Author Topic: Passacaglia rules  (Read 13855 times)

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winknotes

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Passacaglia rules
« on: March 22, 2012, 07:36:10 AM »
I'm finally getting back to working on my piano quartet and the movement I'm working on is a passacaglia.  I'm listening to and doing some cursory analysis on Copeland's Passacaglia for piano and in at least one of the variations the episode (I think that's the term) is not directly present.  It does seem implied by the harmonies but I wondered if there were any hard and fast rules around this form. 
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Michel.R.E

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Re: Passacaglia rules
« Reply #1 on: March 22, 2012, 08:31:23 AM »
if you are examining contemporary uses of the passacaglia form, you will find that can diverge quite a bit from what might be called a "standard" form.

I'd call passacaglia a contrapuntal form. The point is to have a repeated bass (which can move to different voices during the course of development).

Generally, a passacaglia is "in 3". (Samuel Barber, final movement of Symphony no.1).

The "variation" aspect of the form is generally found in the "other parts". The repeated pattern generally does not undergo major modification.

One aspect of the passacaglia is that the repeated bass should be capable of generating varied harmonic patterns.

Aim to have material "cross" the boundary of the repeated bass (ie: don't start and stop phrases absolutely ON each repetition of the bass pattern).

William Schuman's 3rd symphony starts with a passacaglia, where each repetition of the pattern is transposed up a 2nd. His passacaglia is also a canon. (sorry, couldn't find a yootoob source for it)

In a standard passacaglia, the repeated pattern SHOULD be present always. Again, contemporary examples of passacaglia are prone to breaking with traditional rules.

My personal favourite passacaglia is this one: "When I am Laid in Earth"
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winknotes

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Re: Passacaglia rules
« Reply #2 on: March 22, 2012, 10:30:05 AM »
if you are examining contemporary uses of the passacaglia form, you will find that can diverge quite a bit from what might be called a "standard" form.

I'd call passacaglia a contrapuntal form. The point is to have a repeated bass (which can move to different voices during the course of development). 

I will say this is mostly true with the Copeland example however he does use augmentation and diminution quite a bit.  At one point he states the theme (8 measures) in eighth notes (2 measures) and repeats that several times with varied material over that. Another instance he states the theme in whole notes stretching it out to approximately 16 or so measures.  Another variation which I even thought to sketch in my own work was to present the theme in canon.  So quite a bit of variants from the standard form. 

Quote
Generally, a passacaglia is "in 3". (Samuel Barber, final movement of Symphony no.1).

Interesting.  I'm not sure why this would be the case. 

Quote
The "variation" aspect of the form is generally found in the "other parts". The repeated pattern generally does not undergo major modification.

One aspect of the passacaglia is that the repeated bass should be capable of generating varied harmonic patterns.

Aim to have material "cross" the boundary of the repeated bass (ie: don't start and stop phrases absolutely ON each repetition of the bass pattern).

I do understand what you're saying here and I can identify these aspects in the Copland pretty clearly. 

Quote
William Schuman's 3rd symphony starts with a passacaglia, where each repetition of the pattern is transposed up a 2nd. His passacaglia is also a canon. (sorry, couldn't find a yootoob source for it)

I'll try to find a recording of this.

Quote
In a standard passacaglia, the repeated pattern SHOULD be present always. Again, contemporary examples of passacaglia are prone to breaking with traditional rules.

My personal favourite passacaglia is this one: "When I am Laid in Earth"

That is beautiful.  Thank you. 
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Michel.R.E

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Re: Passacaglia rules
« Reply #3 on: March 22, 2012, 10:48:24 AM »
the passacaglia being "in 3" comes from its origin as a slow dance.

much like scherzos traditionally were "in 3" as well (from its origin in the Minuet).
"Writing music to be revolutionary is like cooking to be famous: Music’s main function is not revolution. – Alan Belkin "

"Saying something new about something old is still saying something new. – Jamie Kowalski"

winknotes

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Re: Passacaglia rules
« Reply #4 on: March 22, 2012, 12:32:10 PM »
the passacaglia being "in 3" comes from its origin as a slow dance.

much like scherzos traditionally were "in 3" as well (from its origin in the Minuet).

Aah I see.  Pretty simple then.  Mine happens to be in 4 and I suspect I might be breaking some of the traditional rules, but the piece you said about making sure the material goes across the boundaries of the episodic material is very good.  I'm afraid at this time I have discreet ideas but I am just exploring the material and I think I can expand on what I've got so far. 

Thanks again.
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winknotes

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Re: Passacaglia rules
« Reply #5 on: March 27, 2012, 08:01:59 PM »
I think I understand now what you mean by a passacaglia being a contrapuntal form especially if you keep phrases going across the barline.  It's not an "easy" form to deal with actually.  My initial thought was well I'll come up with a dozen or so variations and make them related and interesting, but it's much more than that.  Also I scrapped my initial bass part and am going for a minor version of some material from the Rondo.  That puts it in 3 as well. 

