Music is sound. Sound is a consequence of articulation (of an instrument's sound-source or a voice). Articulation of sound means expression and initiation of time. Time has one of its origins in the articulation of sound. Thus sound is an instrument to initiate time.
There is a special relation between sound and articulation which leads us to the possibility of perceiving a rhythm. Rhythm is the result of articulated sound, if it is perceivable in a shaped and regular way. Patterns and accents of sound articulation create a rhythm. Rhythm is the base of music, much more than melody. Melody is a medium to mold sound in speech related curves. A medium to add markers to the continuum of sound, its registers from the lowest frequencies to the highest. But melody is only a servant, an ambassador, send out by the ruling articulations of sound itself. It has been invented (together with the pre-built temperament systems) to conciliate listeners with (and protect them from) the roughness of an actually noisy and untempered acoustical reality.
In music's history, there are mainly three composers, who found their musical focus in composing targeted structures to grant a highly controlled articulation of rhythmical sound, aiming at a result, which should combine sound and articulation for an elaborated kind of rhythm feeling (later to be found in the flexible pulse articulations of Jazz). There we are and we have to talk about Scarlatti, Beethoven and Debussy. Surprised?
Of course, every composer whose name survived the extinguishing power of cultural history, probably wrote some very notable things, concerning the above-mentioned topics. And yet if you look closer, you will discover their idiosyncratic approach to notating musical ideas as a composer. And all these approaches mostly do not have rhythmical aspects as a crucial focus.
J. S. Bach focused on his musical counterpoint. Monteverdi developed the theatrical aspects of his musical speech. Händel gave us the grandioseness of virtuosity and its sounds. Mozart always stuns us with his ability to bring musical patterns into an emotional flow of rhetorical and dramatic inventions. Ives and Mahler touch us with their unbelievable sense of starting with a single particle, ending up with a musical mass event and its deeply moving impact. Schubert confronts as with unexpected length of musical time and the subjectivity of its perception. Strawinsky, not surprisingly, worked on rhythmical structures (opposing to Schönbergs fixation on pitches). But his endeavours for rhythmical invention partly excluded a musician's articulation-skills. He delegated the rhythmical sound articulation to the conductor, whose job is to balance all these sophisticated changes of metre and bars. Using this technique of composition Strawinsky's allover sound is strongly attached to pitch and harmony and not so much to the musician's individual sound articulations. Prokofiev had similar problems to actually “free“ the sound for a subjective art of articulation of musical interprets.
None of them really works out the exciting (often precarious) relation between sound, articulation and rhythm. Scarlatti, Beethoven and Debussy did so. So did Schumann and Chopin, but with a different narrative leading to their individual approach (a narrative, which was strongly influenced by aspects of the social and philosophical background of their musicianship back then).
Domenico Scarlatti used the articulative speed of melody-figurations and harmonic accompaniment-patterns to enhance the power of sound.
Beethoven worked on the rhythmical power of accents and syncopations, interfering the metrical order of bars.
Debussy felt the chance to use harmonic fields as a rhythmical motor, thus generating melodies and sound.
All the three will be the subject of detailed analyze in the next blogs.