印度、巴基斯坦、西藏

喜歡印度食物。喜歡 Bollywood 的爆笑歌舞片,而 Bollywood 的片場就是在 Mumbai。著名的印度指揮家 Mehta 的家鄉也是 Mumbai。

印度和中國實在是難兄難弟,兩者都是千古文明,兩者都是滿天神佛到處是廟,兩者給人的第一印象都是髒和混亂,人口都是那麼多,人們都是那麼愛喧嘩愛熱鬧(印度似乎比中國人更喜歡歌舞,電視裏九成的電視台都在播放音樂,所有的電影都有歌舞)。印度發展雖然及不上中國,貧富懸殊比中國更嚴重,但香港人常常認為「阿差」低人一等,卻是看扁了人家。其實印度 IT 發展很強,以前短暫工作過的公司,其中一位老闆也是印度人。而且印度曾經是英殖民地,不少人懂英語,街邊的乞丐也會一兩句,酒店的伙記英語更是不錯。

九月旅行時去了印度北部地區,Amritsar 是個小巿鎮,附近都是比較窮困的鄉村,到處房子破舊,的士司機說這裏二十年沒有變化。但印度西南部的孟買卻是現代化的大都巿,看過 Bollywood 的電影那種熱鬧的氣氛,就感到印度其實充滿活力。之前還真的想過趁簽證未到期,如果有假期的話,應該去印度南部看看,看來沒有機會去了。

恐怖襲擊不是突然一次的事,這一年已經發生了許多次,但今次最可怕。九月旅行時新德里就有炸彈襲擊,那幾天看報紙,頭版幾乎每一天都是關於恐襲的新聞。Amritsar 和 Pakistan 邊境相差不遠,坐的士下山的時候,司機指一指旁邊一條路,說從這裏走不遠便是 Pakistan 了。回程坐新加玻航空的飛機上,報紙也有許多文章關於印度的事,畢竟新加玻有許多印度人,也經常和印度有商業來往,不少新加玻佛教徒也喜歡到印度旅遊朝聖。恐襲的新聞若果不是大件事到近日發生的那樣,香港報紙只會很小篇幅報道。

有人說英國政府在撤出殖民地的時候,總是喜歡留下一些「蘇州屎」給之後的執政者為難。例如在香港九七年之前推高樓價,結果間接導致九七之後的經濟衰退。在九十年代才推動民選立法會,其實是希望香港的民間力量會令執政者為難。在二次大戰後幾乎是鼓勵猶太難民移民到以色列,支持以色列立國,結果引致幾十年來以色列和巴勒斯坦不斷打仗。在撤出印度的時候,對印度和巴基斯坦的邊界劃分也是讓兩個國家爭議不斷,兩個國家一立國之後便立即打仗,而且各自發展核武。現在兩國依然為北部省份 Kashmir 的主權所屬爭議。印度聲稱如果巴基斯坦一定要奪取 Kashmir 的話,他就會驅逐國內所有伊斯蘭教徒出國。巴基斯基當然不願意接收大批難民,於是 Kashmir 問題依然僵持。印度人因為以多神教為主,據說與境內的伊斯蘭教徒基本上是和平共處的,但也有一些激進份子經常製造衝突。

未來印度和巴基斯坦衝突相信只會繼續升級。恐怖襲擊並不單只在印度發生,也在巴基斯坦發生。美國希望在巴基斯坦扶植親美的政權,是其中東戰略的一部份。曾在西方留學、較為親西方的貝娜齊爾·布托(Benazir Bhutto)是眾多伊斯蘭國家中少有的女總理,卻在去年遇刺身亡,可見巴基斯坦內在也充滿矛盾。假如印度和巴基斯坦陷入戰亂,也有可能會導致美國出兵。到時候…

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因為清末到民國年間西藏也曾經是英國管治的範圍,中共佔據西藏之後也和印度在邊境上有衝突,導致1960年代中印戰爭。據說印度是除了中國以外,軍隊人數最多的國家,基本上其防範的對象除了巴基斯坦就是中國。中國擁有西藏的高山,意味著如果中印打仗的話,中國佔有絕對優勢。據說中國在西藏邊境有不少軍隊佈防,除了防止藏民自由進出之外,也對印度有點威脅的意思。曾經有報道說中國因為長江的水源日漸減少,中國曾經考慮過將西藏的雅魯藏布江截流,將水源引向東面。其實西藏的雅魯藏布江,流向下游即是印度和孟加拉的布拉馬普特拉河(Brahmaputra River)。假如真的截流的話,會導致印度東部和孟加拉嚴重乾旱,恐怕會害死上億的人。但相信這個構想並不可能實行,因為一旦這樣做的話,中國和印度是真的會打仗的。正是因為青藏高原是中國大多數河流的源頭,所以中國政府當然知道西藏的戰略重要性,絕不可能讓它分裂出去。

