Music is beautiful isn’t it? The team at CymaScope visualized the dynamic sounds of the piano’s first strike and the eventual plateau and decay phase of different notes. You can listen to the sounds here and watch as the geometric shapes come to life.
Here is a list of the geometric glyphs for each note
Last Thursday, in a New York Timesop-ed, neurologist and best-selling author Oliver Sacks revealed that he has been battling
cancer in various forms for the past nine years and that it has now
metastasized in his liver. The words are as powerful as they are hard to read. Oliver Sacks’ contributions to psychology, and especially music psychology, are monolithic.
"Through diverse instrumentation, thought out counterpoint, and a formulaic use of tension and release, Fux was able to depict a battle that had affected many people and defined a continent. Ultimately, this all just proves that when it comes to Baroque music, Johann Joseph doesn’t Fux around."
*musicologistvoice* Are you ready for an epic nerdy adventure? If so, then you’ve come to the right
I’m going to talk about one of the top 40 of the 1790s. I think it’s a very important part of French
revolutionary culture and a highly underrated form of political propaganda that
frequently gets brushed over through historians’ focus on speeches, diaries,
documents, and political cartoons. I
also want to address the form of the music specifically and its connection to
other types of music popular in the 18th century, namely the wind
concerto, opera, and the large influence of Mozart and Haydn.
the Ça Ira evolved from a contredanse called
Le Carillon National, allegedly composed in 1786 by Bécourt for voice and open
instrumentation. As I’ve mentioned
before, little is known about Bécourt and his life – not even his first name –
and depending on the source, he is claimed to have been either a violinist or
percussionist at the Theatre Beaujolais.
As there is little information on him, we can assume that he was a
single-hit composer. A contredanse,
according to Encyclopedia Britannica, is “an 18th century French
development of the English country dance,” thus implying a geometric style of
dancing where two or more couples dance together in a set—a quadrille, the forerunner to square
dancing. Originally, the contredanse was
popular amongst the upper classes, but as the Revolution clearly demonstrates,
it also filtered into the lower classes and became a symbol of propaganda and
patriotism (and I say patriotism in a loose sense).
here’s where music theory comes in! By
tradition, a contredanse is written in a 2/4 or 6/8 time signature, generally
implying 2 beats per measure. They are
commonly written in the keys of G, D, and b minor (and possibly e minor as
well, as it is the relative minor to G) and can modulate between these keys
within one piece. The modulation of G to
D is quite common, as D is the dominant (fifth scale degree, or V) of G
major. Likewise, the contredanse (like
most classical period/18th century music) contains a lot of primary
chords (I, IV, V – the first, fourth, and fifth scale degrees and their
triads), another common feature of classical period music with very noticeable
cadences, namely the half cadence (?-V) and the perfect authentic cadence (V-I,
both triads in root position). Another
unique feature of the contredanse is its framework. Typically, a contredanse is comprised of two
parts played twice, so essentially a main theme and its variation. In the case of the Ça Ira, the refrain
functions as the main theme while the various verses function as the variation;
however, these two parts are frequently repeated more than twice.
Ça Ira almost exactly fits this mold:
Ah! Ça Ira (Air du Carillon National)
Key : G
composition : 1786
publication: circa 1790
arrangements have also been transposed in D major.
has been published under other names: Ah!
Ça ira, dictum populaire, air du carillon national ; Le retour du
Champ de Mars, Air du Carillon National (texte par M. Déduit).
is a version of the piece printed in England in 1792 with piano accompaniment. I’ve done a very general (note – VERY GENERAL) analysis of the piece, so I
apologize if I’ve omitted some hidden not
primary chords – I just want to show the basic primary chord structure of
the piece (I, IV, V); this exposes the cadences.
noted on the score that a broken chord style is used in the bass line beneath
the melody, a common trait of music from the classical period. In textural analysis, this is called harmonic
rhythmic support, allowing the chords to round out the melody while creating a
sense of forward motion.
And now…to the part
that doesn’t have to do with spewage of music theory terminology! I hope you’ve made it through.
The Ça Ira as propaganda
to Oxford Music, the Ça Ira is “a tune adopted from the popular contredanse
(folk song) Le Carillon National, but when the words of Ça Ira are sung to it,
it becomes a revolutionary song.” Thus
the song’s origins are not rooted in the French Revolution; the song evolved
through several changes of its wording. M.
Ladre, a former soldier and street singer whom there is little known about,
allegedly set the first revolutionary words to Le Carillon National. Like Bécourt, despite having written over 50
revolutionary songs during his lifetime, he was a one-hit wonder, as the the Ça
Ira had become the most popular song of the French Revolution by 1790 (around
the time of the Fête de la Fédération).
However, as events progressed throughout the Revolution, namely the
death of Louis XVI, the words to the tune became increasingly darker: Ah! Ça ira, ça ira, ça ira, ça ira, les aristocrates à la
lantèrne (the aristocrats to the lampposts). Ironically, Marie Antoinette is said to
have enjoyed playing this tune on her harpsichord ; however, that is of
course worthy of speculation as to whether that is true or not. However, given the song’s popularity prior the
Revolution, it would not be surprising.
the Ça Ira became a symbol of revolutionary sentiment, not only through its
performance but also through print.
During the Revolution, songs such as these were sometimes printed and
sold on street corners in an effort to circulate a political message:
The Ça Ira as
popularity of this tune extended beyond France’s borders. As I mentioned previously, the score I
analyzed was printed in England in 1792, written with keyboard
accompaniment. The melody remains
constant, but the words are not the same as what may have been heard in the
streets of Paris.
I think 18th century composers are really worth crediting. Their style of music was highly marketable –
enough so to use multiple songs as propaganda (that likely spread beyond
France!). The music was catchy; the
heavy use of primary chords and predictable cadences aids in this. Like I’ve mentioned before, many of these
composers were influenced by Haydn and Mozart – and the contredanses of the
French Revolution (La Carmagnole fits in this category as well – it can be
layered beneath the melody of the Ça Ira and has a 6/8 meter!) demonstrate many
similarities to Mozartian concertos and opera arias.