What in the world is AUGENMUSIK?

Last week, we showcased a piece of music by composer Kenji Bunch that we'll be playing this month. He uses non-traditional notation to convey his musical ideas. You can read all about it here >.  

Augenmusik, or "eye music" is not at all a modern invention. Bob Chamberlin, Professor and Director of Music Theory and Musicianship at Webster Universtiy generously wrote up a little history of Augenmusik. It's amazing how different music through the ages sounds. You'll have to come to one of our three concerts next week to see how Kenji's Augenmusik sounds (it's very different from any of the examples here!)

Augenmusik: a brief introduction

The term “augenmusik”  is a German work that means literally, “eye music” or music to be appreciated visually.  Composers have been notating visually intriguing musical scores for many centuries.

Perhaps one of the most well-known examples is the chanson, “Belle, Bonne, Sage” by Baude Cordier (ca. 1380 – ca. 1440).  The musical score is shaped like a heart and has red notes to indicate rhythmic alterations.  A smaller heart made of musical notes hangs like a pendant within the musical score. See and here it here >  Baude Cordier also composed a round, “Tout par compass suy corposis” or “With a compass I was composed."   Listen to it here >

Cordier - "With a Compass I was composed."

 Telemann, "Gulliver Suite"

Telemann, "Gulliver Suite"

In the 16th century, Italian madrigalists (song writers) often used different note values to indicate specific words that were either dark or light words.  For example, black notes might be used for the words “death” or “night” and whole notes and half notes to express words like “light” and pale”.  In composer Luca Marenzio’s work, “senza il mia sole” (1588), black notes are used for the phrase, “chiuser le luci” (close their eyes).”

During the Baroque period, Telemann’s “Gulliver Suite” uses meter and note values to distinguish between “Lilliputian” and “Brobdingnagian.” (The two islands in the book the music is based on.) Listen to it here >

Many recent composers (20th and 21st centuries) have composed augenmusik.  George Crumb’s composition, “Makrokosmos, Vol. I” for amplified piano, includes pieces depicting a cross, a circle and a spiral galaxy.  These shapes were chosen to indicate different signs of the zodiac.  Listen to it here >

George Crumb

George Crumb