Very distinct idioms

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piston
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Very distinct idioms

Post by piston » Mon May 17, 2010 8:48 pm

Do you immediately recognize a composer's idiom, any composer? I am not referring to what is known because of frequently listening to such a work but to recognizing a very distinct musical dialect in an unfamiliar work. Let's say, for example, that you have never heard Leos Janacek's Diary of the one who vanished, never, but immediately recognize Janacek's idiom in this work. The same is not necessarily true of other composers. For instance, one could listen to Roussel's Poem of the Forest for the first time and ask, is that Debussy or Ravel?

Is it just me or do some composers have such a distinct idiom that there can be nobody else, that the composer is identified even before the work is.
In the eyes of those lovers of perfection, a work is never finished—a word that for them has no sense—but abandoned....(Paul Valéry)

MarkC
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Re: Very distinct idioms

Post by MarkC » Mon May 17, 2010 9:38 pm

I think the "distinct idiom" thing is overrated.

Or at least if it's not, I'm awfully stupid. :lol:

I consider myself more knowledgeable than the average bear about these things, yet if I hear a work that I don't know, I'm almost always just guessing about the composer, and I'm often wrong. I'll almost always make what we might call a good guess, but that's about it.

Chopin is usually quite distinct to me. Beethoven often is, but not always. And if it's a work of either Mozart or Haydn that I don't know, I can easily be fooled.

Bach? I could mistake him for Handel or Telemann.
Debussy for Ravel, or vice versa? Of course. And maybe even Roussel could get mixed up in there.

You have to realize that for things like this, we're generally not talking about the composer's best works -- because we know those, so there's no mystery. The best works of great composers probably do very much show a 'distinctive idiom,' but we can't "prove" it by guessing them, because we're not guessing.

The last time I heard an unknown work and was quite sure about the composer, it was Mendelssohn, who I think does have a pretty 'distinct idiom.'
And even then, I wouldn't have bet my bippy on it.

some guy
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Re: Very distinct idioms

Post by some guy » Mon May 17, 2010 10:11 pm

You're very brave to go first Mark, and with that (almost) confession.

I've found that for most composers, it's pretty clear who's who. The exceptions are going to be, as Mark said, in the lesser known works.

But there's no mistaking quite a lot of people. Berlioz is unmistakable. Janacek, of course. Varese. Bartok. Stravinsky.

I remember there was a time when I couldn't always tell the difference between Ravel and Debussy, it's true. But that was a long long time ago. I can't imagine confusing those two. They're nothing alike. Nor are Bruckner and Mahler. Nor are the usual trio of Glass, Reich, and Riley. Absolutely unique all three of them.
"The public has got to stay in touch with the music of its time . . . for otherwise people will gradually come to mistrust music claimed to be the best."
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NancyElla
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Re: Very distinct idioms

Post by NancyElla » Mon May 17, 2010 11:11 pm

The only composer that I can say I have recognized by a "distinct idiom" is Finzi. I don't even know how to describe it properly, but there are little phrases, or moments, or harmonies, or whatever, that no one else could have written. If I hear these things in the middle of some unfamiliar work, I'll say (to myself or to whomever else is around) "man, that sounds like Finzi!", and then learn, at the end of the piece, that it was, of course, Finzi.

The rest of the time, I'm just guessing. Sometimes my guesses are pretty good, sometimes they're even right, but they're still just guesses.
"This is happiness; to be dissolved into something complete and great." --Willa Cather

Prometheus
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Re: Very distinct idioms

Post by Prometheus » Mon May 17, 2010 11:21 pm

I find that many composers do have distinct qualities, but Beethoven is the most distinct for me.

As to how I grew to notice the idioms:

When I got into Classical the amount of music, composers, and differences of musical period styles were very daunting. I recall thinking I would never be able to distinguish a Baroque from a Romantic from a Classical, etc. :lol:

What helped me was to listen to the performing periods in the way I hear the distinction between rock albums. In turning on the radio to a rock station I can tell almost all of the time which decade the song was recorded. The pre 50's, 50's, 60's, 70's, 80's, 90's, and even some of the 00's have qualities that allow for recognition. It is hard to explain, but the audio quality often lets me know which decade a song was recorded in.

Once breaking down Classical styles into subsets (Medieval, Baroque, Classical, Romantic, Modern) I approached it as having the same stylistic differences as recorded rock music. I then listened to a local Classical station and listened for the audio qualities to tell me which period it was from. I would guess and later look up the piece on the online playlist.

While doing this I became quite able to distinguish the century of composition but also the differences in composers. As I learned new pieces I would guess that it sounded like a previous one by a familiar composer and often I was right.

Beethoven, Mozart, and Chopin were the three composers who I was right in guessing the most.

