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 Post subject: Beethoven
PostPosted: Wed Jul 22, 2009 1:51 pm 
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Last night I saw the biographical film, In Search of Beethoven. The movie is premiering right here in Chicago in the US, but it’s also showing in London, currently. Although it was a long movie, two and half hours, the time seemed to fly right by. I enjoyed it and learned a lot. I always love to learn how certain pieces came to be, or what the composer was like when he was writing them, i.e. how was he living, was he with a loved-one or was he alone, was he rich or poor, etc. And did you know that when he was a man in his thirties and forties, he was in love with young women who were only teenagers? And I thought that his hearing loss came on when he was older, like maybe in his forties, but no – he was losing his hearing already at a much earlier age.

Also in the film I learned about how innovative Beethoven was. He composed music that no one had heard before. And I don’t mean because it was new music, but that it had certain elements in it that had never been written or heard before. Like an octave glissando – he was the first to do that. Also starting a piano concerto where the piano is the first instrument to actually begin the piece. There were many references about things like that in the move.

However, I still have a question that I’ve had for a long time, but have never been brave enough to ask. And it’s about any classical composer, not just Beethoven, although the question fits him the best. Ok here it is – and please don’t ream me out for asking such a stupid question. I really want to understand this:

These ‘innovative’ composers - if they were so innovative, then why did they not write music with more jazzy harmonies? They all sat in front of a piano when they composed, right? So wouldn’t you think that as their fingers randomly moved around on the keys, they would have accidentally hit on a jazz chord? Beethoven could write beautiful and serene pieces with sweet chords, or he could write out a tumultuous storm. I don’t understand why he didn’t stumble upon even more things, like some other ‘jazzy’ harmonies. Or what about a blues pattern, or swinging eighth notes, or a walking bass line? Why was Beethoven’s music so ‘classical’ all the time?

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PostPosted: Wed Jul 22, 2009 3:52 pm 
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Composers usually write within socially acceptable ranges. I believe back then Beethoven wanted to please the conservative, classical audience who were the largest audience. But now, thanks to the hippies and liberals, anything goes. That's why "art" can be as "complex" and "thought provoking" as a few splatters of paint on an empty canvas or a painting of a Campbell's tomato soup can. That's why rubbish like this:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7obhECqP8o4

is considered music in this era. But back in the times of Beethoven, a person's reputation would've been destroyed if he had composed something as radical as the above.

Just my one cent.

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PostPosted: Wed Jul 22, 2009 6:10 pm 
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You're right, J. The music in that video is rubbish! I hate it.

And I know what you are saying, but it's not this ugly, keyboard-smashing, dissonances sounds that I'm talking about. I mean more structured jazz chords. Beethoven pushed the envelope in his day, and yet it is still so classical. With a mind like his, I just wonder why he did not 'imagine' music that could be sort of jazzy-like. I'm probably not making any sense and can't explain what I mean very well.

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PostPosted: Wed Jul 22, 2009 7:25 pm 
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I think you raise an interesting point here, Monica.

Much of the interest of jazz lies in its frequent harmonic modulations. This is, of course, the very thing that the classic-period composers eschewed. The proponents of this new "style galant" that emerged in the 18th century tended to look at the fugal, imitative style of Bach, with its frequent modulations and shifts, as pedantic and stuffy (Johann Christian Bach is often given credit as one of the fathers of this new style).

Classic style, up to and including Beethoven, is more about rhythm and time (note groupings and rests), dramatic tension, periodic phrases, and structure (sonata form). Beethoven's harmony is rather simple. I think it's his energy and structural tightness (as well as his position standing at the threshold of the romantic era, with the expansion of the pianoforte to an instrument simulating an entire orchestra) that make him great.

That said, I must admit that in different ways, I've never cared too much for Beethoven or jazz -- both seem rather obvious and labored to me after a while (but that's a different topic). Incidentally, I think the harmony in Mozart's later works is much more adventurous than anything Beethoven did in that area (e.g., the Ave Verum Corpus, the Requiem).

Well, I sort of rambled here but hope this helps!

--Joe


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PostPosted: Wed Jul 22, 2009 8:41 pm 
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jlr43 wrote:

That said, I must admit that in different ways, I've never cared too much for Beethoven or jazz -- both seem rather obvious and labored to me after a while (but that's a different topic). Incidentally, I think the harmony in Mozart's later works is much more adventurous than anything Beethoven did in that area (e.g., the Ave Verum Corpus, the Requiem).


