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Provocative thoughts from Patric Standford



Dance music of any period is not about subtlety; its need to have a direct appeal, to stimulate a physical response in the listener, has always led to a dilution of the components in composed music that usually create the dividing line beteeen music passively heard and music worth listening to. Melody is the most important of these components. J S Bach, together with the best composers of his time, and his predecessors, all assumed the progress of serious composing to be based upon building melodic lines. The voice was all important. It has been well said that to exclude the voice from pre-classical music would lose us most of the repertoire.

The glorious unaccompanied lines of ancient plainsong found their soulmates eventually in melodic bass lines, and then in the creation of partnerships between two or more upper strands of melody, woven together like fine tapestry. After Bach, weaving became unfashionable. The so-called and short lived 'classical' period succumbed to the influence of a surfeit of dance music, of repetitive and often aggressive rhythms, of the sound of bar lines which had never been heard before, of a symmetrical poise in style and balance of phrase where, like a dance, the steps could be placed accurately even without a melody. In the hands of some composers of this period, symmetrical melodic construction became a fine art, but its phrases were still imprisoned by its rhythmic straitjacket.

The great classical masters were, for the most part, writers of sophisticated dance music. The aggression with which rhythmic elements emerged early in the 19th century seemed to coincide with the invention of the conductor and the disciplined training of larger orchestras. Conductors became the drill sergeants of music; the beat is seen rather than heard. Music was largely written for the parade ground, and when more flexible sounds appeared -- a rhapsodic Wagnerian melody through which bar-lines could not be heard -- it was subversive. The listener had become used to dancing and marching, and contrapuntal pliability was lost on flaccid ears. Schools taught the young by rhythm first, and then with simple striding chords, and eventually with artless tunes. Countrapuntal weaving became a lost art. To examine Bach and his predecessors closely is to look into the pure heart of music and find there the contrapuntal process that could still create life without resorting to a violent artificial pulse.


Copyright © 20 December 2001 Patric Standford, West Yorkshire, UK


From: Bill Halsey

This article about dance music is total nonsense. Bach himself wrote many 'dance' pieces, derived from dance formes, and he was not the first -- even in the Renaissance many of the masses incorporate popular dance melodies.

Of course Bach and Haydn were very sophisticated in their manipulation of dance rhythms, but it can also be said that their music has vitality precisely because they never lost sight of their source material. Wagner by contrast verges on the turgid, and led to a lot of music that is both banal and intellectual -- something that would seem to be hard to accomplish, but which the music conservatories seem dedicated to perpetuating.



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