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Re: Very distinct idioms

Post by Chalkperson » Mon May 17, 2010 11:36 pm

Monsieur de Sainte-Colombe...you can hear Hulme, Marais, and Abel, but, Sainte-Colombe has a unique voice, even in the company of those other Gambaists, and, he wrote an enormous body of Music for his Instrument too, including 67 'Concerts' for Double Viol, they now know his real name, it's Augustin Dautrecourt...
Sent via Twitter by @chalkperson

MarkC
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Re: Very distinct idioms

Post by MarkC » Mon May 17, 2010 11:41 pm

A bit off the subj, but........the music that to me is absolutely the most distinctive of anything is:

Frankie Valli & the Four Seasons :)

(And I think I'm really serious........)

NancyElla
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Re: Very distinct idioms

Post by NancyElla » Mon May 17, 2010 11:53 pm

MarkC wrote:A bit off the subj, but........the music that to me is absolutely the most distinctive of anything is:

Frankie Valli & the Four Seasons :)

(And I think I'm really serious........)
And I think you've been into the Scriabin again! :lol:
"This is happiness; to be dissolved into something complete and great." --Willa Cather

MarkC
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Re: Very distinct idioms

Post by MarkC » Mon May 17, 2010 11:59 pm

NancyElla wrote:
MarkC wrote:A bit off the subj, but........the music that to me is absolutely the most distinctive of anything is:
Frankie Valli & the Four Seasons :)
(And I think I'm really serious........)
And I think you've been into the Scriabin again! :lol:
Very true! :lol:

As it says down there......
Don't expect me to be sane, I'm playing Scriabin
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1ySs4aQ8 ... D6&index=0

HoustonDavid
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Re: Very distinct idioms

Post by HoustonDavid » Tue May 18, 2010 12:11 am

Some very old, well aged Scriabin, from a distinct label and a very dusty instrument
if you get my idiosyncrasity. [deleted smiley]
"May You be born in interesting (maybe confusing?) times" - Chinese Proverb (or Curse)

MarkC
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Re: Very distinct idioms

Post by MarkC » Tue May 18, 2010 12:24 am

HoustonDavid wrote:Some very old, well aged Scriabin, from a distinct label and a very dusty instrument
if you get my idiosyncrasity. [deleted smiley]
Not sure I do, unless you mean that my sig has made you see that link hundreds of times...... :mrgreen:

Ken
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Re: Very distinct idioms

Post by Ken » Tue May 18, 2010 1:07 am

To a certain extent I find the music of Schumann, Bartók, and Walton very singular and identifiable. But I think the most recognizable style amongst my favourite composers belongs to Hindemith, whose trademark phrasing is very charismatic and, as you say, full of 'idiom'.
Du sollst schlechte Compositionen weder spielen, noch, wenn du nicht dazu gezwungen bist, sie anhören.

John F
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Re: Very distinct idioms

Post by John F » Tue May 18, 2010 5:30 am

piston wrote:Do you immediately recognize a composer's idiom, any composer? I am not referring to what is known because of frequently listening to such a work but to recognizing a very distinct musical dialect in an unfamiliar work.
Not "any composer," but certain composers, yes. Janacek is one of them, Stravinsky is another - their individual musical styles are so distinctive and highly flavored. Stravinsky's influence has been so powerful that other composers have written in something like his style, but I can tell the difference. And Janacek is certainly one of a kind. I'm also pretty good at identifying unknown or unfamiliar music by Carl Maria von Weber, because of certain quirks of his style.

A friend (and a CMG member) likes to post unidentified clips of music none of us has ever heard, with a couple of clues to help narrow the search. To take part, you only need to go to CompuServe's Music Forum, and look for the threads titled lenquiz. Every now and then I manage to identify the composer by ear, but those obscure 19th century Italian opera composers get me every time. :)
John Francis

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Re: Very distinct idioms

Post by lennygoran » Tue May 18, 2010 7:24 am

>Every now and then I manage to identify the composer by ear,<

John, you're much too modest--some of your id's of the most esoteric pieces have been just incredible.

>those obscure 19th century Italian opera composers get me every time.<

Not everytime-- your recent id of Verdi's Jerusalem was outstanding! :) Regards, Len

piston
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Re: Very distinct idioms

Post by piston » Tue May 18, 2010 7:58 am

In an era when memory loss is not so rare after a certain age, I wonder which of the two types of memories would persist longer: memory of a work or memory of a composer's style or idiom? I'd bet on the latter.
In the eyes of those lovers of perfection, a work is never finished—a word that for them has no sense—but abandoned....(Paul Valéry)

THEHORN
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Re: Very distinct idioms

