Introduction to Music, Fall 2017

Prof. Jake Cohen, Rutgers-Newark

Blog Entry 1: Folk Music and “Authenticity”

This assignment asks you to review chapter 3 in the book, and then consider the following points about folk music and “authenticity.”

The Kingston Trio was a folk group that, as your book notes on pg. 52, ushered in the American urban folk revival in 1958 with their song “Tom Dooley.” This was after Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard, and Elvis Presley, among others, had made rock and roll the most popular music for a few years starting in 1955. Here’s “Tom Dooley,” the folk song that went to number 1 on the U.S. charts.

Because of the Kingston Trio’s success, many folk groups suddenly formed and released records and began touring, capitalizing on the country’s latest pop craze. In 1959, a trio called the New Lost City Ramblers, made up of Mike Seeger, John Cohen, and Tom Paley, formed a group committed to what they called “old-time music” in New York City. Their sound was distinctive from nearly every other pop folk group.

Bob Dylan, in 1963, wrote that “Mike Seeger is really real,” referring to the multi-instrumentalist and leader of the New Lost City Ramblers. Dylan was another New York folk artist rising through the folk clubs of Greenwich Village in Manhattan, but instead of playing old folk songs like the pop group Kingston Trio or the old-time group New Lost City Ramblers, Dylan played original songs. Many of Dylan’s songs referenced issues that were relevant to the turbulent historical moment of the early 1960s, when the nation was locked in a Cold War, JFK was assassinated, and the battle over Civil Rights was coming to a head. His 1962 song “Blowin’ in the Wind” became a Civil Rights anthem.

Here is the pop folk group Peter Paul and Mary performing Dylan’s Blowing in the Wind at the 1963 Civil Rights March on Washington, the same event that featured Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech.

Dylan wrote many socially conscious songs in the early 1960s. One of his most incisive lyrics was for his song “Masters of War,” released in 1963 on his album The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan.

If you don’t have Spotify (or if you do but want to watch this anyway…), watch this video of Pearl Jam covering “Masters of War” on national television during the Iraq War in 2004.

Bob Dylan released a number of albums in his folk style, but then in 1965 at the Newport Folk Festival, one of the biggest events in the folk scene, Bob Dylan appeared onstage with an electric guitar and rock band backing him. He performed new songs that didn’t have the same political or social urgency, such as “Maggie’s Farm.” After each song, the audience booed him.

In your blog post, please do the following. Think about the idea of “authenticity” throughout, but make sure you explain what you mean when you write that something is “authentic.” Who decides what is authentic or not? Don’t answer these as a numbered list or bullets, rather, try to write a post that incorporates all your thoughts.

  1. In what ways do the New Lost City Ramblers sound differently than the Kingston Trio (other than the fact that these are two different songs)? Describe, using the terminology that we’ve learned in the first weeks of class, at least two differences.
  2. Why would some people prefer the sound of the Kingston Trio? Why would some people prefer the sound of the Ramblers?
  3. What do you think Bob Dylan meant when he said that “Mike Seeger is really real”?
  4. What is the form of Dylan’s “Masters of War” and why do you think that is an effective form for him to use?
  5. Choose one verse from “Masters of War” that speaks to you in some way (you can just say “first verse, fourth verse, etc.”). What, specifically, is Dylan criticizing in the verse you chose? What about the verse strikes you in some way?
  6. Lastly, why did the audiences boo at Newport in 1965 when Dylan plugged in? Do you think “Maggie’s Farm” is still a folk song?

There is no word minimum — I’m interested in quality, not quantity. Explain your answers; the best responses will show me your thinking, not just that you answered the question. There is also no wrong answer, I am interested in what you think and what your interpretation is. You can take a casual approach with your writing and you will not be penalized for grammar or spelling errors although I do need to be able to understand what you’re trying to say. Email Prof. Cohen if you have any questions. Post your response by Monday, Sept. 25, at 9am. Also, make sure that you have changed your display name as described in the How to Sign Up post.

How to Join the Site

For our first assignment, we’ll be completing a blog entry. Here’s how to sign up and get started.

1. Go to the class website ( and scroll to the bottom. Under “Sign Up for the Blog” click “Register.”

2. This will take you to the registration page. Enter a username and an email address that you check every day. It can be anything — your Rutgers email, Gmail, whatever, as long as you check it regularly.

3. Click “Next” and you’ll receive an email with a link, you have to click that link to activate your account. You’ll now see a long complex password. Copy it (don’t worry, it got sent to your email, too).

