In honor of back-to-school week here at Indiana University, Ether Game’s show will be strictly by the book. It’s a show dedicated to precepts, principles, tenets, and doctrines, a show we’re calling “Follow The Rules.”
- Johann Sebastian Bach (1685–1750), The Art of Fugue – To start off this look at rule-following, we bring you music by the man who basically invented many of the musical rules we follow: J.S. Bach. Bach was the ultimate master craftsman, creating serpentine lines of counterpoint woven together in perfect harmony and exacting precision. When musical pedagogues today talk about the “rules” of eighteenth-century counterpoint—canons, fugues, inversion, invertible counterpoint, subjects, countersubjects, and the like—they are talking about the music of Bach. The Art of Fugue is in many ways a culmination of the various techniques he mastered and codification of the “rules” he helped define. In the work, Bach exhibits an assortment of contrapuntal techniques on a single subject. It was written towards the end of his life and left unfinished (although substantially complete) when he died in 1750. It was his son Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach who helped compile and complete the work after J.S. Bach’s death.
- Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina (1525–1594), Canticum Canticorum – During the High Renaissance, sacred polyphonic music became increasingly complicated as composers wrote complex counterpoint, sometimes creating settings of the mass for seven or more independent voice parts. Palestrina's music, however, with its simple, graceful melodies and easily understood texts was a welcome relief for the Catholic Church, so much so that Palestrina became a legendary figure. It wasn’t just that his music was nice to listen to. It was also well organized on a technical level. Following the rules of music theory was very important to Renaissance church composers, probably because performing music was considered a devotional practice. For two centuries, Palestrina’s music became the paradigm for following musical rules. In the 1700s, music theorist Johann Joseph Fux codified those rules when he used Palestrina’s style as the basis for his treatise Gradus ad Parnassum, a pedagogical book on counterpoint that was studied by Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, and many others.
- Claudio Monteverdi (1567–1643), Fifth Book of Madrigals – If Palestrina was the paradigm of rule-following at the turn of the 17th century, then Claudio Monteverdi is certainly the paradigm of rule-breaking. And his skirting of sixteenth-century contrapuntal rules ushered in a new era: the Baroque era. But at the time, Monteverdi simply called it the “seconda pratica” or “second practice.” In Monteverdi’s Fifth Book of Madrigals, he included several illegal treatments of dissonances, like not resolving them or preparing them correctly. Fellow composer and theorist Giovanni Artusi, an adherent to the hard-and-fast rules of counterpoint, called out Monteverdi for the error of his ways. Monteverdi responded by defending his seconda pratica, saying that he was breaking the rules in service of the expression of the text. His new way of thinking caught on, ultimately creating the new style of “tonal” music ... and with it a new set of musical “rules.”
- Ludwig van Beethoven (1770–1827) Piano Sonata No. 28 in A Major, Op. 101: II. Lebhaft, Marschmässig. Vivace alla marcia – On the spectrum from “rule-follower” to “rule-breaker,” Ludwig van Beethoven sat closer to the “rule-breaker” end. His fiery musical style was strongly independent, doing things like playing extreme dynamics, experimenting with the precepts of form, or opening up his music to deep pathos. But that doesn’t mean Beethoven didn’t know his rules. Beethoven had a mastery of counterpoint that could rival any of his peers, but when he employed a fugue or invertible counterpoint it was usually in service of a larger goal. For instance, this passage from the second movement of his Piano Sonata No. 28 contains a strict canon at the octave between the two hands. But this canon is part of a march, that serves as the trio section to a larger three-part form. It’s not just there for its own sake. Beethoven incorporated other rule-following contrapuntal showcases in many of his late-period works.
- Claude Debussy (1862–1918), La Mer – The late Romantic Era was a great time to be a musical rule breaker. Many believed that art music was an instrument used to access the primal mysterious forces beyond human perception, which was thought of as constructed and impure. Musical explorations were theoretically limitless. That being said, audiences and critics still valued taste and tradition. The most successful composers were those who could ride a line between acknowledging the standard rules of music and exploring new territory. Claude Debussy became the figurehead composer in France for this mindset. He famously said, “Pleasure is the only rule” when it came to writing music, and he created a rogue approach to harmony that is still associated with his name. That style is on display in La Mer, one of his most famous pieces, but the work contains traditional elements as well: The two heavier outer movements bookend the lighter Jeux de vagues, mimicking the form of a classical symphony.
- Anton Webern (1883–1945) Piano Variations, Op. 27 – Although it might not be clear from just listening to it, the music of Anton Webern strictly follows the rules. These rules are those of Arnold Schoenberg’s Second Viennese School, an informal cohort of composers writing in twelve-tone serialism. In this style, Webern would take a series of all twelve pitches—a row—and manipulate that row very strictly by inverting it or transposing it, much like Bach would do to his musical subjects. Moreover, Webern would create multiple layers of symmetry, reflecting his musical ideas over an axis. The result is something that is highly determined and highly organized, with nary a note out of place upon close inspection. However, to the casual listener, a Webern piece might sound a bit jumbled. And really, that was sort of the point. Schoenberg, Webern and other adherents to the Second Viennese School were revolutionaries, whose “rules” questioned many of the central tenets of music, including “beauty.”
- Paul Hindemith (1895–1963), Sonata for Viola and Piano, Op. 11, No. 4 – Several times in music history, authoritarian governments have imposed rules on music composition because they feared that culturally diverse music could threaten their power. During the rule of the newly ascended Nazi party, Paul Hindemith began to notice that his Jewish colleagues had lost their professional posts. He thought that they would regain their posts once a new party was put in power in a future election. Unfortunately, this never happened. Hindemith soon found that his own music was a source of ire for the new government. It was denounced as atonal noisemaking, and in 1936 a ban was placed on all of his compositions, even the more tonal works like this viola sonata. Hindemith later moved to the United States, so that his music could live freely and not exist as prohibited contraband.
- Johannes Tinctoris (c. 1435–1511), Missa L'homme armé – If Bach is the father of musical rules and Palestrina is the grandfather, then Johannes Tinctoris is the great grandfather. A second-generation member of the Franco-Flemish school of composers, he produced several masses, chansons, and motets. Tinctoris’ true passion though was music theory and organizing the rules of composition. Several Renaissance composers cite his treatises, many of which are basically lists of musical rules with notated examples for context. His most influential writing is a list of eight rules from his third book of counterpoint. These rules police the use of consonance and dissonance in musical intervals and the movements of simultaneous musical melodies as they interact with one another. Tinctoris’ rules would build the foundation for even more complex rule-making by Palestrina and Bach. He is also credited with publishing another very useful document: the first musical dictionary!
- Tears For Fears, "Everybody Wants To Rule The World" – Rules can be about creating and maintaining order, but more often, rules are about power. And power leads to corruption. This, of course, can apply to music: one can argue (and many have) that music-theoretical rules are a way to maintain the superiority of Western culture. While these issues of rules, power, and corruption can apply to pretty much any small facet of society, most often they apply to politics. And that’s the theme behind “Everybody Wants To Rule The World,” the hit song from 80s new wave band Tears For Fears off of their album Songs From The Big Chair. The lyrics of the song vaguely reference the Cold War politics of Thatcher and Reagan. But the message, with indistinct allusions to power, freedom, and desire, is vague enough that “Everybody Wants To Rule The World” has become timeless and universal.