That's ok. I've never cared for Bach so much, which some people around here find rather disturbing! :lol: "To each his (her) own," is what I always say. btw - I'm going to see "In Search of Mozart" next week. :)

jlr43 wrote:
Well, I sort of rambled here but hope this helps!


Yes, it does. I like when people open up and say something around here.

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PostPosted: Thu Jul 23, 2009 7:44 pm 
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Beethoven's last piano sonata No 32 (Op. 111 in C minor) second movement - Arietta - is actually a set of variations. The third variation is unofficially called the "boogie-woogie" variation. If you listen to it, you'll surely reconsider about how jazzy Beethoven could be.

I am sure Beethoven knew the role of dissonant chords and had an advanced sense of harmony. But you must consider that there was a limit to what a composer could publish at the time. Relying to patrons for his financial support, he had to be cautious not to overly disturb his listeners with extended dissonance and excessive innovations. And it is obvious by his last sonatas that, should he had lived more, he could have written more freely what he really had in his mind.

If you look closely to scores, you'll find an abundance of interesting harmonic content. No composer would sustain dissonance or structure a work on what we today call jazz chords. They all tried to resolve dissonances so that they would not become annoying to the untrained ear. But they gave bits and bites, here and there, sometimes as extended hints of how they realised music or what path would music follow in the future.

Chopin for example, always incorporated improved chords even in his simple works. He used a 9th or a major 11th or a trichord with alternate bass etc. Listen to his Nocturne Op. 48-1. The slow part is exceptional in the use of chords with added extensions.

Brahms, one of my favourite composers by the way, used modern harmony extensively. I had recently recorded an Intermezzo from Op. 116 and I was overwhelmed by his elegant harmonic textures.

And of course, Bach, the man behind all music!
I don't like everything Jacques Loussier plays with his trio, but I have to admit that Bach is the master technician of modern harmony and sometimes one could easily be carried away and think Bach would be a phenomenal jazz keyboardist if he lived today. Just listen to the 'Allemande' of the first partita (preferably by Gould). Then switch to 'Donna Lee' by Charlie Parker. You'll see my point.

And Debussy's works of course, harmonically, are jazz all around.

The reason why pieces by classical composers don't sound jazzy although they contain a wealth of harmonic innovation, is because classical composers missed the second important element of jazz, rhythm, groove. The ragged, syncopated feel of rhythm with its African roots. The swing in the broad sense of the term. Ella Fitzgerald sang: "it don't mean a thing if it ain't got that swing", who would disagree?
Bach, realising the importance of rhythm, constructed many of his works on dance forms of his time, Allemande, Bourre, Gigue and so on. But none of these bear the grooving feel of a modern jazz tempo. I am sure a Debussy prelude played by a swinging jazz trio would easily pass as a jazz piece. Bill Evans' solos attest to that.

So, yes, I believe that all major classical composers knew what could be done with harmony and if the consensus of their time permitted, they would have been more experimental.
Personally I have gained enormously by studying and analysing classical pieces and have improved my sound when playing jazz.


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PostPosted: Thu Jul 23, 2009 8:15 pm 
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I agree with wiser_guy. Unfortunately those harmonies are often lost for the audience when the pieces are played (too) fast.
Christiane


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Thu Jul 23, 2009 11:09 pm 
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wiser_guy wrote:
Beethoven's last piano sonata No 32 (Op. 111 in C minor) second movement - Arietta - is actually a set of variations. The third variation is unofficially called the "boogie-woogie" variation. If you listen to it, you'll surely reconsider about how jazzy Beethoven could be.


That’s very interesting. I’ll try to listen to it soon. And I wonder if that’s the same piece that was mentioned in the movie I just saw? The pianist was describing a certain set of variations that are supposedly very difficult to play. In one particular part, Beethoven wrote that only one hand (the right I think) is supposed to play a long descending arpeggio at breakneck speed. Except, no ‘normal’ pianist can do it – and not many professionals either. They cheat and use both hands.


wiser_guy wrote:
If you look closely to scores, you'll find an abundance of interesting harmonic content. No composer would sustain dissonance or structure a work on what we today call jazz chords. They all tried to resolve dissonances so that they would not become annoying to the untrained ear. But they gave bits and bites, here and there, sometimes as extended hints of how they realised music or what path would music follow in the future.


Also in the movie, a string quartet played a Beethoven piece that was recently discovered and written near the end of his life. I can’t remember the name, but it sounded pretty wild to me. Not really ‘jazzy’ in a sense, but it had a lot of dissonances. That’s what got me thinking about all this in the first place.

wiser_guy wrote:
Chopin for example, always incorporated improved chords even in his simple works. He used a 9th or a major 11th or a trichord with alternate bass etc. Listen to his Nocturne Op. 48-1. The slow part is exceptional in the use of chords with added extensions.
Brahms, one of my favourite composers by the way, used modern harmony extensively. I had recently recorded an Intermezzo from Op. 116 and I was overwhelmed by his elegant harmonic textures.


