Composition and improvisation in cross-cultural perspective
Composition and improvisation in cross-cultural perspective

This free course is available to start right now. Review the full course description and key learning outcomes and create an account and enrol if you want a free statement of participation.

Free course

Composition and improvisation in cross-cultural perspective

4 Some final thoughts

4.1 What is a composition?

We are used, in Western art music, to being able to identify a piece of music and its composer. The ‘piece’ is represented by the written notation; it can be realised in somewhat different ways in different performances. One of the problems we have in applying our concepts of composition to the music of other cultures is that it is not always easy the identify a ‘piece’ of music (an item of repertoire), as distinct from a particular performance.

Activity 12

Bearing this in mind, what problems might you encounter in trying to decide, in the two case studies in this course, how you would define the piece of music being played? How would you try to identify the composers of the pieces in question?

Answer

The performance of Indian music

Here it would be possible to identify something as ‘the piece’ – namely the text and its basic musical setting, which together are termed the bandish or ‘composition’. Insofar as the text determines the music performed, it defines the piece. This may have a known ‘composer’ (although in our example the composer is not known – it is regarded as simply ‘traditional’). However, a great deal of what was performed was determined simply by the chosen rag and tal (melodic and metrical frameworks) which are common to countless other bandishes, with the text playing little or no role. From this perspective, the ‘piece’ was the rag; like most rags, this has no known composer, having been handed down by previous generations of musicians.

The performance of Sundanese gamelan music

The ‘piece’ here could also be interpreted in two different ways. We could identify the piece as the framework (the sequence of destination pitches with which the musicians work), and describe the notes actually played as a realisation in performance. Or we could call the piece the total performance, with all the elaborating parts included. Either way, there is no known composer.

In both cases we have considerable difficulty either defining the ‘piece’ being performed or identifying the ‘composer’ – something quite typical of unwritten music.

AA302_1

Take your learning further

Making the decision to study can be a big step, which is why you'll want a trusted University. The Open University has 50 years’ experience delivering flexible learning and 170,000 students are studying with us right now. Take a look at all Open University courses.

If you are new to university level study, find out more about the types of qualifications we offer, including our entry level Access courses and Certificates.

Not ready for University study then browse over 900 free courses on OpenLearn and sign up to our newsletter to hear about new free courses as they are released.

Every year, thousands of students decide to study with The Open University. With over 120 qualifications, we’ve got the right course for you.

Request an Open University prospectus