Guided Listening #2: Signature Motives

For this Guided Listening you will need the following:

A copy of these teaching steps
Flash asset: Signature motives from Adieu Robert Schumann
Audio excerpt: Excerpt I from Adieu Robert Schumann by R. Murray Schafer
Text asset: Quote from a Toronto Star interview with William Littler, October 13, 1979

I. First Impressions

  • Read the text asset: Quote from a Toronto Star interview with William Littler, October 13, 1979. This will provide some background for listening to the excerpt.
  • Listen to audio asset Excerpt I from Adieu Robert Schumann by R. Murray Schafer.
  • Ask: What words were you able to hear? What languages were they in?
  • Discuss: Describe what you heard.

II. Fill in the Background

  • Discuss: Schafer uses the word hybrid to describe his composition Adieu Robert Schumann, the mixture or combination of two things in this instance being that of Schumann and Schafer. (This is very similar to the hip hop technique of sampling.)
  • Provide brief background information about Schumann and the Romantic period if your students are not familiar with this history.
  • Ask: What aspects of the music are “Schumannesque”? Chart student answers under the heading “Schumann”. Some they may be able to identify are:
    • the opening song Dein Angesicht
    • text from Clara Schumann's diary
    • the song Widmung (at 1:50s).
  • Ask: Which aspects are “Schaferesque”?
    • Instruments played in non-traditional ways
    • Soundscape
    • Unusual use of the voice

III. Signature Motives

  • Read the text asset: Shafer: Adieu Robert Schumann.
  • Schafer mentions the use of signature motives, a composing device that Schumann used often. Signature motives are created by using the musical letters in a name to create a melodic fragment. If you take the name Clara for example, the two musical letters are C and A. In the name Robert the musical letters are B and E. These are the two signature motives that Schafer chose to represent Clara and Robert Schumann in Adieu Robert Schumann, except that Schafer uses a B flat to represent the letter B, which is the note name used for B flat in German (B natural is H).
  • View the flash asset of the melodic fragments from the Schafer score. What do you notice about the motives and the text?

IV. Create

  • Make a signature motive for your own name. Write down any letters in your name that are also musical notes. If you have only one in your first name, use your second name as well.
  • Notate al l the possible combinations (the order of the notes should be consistent but you can vary the octave used). Play or sing your signature motive.

V. Composer Strategy

  • Ask: How can we describe the strategy the composer used to write for the human voice? (signature motive). Add this strategy to your Composing Strategies for the Voice chart.

Signature motives from Adieu Robert Schumann

Excerpt I from Adieu Robert Schumann by R. Murray Schafer (0:02:07)

Excerpt I from Adieu Robert Schumann by R. Murray Schafer - Play now

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A Schumman song for piano and voice begins and moves to orchestra and text from the diaries of Schumann’s wife Clara, describing the composer’s mental state. “The telegram said if you want to see your husband alive, come at once; the sight of him is horrifying! I went and Brahms went with me. I saw him in the evening. He smiled, putting his arm about me, but with great effort for he can no longer move his limbs. I shall never forget that embrace. It is impossible to understand his speech.”

Quotation from a Toronto Star Interview with William Littler, October 13, 1979
Adieu Robert Schumann was a CBC commission for Maureen Forrester. I wanted to write a piece that Maureen would feel comfortable with and yet wouldn't compromise me as a composer.

I had the idea to do something based on Clara Schumann's diaries about the mental collapse of her husband, giving the part of Clara to Maureen and having the orchestra play fragments of Schumann's music in a kind of nightmarish or dreamlike way. The task was to write the kind of music Schumann would have written in his last hallucination.

I actually use the last piece he did write, the one he said the angels dictated to him, and there are all kinds of quotations from the songs.

The resulting piece is always going to be a hybrid as far as I am concerned. It is just my homage to Schumann, a composer I've always liked."

R. Murray Schafer

Credits and Copyright

  • Flash asset: Signature motives from Adieu Robert Schumann
    1976, R. Murray Schafer
  • Audio asset: Excerpt I from Adieu Robert Schumann by R. Murray Schafer
    1976, R. Murray Schafer
  • Text asset: Quotation from a Toronto Star Interview with William Littler, October 13, 1979
    Copyright:
    The Toronto Star
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