西藏問題也是一個印度要面對的問題,暫時並非緊急問題,因為中國採取的態度是拖字訣,印度也就無需要表態。但假若達賴喇嘛過身以後,印度的立場將會對西藏問題有很大影響。現在印度在西藏議題上的態度是含糊的,雖然西藏獨立對印度或許更有利,但印度絕對不會願意為了一小部份西藏僑民而得罪中國。印度一方面印度收容西藏難民,把 Dharamsala 這個北部巿鎮讓西藏的流亡政府居住,但另一方面絕不對西藏問題表態。五十年代達賴出走印度是西藏人第一次流亡潮,八九年的暴動和九十年代中國改革開放卻導致第二次大規模的流亡,許多西藏青年未必是因為害怕共產黨而逃走,而是因為在西藏,絕大多數工作都已經被漢族人霸佔了,他們沒有工作,就希望到 Dharamsala 或者 New Delhi 那邊找機會。西藏難民在印度只有居留證,並非公民,但據說只要使一點錢,就可以辦到印度公民身份,再去歐美國家,印度成為一些西藏人往西方的踏板。據說許多西藏青年在中國政府教育下,連達賴喇嘛是誰也不知道,只知道他是反革命份子,到了印度之後才知道達賴是誰。西藏青年如果在中國接受教育,上課是以漢語為主,也只有普通話說得好才有機會進入中國的大學吧。在印度,他們學習的是藏語、印度語、英語三語並行,相信機會比較多。西藏的藝術有很多在文革時候遭到破壞,但有不少師傅逃難到了印度,更成立了藝術學院、演藝學院,西藏的文化在印度保存了下來。印度人和西藏人基本上也能和睦共處,擠擁的街道上藏人的店鋪和印度人的店鋪相鄰。達賴喇嘛的存在吸引了大量西方遊客來這裏旅行,反而帶旺了印度這一地區的經濟,印度人在生意上倒是很在行的。

另一特別的現象是,藏人在印度僑居已經幾十年,有不少新一代的年青人其實是在印度擠逼的環境裏土生土長的,他們反而從來沒有見過西藏的大草原和大片雪山,假如有朝一日他們有機會回到西藏高原居住,反而未必適應。Dharamsala 街邊上不少翻版唱片鋪既有印度的歌舞音樂,也有中國大陸出品的藏族流行曲售賣。到底那裏才是根?而面臨著現代化的新生活,老一輩的藏民也不是很容易適應。有一齣電影叫《喇嘛踢足球》,講述幾個小喇嘛熱愛世界杯,為了一睹施丹的腳法,去請求老喇嘛,想不到老喇嘛還真的接受了小喇嘛的請求,大家籌錢向印度鄰居借來電視在寺廟裏一起看足球。面對生活的徹底改變,這電影卻以平淡中帶點幽默的態度回應。現在的喇嘛都很高科技了,有網站,寺廟有自己的拍攝隊伍、廟內活動有即時大螢幕在戶外放送、專業的中英文即時翻譯、即時電台廣播。當地藏民有自己出版的英文雜誌、有藏式服裝的時裝品牌、藝術品得到外國人的青睞甚至曾在羅浮宮展覽。經過幾十年的積極發展,流亡西藏人在印度活出不錯的生活。這不單證明藏人的聰明頭腦,也顯示出印度的包容能力。在 Amritsar 機場入境的時候,電視螢幕上的screen saver 顯示著一句標語:”Unity in Diversity is the Strength of Our Country”。印度和中國不同,沒有統一的文字,種族可能比中國的「五十六」個民族還要多。這句是聖雄甘地的話,追求非暴力是其一生的目標。

只希望南亞諸國安好,世界安好。

New York Times: What They Hate About Mumbai

On orchestration

Finished reading Kondrashin’s book on conducting (in simplified Chinese) and Bai’s book on Kunqu.  Watched a kunqu performance.  Watched a 1967 Russian film of Anna Karenina.  Read vocal score of Lady Macbeth.  The most striking are those orchestral interludes.  As is always, the high clarinet sound, the xylophone, the timpani, the snare drum, the William-Tell rhythm and the chorus singing nervous “ha ha ha”  contributes to Shostakovich’s black humour.

