Need help to analyse Meditation from Thaïs

June 24, 2014 at 04:52 PM · I've heard that it is helpful to analyse the piece before you start practice it. I want to analyse my repertoire that I'll be performing later this year. That is for instance Meditation from Thaïs by Massenet. I have five elements that I want to analyse:

1. Melody

2. Rhythm

3. Structure

4. Harmony

5. Character

Hope someone is willing to help me with this! I'm not waiting for you to do the job- I just think it's interesting to see your thoughts about these five elements. I'm asking for a short overview from you, not a detailed analyse.

Thanks

Sara

Replies (38)

June 24, 2014 at 06:29 PM · Can you clarify what kind of help you are hoping for? One of the main advantages of analyzing is going through and diving deep into the piece for yourself. You don't seem like the type that wants to shortcut the process so I don't think you're asking for someone to "do the work for you" which is good :) but not really sure what kind of help you want. If you need a starting point for analyzing/identifying different theory components or just how to go about it you might look for a theory textbook or website-others may have better specific recommendations on that, I don't off the to of my head. Otherwise, just try to create a chart or outline or diagram of the piece-you coulddo it separately for each aspect at first-though the weaving together is something you'll definitely want to have a good understanding of by the ends of the process. I find it helpful to have a photocopy that I can use to mark chords, sections, themes, etc.and then outline firm has always been the"basic" go to fit me as far as setting down the structure. However something more "visual" might make a good construct for othet aspects or the big picture of the piece.

June 24, 2014 at 07:36 PM · Meditate.

Then meditate on the sound of your violin.

June 25, 2014 at 01:55 AM · First start practicing it. Second listen and watch on YouTube. Much later - do an analysis -- maybe.

June 25, 2014 at 02:45 AM · This piece flows beautifully because the rhythms are crafted to match up with the inherent pulses of 4/4 time. This should greatly inform your dynamics. I am not sure a detailed breakdown of harmonic progression and melody structure will add much more.

Starting with 4 beats to a measure and each quarter note getting a beat, mark the 1st and third beat in each measure. You will notice two things:

1. When a measure has a varied rhythm, the longest note values typically fall on the first or third beats. This lines them up with the "pulses" we typically perceive with 4/4 time. So you want to take special care on sounding these notes and emphasizing or coloring them relative to the other notes in the measure.

2. Shorter note values will typically line up on the second and fourth beats. Their role as melodic movement to the longer notes are emphasized by being placed there. Think of them as connectors and try not to overdo them.

In a few places they do appear on the first or third beats and really stand out. So you want to be extra careful with them in those positions.

As a final thought, 4/4 not only suggests pulses on the first and third beats, it also suggests pulses on the odd numbered measures of a musical phrase. So as you practice it, do not be surprised to hear the melody feeling strong-weak-strong-weak as you go from measure to measure.

The process of aligning rhythm to pulse to chord tones to dynamics to color is sometimes called prosody. Meditation is a fine example. No wonder it sounds so beautiful.

June 25, 2014 at 05:15 AM · I think you will find the piece is a simple ABA structure with the B section starting at bar 22 and the recapitulation starting at bar 40. The coda begins at bar 59.

The piano part is a rendition of the original harp figurations. In my viola version it starts in G (original D). When the melody is repeated in bar 11 it is over an unsettling G7 chord which has been prepared by bar V7 (D7) then VIbm (Ebm). Bar 15 is the highest melodic note and modulates briefly to E major. Notice that bar 14 (an F chord over A) is a tritone substitution for B7 (the dominant of E).

Using the piano part it is quite easy to work out the harmonic changes - the middle section begins F/A then B7, Am etc.

The melody is freely rhapsodic with an overarching rising character distinguished by improvisational embellishments at the end of some bars. It is instrumental rather than vocal (the range is too large to be comfortably sung). I would characterise this piece as a kind of struggle between purity (the simple opening) and carnal desire - given the piece comes between the two scenes in the second act of the opera where a monk is trying to persuade a prostitute to give up her life of pleasure and turn to religion. After the piece is played she decides to follow him into the desert! Nuff said!

Hope that helps.... Martin

June 25, 2014 at 01:47 PM · I don't see that analyzing this piece has much value. The important thing for me would be to simply decide where and how much time to take, and how much rubato to use on the quintuplets.

June 26, 2014 at 12:01 AM · Scott, there's an interesting question in the first bar. Minim, two quavers and a triplet. I'm sure Massenet was capable of writing a 5 over two beats if he wanted them all the same length, but playing EXACTLY the printed rhythm is horrible. I tend to compromise (or chicken out) bt delaying the second quaver but not quite as far as a triplet so it's neither one thing nor the other, but gives a sort of accelerando over the phrase.

I'd actually be interested to hear other people's views on this one.

June 26, 2014 at 06:57 AM · Thank you all for your responses so far!

Thanks Sara

June 26, 2014 at 03:35 PM · If you want to "study" something, I recommend studying the piano accompaniment. Yes it's a reduction or whatever, but you'll come away with a better understanding of how the melodic line fits into the harmonic structure. That's important with any piece but especially the slow romantic ones. For this piece it's useful to see how the reprise differs with respect to harmony from the way the main melody appears at the beginning. Don't wait until a week before your performance to rehearse with your accompanist. If you can play through the accompaniment on the piano yourself, all the better.

