A detailed, prudent analysis of a specific musical work before going on a stage is as important for the conductor and the ensemble as it is important for an athlete to examine the slope before the race. It is also important for an actor to read the script before filming.
If you wish the singers to understand research and internalize the depth of the musical composition easier, they first need to be introduced to composers’ creative environment. Biography, anecdotes and social conditions will surely simplify the understanding of the artistic message.
This time I will dissect and analyze a specific musical sentence from a song called Abendlied (pdf) by Josef Gabriel Rheinberger. This case can be used as a basis for the analysis of similar songs and arias from your repertoires. Before beginning I suggest to listen to the composition carefully…
Abendlied – Josef Gabriel Rheinberger (1839 – 1901)
About the composer
The composer and his talent? How did the make a living and when did he write his first composition? Who equipped him with his lyrics for the music? Is there any influence of the predecessors in his creativity and style diversity? How does his musical opus look like and how many works are there? What were his means when he composed and what was written about him? Did he suffer from illness, love…?
The composer showed his remarkable musical talent at a young age. As a seven year old boy he was earning money by playing the church organs and when he was eight years old he wrote his first composition. Most of the words for his music were given by his wife Franziska. His creativity and style diversity was subjected to the influence of his predecessors; Brahms, Mendelssohn, Schumann, Schubert and mostly Bach.
Josef G. Rheinberger was a prolific composer. His many works include: 12 masses, Requiem and Stabat Mater, operas, symphonies, chamber music and choral music. Nowadays, he is mainly known as a perfective and an excellent composer of musical works for organs, regarding the difficulty. His creative opus was described as: »Well-chosen combination of modern romantics with brilliantly perfective counterpoint and dignified style for organ music«. (Weston Nicholl 1908: 85).
Content musical analysis
Conductors and singers cannot overlook the richness of presented contents and many options of internal expression by emotions. It was spoken about it in one of the previous units. The basis for perfective expressions is built with precise reading of the given texts. You mainly need to be careful on the basic message, suitable translation, character contrasts of individual parts, adequate syllable stress (diction), clear articulation (pronunciation) and grammatical features.
Abendlied – The evening song
Bleib bei uns, denn es will Abend werden,
und der Tag hat sich geneiget,
bleib bei uns, denn es will Abend werden,
und der Tag hat sich geneiget.
O bleib bei uns, denn es will Abend werden.
Bide with us, for evening shadows darken,
And the day will soon be over, soon be over,
O bide with us, for evening shadows darken.
phonetic pronunciation (slo)
Blaib bai uns, den és vil abend verden,
Und der Tag hat zih genaiget…
The poem offers seemingly less demanding lyrics, which can easily be characteristically marked as a quiet request, outline of the event and a short impression. It enables various levels from for example emotional gradation (growth against supplication) to stagnation (omission of begging and confrontation with the fact of leaving). Is this about pleading the loved one, group of friends or maybe a prayer to the Creator?
The message of the poem is connected to the scenery of an evening conciliation and preparing for a rest. At the beginning you need to encourage the singers to calm down their body movement and to consistently follow the dynamic marks (p). The concentration can be strengthened by scenery of a calm sunset which cannot be disturbed by a potential wondering voice in the choir. Then there is the request which is supported by dynamic marks which is increased with in-between retreats until the end and where it settles down to the dynamics of the opening beats in the closing five beats.
Understanding of the song message
The singing ensemble is basically united by various individual views which are guided to a single goal. Encouragement to explore one’s own performing visions is always welcome.
Understanding of the message can be connected to various sceneries; evening conciliation and preparing for a rest, waking up in the morning, dancing, funny happenings… At the beginning you need to encourage the singers to calm down their body movement and to consistently follow the dynamic marks (p, f, ff…). The concentration can be strengthened with scenery from a different movie life-like event which cannot be disturbed by a potential wondering voice in the choir…
Diction (stress) and articulation (shaping of the voice)
Word and syllable stress are marked by underlining.
Bleib bei uns, denn es will A-bend wer-den,
und der Tag hat sich ge-nei-get…
In terms of vocals there are no distinctive features except for the broad and narrow letter e; therefore you should mainly concentrate on the consonant performance. You need to be careful on the vocal and technical moment in the opening word pair “Bleib-bei”where the letter b in closeness of both words needs to be clearly articulated (divided). So you are going to avoid the possibility of hearing it wrong in the sense of “bleibei”.
You come across to a similar phenomenon at the beginning of the second part in the beat no. 19. This time the word pair is divided to “und der”. In the first word the letter d is phonetically changed to letter t which is heard in the sense of “unt der”. You have to avoid the incomplete pronunciation of “under”. Such performance is, in my opinion, the correct one. Next you are going to dedicate some attention to other consonants, especially “Germanic exhaled” letter h and passionately performed letter r.
When preforming vocal music the dynamics serves to emphasize the emotional state. It is performed in a close connection with the lyrics. Despite the commitment to honour the conductor’s marks to follow the dynamic signs I must advise you against it. I wish to stress out that the dynamic moments are too often performed too technical. One should not only follow the signs because one will lose the important connection with the content itself. Consequently the “artificial” crescendos are graduated and frequently driven over the top and the decrescendos evaporate into inaudibility on the half way.
Often it is about distinctively listening subtle moments because the placement of the specific intonation setting in p dynamics and the upkeep of the stability of the forte is a challenging job. I must point out on the interval relationships and harmonic sequences. Listening concentration which assures intonation, colour and dynamic harmony with other sounds (instruments) is very important.
Is this a polyphonic or a homophonic sentence? Do you witness any type of canon repeating? Are the voices mutually strengthened with possible duplication, is there mutual tone support and what is the colour of the chords? Which one is especially likable and distinctively challenging?