Sight-reading Villa-Lobo’s “Prole do Bebe”, a wonderful piano piece, not much Brazilian, but quite Ravel-sound, delicate and naive.   Caesar Franck’s Prelude, Aria and Final and Prelude, Choral and Fugue, quite touching.

*****

Finished re-reading Samuel Adler, finally gone through all examples one by one, though only briefly. It is not possible for me to digest it completely, every time I read it I discover something new, something that I didn’t notice before.

Stages of orchestration:
1. The very first step is to get familiar with the instruments and their roughly range.  Although that’s just “instrumentation”, not yet orchestration.

2. The 2nd step is to know their most effective use and how to combine them in ensemble.  Well, but if you just follow those textbooks, what you usally get is just a “correct” answer, but not necessarily an interesting one.  And most probably, one may try to double the cello with the double bass 8ve below, and use the brass only when it is loud, which are actually not the only way to use the instruments.  This is where orchestration lesson ends.  Textbooks and teachers can only introduce student to this preliminary stage.

3. The 3rd step is to write idiomatically for every instrument, knowing how to use the bowing of strings effectively, knowing what patterns are effective for a pipa to play, etc.  Unlike harmony that has a lot of guidelines (or rules) that one can follow, orchestration is much about experience.  One can only judge whether the orchestration is successful from the outcome of an performance and improve the skill from trial and error.  And this is one of the weakest point of most local composer here, because not many of them are veteran instrumentalist, and not many of them have a lot of orchestral experiences, and there are few chances to perform the new compositions or arrangements too.  Even if a new piece is played, by some amateur groups, the limitation of performing standard and lack of rehearsals often makes the composers hesitate for writing difficult passages.

4. The last step to do is to establish an individual style.  What makes Ravel a Ravel sound?  That’s the goal.

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There are lots of books about “orchestration”, but there are very few book about “piano writing”, perhaps because composers are supposed to be pianist, so people don’t think it is necessary to write a book about that.  Or maybe it is indeed difficult to know how to write for piano unless a person has learnt the piano for years.  But there are quite a number of composers who are not pianists too, Berlioz is one of the examples.

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So what is the necessary conditions for the growth of a composer?

1. A composer is better to know at least a “chordal” instrument, whether it is piano, organ, or guitar, any tools that s/he can try out the sound of chords, the spacing.
2. A composer is better to know at least one “melodic” or “bass-line” instrument and has many experiences in an orchestra and chamber ensemble, which helps them to think more about voice-leading, and polyphonic writing.
3. A composer is better to know at least one “rhythmic” instrument, any percussions that helps him to get the sense of rhythm in heart.
4. A composer is better to have the experience of conducting, to understand a score from an executor’s perspective.
5. A composer is better to have an excellent aural skill, that he can transcribe a piece by ear.
6. A composer is better to have a good inner hearing, that everything on a score can be realized from imagination, without a computer playback, without a piano.

Thinking retrospectively, I know that there’s a lot I lack, but I’m not young any more.

高清的困惑

家裏 VHS 壞了,DVD player 也壞了,終於老豆想換機,想追上高清潮流,於是一齊研究下,但係發現原來:

1. 現在有機頂盒(高清電視解碼器)連帶 harddisk,可以將電視節目錄影。但係只可以錄在 harddisk,冇得燒 DVD。

2. 現在有 DVD Recorder 可以燒 DVD,如果你想將高清的電視節目燒 DVD,你要買機頂盒 + DVD Recorder。但係 DVD Recorder 其實只可以錄倒 DVD+-R,即是 720×576 的低清解像度,其實錄唔倒高清質素。

3. 現在有 Blu-ray player 可以播放高清的 Blu-ray 碟。有 SACD player 可以播放 hi-fidelity 音質的唱片。但是很少又可以播放 Blu-ray,又可以播放 SACD 的機。

4. 大多數 stand-alone 的 DVD recorder 只可以燒 DVD-R,是不可以燒 CDR 的。

5. 雖然 HD-DV 可以拍攝高清/標清的電影,但是民用的所有 DVD recorder 只能夠燒錄低清的質素。咁即使我擁有一部高清的攝錄機,理論上我可以拍攝 1940 x 1080 的高質素畫面,我在電腦裏面也可以炮製高清的 mov / avi 檔案,但只限於電腦螢幕觀看,如果製作成 DVD,一樣是低清的 (720 x 576)。