4. Click the text that reads “Log in” or follow the link in your most recent email to Log in to the site. Use that long password you just got sent.

5. Once you successfully logged in, you’ll be looking at the “Dashboard,” which is the back end of the website.

This is where you’ll enter all the content that will go on the front of the website. But first, we need to edit your profile.

Enter your First Name (you should enter whatever first name you want me to call you), Last Name, and double check to make sure your email is correct. This is the email to which I will be sending important class communications, so make sure you have it set to something you check regularly. Finally, from the pull down menu, select your First Name Last Name for “Display Name Publicly As.”

6. Scroll down to the bottom and change your password to something personal that you’ll remember.

Click Generate Password, then change the password to whatever you like.

Finally make sure you click the blue Update Profile button.

Great job! Now you’re ready to blog.

To start your first post, go to the Dashboard, which can be accessed by just going to the class website and hovering over the site name in the toolbar along the top of the page (as long as you’re logged in).

Alternatively, you can click on “Site Admin” in the footer menu.

Once you’re in the Dashboard, click on “Posts”>”Add New.” Or, you can click on the “+ New” menu up top and choose “Post.”

This is the post editor. First choose a category. For your first assignment, choose Blog Entry 1. THIS IS HOW PROF. COHEN AND YOUR CLASSMATES WILL FIND YOUR WORK, so it’s really important to choose the category.

See that extra large red arrow? It’s because choosing the right category is super important.

Now, give your post a title, and start typing! If you want to insert an image, choose “Add Media.” If you want to insert a link, highlight the text you want to link and press the little chain button. You can control some simple style aspects like bolditalic, or make a bullet pointed list.

  • Like this


If you want to add a YouTube video, it will embed right into your post! Just copy the “share” link from YouTube and paste it directly into your post. So if I type:

it will appear as:

At any point throughout this process, you should SAVE YOUR DRAFT. WordPress doesn’t always autosave like your word processor, so you could lose work if you don’t save. When you’re ready to finish, click “Preview.” This will show you what your post will look like. Look it over and make changes if you want, be sure it looks nice!

Finally, when you have previewed, and you are 100% sure you’ve picked the right category, click “Publish.” Voila!

William Grant Still

William Grant Still (1895-1978) was an African American composer who began his career in the 1920s. He grew up in the south, in Arkansas, and received scholarships to study with well known American composers in the 1910s. After serving in the navy in 1918, Still worked for the most famous professional blues band in the country, run by the blues composer W. C. Handy. Still arranged music for this band, and played in the pit orchestra for the first all-black Broadway musical, Shuffle Along. Still also studied with the ultra-modernist Edgard Varèse, with whom he learned highly dissonant and experimental styles of music. He composed a number of works in this style that combined African American musical styles such as jazz and the blues with experimental modern music.

By the late 1920s, Still realized he wanted to compose an African American style of classical music that represented his identity as both an American composer and an African American. The result was the Afro-American Symphony, composed in 1930. It was the first symphony by a black composer ever performed by a major American symphony orchestra when it premiered with the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra in 1931.

Regarding his symphony, Still wrote that:

I seek in the “Afro-American Symphony” to portray not the higher type of colored American, but the sons of the soil, who still retain so many of the traits peculiar to their African forebears; who have not responded completely to the transforming effect of progress.

Here, Still indicates that he did not want to simply assimilate black musical styles into the elite world of the symphony, but that he wanted to represent “sons of the soil,” the authentic music of working class blacks in America whose musical heritage had not been assimilated into mainstream American white culture.

To do this, Still wrote a relatively standard Romantic style symphony movement where all the themes are blues melodies, specifically 12-bar blues melodies. Many of them are adapted from W. C. Handy’s famous song “St. Louis Blues,” popularized by Bessie Smith:

Because the piece is a symphony, Still plays with our expectations by giving us a first movement in sonata-allegro form. So we get the expected (orchestra, sonata form, Romantic-era timbres and style) and the unexpected (muted trumpet playing a 12-bar blues melody). Below you can see a rough listening guide for the following video:

0:00 – Introduction


0:30 – Theme I, a 12-bar blues melody based on Handy’s “St. Louis Blues,” muted trumpet. Walking bass in cellos, accompaniment response figure in brass and winds.

