of the graphic. Try to read one event ahead and use your ear to tell you when the music is doing what it is supposed to. I will point to the event numbers this first time until you become more confident. Begin by reading Event 1 and read one event ahead to see if you can anticipate the musical changes.
You may have noticed short little sections between new entrances of the subject where the tune was silent. These sections or episodes of the fugue quite often have sequential melodic fragments that move the fugue subject to another key so that we may experience it in this new key. A sequence is the repeating of short melodic patterns at higher or lower pitches and enables the composer to move the music to a contrasting key before repeating the fugue subject and its countermelody. Here are some sequential fragments used in the episode of this fugue, played on the Yamaha DX-7 synthesizer.
As we listen to Bach's FUGUE IN G MINOR and follow the events on the line score, judge for yourself whether or not it lives up to my promise that it has variety, balance, continuity, creative ingenuity, expressiveness, and an inner tension and drive which make it a powerful and convincing piece of music. Read one event ahead so that you anticipate what will happen. I expect that you will be able to hear these changes from one event to the next if you listen for the familiar tune. I am going to check to see if you are keeping up by having you call out the event number every once in a while.
Upon first listening, this fugue is quite complex and yet manageable, but, after repeated listening, its tonal structure and sequences become even more meaningful and interesting. What makes Bach's musical ideas special is that they do not lose their freshness even after being heard hundreds of times over many years or being performed on the latest instruments.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
The second composer I have chosen to talk about today is Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. (Audience views slides of Mozart from videodisc projection.) I sandwiched him in between Bach and Beethoven simply because his music is sublime, and, in Mozart's own modest analysis, "perfect." He had his models in Bach and Haydn, to be sure, but his inspiration and extraordinary musicianship made his music totally unique and a perfect example of classical ideals and style.
Charles Rosen, an eminent scholar of classical style, feels that the simplest way to summarize classical form in music is to describe it as "the symmetrical resolution of opposing forces."3 Mozart was a master at musical symmetry and composed with a musical expression that epitomizes graceful beauty. I would like you to spend just a moment experiencing Mozart in his PIANO CONCERTO IN G MAJOR, where we hear his tuneful themes with their crystal-like clarity or his brilliant passagework which elicits an admiration for his pyrotechnological prowess. It is being performed on 18th century period instruments, including a pianoforte similar to Mozart's own instrument. (Audience views laserdisc projection of performance of Mozart piano concerto.)
One more example of Mozart is drawn from the final movement of his last symphony, SYMPHONY NO. 41 IN C MAJOR, nicknamed the "Jupiter" by an unknown admirer. What is so special about this piece is its extraordinary energy created by contrapuntal writing that seems like an homage to Bach. It contains many melodic ideas which he combines into one of the most powerful fugal settings in all of musical literature. The themes have that same incisive character as the mature themes of Bach we examined earlier. It is a wonderful example of Mozart's reaffirmation in the uplifting and positive aspects of life, written at a time when his own life was waning.
The four-note theme, which is based on Do, Re, Fa, Mi of the scale, is simple, very basic and perfect for manipulation.
What we see here on the screen is the main theme and the upside down and backwards version of that theme, better known as the retrograde inversion.
The next graphic shows the various possibilities Mozart had in manipulating this theme. He could turn it upside down in the inversion, play it backwards as a retrograde, or use an upside down and backwards version called theretrograde inversion.
One of the first melodic manipulations by Mozart is to combine the Theme Iagainst itself.
Next is the theme versus its retrograde.
A second theme features this energetic fragment and its inversion. And now the inversion:
Next, we hear this same theme against its inversion.
Still another example of his creative imagination is a third theme in counterpoint against itself.
The examples of Mozart's creative ingenuity in manipulating melodic ideas from this movement alone could have occupied the entire lecture today-they are so numerous. Instead, I would like to play the ending section which features a double fugue with two subjects and brings this intense symphonic movement to a close. Of all the symphonies written in the 18th century, I consider this finale from Mozart's last symphony, SYMPHONY NO. 41 IN C MAJOR, the "Jupiter," to be the supreme movement.
Before leaving this masterpiece, I would like to share with you music historian Homer Ulrich's description of this finale.