6. 雖然很多 portable sound recorder 可以錄製 96kHz, 24bit 的聲音檔案,但是民用電腦只能夠製作 CD,卻不能夠製作 SACD。咁我即使擁有咁高質素的錄音機,如果我只能用自己的電腦去燒碟,最後也只是製作普通的 44.1kHz, 16bit 的 CDR 而已。

我的疑問是:
– 為何不可以有一部機,可以同時有機頂盒的功能(收看高清電視),可以播放高清電影(blu-ray),又可以播放 SACD 呢?真的是魚與熊掌,不能兼得?除非你使左幾千蚊買完條魚,再使幾千蚊買隻熊掌?
於是做成一個有趣的現象,如果你喜歡追趕 AV 高科技的潮流,你乜都想玩,你的電視旁邊會有一大堆盒,電視機頂盒、now 電視、有線電視、XBox、PS3、Wii、Blu-ray、SACD….為甚麼不可以發明一部機,可以做晒所有野?

– 除非我可以自己土法製作高清的 Blu-ray / SACD,若果不可以,那麼高清的攝錄機 / 錄音機,對我又有何用?

p.s. 發現原來真係有部 panasonic 機可以燒 Blu-ray 碟,但係價格在萬元以上。

曾國藩

對於曾國藩,除了那句會考課文金句「坐這山、望那山,一事無成」,我們認識有多少?

電影《投名狀》的故事背景是清朝軍隊和太平天國的戰爭,講述清軍納降之後竟然把投降的太平軍全部屠殺,實在令人心寒。那個時代,兵即是賊,賊即是兵,電影裏無論兵還是賊目標都只是「搶錢搶糧搶娘們」。可怕的是屠殺是真有其事,李鴻章就曾經這樣對待投降的太平軍,曾國荃(曾國藩之弟)攻陷南京之後,更是屠城搶掠三日,據說殺十萬餘人,更一把火燒了太平天國的皇宮,毁滅搶掠證據,和八十年後日軍的南京大屠殺其實不惶多讓。太平天國起義(或者動亂)的期間,中國死了七千萬人口,已經相等於二次大戰全球死亡人口的總和。只因為清朝繼續存活了幾十年,太平天國的影響相對顯得不重要,在更多的大事發生以後,這些咸豐年的往事也就不再受人注目了。

成立湘軍,打敗太平軍的曾國藩也因此成為兩面的人物,一來他奉行儒家修身齊家治國的理念,以及老莊的處世之道,並非紙上談兵,而是身體力行:首先他律己極嚴,戒貪戒奢,謹慎謙退,而且要求家人也是如此。他真的能做到把學說變成可以附諸實行的做人做事技巧。另一方面,對於太平軍和其它敵人,他要狠心的時候也可以非常冷酷無情,為了「大局」著想可以犠牲一切,和奸雄曹操可謂不相上下。因此世人的評價分歧極大,共產黨稱之為鎮壓農民革命的劊子手,但毛澤東自己卻說「獨服曾文正」。(佩服其夠狠毒?)讀唐浩明的小說《曾國藩》,感慨良多,從中體察做人之難、做實事之難,甚麼是「清議誤國」(就像許多讀書人在局外議論再多也無益,如果想改變世界,應擔起責任,置身局內,參與體制之改革),「人可以貌相」(怎樣知人、用人之道,怎樣影響其它人去群策群力達到改善社會的目標),而且其堅毅不屈,百折不撓,面對人生種種困境而可以不氣餒,捲土重來,實在可驚可怖。遇上官場和社會上種種腐敗和不如意事,他卻知道無法一朝改變,正面對抗無益,他懂得何時進、何時退,採取的是迂迴的路,知道百倍努力也只會得到寸進,所以毫不氣餒。(著名記者錢綱對於中國的新聞自由的前途,有非常類似的看法:許多代人的努力和犠牲,可能只是換到丁點的改善,但就算不能大踏步向前,只是一毫米的前進,幾十年幾百年下來,還是會看到改變的。)