Hmmm…I don’t hear anything jazzy in that particular nocturne. But I’m practicing a mazurka that has a couple ‘jazzy’ chords. And I agree about Brahms and his use of harmonies. Liszt too. And Debussy. I’m sure they (plus Chopin) laid down some jazz chords when they sat improvising at a piano and worked them into their music, albeit in a conventional public-friendly way dictated by the times. But Bach? I dunno…. Guess I’ll have listen to those pieces you mentioned, because I can’t imagine Bach having even a tiny crumb of jazz harmonies in his music.



wiser_guy wrote:
So, yes, I believe that all major classical composers knew what could be done with harmony and if the consensus of their time permitted, they would have been more experimental.


Well, that’s the part I don’t get. I understand that they wrote music befitting the style of the day and for the most part, that is how they paid their bills. But as an artist, don’t you think a composer, if he had in fact discovered some jazzier-sounding chords, would want to write it in his music to show the world that there are other harmonies out there? Sort of like, “Hey, everybody. Am I not a great artist? Look at this new sound I just invented!” Or maybe even something to have in a different portfolio. Like he’d have his ‘classical’ repertoire, and then his ‘other music’ repertoire. I just don’t understand why composers were not writing music with a clear and definite jazz flavor since they sat at a piano with many keys and could easily have discovered jazz chords on their own. I guess this can relate back to what was acceptable to publish in the day and what was going to earn some income.

The rhythm thing is indeed a major factor here. Beethoven would not have known the word ‘swing’, or ‘groove’, yet he obviously knew how to write dotted rhythms. ( I wonder if he ever randomly played Fur Elise in a swinging fashion. ) But still, why didn’t composers back then know about jazz rhythms? I know things have to start somewhere, but…well…forget it. I’ve too many questions, and by now you all probably think I have lost my marbles. :lol:

Thanks for putting out some more thoughts on the subject, Pantelis.

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PostPosted: Fri Jul 24, 2009 9:58 am 
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pianolady wrote:
The pianist was describing a certain set of variations that are supposedly very difficult to play. In one particular part, Beethoven wrote that only one hand (the right I think) is supposed to play a long descending arpeggio at breakneck speed.

No, he was obviously referring to the two last variations where Beethoven has written many small notes (25-30) in a single bar. And yes, they are extremely difficult to play, most pianists slow down there.

pianolady wrote:
I can’t imagine Bach having even a tiny crumb of jazz harmonies in his music.

Then how would you compose music for a film, Monica?
Contemporary film music (and not only) uses polyphony to realise complex harmony with a large orchestra. Anything else would sound childish. Film composers go crazy with interweaving melody lines shared among groups of orchestra instruments to shape musical ideas and atmosphere.
How would you explain, for example, that one of the main alert themes in the film 'Troy' uses an exact pattern from Bach's 1st partita Sarabande?

pianolady wrote:
But still, why didn’t composers back then know about jazz rhythms?

Because they hadn't been in Africa? :)
Seriously, rhythm's role in African music is so elevated that it can stand on its own. You can hear pieces with drums, only. European composers, usually attached to palaces and monarchs or the high society just followed the strict norm, polkas, waltzes, marches.


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PostPosted: Fri Jul 24, 2009 1:42 pm 
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wiser_guy wrote:

pianolady wrote:
I can’t imagine Bach having even a tiny crumb of jazz harmonies in his music.

Then how would you compose music for a film, Monica?
Contemporary film music (and not only) uses polyphony to realise complex harmony with a large orchestra. Anything else would sound childish. Film composers go crazy with interweaving melody lines shared among groups of orchestra instruments to shape musical ideas and atmosphere.
How would you explain, for example, that one of the main alert themes in the film 'Troy' uses an exact pattern from Bach's 1st partita Sarabande?


Well, if you are saying that the Troy music arranger added jazz chords and rhythm to the Sarabande, then I would say that he jazzed up some Bach. But if you mean that he used an exact snippet of the Sarabande, then I would say he simply used the Sarabande. Just because a film composer uses some classical (or baroque) music for a scene, does not mean that the music is automatically jazzy. Maybe we’re talking about two different things. You brought up polyphony, but I talking about harmony.

wiser_guy wrote:
Because they hadn't been in Africa?
Seriously, rhythm's role in African music is so elevated that it can stand on its own. You can hear pieces with drums, only. European composers, usually attached to palaces and monarchs or the high society just followed the strict norm, polkas, waltzes, marches.