It is his greatest technical achievement. It runs its course effortlessly, with a divine abandon. If ever Mozart illustrated the 'art that conceals art,' it is here. In the 'Jupiter' he has come to terms with himself and the world. Neither resigned nor pessimistic, neither hysterical nor morbid, the 'Jupiter' is the perfect work of art. It marks a fitting close to his career as a composer of symphonies. 4
Ludwig van Beethoven
The final composer in today's triumvirate is Ludwig van Beethoven. As the inheritor of the musical traditions of Bach and Mozart, Beethoven had a wonderful balance of objectivity and subjective expressiveness. He used the simplest of musical ideas as the backbone for large works of art, like the symphony, in much the same way that Bach, in his day, employed concentrated musical ideas as the basis of large, involved pieces.
There are many good reasons why Beethoven's FIFTH SYMPHONY is a warhorse or much-performed piece. More so in this work than any other, he created a compelling, expressive piece which was based on a very short melodic/ rhythmic motive, familiar to most listeners.
This motive, which serves as the basis for the drama in the entire symphony, is a rhythmic idea that germinates and evolves into all material that follows. But a little discussed fact is that the melodic intervals, or distance between the pitches of this melody, also have special significance. The first melodic interval sounds like this: a positive, consonant sounding interval. The second melodic fragment contains a smaller version of the same interval, or what we describe as a more dissonant or displeasing interval.
Thus, in the shortest amount of time and with the most economical aural symbols, Beethoven has expressed what is to be a struggle between positives and negatives throughout the symphony. What he does with these four notes is truly one of the most imaginative and inventive creations of mankind. It is at once appealing to the masses because of its simple and direct expressiveness - and even more appealing to those who would experience it many times and at many levels.
The polarity of positiveness and negativeness of this famous motive is but a symbol of Beethoven's personal struggle with his loss of hearing, which certainly influenced his feeling that "out of suffering comes joy," or his manic depressive psychological struggles. (Audience views various slides of Beethoven through laserdisc projection.) This is not a happy, contented man, to be sure. But, throughout it all, he maintained a positive spirit that manifested itself in his creative genius and inspired such intriguing musical material.
He composed a very long movement in which the intense main motive
is juxtaposed with another very Iyrical and positive melody.
As we continue with this Iyrical melody, you may notice the main fate motivewhich is accompanying or competing with it. Later, Beethoven used a new melody employing the falling minor third:
and then we hear a retrograde inversion (upside down and backwards) melody, featuring an alternating rising major third and minor third to create further unresolved conflict as the movement ends.
I should point out that this is the same kind of melodic manipulation that Bach used in his music to create tension and another example of Beethoven's resourceful use of melodic material to create contrasting expressive states. These are simple ideas, but the results are profound.
In the next movement, the fate motive is heard in a new, more positive context, with its major key tonality and smooth, legato character.
The foreboding and moody third movement finds the fate motive still in another context, first emphasizing the positive, and then the negative.
Finally, the finale or final movement explodes in a burst of martial enthusiasm and positiveness created by the rising major third in this new tune. It seems as though the positive members of the fate motive have prevailed.
He celebrates further with new lyrical melodies,
featuring the pleasant-sounding major third. In addition, his contrasting theme in this movement is a timid, Iyrical version of the fate motive from the first movement.
All of the fiery intensity of the fate motive has burned out, and eventually Beethoven celebrates even more by combining both themes in this movement as if all the happy revelers are having a lively party.
The fate motive makes one last appearance - and notice its very soft, dynamic and non-threatening character.
As you will hear, there is a final return to the motive of triumph. The concluding section or coda is one of the most jubilant celebrations in all symphonic music. I think you will agree that, in this coda from his FIFTH SYMPHONY, Beethoven's long journey to find joy from all of life's suffering is a success.
And so we come to the end of our brief look at the music of three outstanding composers. What I have tried to demonstrate today is how the creative manipulation of melodic material by the three composers, Bach, Mozart and Beethoven, is not only expressive of very real human emotions, but also creates an inner tension that consciously and subconsciously captures the interest of the listener. This inner tension was created from the simplest of musical ideas, ingeniously manipulated to produce superior results. These composers had a special instinct for the ideal balance of repetition and contrast of their melodic ideas so that the music captivates us, takes us on an adventurous journey, and brings us to a thoroughly satisfying and uplifting conclusion.
1. Bukofzer, Manfred E, Music in the Baroque Era (New York: W. W. Norton, 1947), p. 276.
2. Bukofzer, Music in the Baroque Era, p. 277.
3. Rosen, Charles, The Classical Style (New York: W. W. Norton, 1972), p. 83.
4. Ulrich, Homer, Symphonic Music (New York: Columbia University Press, 1952), p. 107.