曾國藩早年是採取儒家「知其不可而為之」的心態,他當初希望「移風易俗」,拯救清朝,改變社會,但最終明白到這不是自己一個人可以做到的事。晚年開始知道自己也不過是幸運遇上這些機會才會位高權重,知道功高震主,深深戒懼,也知道「富不過三代」的道理,經常以家書告誡子姪要恭儉謹慎。「齊家」有方,曾氏家族代有人才輩出,至今其家族依然興旺。他甚至從湘軍、淮軍等等地方勢力的抬頭,預料到幾十年後清朝滅亡後會是軍閥割據的局面。但他開始了洋務運動的先河,派學童出外留學,興辦海軍,這是歷史向前推進的重要一步,可以說從「修身」開始推進到「治國」,他證明這是切實可行的。

假若清朝在當時就已經被太平天國推翻,中國只不過是更早進入動亂而已,因為當時中國人尚未完全意識到自己落後西方多少,也未有明確的民主、民權、民生的思想。太平天國雖然聲稱信奉基督教,卻尊奉洪秀全一人為帝,其實和專制社會無異。晚清最後的五十年是關鍵的時刻,正因為有不少人出國留學擴闊了視野,也正因為八國聯軍、甲午戰爭一次又一次的失敗讓中國人明白自己的落後,之後才會有希望把一切舊思想推翻的五四運動,以至企圖滅絕一切傳統文化的文化大革命。歷史不斷地走了許多冤枉路,許多悲劇災難讓人痛心疾首,卻又迂迴地前進了。似乎偶然,卻又必然。

小說裏寫行軍打仗非常簡略,因為作者覺得《三國演義》那種英雄蓋世的故事全部是胡說八道,現實裏一切靠的是有充足軍餉糧草、治軍有紀律賞罰有道、軍火精良、用人得當,沒有英雄可言。而曾國藩身為一介書生卻有能力統領大軍,在幕後運籌帷幄,如何發揮其領導才能,用人才能,經營事業,才是這本書焦點所在。全書最精采的一段落是寫曾國藩在第一次官場遭遇大挫折之後以父喪之名辭官回家休養,那時候他一份工作也沒有,也看不到前路有出頭之日,如陷泥沼,這種困局比起他打敗仗,幾乎投河自盡的危險更加困難。但他就在困境中,明白到之前做人的諸般弱點,領悟到以硬碰硬的問題,也逐漸回復強烈的鬥志,在原來一無所有的情況下,依然能夠有所作為,最終再次出山。《曾國藩》可能是學習怎樣面對逆境的最佳課本。共勉之。

******

曾國藩金句:

天下之至誠,能勝天下之至偽﹔天下之至拙,能勝天下之至巧。誠則金石可穿。

去山中之賊易,去心中之賊難。

士人第一要有志,第二要有識,第三要有恒。

凡事皆有極困難之時,打得通的,便是好漢。(小說裏演化為:「好漢子打掉牙和血吞。」即是說,遇到甚麼銼折,甚麼冤屈,沒有必要四處去散播負能量,自己知道就算了。)

凡事皆貴專心,有所專宗,而博觀他途,以擴其識,亦無不可。無所專宗,而見異思遷,此眩彼奪,則大不可。

天下古今之庸人,皆以一惰字致敗。

人才何常?褒之則如甘雨之興苗,貶之則如嚴霜之凋物。

******

曾國藩:譽之則為聖相,讞之則為元凶
http://staffstudy.whsh.tc.edu.tw/~huanyin/anfa/c/anfa_chin_tsen.HTML

曾國藩的思想
http://hk.geocities.com/ckf_wisdom/

The Poem of Sichuan 蜀國弦

for erhu/zhonghu, dizi/xiao, zhongruan, zheng
commissioned and premiered by Music Rendezvous at HKAPA on 8 Nov 2008
為胡琴、簫/笛、中阮、箏而作
由弦風樂匯首於2008年11月8日首演

[audio:http://licheong.com/music/LiCheong_ShuGuoXian.mp3]