1:07 – Theme I repeated by clarinet, pizzicato strings accompany, flute provides response melodies

1:49 – Bridge theme by full orchestra, develops elements from theme I

2:25 – Theme II, gentle lyrical melody in the English horn, harp and strings play chords in support


3:23 – New blues-based themes, lots of harp with wind responses

3:54 – Strings with fragmentary melodies, lots of syncopation and faster, more active “jazzy” rhythms

5:00 – Another new blues theme in strings, sentimental, not 12-bar blues


5:46 – Theme I returns in muted brass with “swing” beat in percussion and strings.

No theme II in recapitulation.

Still’s music was part of a larger trend in American classical music known as “symphonic jazz,” where composers would combine elements of jazz with genres and performing forces of the concert hall. The most well known examples of these works are actually by white composers, such as George Gershwin, Aaron Copland, John Alden Carpenter, and George Antheil. Black musicians and composers still faced many obstacles in the music industry to even get a chance to hear their music performed. Many performing groups were still segregated, as were some venues (if not by law, then in practice, especially in New York City). Additionally, black composers faced additional obstacles in the classical music world which was so dominated by white composers, producers, music directors, and patrons. For example, George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, a kind of jazz piano concerto, achieved far more fame and acclaim than Still’s Symphony did, and today it is a much more well known piece than Still’s:

Many white critics and musicians felt that putting jazz in the concert hall was the only way to “elevate” it from its crude, rough style, a sentiment that reflects the many racist attitudes towards black music and art at the time.

Chance Music and John Cage

One style of experimental music in the mid-twentieth century was an interest in using chance, or indeterminate, procedures in music composition. This meant that composers would leave some element of a piece of music to chance, and this varied greatly between different pieces. Sometimes certain elements of a piece, like pitch, note duration, or rhythm, would be determined by chance procedures, like throwing dice or using the ancient Chinese divination book the I Ching. Other times the composer might tell the performers that they can arrange sections of music in any order they like. Significantly, this means that every performance of chance music will be unique and will not sound the same. This was a big development in music and quite controversial, as it downplayed the importance of an authoritative version of a piece, downplayed the role of the music as a fixed text that could be performed, and also gave more freedom to the performers or interpreters, while taking away certain elements of compositional control from the composer.

John Cage (1912-1992) was one of the most well known composers of chance music. In many of his compositions, one or more elements are left to chance. One of his compositions is called Imaginary Landscape No. 5, and is a piece of music that is recorded (not performed live) with a score in block graph notation that indicates the volume and duration of 42 different pre-existing recordings. Cage was very specific about the duration and volume of each recording, but he left the choice of which recordings to use up to each individual performance. This recording shows the score as well – you can see that Cage did not use traditional music notation, since it would have no meaning in this kind of piece.

Other recordings available are very different:

(The baton twirler is not part of the score, but it does fit well with Cage’s philosophy of mixing different kinds of performance in indeterminate ways)

Cage was also known for writing music with his partner, choreographer Merce Cunningham, where the dancing and the music were written independently, and did not necessarily sync up as music and dance traditionally do.

Cage’s other major contribution to music history was his pioneering thoughts on the role of silence in music. Cage believed that silence was just as important as what we traditionally call music. Much of his philosophy was inspired by his study of Zen Buddhism. He gave a lecture first printed in 1959 called “Lecture on Nothing” in which he wrote:

I am here, and there is nothing to say. If among you are those who wish to get somewhere, let them leave at any moment. What we re-quire is silence; but what silence requires is that I go on talking. Give anyone thought a push: it faIls down easily; but the pusher and the pushed pro-duce that entertainment called a dis-cussion. Shall we have one later? Or, we could simply de-cide not to have a discussion. What ever you like. But now there are silences and the words make help make the silences.

I have nothing to say and I am saying it and that is poetry as I need it. This space of time is organized. We need not fear these silences, — We may love them.

What is especially remarkable about this text is that Cage wrote it as though it were music, in proportional spacing with measures and large amounts of space in between the words to indicate silences. This is how those first two paragraphs look written out:

lecture on nothing

You can listen to Cage himself read from the middle of the “Lecture on Nothing” here, follow along with the score below on the right-hand page:

lecture on nothing middle

What’s fascinating is that if you look at the text surrounding this part of the lecture, it’s all the same thing with slight variation. Cage is repeating the same text, with slight variation, over and over, narrating the progress through the lecture. He encourages us to see the art in that and to let go of our preconceptions of what a lecture “should do” (just as we must let go of our expectations of what music “should do”) and take pleasure in present, which is inspired by Buddhist philosophy. In some ways, Cage sees no difference between the performance of this lecture and the performance of what we traditionally call “music.”