In the introduction of the poem you create the foundational characteristic in the form of a divided choir which outlines “heavenly” calmness of the sunset. Piano (p) dynamics in the homophonic performance does not allow voice imperfection and is at the same time an opportunity for perfect harmonization of men and women’s voices. The men’s choir joins in later as an echo. This moment offers an opportunity for a dynamic, colourful and perfect intonation. The second phase crescendo in the beat no.3 merely confirms the dominance of the word Abend.
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Entering the basses in the beat no.6 takes us in the state of stronger supplication because the thought suddenly jumps to forte (f) dynamics. Because the next sentence is a polyphony sentence, the joining of individual voices should not succumb the roughness of the voices which are set. That is why you should not forget the adequate dynamic deviation by the end of the phrase and do not hesitate with individual voices when joining. At the ending of the first part the action is calmed down in the state of decrescendo.
In the second part (beat no. 19) you continue to the next thought in the newly set f dynamics which you slowly calm down between the beat no. 26 and beat no. 28 into beautiful melodic sequences of the following “o bleib bei uns”.
In beat no. 33 the dynamics suddenly leaps into f, which lasts until the sudden retreat in the beat no. 39 where you prepare in a calming p atmosphere for a final attempt of supplication. Next up is the peak in ff, which clears up in a pp finish with a smoothly performed decrescendo.
Melody and harmonic relations
When you do not encounter special rhythmical unpleasantness the review will continue in the direction of the absorbed melodic and harmonic analysis. In the opening beats you witness a concrete relation of the women and men’s choir. Often it is about distinctively listening subtle moments because the placement of the specific intonation of a major chord in p dynamics is anything but easy. You should also warn about the “leaning” third in the relationship of the soprano voice and the harmonic change on the basis of retrieval in alto.
Including the men’s choir demands extraordinary listening concentration which allows intonation, colour and dynamic harmony with women’s voices. Harmonic stability of the following beats is better to be built on the leaning tones in individual voices. Soprano third-fourth relation on the half notes represents the basis of the stabile performed polyphonic sentence between beat no. 6 and beat no. 11. Polyphony is happening in partially canon repetitions bass-alto-tenor 2.
Next up is the sequence of unfolded chords which are lend by voices in the following order: tenor 1 (major)-tenor 2(major)-soprano (minor)-mezzo-soprano (major)-bass (minor)-alto (major). The change from beat no.10 to beat no. 11 the tenors are in an octave relationship on the F tone and substantially supported in bass and alto. Soprano gives mezzo-soprano and 1st tenor tone support in tone D the tenor in beat no. 14 already gives tone G to the bass next to him. The bass through major triads develops m6 in the tone Es which is then landed to altos, mezzo-soprano and tenor 1. The tenor Es overtakes the soprano before the ending of the first part, just before that, the mezzo-soprano in the middle of the beat no. 16 overtakes the fifth (on tone B). The first part is finished in a major chord.
In the second part (beat no. 19) polyphony is developed in the opposite direction. This time the woman’s high voice overtakes which dies away in the echo of men and women’s lower voices in the form of major and minor tonic tetrachords. Mezzo-soprano follows the initial minor tetrachord tone in soprano and when meeting on the G tone it repeats the idea in the major sequence. Tenor 2 rewrites the whole melody of the soprano in canon. Altos overtakes the initial G tone of the basic melody in mezzo-soprano, the bass steals of the tenor 2 the intonation on the C tone and altos lends his voice to tenor 1 on the F tone. Here is where you need to point out the special features- whole tone tetrachord in tenor (hat sich geneiget).
In the beat no. 26 the altos steps on the harmonic leaning bases of C tone in bass and soprano. The harmonic support for accurately performed melody in altos and tenor 2 is based on a relationship with the third of soprano in beat no. 28, and shortly after similar in bass and tenor 1. leaning tones in upper four voices offer ideal conditions for mainly stabile homophonic ending of the second part.
In the third part of the poem (beat no.33) you develop polyphonic entering step by step, from the lowest to the higher voice. The neighbouring voices pass the octave intonation support at the first interval jump. Tenor 2 overtakes the bass tone on the fifth in the next jump it is lent to tenor 1 on the tone F. Tenor 1 can perform in the sense of continuing and overtaking the bass melody which is, in my opinion, a far better option.
A similar option is given in beat no.36 when the tenors go their way to the sopranos (tenor 1-soprano and tenor 2-mezzo-soprano). The entering for the altos needs more attention because the A tone does not occur sooner, therefore a special repeating exercise for listening the precision of the third interval is crucial.
By the end of the song in beat no. 39 you stop on a third relation with half note in bass and tenor and the polyphonic performance of the middle of the supplication melody in all voices. At the end of the poem you focus on the harmonic precision of intonation in a complex organization of various chords. Every mentioned relation and the conductor’s intake are marked in the attached note material.
Melodic jumps and demanding moves
There are any special melodic moves, for example chromatic-whole tone scale noticeable in the song, or maybe there are tetrachords present. You need to devote special attention to hear differences between the major and minor scales and chords.
Once again the tenor octave jump in beat no.42 has to be mentioned which had already been analysed in detail in the chapter about managing extremely distant tones. There are no special melodic moves noticeable in the chosen poem, except the previously mentioned whole tone tetrachord in tenor. That is why special attention is devoted to hear the differences between the major and minor scales and chords. They are present throughout the entire performance of the song in a form of various divided triads and leaps and tetrachord scales.
As an artistic leader I am bound with every serious approach to the note material to mark the conductor’s voice. The mentioned marking is not only the conductors’ domain because to follow the voice relations and the perception of the phrase location would not be far too much to the singers, choristers and solo singers.
Legend of marks
Choral Public Domain Library. From http://www2.cpdl.org/
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