Bach, Beethoven and Composing Landscape

Bach, Beethoven and Composing Landscape

Only recently have I found a new Bach piece, BWV 140¹, a cantata, which renews my admiration for his inventiveness. Childlike, it begins with a divisive cantus firmus which continues through the first movement and over which is laid the altitude and vigour of violins and oboes with the whole receding into a choral reflection of the base. It is a master’s treatment of rhythm and harmony and as often happens, simple enough. Bach’s work, well known for its mathematical order, can be sifted to leave sophisticated, remnant design opportunities for gardens.

Many years ago I listened to an ABC RN programme, ‘Into the Music’, in which Australian conductor and music educator, Richard Gill, dissected the first movement of Beethoven’s 1st Symphony and Piano Concerto No.3. It was fascinating to get a behind-the-scenes look at the compositional techniques Beethoven used to construct the works and it occurred to me that these techniques could be similarly applied to landscape or in my case garden design.
While being aware that, more than likely, life has more reading to it than you might want to invest in this article I will try to be brief. Gill extrapolated the following from the 1st Symphony with my apologies to him for accuracy – I give it to you in notation:

  • Changes in the scale and repeated notes to their harmonizing into octaves giving the tune real direction.
  • Beethoven took an ordinary tune with but 2 elements and changed the key to create momentum in the whole movement – the tempo affecting the key
  • A cadence would signal the end of a section
  • Brief references to the baroque in the minuet
  • Shifts in key, and transitions become opportunities for the spectacular
  • He used big slabs of repeated sound and revisits the beginning of the minuet
  • The music goes back to the original key and unfolds in a related and sequential order
  • The arpeggio in the strings creates the coda in place of the scale, and new characters and ideas at the end of the story wind up with the brass taking over from the strings
  • He draws a hidden tune from out of the blue
  • There becomes an evident understanding of proportion
  • Through repetition the ear is given an opportunity to understand the journey

Cryptic perhaps. Nevertheless, if we hold onto the pragmatic needs and desires of our client who presents the design brief it is relatively easy to translate many of these compositional elements into a garden. Would you, dear reader, having grasped this opportunity which music composition presents to garden design, consider that a garden framed with these techniques might be most able to give the client an emotional harbour of reflection, intellectual nurturing, feeling? Garden Studio, a garden design practice, can institute interested clients with a garden which moves from, but includes, a pragmatic response to need and place to one yielding cerebral depth and imagination.

¹ John Eliot Gardiner’s version with the English Baroque Soloists and Monteverdi Choir

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