Here, Cage articulates his beliefs about sound and silence towards the end of his life:

Cage’s beliefs about silence and sound as music are represented in the extreme in his most famous piece composed in 1952, which is called 4’33” (pronounced “four minutes thirty-three seconds” or just “four thirty-three”). In this piece, Cage wrote a score in proportional notation (the size of the score represents the passage of time exactly) in which there is nothing written on the page. It is four minutes and thirty-three seconds of silence, to be performed by any instrument or group of instruments.

Here, we see that our expectation is going to be one of a “musical” performance. We see a pianist, and a piano, and so we have certain expectations about what is going to happen. Do we really hear silence? In fact, with no sound in the piece, we hear everything else. Cage encourages us to listen to all the sounds that are constantly present, challenging our notion of whether there is such as thing as “silence.” In fact, we hear lots of sound: we hear the ticking of the stopwatch, primarily, but we also hear breathing, the sound of the pianist shuffling, the sound of the audience moving in their chairs. In fact, 4’33” could be considered chance music as well, because every performance will have a different set of ambient sounds that you’ll hear (e.g. the ambient sound of a room, HVAC systems, wind through open windows, the sound of cars passing by outside, the sound of the audience coughing, etc.). If you search YouTube for performances of 4’33” you’ll find a wide variety of different versions, each that sounds different even though each one is “just” silence.

Concert Preview

The concert I will be attending is Rutgers Newark Chorus on December 6th, 2017. I will begin to write previews of each song that I can find on the internet. In my paper, I will go in-depth on historical background and elements of each piece.

“Fa-Shu- Ha” by Yu-Shan Tsai has a very slow and meditative tempo. It’s a calming choral piece from what I can hear and the piece begins with a division of male and female singers, then both singing in harmony, accompanied by a piano. It’s fairly a simple piece. I believe this stems from Han Chinese traditional music in Taiwan that is performed mainly by Holo (Fulao) and Hakka people, descendants of migrants from south-east China. According to research on the widespread Daoist religion in Taiwan, beiguan music in religious celebrations and Daoist ritual was popular on the island not later than the beginning of the 18th century. Nowadays Han Chinese traditional music can be heard primarily in the western plain of the central mountains and in some hilly areas. (Hsu Tsang-Houei)

I can immediately tell with “El Niño Perdido” by Joaquin Nin-Culmell, that there is imitation makes me wonder what period it was written in and for what audience.  A “Good king Wenceslas” arranged by Leo Sowerby has a simple melody, its accompanied with an organ, and almost sounds like the lyrics of “Ring around the Rosey” could have gone with the melody. This piece is a Christmas carol.

“The Road Not Taken” by Randall Thompson has a piano accompaniment, but the recording emphasis the vocals and it sounds like most of the sound is coming from the chorus, as if they were the orchestra in this song. From beginning to end, both male and female are singing in unison. “Bidi Bom” by David Eddleman has an interesting start. It’s almost exciting and ignites your ears to listen attentively. There are a lot of vocal lines in this piece and the choir often divide into many parts. An interesting part is when the entire choir chants and erupts into the melody to end the song. “Ukuthula” by Andre van der merwe is what I’m excited about the most because it reminds me of The Lion King from the beginning. The harmonies are sweet and soft. It’s an acapella piece.

Overall, I’m excited about the concert because of how diverse the pieces are and the fusion between classical, cultural, and tradition of embracing the holidays are all being placed in one. The concert is being held at the Hahne’s Building, therefore the acoustics are going to be wonderful.




Hsu Tsang-Houei, et al. “Taiwan.” Grove Music OnlineOxford Music Online. Oxford University Press. Web. 5 Dec. 2017. <>.


concert preview

The concert I will be attending is Hough Plays Rachmaninoff at NJPAC.  I look forward to seeing Stephen Hough who is pianist  and also a writer and composer. I expect that this will be a great performance.  According to Davis, “Rachmaninoff is best remembered as the composer who was the last great figure in the Romantic tradition and the leading pianist of his era.” His music is noted for its melancholy and long melodic line.”I expect to hear romantic piece but I also feel like I will hear more bold and fast pieces. I also think the music may be similar to Beethoven.

