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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