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Musical Spelling of Composers' Names


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5 hours ago, Bespin said:

Too much time to waste? :mellow:


There's kind of a tradition of this kind of musical spelling in classical music. Of course, they're all far better than my trite exercise here, but they are based on essentially the same idea. The main difference is that these composers all use very short names or abbreviations of names to get a motif rather than the long-lined melody I present here. Obviously, the short motif is more useful if you're going to base a whole piece on it, but since I'm writing just a few bars, I go for the whole sha-bang.


Anyway, the first famous example comes from Bach, who wrote a prelude and fugue on his name:





This B-A-C-H motif became a favourite of composers in the Romantic period and thereafter, probably the best-known examples being Schumann's six fugues on the motif.


Schumann himself had a fascination with this kind of "musical cryptography", and famously wrote several of the pieces from his Carnaval using motifs he called "Sphinxes" that were derived from the letters of the town his fiancee of the time was from (Asch) and the musically translatable letters of his own last name: SCHumAnn.






Then there is Debussy's "Hommage a Haydn":







And my personal favourite, Shostakovich's monogram, similar to Schumann's in that it's derived mainly from the translatable letters of his first and last names:





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11 hours ago, Bespin said:

Yes I knew for B-A-C-H motive, but I dont' understand how you can give a note to each letters of alphabet.


Most of these uses of musical spelling limit themselves to the notes A-G (with B standing for Bb) and add two other notes: H (for B-natural, the "hard" B rather than the "soft" Bb) and S (for Eb since in German, when you add the letter "s" to a letter, it means flat, so "S" actually means "Es" or Eb). This is why you get a lot of "sch" or "ch" in these monograms. They're some of the only combinations that work.


The idea for the whole alphabet I got from the Debussy "Hadyn" piece. You'll see that he kind of mixes systems together, having H for the note B, but then Y and N by continuing the notes after G the way I do. With the whole alphabet, H should be A, not B. But I guess having the B worked better, so he used that.


But probably the best thing I know about all this comes from a personal story. When one of my composition teachers did his doctorate, he of course wrote an extensive piece, as one does for the thesis. When it came to coming up with the material for it, he (in his wonderfully subversive way) noticed that "thesis" sounded kind of like "faeces", which can be written musically using the more limited German-based notes. And that became the main motif for the work. And no one ever noticed! So with 100% accuracy, you could say that what he wrote was a piece of shit.

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On 2/12/2017 at 9:06 PM, Ludwig said:

I figured we could use some diversion while waiting to pore over new JW music, so here's another musical spelling of a composer I wrote as a melody in their style.


Ennio works rather well since his full name starts and ends on E, and the repetition of letters in each name helps to create a kind of motive in the first two bars, so his name was made for this! Because the first bar happens to give us an E minor chord, I gave an E minor key signature, making all the Fs into F#s.







Nice references to "The Mission"! Including the melodic lines in the violins!

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