Sunday, September 2, 2012

Pre-Classical Styles in Music

Two of the most popular musical styles of 18th century Europe were the Italian gallant style and the German empfindsamer Stil, or "sentimental" style. The gallant style, characterized by free-moving, song-like melodies with simple harmonic progressions and straight-forward organization, was the most popular and received its name from the French term from the courtly manner in literature. The galant style was synonymous with all things modern, chic, and sophisticated. In contrast, the emphindsam style was marked  by surprising turns of harmony, eclectic rhythm, increased chromaticism and a lyrical melody.

La Serva Padrona, an Intermezzo by Giovanni Battista Pergolesi, is a decent example of the popular 18th century gallant style. The recitative, “Ah, quanto mi sta male” is set over light accompaniment and simple harmony with short, lyrical phrases. The accompaniment becomes more and more agitated to express the growing consternation Uberto, the singer, feels during the aria, evidenced by the figure in measure 18 which transposes and quickens in subsequent measures. The aria “Son imbroglato io” features small repeated figures in the accompaniment that combine to become the ABA form of a da capo aria. Characteristic of the gallant style, the aria features contrasting moods as opposed to the Baroque arias which centered on a single humor. 

 C.P.E. Bach, one of the leading exponents of the empfindsam style, exhibited traits specific to that compositional discipline in the second movement of his Sonata in A Major, Poco adagio. The section features a lyrical line embellished with many ornamentations such as turns, chromatic neighbor groups, snaps and trills. The ornamentation here, unlike in Baroque opera, serves as means of expression, not just vain embellishment, and lends an air of meaning to every cadential turn. The rhythm of the piece changes rapidly, contributing to a sense of unpredictability and restlessness, while remaining grounded in sequential repetition. The harmony and melody are also characteristically spotted with nonharmonic tones and subtle chromatic changes which spice the piece and give it a more dramatic quality.

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