Yeah – but I can right this second think up a new rhythm that I never heard before, can’t you? A musical mind can think the same way no matter whose head it is in. (that probably doesn’t make sense) What I mean is that all of us here can image a melody, a chord progression, a rhythmic line, and so could all the other composers back in time. So that is why I wonder why the minds like Bach and Beethoven didn’t stumble upon jazz elements on their own.

But Pantelis – that Beethoven op. 111 variation that you directed me to totally surprised me. Wow – Beethoven does do ‘boogie woogie’ after all! :lol: That was a fun discovery. You and some other members always amaze me as to the depth of your knowledge.

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PostPosted: Fri Jul 24, 2009 7:28 pm 
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pianolady wrote:
You brought up polyphony, but I talking about harmony.

But polyphony IS harmony. You don't need chords to build harmony. You can do it with polyphony. Bach clearly wanted the world to know about this discovery. At least that's what he suggested in the introductory text of his Inventions.
Addressing the aspiring keyboardist he wrote (I paraphrase because I don't have the original text at hand): "... and to gain from these Inventions at least a part of my knowledge of music and develop further compositional ideas". He showed the way.

So, the Inventions where not only meant to act as exercises but also as powerful compositional tools. If you only see two voices playing together, you only see a small part of Bach's musical content. The movement of these voices as they meet and separate and meet again and so on, is an extremely effective harmonic device. Today, we usually associate chords with harmony but this is a quite limiting if you think of it. Film composers (I insist because some extraordinary film music is available) know this very well and use it all over. Some jazz pianists (Keith Jarrett comes to mind) also incorporate polyphony in their live playing instead of just dull chords.

Still in doubt?
Ok, let's try Bach's first prelude from WTC I, C major. There are some fine recordings of this prelude in PS (notably Andreas'). Now just look at the score. There is no melody. Just chords. Ok, played as arpeggios maybe, since a straight chord on a harpsichord would sound terrible. This is a harmonic only piece with some very interesting dissonances creating various moods as they evolve.

You talked about walking bass?
Let's listen to the Minuet from 1st Partita. Come on now, don't tell me you don't see the walking bass figure which implies every harmonic movement so nicely. No chords, yes, they are to be sensed. Just as a decent jazz pianist would not play root chords, he would rather let the listener figure them out.

And how about all of the above?
Concerto for harpsichord (piano) in D minor, BWV 1052. What do you say?

pianolady wrote:
You and some other members always amaze me as to the depth of your knowledge.

Well, this is true for some members but not for me. You just happened to stir up a subject that I have studied a lot. You see, you have to play classical and understand it in order to even start thinking about laying hands on a jazz piece.


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PostPosted: Sat Jul 25, 2009 12:24 am 
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wiser_guy wrote:
So, the Inventions where not only meant to act as exercises but also as powerful compositional tools. If you only see two voices playing together, you only see a small part of Bach's musical content. The movement of these voices as they meet and separate and meet again and so on, is an extremely effective harmonic device.


Well, that must be why I’m not getting into Bach as much as everybody else. I don’t hear how the harmonies are coming out through all the lines or voices weaving around each other. I just hear a bunch of notes. Sometimes, yes, if it is simple like when both hands are skipping around on matching tones in a chord. But no – what you are describing is completely a new idea to me.

wiser_guy wrote:
Still in doubt?
Ok, let's try Bach's first prelude from WTC I, C major. There are some fine recordings of this prelude in PS (notably Andreas'). Now just look at the score. There is no melody. Just chords. Ok, played as arpeggios maybe, since a straight chord on a harpsichord would sound terrible. This is a harmonic only piece with some very interesting dissonances creating various moods as they evolve.


I’ve always liked this one the best. Maybe because I can hear the nice harmonies (plenty of them jazzy-sounding).

wiser-guy wrote:
You talked about walking bass?
Let's listen to the Minuet from 1st Partita. Come on now, don't tell me you don't see the walking bass figure which implies every harmonic movement so nicely.

Ehhh…not sure about this one. Perhaps a slight walking bass line in there, but in no way does it make me think of jazz at all.

wiser_guy wrote:
And how about all of the above?
Concerto for harpsichord (piano) in D minor, BWV 1052. What do you say?