After listening to Rachmaninoff piece Theme of Paganini I was amazed. I defiantly liked how the violins start off playing the theme and how the piano has the first variations but it’s a little differrent. It was very bold and fast. As I continued to listen, I noticed how the piece continuously went from fast to slow. It also seemed like the piece volume transformed from very loud to really low.  According to David, “This piece was an immediate success and is technically his finest work. The rhapsody was written in a loose concerto form of three movements, or twenty-four variations: fast (1-10), slow (11-18), fast (19-24).” I was kind of expecting this piece to sound romantic but  didn’t and I liked it.  After listening to this piece it made more excited and anxious to see the concert.  I’m really not a fan of classical music but if the pieces will sound like Themes of Paganini or Beethoven’s fifth sympathy then I’m all for it.

“Sergei Rachmaninoff”. By: Davis, Donald E., Salem Press Biographical Encyclopedia, 2013



Concert Preview: NYU Chamber Music Recital

The concert I will be attending is on December 3rd, at NYU in Steinhardt Hall at 4:30.  There will be works performed by three composers, Max Reger, Zoltan Kodaly, and Ludwig von Beethoven. The pieces performed will be Reger’s Serenade for two violins and a viola, Op. 141a, and Kodaly’s Serenade Op. 12, and Beethoven’s String Quartet No. 3 Op. 18. I chose to focus on Max Reger and Ludwig von Beethoven, as their pieces will be longer, the Kodaly piece is listed as only one movement long. What I found interesting about these Beethoven and Reger, is how Reger came significantly after the Classical era, being born in 1873, almost 50 years after Beethoven’s death. Despite this, Reger drew heavy inspiration from Beethoven’s work, and focused a great deal on chamber music. This will affect me because I will try to hear similarities in form between their works and end up comparing them, to try and hear exactly where Reger drew his influences from. Another thing that I found interesting is that Reger’s Op. 141a was originally composed for a violin, viola, and flute, and has been recomposed in this performance for two violins and a viola. This will significantly change the sound of the piece, and I look forward to hearing it performed differently. I believe that this is done to try to link the performance to the other two composers further, as Beethoven’s piece is for a string quartet, and the re-composition is for a string trio, which makes the pieces sound even more similar. Reger’s piece is mildly unusual for its time period because it closely follows the classical tradition, despite being composed in the late Romantic era. Reger as a composer is also unusual, because he was not known for symphonies or other large scale works which were the most popular works at the time. As mentioned previously, Reger was focused on chamber music and Lieder.



Williamson, John. “Max Reger.” Grove Music OnlineOxford Music OnlineOxford University Press, accessed December 2, 2017. reger&search=quick&pos=1&_start=1#firsthit.


Concert Preview

The concert I chose to attend is the “Rutgers Baroque Players: A Musical Banquet for the Telemann Year”. This event is taking place on December 4th, 2017 at the Richard H. Shindell Choral Hall in New Brunswick, New Jersey. The concert description describes it as “Instrumental and vocal music of Georg Philipp Telemann played on period instruments in honor of the 250th anniversary of the composer’s death.” Georg Telemann is a German composer that was born on March 14th, 1861. He is most famously known for his works towards the end of the Baroque Era. His pieces, such as “12 Fantasias for Solo Violin” contained Baroque elements such as the use of string instruments, but also contained elements that gave way to the Classical Era. The music of Telemann resembles the music of other famous Baroque composers that were around during this time such as Vivaldi. He is mentioned in the same sentence as them when talking about the greatest composers of the Baroque Era. One thing pertaining to this concert that I am interested to see is how enjoyable it will be. I have previously attended a concert including musical pieces from Vivaldi and I ended up liking it. I went into the concert with a negative attitude because I was forced to attend this concert for another music class. Upon sitting and listening to the music, I can honestly say I enjoyed myself. The music was relaxing and enjoyable to listen to. I am curious to see whether I will enjoy this concert, but I believe that I will be able to. Telemann is from the same era as Vivaldi and upon listening to some of Telemann’s work, I believe this will be a great experience for me. Another thing that I am interested to see is how the concert is structured.  Sadly, on June 25, 1767 Mr. Telemann passed away. The concert is described as an event honoring the 250th anniversary of his death. I am interested in seeing whether it will be just music or people talking between pieces and helping us truly understand the legacy of Telemann. All in all, I believe that this concert will be a unique experience that I will enjoy.





