Persona Classical Persona Digital

Classical Music

Persona Classical

Music comes in all shapes and sizes. Some music is spontaneous and easy to make. A folk singer may be quite charming, strumming simple chords on a guitar, singing a plain song in a spontaneous and undisciplined manner. Other music requires years of disciplined study and practice and involves complex concepts and notation systems. Classical music originated in Europe as an art form that required, talent, study and years of disciplined practice to achieve levels of performance required by classical composers. The great composers are still considered to be extraordinary humans, some geniuses, whose works are worth of study, reverence and repeated performance by symphony orchestras in most large cities. University music departments teach classical music and develop the advanced skills in students who will play in symphony orchestras.

Music historians have followed the path of art historians, creating periods (in Europe) and identifying the evolution of musical styles thru these periods. Although the Classical period was limited to the years 1750 to 8120, all music that relates to formal notation, well-educated musicians and orchestral repertoires is referred to as "classical music". I consider the period definitions to be arbitrary and do not share musicologists' enthusiasm for debates about who did what and when.

I am interested in the evolution of musical ideas and styles. One feature of 21st century music is the tendency toward anarchy where all prior assumptions and definitions are vulnerable. Here is a simple music history timeline:

  • The Middle Ages (prior to 14th century)

  • The Renaissance (1420 to 1600)

  • The Baroque Age (1600 to 1750)

  • The Classical Period (1750 to 1820)

  • The Romantic Era (1820 to 1900)

  • The Twentieth Century (1900 to 2000)

Classical music began as entertainment for rich aristocrats and a showcase feature of rich churches who could afford to support composers and musicians as full time employees. In the smaller venues of entertainment rooms in the homes of the wealthy, small chamber ensembles played pieces composed specifically for those audiences. Some pieces were for listening, others for dancing, and others as background music, part of the décor. Virtuoso performers played pieces designed to impress audiences with their technical skills.

Some of the great composers were also skilled performers who improvised in these small gatherings and competed with each other. Mozart was a childhood virtuoso and talented improviser who travelled Europe with his father and sister, impressing audiences.

Beethoven took advantage of improvements in instrument construction that allowed players to develop more virtuoso techniques. Beethoven is credited with the kind of progression of musical innovation that we recognize in the evolution of jazz in the 20th century. Stravinsky referred to his last quartets, as "this absolutely contemporary piece of music that will be contemporary forever." Among Beethoven’s innovations are complex syncopations and cross-rhythms; synchronized runs of sixteenth, thirty-second, and sixty-fourth notes; and sudden modulations requiring special attention to intonation.”

The Persona Classical Series focuses on the music of JS Bach and Amadeus Mozart. Stephen Gislason selects and arranges pieces that are then developed in the studio using synthesizer voices and multitrack recording. In previous years, some of Bach’s pieces became contemporary hits: for example, by the Swingle Singers' (Air on the G string, Wachet Auf chorale prelude) and Wendy Carlos' 1968 album, Switched-On Bach, created with a Moog synthesizer. Stephen recalls " I enjoyed the Carlos arrangements and was inspired to learn about synthesizers. The distinct timbres of the Moog synthesizer voices made the four voices in preludes and fugues stand out clearly. I have edited and rearranged Bach's pieces with new voicing, new intonations seeking the clarity of voice definition I heard in "Switched on Bach." I like to imagine the if Bach were alive, he would enjoy this novel play on his musical ideas."

Listen to Recordings from the Persona Studio Classical Catalogue