Class Highlights: Repertoire Studies

Tien-Hsin Cindy Wu
17 May 2022

Our second group class was Repertoire Studies on our two theme pieces—Beethoven String Trio in C minor, Op. 9 No. 3, and Dvorak Piano Quartet in E-flat Major. Our composition faculty Nick DiBerardino who lead the class called it the “geek-out session.” It was evident everyone had so much fun that we all wished it was twice as long.

We began by checking in on every emerging composer’s progress with the pieces they are writing. Some people are exploring the range of the instruments they are assigned to, the capacity of the instruments’ interaction with each other, some have started writing their music on paper, and some are contemplating form and structure. Many are brewing ideas from their theme composers. Some are considering quoting their theme pieces, some are immersing in the mood and mentality when the theme composer wrote their work, and some are considering elements like modal quality, quickly changing textures, or what other pieces it closely resembles. It’s very exciting to be in on their wheels turning, I was a happy fly on the wall!

Then we moved on to our investigation of the two theme pieces. After listening through the two pieces, Nick took us on an adventurous “I spy” ride to look closer at many interesting moments in the music, and had everyone looking for their own way to creatively explain what makes those moments interesting.

For example, we looked at a few very surprising harmonic turns Beethoven and Dvorak had made. Beethoven takes the second theme into the key of the original key’s "flat 6". Dvorak starts the piece with a seemingly-wrong note but in fact, is foreshadowing the bigger harmonic progression of the entire movement. Being the master of motivic writing, Beethoven wrote an entire movement with a 4-note motif that we spotted throughout the piece. But the motif is like a shapeshifter, it shows up in multiple keys, reverse, augmented, slightly altered in interval, used as the baseline, fragmented and hidden in unexpected places. And then we talk about how Dvorak utilized the brilliant alternative recap in his work, one of my favorite practices that Mozart, Brahms, Tchaikovsky, and many other composers have utilized in the best of their works. Of course, we also talked about the historic context of a lot of these compositional techniques, including the different periods within Beethoven’s own lifetime.

The class, unfortunately, was not 5 hours long, because we were all like kids in a candy store. Everyone had such great things to say, intriguing, creative, knowledgeable, artistic, and thought-provoking.

The class was the perfect example of my belief that learning is not a linear one-way process. You can learn from anyone, even a thought in passing about haystacks in art history. (Yes, James.) The brilliant thoughts and enthusiasm that we’ve exchanged with everyone in the class took all of us on an incredible ride. And for it, we are all more passionate and excited than ever, learning together as a group. I have no doubt that we all cannot wait to continue exploring and growing together, and to gather at Hidden Valley in June!