Steven Zohn. “Telemann, Georg Philipp.” Grove Music OnlineOxford Music Online. Oxford University Press, accessed December 4, 2017,

Wagner and the Leitmotif

Richard Wagner believed that part of what made his operas unique was the way that he sought after a seamless integration of the orchestral music with the vocal music and the drama unfolding onstage. In fact, he called his operas “music dramas,” almost as if to acknowledge that he felt his works were of a different genre than the other popular contemporary operas (especially those of French and Italian composers like Meyerbeer and Verdi). One way that he achieved a greater dialogue between text, orchestra, singers, and drama was to develop a system of Leitmotifs, which were short melodic ideas associated with a particular character, place, or idea. Wagner was influenced by Berlioz’s orchestral program music, and indeed the idea of a Leitmotif, of using a recurring melodic motive to represent a specific element of the story, is identical to Berlioz’s designation of a particular melody for his idée fixe.

Like Berlioz, Wagner also develops and manipulates his Leitmotifs to serve the dramatic and psychological action onstage. Remember how Berlioz, in the fifth movement of Symphonie fantastique, turns his idée fixe melody into a diabolical dance by having it played with excessive trills and a lively triple meter by a clarinet in order to represent how his beloved is now a cackling witch (in his own hallucination). Similarly, Wagner puts his Leitmotifs in different instruments, has them play at varying tempos and dynamic levels, and fragments or combines them to help tell his story. Wagner even uses Leitmotifs to shed light on things that are unknown to the characters, to foreshadow or remind us of things in the past, or to enhance the audience’s understanding of a character or idea.

In the massive, four-opera epic cycle The Ring of the Nibelungs, one way that Wagner achieves unity between all four operas (and within each of those operas) is to use an elaborate and extensive system of Leitmotifs, which he uses to generate much of the melodic material of the entire work. The Act I finale of Die Walküre, the second music drama of the cycle, is a great example of how multiple different Leitmotifs can tell the story. In this scene, we hear a number of important Leitmotifs:

Valhalla, the home of the gods:

Love motif:

Volsung motif, the name of the human race that includes Sieglinde and Siegmund

Renunciation of Love motif, symbolizing the idea that people give up love and humanity in order to achieve wealth or power:

Sword motif:

Spring motif:

The story of The Ring is naturally quite long and complicated, but what you need to know for this scene is that the two characters singing are Siegmund (tenor) and Sieglinde (soprano). Siegmund does not know who he is, he calls himself “Woeful” (Wehwalt), and Sieglinde lives an unhappy life with her husband Hunding, whom she was forced to marry. A stranger, who is actually Wotan the king of the gods, once stuck a sword into a tree in Sieglinde’s house which no one can remove, and told Sieglinde that only a true hero could remove it. During the course of Act I of Die Walküre, Siegmund and Sieglinde gradually fall in love. In this final scene, they discover that their father is the same person, and they are in fact twins. Their father is none other than Wotan, although they don’t know that he is a god, they refer to him as his human form “Volsa,” from which their race gets its name. Siegmund removes the sword from the tree, and they escape together in love.

Throughout this scene, listen for how Wagner uses the Leitmotifs listed above to accompany the dramatic action and tell the story.

Concert Preview

the concert that I will be attending is on December 3 at 3 PM. The concert will be held at NJPAC. This concert will be performed by Stephen Hough the pianist and the NJ Symphony Orchestra. The pieces that will be performed are Rachmaninoff’s Vocalise and Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini; plus there will be also be Sergey Prokofiev’s Symphony No 6. The conductor of this performance is Xian Zhang.

Rachmaninoff and Sergey Prokofiev both came from a different background and had totally different lives, this will affect me on how I approach towards listening to the pieces that will be performed.  Rachmaninoff was born in a poor family during the romanticism period, and he had to move a lot when he was a kid which led to his unstabilized growing which caused him lot of emotional pain. His pieces are usually not “expressive” and therefore reflects on his childhood which was not so good. Rachmaninoff was influenced by the famous Russian musician Tchaikovsky and from that he built pride for his country through nationalistic pieces. When I will listen the piece, I will pay close attention to the concept of “nationalistic” through expressive and bright musical characteristics.

On the other side, Sergey Prokofiev had a more comfortable and a more suitable life. Sergey Prokofiev was raised in a wealthy family and he was able to focus on his musical work, which lead to him becoming a successful composer. In these pieces performed by Stephen Hough and the NJ Symphony Orchestra , I will also pay close attention to personal reflections of Rachmaninoff and Sergey Prokofiev. Two distinct composers(Sergey Prokofiev and Rachmaninoff) will both provide distinct musical characteristics which is going to add excitement to the concert and will make it memorable.

