Sunday, September 14, 2008

A Severn Rhapsody

The most direct means of conveying landscape in music is through 'iconic' signifiers - imitation of natural sounds like birdsong, water and wind. But, as Tim Foxon writes here, English pastoral music is not necessarily distinguished by these sounds. Instead, it is 'dependent upon either ‘text’ (that is, its title, lyrics or programme) or its appropriation of pastoral conventions'. A list of these musical conventions, which are more reflective of a pastoral mood than nature itself, would include 'pedal points, compound time signatures, ‘piping melodies’ and the ‘repetition and measured delivery of material’..., the predominance of quiet dynamics and the major mode, a simple melodic contour, a ‘pervasive rocking motion’ and movement by parallel thirds.' These are the kinds of sounds established in compositions like Beethoven's Sixth Symphony, which begins with the 'Awakening of happy feelings on arriving in the country.' Foxon describes the way that compositions like Gerald Finzi’s A Severn Rhapsody (1923) do not evoke the landscape directly but instead deploy folksong-like modal inflections and simple melodies that reflect the standard pastoral ideals (whether in music, poetry or painting).

No comments: