Noteworthy People: Claude Debussy

by Jess

The year 2018 marks 100 years since the death of one of the most prominent composers of Impressionist music – Claude Debussy.

A French composer, Debussy was in fact the first Impressionist composer, the musical style running alongside the art form Impressionism.

The art form started as the practice of painting out of doors and spontaneously ‘on the spot’, many of the paintings being of landscapes and scenes of the everyday. The paintings captured the “moments” of light and movement due to being painted there and then, rather than in a studio.

Claude Monet was one of the founders of this movement…

Looking at the art style and listening to the music simultaneously gives a much better understanding of the sort of music Debussy was writing.

Impressionist music is centred around creating atmosphere and exploring the emotions and moods created from a subject. Many of Debussy’s most famous works do exactly this, Clair de Lune being a perfect example, something that Becky has been learning herself recently for the BDMA concerts!

Another famous work for Debussy, one that kick started his career, is Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune – an orchestral work with a hauntingly beautiful (and infamous!) flute solo to open. Listen out for the harp in this piece, and the ebb and flow of tempo and dynamics, perfect for the tranquil mood. Personally though, it’s the clarinet solo in the middle of this piece that I love the most, but I am biased (being a clarinet player!)

Here is a version conducted by the infamous Leonard Bernstein…

The classical world has spent 2018 celebrating the life and achievements of Claude Debussy, marking the centenary with concerts and conferences to remember his most loved music.

So we thought we’d do our bit to mark the occasion and share some of his music with you!

Enjoy!

Noteworthy People: Eddie Jefferson

by Jess

Noteworthy People: Eddie Jefferson

 

Renowned for his creation of the Vocalese, Eddie Jefferson was a prominent jazz vocalist and lyricist throughout the 50s and 60s until he died in May 1979 (a dancer he once hired, and then fired, shot him outside Baker’s Keyboard Lounge in Detroit.)

Vocalese is where lyrics are sung note-to-note with previously improvised solos. It differs from scat singing in that it uses lyrics rather than made up words. Scat singing is also often made up on the spot whereas Vocalese is based on a pre-existing solo.

Take “So What” as an example. Jefferson uses the lyrics of Christopher Acemandese Hall combined with the solo of Miles Davis the notorious jazz trumpet player. You can hear how the lyrics are often sung quite quickly to fit with the melody, and the lines are very typical of an instrumental solo rather than vocal. He even talks about Miles Davis and “his horn” within the Vocalese lyrics.

Check out this slower example in his famous “Moody’s Mood for Love” – the melody taken from James Moody’s saxophone solo on a recording of “I’m in the Mood for Love.” Again you can hear the instrumental style of solo behind the lyrics, making a very innovative and unusual style of singing.

Any jazz singers amongst you – why not ask your tutor about Vocalese next lesson?

Or maybe this has made you want to look into this genre of music – contact us about starting jazz singing lessons in London or Manchester: http://beckydellmusicacademy.co.uk/contact/ 

Noteworthy People – Jóhann Jóhannsson

by Jess

For this edition of Noteworthy People, we want to celebrate the beautiful compositions of Jóhann Jóhannsson who sadly passed away a couple of weeks ago.

Jóhann Jóhannsson was an Icelandic composer renowned for his music for screen.  If you don’t know the name behind the soundtracks, you’ll definitely recognise the films he wrote music for….

Most recent box office hits include “The Theory of Everything”, “Sicario” and “Arrival”.

His writing style is particularly recognisable.

Unlike the catchy melodies of John Williams or the driving rhythms of Hans Zimmer, Jóhannsson is extremely effective with his use of blending interesting orchestral textures with electronics. His music creates an atmosphere rather than being obviously thematic and he experiments hugely with harmony.

When he does use melodies, they are often long and sweeping

…featuring lots of indulgent string writing or emotional piano lines!

His most notable film partnership was with director Denis Villeneuve, beginning their work together in 2013 for the film “Prisoners”. Leading on from this were the soundtracks for “Sicario” and “Arrival”, both scores being nominated for BAFTAs, Arrival nominated for a Golden Globe and Sicario nominated for an Oscar.

Not bad going!

“The Theory of Everything” (2014) was also another success for Jóhannsson, nominated for an Oscar and BAFTA, and winning the Golden Globe in 2015.

Have a listen to this section of music from near the end of the film and enjoy his beautiful string writing. Notice how he uses small cells of music in his compositions, repeating the short snippet of music but using different harmonies in the background. Once these snippets are layered and the textures are built up, the long lyrical string and piano melodies I mentioned above come in.

Film music wasn’t his only claim to fame and Jóhannsson also released several solo albums. The underlying conection with his albums is the tying together of traditional orchestral set-ups with electronics, often working with electronic music producers. The albums vary from music inspired for theatre to ambient pieces for string orchestras.

To see him live in action, check out this performance for KEXP with the American Contemporary Music Ensemble. What is particularly great to see is that he performs the works with the group, playing piano and working some of the electronics.

Not many composers do that!

The interview also gives an insight into his composition process, with him talking about ideas he had or the briefs he got given.  My favourite piece of the set is called “The Drowned World” which is 30mins into the programme.

Finally, there is a lot to be said for the link between successful, high quality musicians and selflessness.

This anecdote from a fellow composer Olafur Arnalds really highlights this:

“My favorite Jóhann story is when he had spent a year writing the score for Darren Aronofsky’s “Mother” and at some point realised that the film was better with no music at all.

He proceeded to convince Darren to delete everything. It takes a real, selfless artist to do that. To realise the piece is better without you.
The most important part of creating art is the process, and Jóhann seemed to understand process. The score needed to be written first in order to realise that it was redundant. So in my view, Mother still has a score by Jóhann. The score is just silence… deafening, genius silence.”

Make your next coffee break or work commute ultra-relaxing with this Jóhann Jóhannsson playlist on Spotify. Enjoy.

https://open.spotify.com/user/spotify/playlist/37i9dQZF1DX7JN1FkFRbX4?si=x-087M3gTWahV2-9kqFsQw

R.I.P. Jóhann Jóhannsson 1969-2018