Download score (PDF), mp3

《蜀國弦》

四川古稱巴蜀,有著深厚的人文氣息,也有藏族、羌族、回族等小數民族居住。「蜀國弦」是南北朝以至隋唐時期的樂府,是可以唱的詩歌,後來更發展成「蜀宮伎樂」。據成都永陵遺留下來的二十四樂伎雕塑,可以窺見當時中國的宮廷雅樂已經吸收了龜茲以至印度的西域音樂和舞蹈,發展成獨特的風格。梁簡文帝蕭綱、隋代詩人廬思道、唐代詩人李賀都曾經以樂府「蜀國弦」創作詩詞。後來樂府的旋律已經失傳,但明代的劉基亦曾以《蜀國弦》借題發揮,創作七言古詩,藉著古樸幽深的山水抒發內心的愁緒。古時的「蜀國弦」音樂已經成為絕響,現在憑藉著想像,嘗試以現代作曲手法結合唐代雅樂、以及四川各民族的音樂風格,表達對當地文化和人民的一點敬意。

Back to the list of compositions

20081105-08

20081105
Composition Workshop by Ensemble Modern @ Lee Hysan Concert Hall. The ensemble plays almost perfectly at the first sight reading, and they take seriously to try out any strange awkward techniques. Nice to hear Wong Kong Yu’s wonderful bassoon quintet as well as works by Michael, Austin and Chris. Joanna Lee is superb as a MC and translator. Lunch with composition fellows.

20081105-06
Cantonese Opera at SRRSH. Took some photos.


My camera is just a pro-sumer model Nikon Coolpix P80. Difficulty faced: hand-shaking and difficult to focus in the dark environment, limited angle (I should not move around during the performance), the shutter speed is not fast enough to capture a quick motion. But the good point of this budget-price camera is its sharp colour, its ability to adjust aperture and shutter and wonderful zoom. The price is much less then a DSLR + tele-len. The solution of hand-shaking is to choose higher light sensitivity, but the noise is severe for ISO1600 or higher. I limited to use ISO400 or ISO800, but the result is sometimes blurry. But cantonese opera is easier than taking photos for dance or drama, because every action ends up with a beautiful, static posture. So at whatever moment you press the shutter, it will be a nice image. 「身段」- beautiful body skills is a quality of chinese xiqu that western drama doesn’t have.

The background music is a mixture of real instruments (erhu and percussions) and pre-recorded synthesized instruments – the music arranger as well as the leading erhu player Li is really marvellous in arranging music for cantonese opera. He is perhaps the only person who knows the cantonese opera well, and has knowledge of both orchestra as well as computer sequencing. If you only listen to the synthesized soundtrack, it may not be so “realistic”, but together with the real erhu and luogu, the result is superb. He called the performance “a cantonese opera musical”, and he don’t want just songs after song, he used some theme (or motif) to represent the persons, e.g. 江河水 was used to represent the tragic main character 田氏. As a “musical”, the performance is enriched by beautiful lighting and sound effects.

20081107

Watched a witty, innovative performance of Liu Sola’s “The Fantasy of Red Queen”. The choreographer is 江青, and the show is about 江青…what a coincidence. Imaginative mix and use of guqin music, marches during the cultural revolution, revolutionary beijing operas, tango, jazzy old tunes, cluster and other contemporary music techniques, etc. Nice to put side by side the red queen of the cultural revolution and the nurse who represented the current materialistic China. Although the red queen has died, her propaganda has brain washed a whole generation of chinese people, and the DNA of pursuing power is still inherited in every Chinese, no matter it is a socialist or a capitalist society. The only minor thing that is disturbing is too many words and too much content. Seems it is better to tell the story in a not so straight forward way, or expand the story into a 2-hour opera.

20081108

Visited another LC’s home.
Concert by 弦風樂匯. Thanks very much my friends for playing my piece 遠古 and 蜀國弦!

A brief analysis of Gorecki Symphony No. 3

When I try to analyze Gorecki’s Symphony No. 3, it seems like there’s nothing for you to analyze – would you try to analyze Ravel’s Bolero or Terry Riley’s In C? Everything written there is so simple and obvious. Ravel’s Bolero is no more than repeating the same themes with different instruments at the first glance, although actually there are lots of subtle changes (addition of parallel fifths, or parallel chords, etc.) But it is that simplicity which makes it so innovative. While some contemporary music focus on atonality and other devices to make a piece sound “new”, this Gorecki symphony is innovative because it is so simple. I can only think of famous quotes from JinYong’s novel: “重劍無鋒,大巧不工”, “天之道,捐有餘而補不足,是故虛勝實,不足勝有餘”, “無招勝有招”. Simplicity wins over complexity. It is the aesthetics that make a piece sounds so fresh and different from other pieces, NOT by means of any special techniques or any special notation.

Still, I want to go more deeply how it works. This is not a detail analysis of the piece, it merely serves as a listening guide, a description of what happens in the piece.