In Rachmaninoff’s pieces(Rhapsody) there is a theme and variations(Theme of Paganini). According to Sergey Prokofiev’s symphony no 6, there is only 3 movements which does not follow the regular 4 movements at the time. It is going to be kind of difficult to recognize all of these specific musical characteristics because these works are complex. The vocal piece will be accompanied with a combination of instruments, which is going to be interesting to hear. It is definitely going to be an interesting concert with many combinations and variations and will hopefully be emotionally appealing


“Rachmaninoff, Serge.” Grove Music OnlineOxford Music OnlineOxford University Press, accessed December 3, 2017

“Prokofiev, Sergey.” Grove Music OnlineOxford Music OnlineOxford University Press, accessed December 3, 2017


Concert Preview

Today at 3 PM, I’ll have the opportunity to attend the Hough Plays Rachmaninoff concert. The concert will take place in the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark. The concert will consist of performances by the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra, which will be led by Xian Zhang, and Stephen Hough. The pieces that will be performed are Rachmaninoff’s Vocalise, and Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, followed by Prokofiev’s Symphony No. 6.

As I conducted a brief research on Rachmaninoff’s life, I was able to learn many facts not only about who he was as a composer, but also who he was as a person. To learn about his troubled childhood made me think that some of his pieces will somehow reflect his dark/unhappy past. The point in his life were he was discouraged and induced to believe that he was not that good of a composer adds on to my inferences about the overall mood of some of his pieces. With these facts in mind, I’ll definitely have a better understanding of the pieces that will be performed, because I will be aware of the circumstances that influenced Rachmaninoff’s music at the time. I believe that learning about his life prior to attending the concert has already impacted my experience, for I now feel prepared to engage in the performance, rather than just sit there, clueless about the pieces’ significance.

Rachmaninoff’s pieces, Vocalise and Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, certainly grasped my attention from the minute I listened to them. Vocalise has a soothing and calming aspect that can make anyone feel relaxed, but intrigued at the same time. Throughout most of the piece, there are variations in its dynamics, as it ranges from soft to loud, and vice versa, in various occasions. The mellow timbre of the piece can push a listener to infer that the piece reflects something about Rachmaninoff’s life at the time. Just like I mentioned above, Rachmaninoff’s rough life experiences probably influenced his writing of this work. Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini shares some of the same qualities as Vocalise. Perhaps if I hadn’t learned a bit about the composer’s life, I wouldn’t put too much thought into how the pieces’ are structured, but knowing that he encountered many ups and downs throughout his musical career (and personal life as well), I’m able to understand the pieces better and draw a connection between their respective meanings.

Hopefully, when I listen to these pieces live, I will be drawn and intrigued by the performers and their ability to present these pieces in an outstanding manner.


Work Cited

Geoffrey Norris. “Rachmaninoff, Serge.” Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. Oxford University Press. Web. 3 Dec. 2017.

Concert Preview: Hough Plays Rachmaninoff

I will be seeing Hough Plays Rachmaninoff. The conductor is Xian Zhang and the piano player is Stephen Hough. Sergei Rachmaninoff was a Russian pianist, composer, and conductor of the late Romantic period. He was very tall as well standing at an astounding 6’6”. He was born into an aristocratic family in Russia, and lived in Beverly Hills, California, the latter years of his life. He never assimilated to American culture and brought what he loved to this country, music.


Reading these aspects of his life causes me to think, he had the opportunity to become as good as he was because of his wealthy family. Usually musicians that come from a wealthy family have more trained musically than those that come from poor families. Rachmaninoff was one of the greatest of his time and I can hear it in his music (played by Hough). Hough does a great job at imitating Rachmaninoff. The cool thing about this piece is the violins playing the theme and the piano decorating and embellishing the piece. Hearing the piece beforehand allowed me to see how much work is put into the music. I watched a clip on YouTube of Stephen Hough explaining what Rachmaninoff does in a Theme of Paganini. It was also cool seeing the skip from the one to the five be played in such a way I’ve never heard before. I am interested to see how this goes in person. This is a symphony orchestra and it is so cool seeing the unity.


Richard D., Sylvester. Rachmaninoff’s Complete Songs : A Companion with Texts and Translations. Indiana University Press, 2014. Russian Music Studies.

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