Guided Listening #1: Shape Up!

For this guided listening, you will need the following:

A copy of these teaching steps
Text asset: Alexander Brott, Circle, Triangle, Four Squares
Text asset: Brott: Circle, Triangle, Four Squares
Audio assets: Excerpts I, II and III from Circle, Triangle, Four Squares by Alexander Brott
Image asset: Artwork by Denis Brott
Paper and drawing tools
All assets are provided below.

I. Listen and Represent

  • Distribute paper and drawing tools (pencil, pencil crayon, pastels, etc.).
  • Fold the paper into three sections.
  • Have students use one section of the paper to draw as they listen to Excerpt I from Circle, Triangle, Four Squares. Suggest that students draw whatever shapes and images are inspired by the music.
  • Describe: Look at your drawing and think about the music you heard. Write a few words in and around your shapes or images to describe the music that inspired your drawing (e.g., jagged lines – accented notes).
  • Have students share a shape or image and their corresponding musical description. List on a two-column chart with the headings "visual" (e.g., straight and curved lines, overlapping forms…) and "music" (e.g., long, sustained notes, short and angular melodic motif).
  • Take a look at the chart together and ask: How are the words in the two columns the same? Different? Is there any repetition of sounds/shapes?

II. Background

  • Read the story of how Alexander Brott came to compose this piece of music (text asset Brott: Circle, Triangle, Four Squares).
  • View the image asset, Artwork by Denis Brott. What do you see? How is it similar to your own artwork creation? Different? How does seeing the original art work change how you ‘hear' the music?

III. Listen and Reflect

  • Listen to Excerpt I again, looking at your design of shapes. Can you ‘hear' the music in your design?
  • Repeat the process by listening and responding to Excerpts II and III; students create new visual images in the remaining two sections of their papers.
  • Add to the posted word lists, and choose effective visual and music terms from the list to enrich their descriptions. What similarities/differences do you hear among the excerpts?
  • Have students write a reflection on the music as an ‘exit card'. What differences do you see in the creative process between beginning with the visual image to inspire a piece of music, and creating a visual image inspired from listening to the music?

IV. Extension

  • Try this: Create your own visual image and music composition; choosing which inspiration comes first – visual or musical.

Alexander Brott, Circle, Triangle, Four Squares

ALEXANDER BROTT: Born in Montréal, March 14, 1915; died in Montréal, April 1, 2005

In this imaginative little work, the composer "attempts to duplicate design in musical terms" from drawings his young son Denis brought home from school one day. The listener is free to create in his or her own mind forms and designs - in reverse order - what Denis's picture might have looked like.

This eleven-minute work for string orchestra in three short movements dates from 1963. In the composer's words, "it attempts to duplicate design in musical terms." In his autobiography My Lives in Music, published just weeks before his death in 2005, Brott relates what inspired the work:

"At age nine, my son Denis came home from school with a drawing which I liked very much. I congratulated him, ‘Denis, this is very good! how did you do that?'

"He explained, ‘The teacher drew circles and triangles on the board and asked the class to do something with them. So I did.'

"The drawing really appealed to me because the question of form in music has always been of great importance to me. So I promised Denis, ‘The basis of your drawing is form. I'm going to use it as the motif of a piece. I'll use exactly your shapes, a circle, triangle and four squares, but I'm going to do them in musical terminology.' It struck me that Denis' drawing was the perfect opportunity for a composition using a neo-classical concept of basic structure. To create the composition, I used a sheet of graph paper, one square per note, and matched the notes to the different shapes in his drawing. Denis' picture still hangs on my dining room wall."

Brott conducted the premiere of Circle, Triangle, Four Squares with the McGill Chamber Orchestra in 1963 and subsequently took it on tours of Europe. The three movements are in turn lively, meditative and exuberant." Pungent dissonances and gritty textures reminiscent of Bartók in fuse the music, while driving, asymmetrical rhythms typical of Stravinsky provide the forward momentum.

Artwork by Denis Brott

Artwork by Denis Brott, which inspired Alexander Brott's Circle, Triangle, Four Squares. A photo representation of an artwork by the composer Alexander Brott that was based on his son's drawings.

Excerpt I from Circle, Triangle, Four Squares by Alexander Brott (0:01:01)

Excerpt I from Circle, Triangle, Four Squares by Alexander Brott - Play now

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This excerpt from Circle, Triangle, Four Squares introduces A. Brott's musical ideas to create a motif that represents geometric shapes: a circle, a triangle and four squares.

Excerpt II from Circle, Triangle, Four Squares by Alexander Brott (0:01:26)

Excerpt II from Circle, Triangle, Four Squares by Alexander Brott - Play now

Warning: Audio file is larger than 6MbDownload (2.04Mb)

This excerpt from Circle, Triangle, Four Square is from the second movement, Andante, and continues to explore Brott's motifs based on geometric shapes.

Excerpt III from Circle, Triangle, Four Squares by Alexander Brott (0:00:56)

Excerpt III from Circle, Triangle, Four Squares by Alexander Brott - Play now

Warning: Audio file is larger than 6MbDownload (1.32Mb)

In this excerpt from Circle, Triangle, Four Squares, A. Brott continues to explore motifs based on geometric shapes.

Credits and Copyright

  • Audio asset: Excerpt I from Circle, Triangle, Four Squares by Alexander Brott
    1963, Alexander Brott
  • Image asset: Artwork by Denis Brott
    Denis Brott
  • Audio asset: Excerpt II from Circle, Triangle, Four Squares by Alexander Brott
    1963, Alexander Brott
  • Audio asset: Excerpt III from Circle, Triangle, Four Squares by Alexander Brott
    1963, Alexander Brott
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