Anger in action: Holst

If you’re like me, then anger is an emotion that you feel on a regular basis at varying degrees. I’ve found it to be a very motivating emotion. Usually action is the result of anger, whether positive or negative. When there’s anger, stuff happens. In fact, as far as emotions go, anger seems to involve more action, raw energy and intensity than any other.

anger |ˈaNGgər| – noun – a strong feeling of annoyance, displeasure, or hostility

fury |ˈfyo͝orē| – noun – wild or violent anger

As you can see, fury is anger plus negative action. It’s wild. It’s violent. I picked fury as one of the emotions because Classical music depicts this kind of anger the most, as is the case in Mars from The Planets by English composer Gustav Holst (1874-1934). This is an incredibly well-known piece that has been heard in commercials, football games, and countless other contexts because of its overt character and memorable, agressive quality. This movement has also been imitated in a number of movie soundtracks by composers like Jerry Goldsmith, John Williams, and Hans Zimmer. In a future series, I will explore various movie soundtracks and show how they are influenced by Classical composers.

The subtitle of this movement is “The Bringer of War.” The image above is from the opening battle scene in the movie Gladiator.

It is evident that this music is angry and reminds us of war, but why? First, Holst uses dissonance by using a chord progression that doesn’t function like normal, Western music. It features many power chords that shift from minor to major. This reminds me of the scene in Star Wars: Return of the Jedi when the emperor tells Luke, “your hate has made you powerful.” Second, the time signature is in 5/4 time, which means there are five beats in a measure of time instead of 4. Most music has either 3 beats in a measure or 4 beats, but rarely 5. Subconsciously, the asymmetry of the 5/4 time throws the listener off balance. Third, brass instruments are featured in a big way in this movement. In the history of war, most civilizations used wind instruments to march out on the field and sound the advance, retreat, and otherwise excite the troops and intimidate the enemy. Finally, it is the driving tempo, drums, and dynamic volumes that are played, such as the stark contrast between the subdued, suspenseful beginning and this overtly loud, ominous clip:

I can already feel my blood boiling. And we’re just getting started.

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Big idea

I want to create a multimedia presentation, perhaps an eBook, on the pieces of music that are most meaningful to me. I want to narrate what is happening in those pieces and what I listen for. I would include pictures, audio clips, videos, and related pieces that remind me of the works being presented. I would discuss some of the music theory behind it, but only in order to shed light on how the composer achieves the affect of the music or to explain why that particular piece is unique.

While I believe presenting facts about the music and its composer is important to developing and enhancing the listener’s appreciation of it, I want to tie in people’s personal experiences with the music. I hope to include prominent reviews of the music and perhaps some short interviews with music professors, performers, and composers. I am also interested in the opinions of those who may not be trained in classical music, but appreciate it as well.

In order to choose the format of my presentation, I plan to do a survey of related literature. This will help me find inspiration and narrow what it is I have to contribute.

Influences:

Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra
My wife and I attended Fort Worth Symphony concerts on and off for the last several years we’ve lived in Texas. For me, each concert was a delight and I was fully engaged. For Dawn, her levels of delight varied. The times where she enjoyed the concerts the most are when a visual element was added, not to upstage the music, but to enhance the audience’s understanding and imagination of the music. Her appreciation grew when time was taken to highlight sections of the music with imagery.

Two examples are of concerts with Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite and Ravel’s Daphnis and Chloe Suite, and of Holst’s The Planets. For the two suites, which are both based on mythology, paintings of ancient Russian mythology and the story of Daphnis and Chloe were displayed on a large screen above the orchestra. With The Planets, the most recent images taken by NASA of the other 7 planets were displayed in high definition in the most dramatic way. The slide shows were timed to the music so that paintings that inspired greater emotion displayed at an emotional high point in the music.

It gave me much pleasure to see her excited about Classical music. I want to incorporate a visual element to my presentation of classical music if not so others can appreciate it better, than just for her. I love you, Dawn!

Benjamin Zander’s Ted Talk
In this brilliant presentation, Zander used a Chopin piano prelude to prove that everyone can “come to love and understand Classical music.” He spoke about what it is like to perform the music, gave a very simple framework for the form of the music (going from the note B to the note A, the C is played to make the B sound sad, etc), mentioned a few related works (Mozart Symphony No. 40, Shakespeare’s Hamlet), and spoke of vision and following the long line from the beginning to the end (a life lesson).

I appreciated how he validated that many don’t have an interest in classical music, some are lulled to sleep, and some lost focus after a couple minutes and wonder “What’s for lunch?” I think it is important to validate people’s objections to listening to and appreciating it. The way Benjamin Zander overcame this is by relating the music to something personal to the audience. He told a story of how a listener was impacted by this and was able to mourn the death of his brother for the first time by listening to the Chopin prelude. This is one approach that I want to use in advocating for classical music.

Those are the two biggest influences. In future posts, I will discuss other media that influence my desire to write, including:

Fantasia and Fantasia 2000
Blast!
Keeping Score (PBS)
The Philadelphia Orchestra filing for bankruptcy
Dan Pink – TMEA Keynote speech (from his book, A Whole New Mind)

Until then, thanks for reading!