Post by THEHORN » Tue May 18, 2010 8:50 am

The Roussel 1st symphony which you mention is an early work written before Roussel found his own highly distinctive voice .
If you listen to the 2nd, 3rd or 4th Roussel symphonies, or the ballet scores Bacchus&Ariane, The Spider's Feast, the opera/ballet Padmavati etc, I don't
think you could ever mistake them for Debussy or Ravel.
Roussel's mature music is in fact vastly different from his better-known French contemporaries; it's vigorous,earthy , and much more dissonant harmonically, and the extures much more contrapuntal.
Yes, every great composer has an unmistakable personal style, and even many lesser ones.
Bruckner's music shows the influences of Beethoven, Schubert and Wagner , but his music still sounds like no one else's.
And yes, Janacek's music is highly distinctive,although his early works are nothing to write home about; he was one of music's great late bloomers.

piston
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Re: Very distinct idioms

Post by piston » Tue May 18, 2010 8:56 am

I am familiar with Roussel's opus. I offered his first symphony as an example, nothng more.
In the eyes of those lovers of perfection, a work is never finished—a word that for them has no sense—but abandoned....(Paul Valéry)

piston
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Re: Very distinct idioms

Post by piston » Tue May 18, 2010 9:01 am

Note that while you speak of every great composers having a distinctive style, you also refer to Janacek's idiom as highly original. Saint-Saens is a great composer but his language is not as much original. Many of his early to mid-period orchestral works are derivatives from Beethoven. Is Franck as highly original as Janacek? Not in my opinion.
In the eyes of those lovers of perfection, a work is never finished—a word that for them has no sense—but abandoned....(Paul Valéry)

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Re: Very distinct idioms

Post by jbuck919 » Tue May 18, 2010 9:17 am

piston wrote:Note that while you speak of every great composers having a distinctive style, you also refer to Janacek's idiom as highly original. Saint-Saens is a great composer but his language is not as much original. Many of his early to mid-period orchestral works are derivatives from Beethoven.
Yes, well, in mathematics the first derivative of a constant function of even the highest value is zero.

I suppose it is silly for me to say that I never fail to recognize a random piece as being by Bach or Scarlatti (or, for vocal music, Handel) on the basis of style recognition rather than recognition of the individual piece (they all wrote so much that it unlikely anyone without an extraordinary memory could do it comprehensively by specific memorization). Those things are so unmistakable that this hardly constitutes an accomplishment. On the other hand, I sometimes still have trouble quickly identifying specific movements of later composers that I have heard many times, sometimes cannot say which specific symphonic work I am listening to, and failed miserably on the "which quartet is Haydn and which Mozart?" online test I posted on a while back. I would be easy to embarrass on a quiz show if the exercise were one of attribution based on hearing an excerpt.

There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
-- Johann Sebastian Bach

Neytiri

Re: Very distinct idioms

Post by Neytiri » Tue May 18, 2010 9:41 am

jbuck919 wrote:
Yes, well, in mathematics the first derivative of a constant function of even the highest value is zero.
So is every other (if f (x) = const.). What's your point?

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Re: Very distinct idioms

Post by diegobueno » Tue May 18, 2010 9:54 am

piston wrote:Do you immediately recognize a composer's idiom, any composer? I am not referring to what is known because of frequently listening to such a work but to recognizing a very distinct musical dialect in an unfamiliar work. Let's say, for example, that you have never heard Leos Janacek's Diary of the one who vanished, never, but immediately recognize Janacek's idiom in this work. The same is not necessarily true of other composers. For instance, one could listen to Roussel's Poem of the Forest for the first time and ask, is that Debussy or Ravel?

Is it just me or do some composers have such a distinct idiom that there can be nobody else, that the composer is identified even before the work is.
All the composers I admire have a "distinct idiom" as you say. I call it personality. It means the composer has not only mastered the art of putting notes together in a coherent way, but he's also figured out how to express something original to himself in sound. You can't do that just by imitating someone else.

Stravinsky always sounds like Stravinsky no matter what compositional technique he uses. Irving Fine wrote a lot of very distinguished music which sounds exactly like neo-classical Stravinsky. He couldn't get beyond the model. Copland's style owes a lot to Stravinsky, but he went beyond that and found something which is distinctive to himself. Poulenc often ripped off Stravinsky's ideas, but with him it's all part of a mix of influences which somehow adds up to a distinctive Poulenc sound. Orff just sounds like a crude imitation of Les Noces.

The really distinctive personalities often rub off on other composers, and unless those composers have distinctive personalities themselves, they're going to be swallowed up.
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Re: Very distinct idioms

Post by MarkC » Tue May 18, 2010 11:19 am

Neytiri wrote:
jbuck919 wrote: Yes, well, in mathematics the first derivative of a constant function of even the highest value is zero.
So is every other (if f (x) = const.). What's your point?
I think he was basically just funning with a pun. :)

Neytiri

Re: Very distinct idioms

Post by Neytiri » Tue May 18, 2010 11:48 am

MarkC wrote: I think he was basically just funning with a pun. :)
Yeah, he does that a lot... ... ... :roll:

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Re: Very distinct idioms

Post by Jack Kelso » Wed May 19, 2010 9:17 am

All of the really great masters have distinctive styles---or had developed them during the course of their maturing. Early Beethoven or Schubert can sound like Haydn and Mendelssohn occasionally sounds a bit like Beethoven in his chamber music.