Roy Sonne's YouTube "master class" on this piece is brilliant. He has so much musicality and insight.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VIj6ogLag0o

June 27, 2014 at 09:58 AM · John - I think we should get an idea of how you think this piece should go. Can you record a quick MP3 and put it up so we can hear it? I need to learn this piece quickly so I can use it as a possible encore at my next Wigmore Hall recital.

June 28, 2014 at 11:05 AM · We can talk 'till the cows come home John, but it doesn't (like most political talks shops) get us anywhere.

How about you give me a lesson on this piece? I'm in dire need.

June 28, 2014 at 12:18 PM · Many thanks, Paul for your kind words. Much appreciated!

June 28, 2014 at 02:03 PM · The problem with in-depth discussions of form and analysis of Meditation is where it may lead. What's next? Canon in D?

I still say: just play it really schlocky. Vibrate. Slide. That's what people want to hear.

June 28, 2014 at 06:19 PM · YES! Definitely ...

June 29, 2014 at 01:30 PM · There is no short bit at the end - as the actress said to the bishop. (When she was having a lesson from the eclesiastical lot ...)

July 2, 2014 at 12:14 PM · Roy Sonne's video lesson on this is certainly a great place to start and find inspiration.

This was the first solo I ever performed in public something like 65 years ago (with harp and organ accompaniment). A total surprise to 14-year old me, some people approached me to play it in a large church and I had to learn it, never having heard it or of it before.

It is also the last violin solo I performed - some 3 years ago.

Both of those were simply musical recital performances, the first as an early "teen" the last, as an old man, somewhat informed by living the years in between.

Between those two performances I performed Meditation a number of times for weddings and funerals (and once as a recital piece on cello). I found those performances strongly informed by the emotional content of the event. If you can imagine the emotions of those most affected by the funeral or wedding, perhaps you can feel how to adjust tempo, dynamics, and phrasing to add the appropriate musical mood to your performance and to the event.

If you are playing it just for a recital-type situation, you can choose what to express, but regardless, it is going to convey strong emotional content to many in your audience, so you want to determine what to express and figure out what "devices," such as some of those Roy Sonne demonstrates, will do the job.

Andy

July 2, 2014 at 01:10 PM · Maybe I have questionable or plebeian tastes...

However....this a beautiful little piece with mass appeal. And whenever something beautiful with mass appeal is overplayed, it becomes commonplace to those in a position to hear it often. And then it - undeservingly - becomes the butt of jokes and derision.

And for goodness sake...if you want to play it schmaltzy...go right ahead...we all need a little schmaltz in our lives. It balances the serious issues we need to deal with...

July 2, 2014 at 03:24 PM · Thank you Andy for your kind words. And thank you for this:

Andy said:

"I found those performances strongly informed by the emotional content of the event. If you can imagine the emotions of those most affected by the funeral or wedding, perhaps you can feel how to adjust tempo, dynamics, and phrasing to add the appropriate musical mood to your performance and to the event. "

This is profoundly true. And I need to give more thought to this aspect of performing. Obviously the music does not exist in a vacuum and an essential part of a performance is the audience and also the event. Just as we make adjustments when we speak to people, according to who we are speaking to and what the setting is, it makes perfect sense to do the same when we play music. Exactly how we do this bears further investigation. But a good starting point is to know in advance that it is possible and desirable -- and permitted!

July 2, 2014 at 05:00 PM · Another piece that is really nice in the same overall genre is the second movement of Wieniawski No. 2 ("Romance"). It is fun to play and maybe a little harder than the Meditation, but not by much.

July 2, 2014 at 08:28 PM · "Schmaltz and over sentimental playing are not good. That needs to be said . "

Says who exactly? Who is the 'anti-schmaltz' expert?

Too much icing is too much icing...but every now and then a little bit hits the spot...

July 2, 2014 at 08:50 PM · Hi everyone! It's me, Sara. Thank you all for responding to me. You have actually come up with a very interesting discussion!

How you play a piece is individual to a certain point. But I do think that you have to find a deep respect for music. You have to find a balance between technique and emotion (expression). I don't think it's good to only play the notes without meaning, without thinking, wondering and feeling for the music!

But the emotion shell not be.. how can I say.. artificial? If you don't feel something when you play music, then don't put fake emotions into the piece because then it becomes over sentimental. Do not try to play with emotion if you don't feel it in your heart because then it only becomes awkward..

It think that the emotion and expression comes by itself if you have great musicality and talent. You don't have to "create it"- if it is really there- you feel it.

Just my opinion. This topic seems to be (for many people) a bit sensitive...

July 3, 2014 at 08:42 AM · N.A.Mohr

I agree with you. Who are these experts on taste?

To the O.P.

Yes, we should just do it the way we feel it and get on with it. Over analysis can be a bad thing. It's only a nice tune after all, and what you do with it is always personal.

