Musical Forms and Art

Just like how literature, prose, and poetry are composed in certain recognized forms so too is music. By studying these forms we can improve our ability to compose music in a unified way and improve our art in general as art is composition. One of the classical forms we may study is known as a suite.

A suite is a series of songs played in a particular order in one sitting. Traditionally these would be dances numbering up to five and sometimes preceded by a prelude.

Other names for suites include, suite de danses (suite de danses – suite of dances), ordre, partita, and ouverture (French overtures (1640-50 c.) were composed for ballet. The French overture was in two parts and was often followed by a series of dance tunes after which the curtain was to rise).

Despite being transmitted by the ballete of sixteenth-century France the joy of couples dancing and its obvious usefulness for courtship and exercise made suites popular throughout Europe among the upper classes during the baroque period, but in the eighteenth century symphonies, concertos, and sonatas displaced them with some exceptions. (The nutcracker suite by Tchaikovsky (in a different form than the traditional however) was certainly a success in the nineteenth century.)

The form of the suite however predates French ballet of the sixteen-fifties by one-hundred years as Estienne du Tertre published series of dances as suuttes (suyttes) de bransles in fifteen-fifty-seven. It also could be found in publication in sixteen-eleven with the printing of Peurel’s “Newe Padouan, Intrada, Dantz und Galliarda” and also with Schein’s published material “Banchetto Musicale” in sixteen-seventeen.

These publications unified the songs by key and theme with Schein listing categories of dances like the paduana (a slow processional dance like a peacock for couples), gagliarda (gaillard – a gallant leaping dance done sprightly in triple time), courtente (from Latin cursus (derived words cursive, course, etc.) – a running dance), allemande (The word means “German” in French. This is a lightly amusing dance but well composed and performed with comportment so as with some gravity; not wild), and tripla (a triple meter dance).

The most widely recognized classical procession in a suite however is first an allemande, a courante, a sarabande (a triple meter (three beats to a measure) dance the word being from the Spanish zarabanda via the French. (The Spanish dance being vigorous, but the English slow and courtly.)), and a gigue (an English jig).

An aria is a musical form for a solo singer where melody is emphasized. Accompaniment is optional, but its sound would not be stressed. The word comes from the Latin aer which means “air” and so an airy light quality is sought in an aria.

The word concerto(s) used to mean a religious orchestral piece with singing. But now we make a distinction between sung pieces and instrumentals. The form today usually is known by the three movements in which a solo instrument is accompanied by orchestra or band. We call this a concerto sonata or simply a sonata (meaning to sound; from Latin “sonare”) . A sung piece with orchestra is called a cantata (from cantare – as in chant or cant the root being cha or ka/ca denoting heaven or an open space) meaning to sing. The term sonata today also implies an organizational technique are used to manage large scale works the same way the word fugue is sometimes used.

A fugue is a song for two voices written in counterpoint. The term counterpoint now means that the composer wrote essentially two distinct pieces of music which have their own voices but are to be played simultaneously for they compliment each other in harmony, but have no direct relation in their rhythms; the combined rhythm of both making the rhythm of the song which is heard. The tern is from the Latin punctus contra punctum meaning point against point.

Originally the word fugue was used for canon songs. A canon song is a Roman Catholic (hence the use of the term canon; Latinized from the Greek kanown (κανων) meaning law; which term Catholics applied to their decrees and their recognized body of scriptures which included apocryphal books) form of music in one in which multiple performers begin at different times so that their voices overlap in a pleasing way due to that delay. In canon a leader (called dux – as in the title Duke) is followed by another singer (called a comes – as in the word “come” which is in the imperative mood (which is a verb mode) which is a command for someone to follow).  In a canon song a perfect imitation by each voice of the initial is called a round. Because that style was a form of counterpoint with the starting point one of singer being different than another the term fugue was eventually applied to a broader range of counterpoint forms.

When considering music or drawing and painting remember the sequence is important. Exhaustion is possible, interest can be peaked, attention drawn, audiences pacified, spirits invigorated, contrast necessary, complementary elements welcome, and sameness with variation pleasing. The principles of musical composition were things the old masters used in their paintings (see Juliette Aristides – Classical Drawing Atelier – chapters two through five). The same way natural harmonics divide the string a string may be used to divide a painting or drawing to find natural spaces and lines to draw the viewers eye from one thing to the other making the eyes of the viewer pace through the painting in real time adding a fourth dimension to flat art. Timing is as important in art as in music for both the audience and the artist and things ought not to be rushed. Overtures serve a purpose the same as intermissions and an flash of colour or an underpainting can introduce or help us establish what is to come later.

A movement is music is like movement in a painting. It is all about line; which is only the infinite described as an angle dividing two spaces. Line segments give us a beginning and end which make the infinite finite and introduce time. The space of a canvas being bounded the edges being the whole of the piece its duration lasting as long as it or the memory of it may endure.

Sight and sound are just two ways God designed man to experience the same world using different organs. Both relate motion to us. Either the motion of light through the ether as emitted from a source or reflected off an object being bent by the atmosphere or sound as it travels through that same thick ethereal plane taking the motion of a bell and sending it directly to our ears or after it has echoed off the floor.

To study music is to study art and vice versa. The mathematics are the same as the threefold chord of light vibrates with tonal qualities and music resonates with colour. Inverted colour profiles cancel each other out the same as electronic headphones do sound. Lightwaves are turned into music in radios and we can hear the stars that emit light sing as God told us in the Bible with radio telescopes, radio waves being light outside of the visible spectrum. The comparisons go on and on and on.

While I seldom listen to music while I paint I do it occasionally (I prefer playing my own instruments rather than listening to music, but that is hard to do while painting) and many others do so regularly and they find it helps them be more creative and keeps them working through the long hours when they would otherwise become bored and fatigued. It does help me at times. So you may try that yourself and see if it helps you. And if you are a musician take some time to study the art of the period from which you are playing. Seeing the dress and manners and the objects and especially the faces and the real characters of the time in which your piece was composed will give your music more life and your interpretation will be more sound full of the context of that era. Either way maybe mixing music and art will help you to paint and play on.


The Bible: Book of Job, chapter thirty eight, verse 7: When the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy? ; ; ; ; ; ; ;