Seeing and Hearing Music

I thought it might be appropriate to include my Haverford thesis, Seeing and Hearing Music, on a post.  I continue to find videos that are relevant to this topic, so perhaps this can become a regular blog feature moving forward.  For those readers with plenty of time and interest, I’ll post the entire paper in the link below.  For those of you who might just like a sampling of the topic, read on (and watch the video).

Seeing and Hearing Music: Combining Genres in Film Versions of Bach’s Six Suites for Solo Cello

Also see my appendix of video and audio examples that goes with the paper (these have been posted by Haverford for academic purposes only).

These “film versions” of Bach Suites are distinctive because they are not just videos of a live concert where a film crew just happened to be present.  In a live performance video, camera work is limited by having to work around the audience members, but because these videos were made expressly for a film medium, every element of the filming and post-production is consciously decided upon to complement the performance.  Here is one the older examples of this medium, a performance by Pablo Casals.  We can already see the standards being set for more recent examples:

Casals’s relationship with the Bach Suites is already a much-discussed topic, to the point of becoming a legend in the classical music world.  Often, Casals is credited with “discovering” the Bach Suites; a more accurate description is that he successfully championed the elevation of the works from their status as curiosities or etudes to widely-respected concert pieces.  This is where the idea of genre comes into play: the Bach Suites have been shifting genres since they were written.  They are based on various types of baroque dances, turning the dance into a piece of court music.  Casals was a major player in their shift from the court (which no longer existed, of course) to the modern concert stage, and, in turn, from the concert stage to film.  It is no surprise then, that the genre-flexible Cello Suites are so overwhelmingly represented in the field of “classical music films”.

While watching Casal’s video, watch for when the cuts occur from one camera angle to another.  You will notice that there is always a cut at the beginning of a new section of the music (the dance movements are all in a binary structure, that is, two sections that are each repeated: A-A-B-B).  This is a characteristic editing approach for the Bach Suite Films genre.  However, if you look at the very end, the last few bars of the Gigue are highlighted by a series of very quick cuts.  Here we have have a sense of urgency, of finality, and, above all, of communicating the gesture of the music.  This notion of gesture and the visual element of the music does away with issues of structural analysis and focuses instead on the dance tropes that are the basis for the music.

Stay tuned for more video examples in the future…

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