July 3, 2014 at 01:06 PM · Regarding schmaltz, the Meditation is a great piece for exploring the full range of tasteful sentimentality. Once a student has addressed the main technical points, then he or she should deliberately try exaggerating every slide, every rubato, and every vibrato note to its extreme. By crossing the boundaries of taste one learns where they are.

And of course that old chestnut of an episode of the Jack Benny Show with Isaac Stern is a must-see for anyone studying the Meditation. You'll find it on YouTube.

July 4, 2014 at 12:05 PM · Yes, tasteful sentimentality. And speaking of Youtube, ahem...

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2Ul2QUc5Gqc&list=PLh4Sv7ytoOMXVN_Fiwlbq5rf7RWd0FzPu

Well 'I just came to say I must be going' as the Groucho Marx song goes. Off to a very challenging week-long festival tomorrow. Happy 4th!

July 4, 2014 at 01:24 PM · How difficult is Meditation to play?

I just played it for my ABRSM grade 7 and while my teacher and accompanist had said I played it well with thought and feeling I still had a few intonation issues and still find it difficult to play (I'm playing it at a family event tomorrow).

My thought is that technically it's grade 7 level but one another level, it's a piece that requires you to communicate with your audience this makes and your playing has to be consistent enough in order to really play it well. i.e you really need to be in control of your tone, intonation at all times.

Thoughts?

July 4, 2014 at 02:29 PM · They say too much meditation is bad for you. Could turn you blind (wink).

I've only played this piece in later life so I don't know where it stands, but I would guess about Grade VI ABRSM (in the UK) or possibly Grade V but I"m just guessing.

It's not such a difficult piece as long as you can play in tune and play in high positions.

Just as a footnote - I play the last high A as a note rather than a harmonic. Maybe it sounds better, not sure, but my fiddle is bad on that harmonic at the moment as I have an unsuitable A string. Need to change it to another make.

July 4, 2014 at 02:37 PM · FWIW: It's RCM Grade/Level 7...

July 4, 2014 at 02:44 PM · Thanks - I'm a bit out of touch these days! I don't even know who is MD of the Berlin Phil ...

July 4, 2014 at 03:38 PM · Tam- It depends who you ask. Some says that it is a level 7, 6 or 5 and some says that it is level 3.

Well I should say-

Technically- level 3

Musically ("with a sense for feeling")- level 7

July 4, 2014 at 05:53 PM · Now there is another interesting scenario..

The "establishment" has ranked it a Grade/Level 7...yet you rank it a 3. What criteria are you using?

July 4, 2014 at 08:30 PM · I did a research on graded repertoire lists and I found that meditation seems to be most often on level 3-4.

The first time I played meditation was after one and a half years of playing the violin, (and I started at age 13 almost 14). So I don't

think that this piece is more then a level 4.

Not technically... (in my opinion)

July 5, 2014 at 01:19 AM · You can listen to the whole opera. It is up on youtube.

Also, you might want to consider reading Anatole France's novel "Thais". It is up on gutenberg.org, in French or English. I read it (translated) a couple of years ago, and it is neither lengthy or taxing.

("Thais" the novel wasn't the best I've read. The opera, IMO, is a huge improvement on the original. France's more famous "The Gods Will Have Blood" is much better.)

They may not help with technical analysis, but they might help you find some emotional context for the piece. Good luck!

July 5, 2014 at 07:22 AM · Thank you very much Anne! :)

July 5, 2014 at 06:41 PM · ...to satisfy my curiosity - I also 'researched' the difficulty of the Thais Meditation...

It is listed as a Grade/Level 7-8 piece (Grade range from 1-10) in the Graded rep.

However, on 'Difficulty' scales (that range from 1-4 or 1-5) it is listed as a 3-4.

These are two different 'scales' and don't compare directly.

It is also listed as Intermediate (which = Grade 6-8, and = difficulty level of 3).

I did find one 'easy' orchestration of it...for trumpet solo - but that was an anomaly.

So that cleared up my confusion...hope it helped anyone? else! :D

July 5, 2014 at 07:08 PM · I was thinking along the lines that playing the notes or rhythm was not so difficult but to make it musical and give each note meaning takes more skill that whatever grade it is at

July 5, 2014 at 07:17 PM · Tam- I totally agree with you! Everybody can learn to play the notes and rhythms, but to give them meaning-that is the real skill when we are talking about music.

July 6, 2014 at 09:14 AM · Tam- I totally agree with you! Everybody can learn to play the notes and rhythms, but to give them meaning-that is the real skill when we are talking about music.

July 7, 2014 at 07:06 AM · (I don't really know how to respond to this- since the word schmaltzy is new to me. Never heard that word before.)

When I wrote: "Everybody can learn to play the notes and rhythms, but to give them meaning-that is the real skill when we are talking about music."

I was just sharing my view on music. This is the way I feel and think about music. Nobody has to think the same. But I do think that is important to know why you're playing music. Why you are practicing all those scales, thirds, octaves, etudes to build up your technique and musicality. If you don't have a goal or purpose with it- what are you going to do then when you have master all the techniques?

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