1) This week's composer is also Brahms, so I won't go into much description of him here.
2) The musical segment for this week is also much shorter.
However, I kept writing and writing, and it is long as well.
I suppose the most important thing to explain about this musical selection is the simple comparison of styles and reasons why one would find music to be rock-out-able or not.
Most classical music is by and large considered to be soothing, calm, and relaxing. This is a huge misconception of course, made popular by "Relaxing Music" CD mixes (I ranted about them here), and actually when people think just a little longer they find that they both recognize and often can name pieces that are anything but relaxing, but which are still classical in style. Carmina Burana, for example, was used in several movie soundtracks to back up epic scenes of bloody battles, for example. Beethoven's 5th symphony begins with nothing but surprises (which most of us are dead to by now, since we all know it already. But play it for a 3-5 year old who has never heard it before, and they will be impressed) and doesn't really calm down from there.
However, even the music that is crazy and cool and awesome doesn't always stay that way for the whole movement or piece. Even last week's sample had a trio section in the middle which wasn't particularly insane, and the awesomeness of the end was created by using the whole movement to build it up.
Like any good novel or movie, in fact - even if the beginning has some crazy action scenes, eventually plots need to be narrated somehow and this is usually done through more dialogue and scenes that are not so action packed. But if you read through those, you get to be emotionally attached to the characters in some way and then when the climax at the end happens, it really feels like a climax. You feel the pain, joy, whatever that the character is feeling (or you feel it for them, depending) and, if it was a great movie or novel, you feel satisfied.
Those of you who pick up a book and jump to the end (I humbly disapprove but cannot make anyone do or not do anything) I would venture to guess for the most part you just shrug your shoulders and think, "Oh well, Timothy from this book called Timothy and the Dragon dies in the end."
But people who just read this fictional fiction called Timothy will be in tears, thinking about Timothy's story and how much he loved the dragon that the knight had to kill or the girl that the dragon ate or whatever, or smile in the triumph of how Timothy gave his life for his love. Something. If it was really a good book, and the setup was done properly. Not like my confusing three-sentence "novel".
I felt that the setup was really important in last week's music, but in this week's the setup is perhaps a little less important. I remember learning this piece and being perfectly calm and serious until the last few bars, where I felt that head-banging should be happening (in fact, in rehearsal, I did head-bang at least once). OK I just contradicted myself on the importance of setups - HOWEVER! my argument is that in this piece the cool awesome part at the end doesn't totally fit with the rest of the movement and could potentially stand on its own as an awesome bit of music, if reworked a bit. Because Brahms throws in a totally new and different technique at the end..... ok time to listen first.
Here is the whole movement, but you can skip to about 5:10 if you want to just listen to the relevant-to-this-post part, before going on with my long narration:
So, whether you skipped or not (and I will say, in my defense, that if you didn't skip you would be much more surprised with the end result) this movement comes to a satisfying and wonderful climax, which also happens to be totally cool even by today's standards.
What of course jumped out at me first was the use of a double-stop on the cello part. Brahms writes chords often for his cello parts, but most of the time they only last for 1 beat and then that's that. In this particular end segment, the C-string is played continuously while the cellist plays high up on the neighboring G-string in order to have both of them sound at the same time. The effect is an awesome low C along with an active harmony line, participating in what the violins and viola are doing, on the G-string. In this entire string quartet this is the only time he uses such an effect, and I'm not sure if he uses it much more than once or twice in his entire repertoire of works, at least in cello parts. So it is really special! And doesn't fit in.
That's not my only argument... that was mostly myself as a cellist talking about cool things that I would notice while playing the part. You, reader, if you are not a cellist, may not have noticed that the cellist was playing on two strings at all. And even you, cellist reader, could have missed it in all the excitement of...you should remember this one as it will be a theme all week...the repeated 8th notes/16th notes along with some heavy sounding beats. Like a real club dance song. The mixing of rhythms, where cello plays half the length as violins or viola, and vice versa, tends to create variety in music. This is of course a technique used throughout the piece. But what makes it special here is really the drone at the bottom, because otherwise your brain would still think "just some more pretty classical music..." zzzzz...
The drone here acts like the low bass will on a dance song. Sometimes the bass is a low bass beat, and helps support rhythm, and in this case there is some element of that though the wonderful cellist from my recording is quite good at making smooth bow changes and has not decided to make the dancelike aspect come out. Remember, this is still "serious" classical music! However, even without hearing the rhythm, the feeling still comes across. Most of the time sub bass notes in dance tunes are actually barely heard, and mostly felt if the music is nice and loud. However, your ear gets used to having that there and expects to hear it, so your modern ear now can appreciate how Brahms wrote far ahead of his time.
Brahms's audiences were probably also aroused by this combination. People tend to like really low frequencies mixed with middle and higher frequencies and a beat. Quite a few babies hear this mix before they are born - their mother's heartbeat (beat) and her voice (both mid range and high), and their father's voice (low bass). Even babies with no father around will still get used to the softer, lower tones of their mother cooing at them rather than her speaking voice with friends and family. Connection? No connection? Certainly I am not venturing so far as to say this is a reason why people like or don't like specific types of music. But, it shows one of the many connections between our day to day life and how we react to music. That is a topic for another person with a different body of knowledge. Or me on a bolder, more educated day.
Back to the point at hand - it is important to remember that our musical experiences (you the readers, me, musicians, everyone) today, while they can vary quite a bit, still follow some trends of the time. Looking at the big picture, you see quickly that the "first world" is completely obsessed with music involving a low bass, a strong percussive beat, and a simple mid- to high-range melody line. This is the basic framework for most rock bands as well as for dance music.
It is also exactly how a lot of classical music is written - people have been enjoying bass sounds for hundreds of years. However, having or not having a noticeable and pervasive percussive beat has changed a bit. Today, drums and percussive elements of songs are nearly as important, if not more important, than melodies and harmonies combined. Back in Brahms's time, strong beats were not provided so much by heavy percussion (no rock style drum sets back then) as by strong beats written into the actual melodies and harmonies. In this case, the repeated C bass note being given a rhythm because of the melody/harmony being played on the G-string in the cello part. In the violin parts, the repeated 8th notes showcase important harmonic pitches, things like the C which is the first scale degree (the tonic, as it is called) or the fifth scale tone of C which is G (the dominant, if you will), on strong beats. Too technical.
Well, now that you're a pro at knowing about how the strong bass and repeated 8th notes make something sound like a dance tune when combined with a mid- or high- range melody, you should be able to understand why this piece by Karl Jenkins made such a splash, even without a lot of actual percussion. And with this I finish - for something completely (but not completely) different next week!