This is what I say. Listen to the short one-minute sample of music I just recorded. It’s a snippet of Bach and Beethoven played in a ‘different’ way.
Now do you see what I mean? The music I just played doesn’t sound anything like original classical/baroque music. Back to my question: Why didn’t Bach or Beethoven think up music like this? Do you think that maybe they thought some of this kind of harmony was ugly? We don’t, because we all have heard it before and are used to it. Or maybe they simply never imagined music like this, so that is why they never wrote like it? That is what I am thinking, but then at the same time I go back to wondering why they didn’t imagine it. Why did it take so long for jazz to come into existence?

wiser_guy wrote:
You see, you have to play classical and understand it in order to even start thinking about laying hands on a jazz piece.

I agree with that to a point. As a classical pianist, we are taught how to read notes, how to count rhythm, and how to stay within the prescribed key. But in my case, I was playing only classical music for most of my years in piano lessons and I think that made me too restricted when it comes to jazz. I am not able to find jazz chords on my own and need to have everything written out. So therefore, no way can I improvise anything sophisticated that could be considered jazz. Also, I wish I had been taught jazz at the same time when I was learning classical, because I think it would have helped me become looser (or maybe freer, or uninhibited are better words) with classical music in terms of rubato and phrasing.

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PostPosted: Sat Jul 25, 2009 6:30 pm 
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I listened to your sample. Quite nice, although I believe that jazzying up already harmonically loaded pieces doesn't work. It would work for simple tunes (like standards) but these pieces exhibit completeness as they are, in a way that modifications sound somewhat strange to say the least.

pianolady wrote:
Back to my question: Why didn’t Bach or Beethoven think up music like this? Do you think that maybe they thought some of this kind of harmony was ugly?

I'll try my final shot in providing a convincing answer.

First component, rhythm.
No, as much genius a composer may be, he can't imagine rhythms and grooves unknown to him that have been cultivated for hundreds of years by people and cultures. Rhythm in jazz is an ethnic African style. These people brought it to the rest of the world and it has been the product of a certain culture, a way of life. Not an idea of a single man. Sorry.
You play Spanish music, you know that it has a style behind it, introduced by local composers listening (from the time they were born) and studying it for years. No, a German composer could never possibly wake up one day struck by the idea of a Spanish song. To do that, he would either have to live some time in Spain or listen to Spanish songs and them embrace the style. My point is that no matter how clever one can be, he cannot invent out the tradition and culture of other people.

Second component, harmony.
I am sure that they knew about dissonances and that their harmonic palette was huge even for today's standards. But they chose to use it in small doses. Don't be tempted to think that a piece is jazzy only when it pours out a strange dissonance at every beat. Most of the time, a small hint every four measures would be far more artistic and would make more sense. Just like in painting or photography. A half nude or hints of nudity may be several times more exciting that a total nude. I got carried away, eh? :)


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PostPosted: Sun Jul 26, 2009 3:51 am 
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But...but....but... :lol:


Ok, seriously, – I get that, but I have another way around it. I’m saying that a composer can think up or invent a rhythm on his own, without first hearing it, but he wouldn’t know that he just invented something ‘Spanish’, or ‘jazz’, or whatever. He could not put a name to it like that (especially the word ‘jazz’ since there was no such word then). He would just say something like, “Oh wow – that’s a pretty neat-sounding rhythm I just made up. Think I’ll make it into a piece of music.” Same could apply to harmonies, as well. That’s what I’m getting at – does it make sense?

You don’t have to respond to me anymore if you don’t want to, Pantelis. I know I have a weird way of thinking sometimes, and right now your mind is probably pretty boggled trying to figure me out.


wiser_guy wrote:
A half nude or hints of nudity may be several times more exciting that a total nude. I got carried away, eh?

I get that. And if I can stir up this little debate among us, then it’s okay for you to toss a little juicy morsel into the pot. :)

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PostPosted: Sun Jul 26, 2009 5:37 pm 
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Gosh, you're a tough customer, Monica, you know that? But I find the discussion interesting, nevertheless.

pianolady wrote:
He would just say something like, “Oh wow – that’s a pretty neat-sounding rhythm I just made up. Think I’ll make it into a piece of music.” Same could apply to harmonies, as well.

No, I don't think this could happen with rhythm. Rhythm is cultivated, not invented. Besides, rhythm was a closed subject for classical composers, they were not looking for innovation there. Rhythm was a secondary component in their music. Any deviation from a straight, standard beat would seem vulgar or rude to them (ragtime was called as such because it messed up and destroyed the straight rhythm feel that everyone was comfortable with at the time).

Today we have dance music heard all over. We have music styles which rely solely on rhythm and put harmony and musical ideas in the background. We feel familiar with pieces starting with drums only, we 'get the beat' easily. This was unearthly, alien for people of the past century.


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