Observations on Music is an online publication concentrated on music history, performance interpretation, and the little details of music-making in the 21st century. This collection of articles (found here or here in booklet form) is compounded to highlight specific earlier pieces written for Observations on Music published from November 2020 to May 2021, including histories of the Mozart and Fauré Requiems; interpretation comparisons for romantic symphonic works’; as well as a documented journey through digital composition notation. I would also like to take this opportunity to welcome a new writer to the publication, If Ever You’re Listening.

Following some consideration…


The fourth act is set in the same place as the first, in the Bohemians’ small room in Paris. The curtain rises on Rodolfo and Marcello once again, the former trying to write and the latter desperately trying to paint. Their uneasiness is clear, the rendition of the Bohemians’ motif abrupt and supported immediately by full orchestra, before being brought off in scalic semiquavers at each playing, not warmed by the strings in the same sense as they would have in the first act.

Fig. 1: The opening from Act 4 of Puccini’s La Bohème

Marcello has seen Mimì in the streets with a wealthy suitor, the same having happened for…


The third act introduces nothing in terms of recurring musical motifs that will return in later acts, largely self-contained in terms of new material, but still featuring material from earlier acts. The opening is starkly different from either of the preceding acts, the energetic strings of the first and brass motifs of the second replaced by bare strings and flutes playing in parallel 5ths, lending a cold and quite barren atmosphere, well-matched against the snow and ice of the setting. There is little real conversation or melodic element for quite some time, the sight of guards trying to warm themselves…


The opening of the second act then immediately strikes a different tone, the soli trumpets playing parallel triads to set the scene of Christmas eve in the Latin Quarter, the slightly unusual use of harmony reflecting the eclectic marketplace scene set on stage. The `Latin Quarter’ motif is used, the triads now bringing a sense of excitement through the trumpets rather than peace and comfort as seen in the strings in act 1. Nonetheless, the warmth and contented nature of the motif, with its irregular phrase lengths and repetitive nature brings a well-matched atmosphere to the scenario in which it…


The very first piece of musical material to appear in the entire opera is one that will recur several times throughout acts one through to four, often only appearing as a four-note fragment in various keys, representing the four Bohemians in their cramped single-room home, or more specifically, Rodolfo and Marcello’s friendship as the curtain rises on the two doing their utmost to enjoy a cold Christmas eve. The melody (Fig. 1 below) is jaunty and bright, the implied dominant 7th (F natural) to the opening key of C major leaving a cheery atmosphere upon the opening of the opera…


The stylistic synthesis of thematic methodology, mixing the through-composed works of Bellini, Donizetti, and Rossini with the more complex fare of Wagner (and to a limited extent his predecessor Weber), would come in the form of Puccini’s Verismo operas of the 1890s. Having witnessed the leitmotif technique of Wagner in performance first-hand, as well as the limited revival of the reminiscence motif in Verdi’s utilisation of it in La forza del destino, the stage was set for a mixed approach, blending the simple repetition and reminiscence, as well as the chain form of Bel Canto, with more complex techniques of…


Settings for the liturgical Mass for the Dead as a whole tend to fall in an odd category of music. While on one hand embodying its status as a setting of a traditional Catholic mass, a type of religious work that was typically written by commission and by necessity by a composer’s employers, the Requiem stands alone as a large-scale religious choral work with an incredible amount of emotional and contextual flexibility. …


As alluded to, representation of abstract concepts or dramatic themes through musical motifs would largely come from the work of Wagner in the middle of the 19th century, with his development of the `leitmotif’, a theme or coherent musical idea, retaining identity across repetition with a purpose to represent or symbolise a person, object, place, idea, state of mind, supernatural force, or any other ingredient in a dramatic work (Whittall, 2001). Wagner himself did not coin the terminology, referring to the same concept with a variety of terms, ranging from “Ahnungsmotiv”, a motif of an idea, to “Hauptmotiv”, a capital…


With changing tastes in compositional style, instrumentation and melodic structures in the 19th century came new methods in the treatment of thematic elements in music. Opera, almost unique amongst the musical forms, had largely remained constant in overall structure and thematic treatment until the latter parts of the romantic period, in a through-composed state. Within arias, motifs and melodies were free to repeat, as stated before, melodies in the orchestral ritornello of a Bel Canto aria would act as a preliminary statement to their full exposition in the cavatina. However, outside the individual blocks of aria and recitative, hardly any…


Germanicus addresses his friends, deathly ill

Tacitus’ characters are presented in varied ways, some good and some bad. However, he never seeks to make a character ‘wholly bad’, but he will sometimes present characters as ‘wholly good’. He does this primarily through the presentation of their actions, as well as the way in which others speak and act due to them.

Throughout the specific sections of his Annals, Tacitus aims to make Germanicus a ‘wholly good’ character through his actions. Already a military leader with respect of the Romans, Tacitus seeks to elevate him, from the beginning of the text when he has more important matters…

Jao-Yong Tsai

Conductor, music critic and historian, amateur classicist. LTCL/Vla(Dist.), ATCL/Ob

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