So maybe the Copeland example isn't really the best example I could have chosen to model although I like the piece. 
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Michel.R.E

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Re: Passacaglia rules
« Reply #6 on: March 27, 2012, 08:19:16 PM »
to be perfectly honest, I find most of Copland's piano writing dreadfully boring.
"Writing music to be revolutionary is like cooking to be famous: Music’s main function is not revolution. – Alan Belkin "

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winknotes

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Re: Passacaglia rules
« Reply #7 on: March 28, 2012, 06:09:32 AM »
to be perfectly honest, I find most of Copland's piano writing dreadfully boring.

LOL.  His music does benefit from different colors. 
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Michel.R.E

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Re: Passacaglia rules
« Reply #8 on: March 28, 2012, 06:32:19 AM »
It is, to my mind, surprising that Copland's piano writing - considering piano WAS his instrument - is often very unwieldy and unidiomatic. I've performed works of his that included piano (Piano Quartet, for example), and the writing is.... not comfortable.

it isn't that it's hard (although it IS), but rather that it doesn't feel satisfyingly like "piano music".
"Writing music to be revolutionary is like cooking to be famous: Music’s main function is not revolution. – Alan Belkin "

"Saying something new about something old is still saying something new. – Jamie Kowalski"

winknotes

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Re: Passacaglia rules
« Reply #9 on: March 29, 2012, 06:21:15 AM »
So I just ran across another example by Ravel in his Piano trio.  He seems to break some rules in terms of keeping the episode intact.  At the "developmental" section he sequences fragments of the episode in an imitative fashion then winds down to almost mirror the beginning.  That is a fully harmonized presentation, followed by a couple repetitions with a single voice and finally the episode by itself as it began. 

Another thing I noticed that's different from most passacaglias I've looked at so far is the episode itself is a little busier.  I don't know if that makes it easier but the counterpoint he uses against that are obviously longer note values. 

All in all a very nice piece and a satisfying form in my opinion.  In fact I really enjoy the whole trio. 
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Michel.R.E

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Re: Passacaglia rules
« Reply #10 on: March 29, 2012, 07:12:45 AM »
the Ravel is a brilliant piece. it's one of the cornerstones of chamber music with piano. it's also the first piece of chamber music i ever played (when I was 17.. did a concert of that and the Mendelssohn D minor).

at rehearsal [4] you get what is in essence the "major" version of the theme. Ravel does the same thing in the Bolero, with two "versions" of the theme.  Ravel identifies the two "themes" in Bolero as modal variants, rather than separate themes. He had a different vision of what constituted new thematic material.

there is beautiful use of contrary motion leading up to, and right after rehearsal [5].

and THIS is wonderfully pianistic writing. I still take immense pleasure in playing through this trio, even alone, without the strings. except for the scherzo.. I have ALWAYS hated playing that torturous scherzo!!! it's gorgeous music, but dammit it is so fricken' HARD to play!
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winknotes

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Re: Passacaglia rules
« Reply #11 on: April 04, 2012, 06:28:28 AM »
Something I realized I could do a couple days ago is "superimpose" a form over the passacaglia.  The material apart from the recurring bass could be structured as an A-B-A or in my case perhaps a Rondo.  The only thing is that I'm not sure it would be long enough. 

So if I have a question it's is this something that's obvious and I'm just figuring it out or do I still have the wrong idea of what a passacaglia really is? 
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Michel.R.E

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Re: Passacaglia rules
« Reply #12 on: April 04, 2012, 06:42:04 AM »
you can do... anything.. you... want... to... do.

generally, a passacaglia (in the Baroque period) was simply a contrapuntal piece, built over a repeating ground. So, in some ways, it resembled a fugue although it allowed for considerably less freedom of modulation (thus the attraction to the form: it was a DIFFICULT one to master).

personally, I don't find that the passacaglia lends itself well to long movements. unless there is a lot of "tweaking" of the rules to make it more interesting. otherwise, the repetitive nature can lead to boring music. that's probably why so many contemporary composers have written passacaglias that were not entirely "pure" and strict.
"Writing music to be revolutionary is like cooking to be famous: Music’s main function is not revolution. – Alan Belkin "

"Saying something new about something old is still saying something new. – Jamie Kowalski"

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Re: Passacaglia rules
« Reply #13 on: April 04, 2012, 03:20:34 PM »
Webern's Passacaglia is a wonderful piece. This Karajan performance is great. I find the youtube visual aspect distracting and recommend not looking at it.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mlgc-ClVNUY

Also, of course, Brahms 4th symphony finale is another great passcaglia.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WZGWB93-mmI

winknotes

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Re: Passacaglia rules
« Reply #14 on: April 06, 2012, 07:38:28 AM »
Webern's Passacaglia is a wonderful piece. This Karajan performance is great. I find the youtube visual aspect distracting and recommend not looking at it.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mlgc-ClVNUY

Also, of course, Brahms 4th symphony finale is another great passcaglia.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WZGWB93-mmI

The Webern is a beautiful piece.  Thank you for pointing that one out. 
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