Generations of musical giants, including composers ranging from Mozart and Beethoven to George Gershwin and Philip Glass, have made a careful study of the masterworks of Johann Sebastian Bach. His compositions and the musical styles they embody have laid the foundation of almost every form of classical music that followed.
Bach’s “Goldberg Variations” are among his most well-known works and are widely recognized as one of the great masterworks of variation form. Named after the harpsichordist who likely first performed them, Johann Gottlieb Goldberg, the variations take the listener on a joyful adventure of 30 variations crafted around the theme of an opening aria. Filled with the artful turns of Baroque ornamentation and crafted in Bach’s renowned contrapuntal style, the piece covers a huge variety of musical forms and presents a treasure-filled challenge for any pianist.
Bach’s Goldberg Variations begins with a clear and direct statement of the initial theme in a stately Baroque aria, providing a clear presentation of the musical material from which Bach creates the subsequent musical tapestry. Immediately, the music launches into a two-voice variation in which the contrapuntal lines play against one another with strong rhythmic exchanges, always accented by delicate Baroque ornamentation.
From here the piece guides the listener through a variegated tour of Baroque musical styles. Some variations are commanding and regal where others are filled with rapid-fire runs of eagerly rolling notes. Right after hearing a rendition of clean melodies reflecting one another in sharp rhythmic lines one hears the delicate sway of graceful ornamentation in which the melodies move around one another like the carefully measured movements of dancers across the ballroom floor. Tightly knit explosions of uniquely Baroque musical fireworks are set against slow and careful musical ruminations.
Always graced by the musical genius of Bach’s compositional hand, the “Goldberg Variations” take the listener on a journey through widely contrasting musical material set side by side, flowing from one to the next, creating a unique musical journey into the roots of classical music, guided by one of it’s greatest masters.
Für Elise is a piece that captures the musical genius of Beethoven in miniature form, is among the most well-known compositions in the world. For being such a well-known piece, it is strange that it’s title, meaning “For Elise,” is greatly disputed. Beethoven researcher Ludwig Nohl initially established the title of the piece, claiming he saw the dedication on an original manuscript that has now been lost. As there is no historical evidence of a woman named “Elise” in Beethoven’s life, the accuracy of this claim is a matter of great speculation. Disputes about its title set aside, it is unquestionably among the simplest and most elegant expressions of the human heart ever created.
The piece begins with a pensive trill that slowly drifts down into rolling arpeggios that capture a kind of simple, undulating passion that both strides forward and falls away in successive waves. These gentle melodic gestures are among the most well known in all of music, expressing both the hesitancy and the simple depth of the human spirit.
Following the initial melody in Fur Elise is a less well-known and more technically challenging section. In it one hears the essential elements of the first melody transformed into something less reflective and more active—a kind of earnest taking up of the initial passion into a more energetic contemplation, eventually arriving at something like joyful laughter. The laughter is short lived, however, as the slow, pensive trill that opened the piece returns, hovering, waiting to fall back into quiet reverie.
Flowing once again through the initial theme, the music then moves into the contrasting middle section in which the pulsing repetition of a low note in the left hand lays the foundation for more aggressive emotion to emerge. Ever so faintly, fear enters here, filled with a hint of anger, once again ebbing and flowing in musical waves across the keyboard.
With a sudden shift in tonality, a brief light dawns before a rapid rush of arpeggios returns the listener to the slow call of the opening trill and the rolling waves of pensive reflection that began the piece, finally laying the listener down to a gentle rest with the peaceful closing chords of the composition.
It is a journey that speaks of a profoundly human heart—a chance to hear the beat of Beethoven’s soul.
Many people aren’t what you would call, “musically inclined.” Although some prefer to just listen to the music and immerse themselves in the sound of it, others wish that they could create something of such beauty on their own. The majority of composers have gone through countless years of music school to be able to write the pieces we enjoy, but simple, everyday people can learn to compose as well. Before you become discouraged at the sheer thought of even trying to compose a piece of music on your own, just remember, not every composer has a music degree or started out with one. Sometimes, the love of music is enough.
The best way for a beginning music composer to start, is by buying music writing software, although this isn’t necessarily a requirement. At the very least music writing software will keep you from wasting tons of sheet music. The next step is to find some type of inspiration. Wishing to write great piano sheet music isn’t enough on its own. Inspiration can be found from many sources. It could come from something you saw or a feeling that you’ve had. Most music is about conveying an emotion that you just can’t seem to express with mere words, or a feeling that you just have to get out. It could also be something as simple as a beautiful painting you saw or a flower; the options for finding inspiration are endless.
The second step on your musical journey should begin with some basic musical knowledge. If you’ve ever played a musical instrument then this step isn’t too hard. Being able to play a musical instrument means that at the very least you’ll be able to read the music. If you’ve never played any kind of instrument before, the thought of learning to read music may seem somewhat daunting. The fact is it’s not; learning to read music is relatively easy. There are countless internet sites that can teach you the basics. Another basic is to learn some musical theory in the process. Without this knowledge you could become discouraged when your efforts sound slightly off, and end your endeavor before it truly begins.
After following these first steps it’s time to find a musical phrase or key idea to build your composition around. This doesn’t mean that you have to stick with this idea, but you will need a place to start from. This leads to making sure that your piece has a place to go after it’s started. Staying in the same place and trying to build on one single musical motif will make your composition rather boring, both for you as the writer, as well as for anyone that listens to it. This means that you should make sure that there are counterpoints in the melody you choose as a sort of give and take between the instruments. A good way to do this is to use tension and release in your piece to help hold your chosen audience’s attention. This can be accomplished by to a climax and then dropping it back down again. This doesn’t mean that your piece shout feature overly complicated cords. If you’re good at incorporating them and they seem to fit the piece, by all means use them, but that doesn’t mean that they are necessary for success. Above all remember to stay inspired. Nothing could be worse than boring yourself and never finishing your composition, or boring your audience with your finished product.