******

Firstly, Gorecki knows how to restrict himself to as few materials as possible. Start from a single note, growing to two notes, and then to a short phrase, and then to a longer phrase written in a larger range – that is what the soprano is doing in the 2nd movement. If you tries to sing it, the melody does not sound particularly interesting. The tension lies in the gradual addition of notes, and gradual climbing up the scale in a wavy line. (see below) The phrase F marked below is similar to the beginning, just it is in the higher register with an inverted direction of motion (though not an exact inversion). Beauty of symmetry. And it ends with a monotone, Db, the beginning note.

And that are the 7th chords that contribute to the ethereal, heavenly sound (See below, and tries to play it on a piano). Notice that all string parts are divisi, even the double bass that gives a transparent tone colour. When we learn harmony in theory lessons, we are taught that it is good to leave a wide space between lower members in a chord, thus cello and double bass are often an octave apart in most classical and romantic reportoire. Well, this rule does not apply here (as well as in many modern music).

*******

Before going into how Gorecki writes the 8-part canon of the 1st movement, first let’s have a look at the theme itself. Just like the 2nd movement, the theme is like an arch shape. The first phrase limits to three pitches only (E, F#, G), and then gradually the range expands to octave until it reaches the higher E, where the climax lies. The melody, again like a plainchant, is mostly stepwise. This is important. Stepwise motion makes it much more easier to write counterpoint.

All strings are divided into two parts, contributing to totally 10 separate parts in the string orchestra. But the whole exposition is just an 8-part canon. The theme starts off with half of the double bass, and then the other half enters, imitating the theme at an interval of a 5th higher. Then half of the cello enters, again at a 5th higher (but still in the key of E minor).

A midi demo of the above example:
[audio:http://licheong.com/music/Gorecki3_ex2.mp3]

The numbers under the staff indicates the interval between the higher notes and the bass note.
You will see that when the two parts are put together, they are NOT always consonant. There are a lot of second inversion too. Second inversion are often considered dissonant in harmony textbooks. But as most notes in the melody are linked stepwisely, even if the intervals between the two part are dissonant (2nd, 4th and 7th), they are just suspension or passing tones that immediately resolve afterwards. And dissonance, especially suspensions, are the dramatic moments, those are the moments where you feel sad and wants to cry.

And you will find that there are a lot of parallel 8ves! Parallel 8ves are considered “wrong” in textbook about four-part harmony. (You get 2 marks deducted when you write a parallel 8ve in HKCEE music exam theory!) But most teachers can’t explain why parallel 8ve is bad, they just told the students “you shouldn’t write parallel 8ve because it is bad”. But why is it bad? It is bad only because when two parts suddenly plays the same pitch, it sounds like suddenly it is a 3-part harmony, not a 4-part harmony, and the parts which play the same pitch will stand out, that makes it sound odd. BUT, it does not mean that parallel 8ve should never be used. It is often used in medieval music (organum) as well as in modern music (especially Debussy who deliberately breaks this rule), and also in music in other parts of the world (e.g. 自然和聲 in Sheng in Chinese music). It is just because parallel 8ves contributes a sound that does not sounds like music in the common practice, from baroque to romantic period. But even Beethoven and Bach wrote some parallel 8ve. (You can find a few parallel 5ths and 8ves in Waldstein sonata). Music comes before rules. Most rules in music theory are not universal, they are just a description of how some music works, but NOT all music.

A chord has only 3 notes, and the 3 notes can either go up, go down, or keep at the same pitch when it arrives at the next chord. So when it comes to 8-part writing, it is unavoidable to have parallel 8ve. In this particular case, parallel 8ve is an advantage, not an disadvantage, because by doubling the other parts, it makes the texture clearer. And these things contributes to the “renaissance” or even “medieval” sound of this piece. And here is a reduction of the 8-part canon, try to play it on the piano and you will discover the mastery of his work. It is not easy at all to write an 8-part canon like this.

A midi demo of the 8-part canon:
[audio:http://licheong.com/music/Gorecki3_ex1.mp3]

After going through the cycle of 5th eight times, the canon already go back to the tonic. (tonic-dominant-supertonic-submediant-mediant-leadingtone-subdominant-tonic) Lastly, the upper half of the 2nd violin and 1st violin enters, but they are just doubling the uppermost parts at an octave above.

And this is the structure of his first movement: