Theme and Variations

Thoughts and experiences of exploring classical, jazz, and other art music.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Language and Opera

If you are not an opera fan, you may not have noticed that a lot of it is in the Italian language. The birth of opera occurred in Italy around 1600, so Italian makes since. However, this is not why that language is so popular for the art form.

What makes Italian so appropriate is that the words have lots of vowel sounds. Vowel sounds can be extended. If you've ever heard someone yodel, you know that they sing vowel sounds. Consonants, for the most part, cannot be extended. Try to extended the letter B for a few seconds. The "buh" sound goes by quickly, but the "eee" can be carried on until you run out of breath.

Consider some of the big words in opera:

Amore (love), pronounced ah-Mor-aye
Vendetta (revenge), pronounced ven-DET-tuh

The preponderance of vowels allows the singer to perform the great arias of opera.

Compare that to the German language. There is a lot of German opera, but it sounds very different. German has lots of guttural, consonant sounds, though there are vowels in there, too.

I don't speak any languages other than English, however most of the video and DVD recordings of opera feature subtitles, so I can follow what is being said and sung. At live performances, English is provided by supertitles. As such, the language barrier does not prevent me from enjoying the show.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Mood Music

I've never met anyone who couldn't be moved in some fashion emotionally by music. Most people have a "Go To" song or work when they want to change their mood. I certainly have mine.

My "Go To" work is Brahms' Fourth Symphony in E minor. This is a "catharsis" piece in that it starts out dark and ends on a positive and promising fourth movement. As I have hinted, I have problems with chronic migraines, which can be a downer emotionally. This symphony can bring me through it every time. To a lesser extent, his First Symphony in C minor also serves well, even with the references to Beethoven's Ninth (it has been called Beethoven's Tenth).

Another such work for me is Rachmaninov's Symphony No. 2 in E minor (hmm, perhaps a pattern?). Themes from this work have found their way into popular music and movies. This same composer's Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor often does the trick as well, along with his Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini in A minor, another movie piece.

A symphony which goes well with a good mood is Beethoven's Sixth Symphony in F major, also referred to as the Pastoral Symphony. Walt Disney put this work into his animated movie Fantasia. His Ninth Symphony in D minor can also be considered a catharsis piece, ending with the famous "Ode to Joy" in the last movement.

Another mood raiser is Dvorak's Symphony No. 9 in E minor, known best as the "New World" symphony. His Slavonic Dances are quite good (and I forgot to mention Brahms' Hungarian Dances) at perking up the spirits.

Mozart can be more cerebral than emotional, as befitted his era, but that can still be pleasant. Who doesn't recognize his Serenade No. 13 in G major, otherwise known as "Eine kliene Nachtmusik", and crack a little smile?

It looks like my mood music tends to be from the Romantics, which I guess should be no surprise.