But Berlioz, Chopin and Schumann have their distinctive (original) styles right from their opus 1.

Liszt can be recognized by his distinctive harmonic patterns and orchestration. Handel's powerful melodic, rhythmic and harmonic features set him apart from his contemporaries---as do those of J.S. Bach.

Smetana, Grieg, Tschaikowsky and Dvorak are also distinctive, each in his own way.

Tschüß,
Jack
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Re: Very distinct idioms

Post by MarkC » Wed May 19, 2010 10:56 am

Jack Kelso wrote:All of the really great masters have distinctive styles---or had developed them during the course of their maturing......
I don't know about that. :)
Although of course it depends exactly what we mean by distinctive. I agree that it's distinctive on fine analysis, but not if we mean readily recognizable upon hearing (which is how the original post meant it).

I said in my first post that this is 'overrated,' and it looks like I'm just about the only one.

I have a story. :mrgreen:

In my student days, when I didn't know a heck of a lot less than I do now :lol: I wandered into the auditorium where the "finals performances" were being held for the performance majors. Every semester, they would play something in the mostly-empty auditorium -- open to the public but attended just by the faculty and whoever else would wander in.

I wandered in, as did a few other students. We sat together. The players had just begun a movement of a string quartet -- obviously by Beethoven, but none of us knew which one. We looked at one another all around, mouthing the word "Beethoven" and nodding, and mouthing the question "Which one?" and all of us shrugging.

The performers' teachers were sitting right in front of us. They happened to be a renowned group (the Fine Arts Quartet) but we were familiar enough with them that at the end, one of us nudged the cellist and asked, "What quartet was that of Beethoven?" He answered, "Death and the Maiden, by Schubert."

If a group of us from this site were to hear an unfamiliar movement from a chamber piece or symphony by Schubert, Beethoven, Mozart, or Haydn, and a bunch of us didn't get it wrong, I'd be very impressed.

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Re: Very distinct idioms

Post by some guy » Wed May 19, 2010 4:52 pm

If a group of us from this site were to hear an unfamiliar movement from a chamber piece or symphony by Schubert, Beethoven, Mozart, or Haydn, and a bunch of us got it wrong, I'd be very depressed.
"The public has got to stay in touch with the music of its time . . . for otherwise people will gradually come to mistrust music claimed to be the best."
--Viennese critic (1843)

Confusion is a word we have invented for an order which is not understood.
--Henry Miller

jbuck919
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Re: Very distinct idioms

Post by jbuck919 » Wed May 19, 2010 5:04 pm

some guy wrote:If a group of us from this site were to hear an unfamiliar movement from a chamber piece or symphony by Schubert, Beethoven, Mozart, or Haydn, and a bunch of us got it wrong, I'd be very depressed.
Me too, but only if someone said it was by Tchaikovsky. :)

There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
-- Johann Sebastian Bach

piston
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Re: Very distinct idioms

Post by piston » Wed May 19, 2010 5:43 pm

Demographics of CMG could suggest that some 80 percent of us are entitled to get it wrong. :mrgreen:
In the eyes of those lovers of perfection, a work is never finished—a word that for them has no sense—but abandoned....(Paul Valéry)

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Re: Very distinct idioms

Post by some guy » Wed May 19, 2010 5:52 pm

:D :D :D :D
"The public has got to stay in touch with the music of its time . . . for otherwise people will gradually come to mistrust music claimed to be the best."
--Viennese critic (1843)

Confusion is a word we have invented for an order which is not understood.
--Henry Miller

7flat5
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Re: Very distinct idioms

Post by 7flat5 » Wed May 19, 2010 9:08 pm

Chalkperson wrote:Monsieur de Sainte-Colombe...you can hear Hulme, Marais, and Abel, but, Sainte-Colombe has a unique voice, even in the company of those other Gambaists, and, he wrote an enormous body of Music for his Instrument too, including 67 'Concerts' for Double Viol, they now know his real name, it's Augustin Dautrecourt...
I've recently become fascinated by this music, but haven't heard a very wide selection. I hear a melancholy in this which is very idiosyncratic, but I wonder how much it has to do with the style of Jordi Savall and those influenced by him playing it, or the music itself. Any thoughts?

By the way, a recently discovered document, a marriage contract signed by the Paris M. Jean de Sainte Colombe calls into serious question the identification with the M. Augustin Dautrecourt (de Sainte Colombe) of the Lyon area.

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