What makes a piece of music a Fantasia?

• Sep 18, 2020 - 14:58

OK, this is not MS related and I have googled it but I'm not much the wiser.

"A fantasia is a musical composition with its roots in the art of improvisation. Because of this, the fantasia, like the impromptu, seldom follows the textbook rules of any strict musical form." - Wikipedia.

Is there a better definition than this? If I slow a Fantasia down, (e.g. to make a harpsichord piece playable on guitar), is it still a Fantasia?


The main question in fact is not whether it is a Fantasia or something else, but the fact that the tempo indicates Vivace. Which means "fast and lively".

If I understood correctly, it is about this piece: telemann fantasia.mscz

First of all, I doubt, at the required tempo, that a single guitar (but I ignore if it's your goal or other one) would be suitable for the transcription of this piece (or else several notes would have to be sacrificed, and in that case, I'm afraid it's no longer a transcription, but let's say a simplified adaptation, or one inspired from...)
For two guitars, on the other hand, this can be a nice subject for transcription. I took a quick look. After transposition to Am (for example - there are other possibilities), you get this - but I haven't yet completed the part for the second guitar. Fantasia 100.mscz
And to come back to your initial question, at this stage, let's say that at tempo 100, we're well into the Vivace spirit. On the other hand, at 80, we completely lose not only the fast character, but also and especially the lively character. Fantasia 80.mscz

Edit: a version for piano: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pV0NiZXgryk

In reply to by cadiz1

The Purcell viol (consort) Fantazias are not fast or lively, or improvisatory-sounding; the title is very loosely applied by him. There a lot of Bach organ and harpsichord "Fantasia"s which are not lively or improvisatory, e.g., BWV 570, 562. The tripartite G Major Pièce d'Orgue BWV 572 is as often labelled "Fantasia"—while its outer sections are quite "fantastic" (improvisatory/rapid), its lengthy and duly renowned middle Gravèment is anything but. I think in many of these cases, the title means "I don't really see it as any form I can label clearly", i.e., a classic "none of the above" variant.

A transcription of a piece which changes the tempo or instrumentation should not change its title, IMO.

In reply to by yonah_ag

The more I think of compositions using this title in the 19th and 20th century, e.g., Liszt, Reger, Vaughan-Williams' on the theme of Tallis, the more "free creative effort of novel structure, or even known structure", i.e., "none of the above" seems right.

Thank you for the comments. The point about keeping the original title makes a lot of sense so I'll do that but add some text to the description to say that it's an adaptation. Is the TWV 33:8 important? I like "none of the above".

I have adapted it for solo guitar TAB and have made a few sacrifices but tried to keep the flavour of the original. A guitar duet could keep more but would still lack the pitch range of the harpsichord. I have never played a duet but imagine that it could be quite hard keeping in time with another player.

It has taken me a long time to score it and has improved my notation reading enormously. I am just finishing optimising the left hand fretting so should be uploading it soon. I am stunned by how quickly you have made a version: hopefully I will get faster with practise. (P.S. what do the dots mean underneath some of the notes?)

Having now listened to this piece in full, and measure by measure, many, many times it has been an amazing experience. It is deceptively simple but so clever. I can't really explain it because I don't have the musical vocabulary but there seem to be various themes being played at the same time which make sense on their own but combine with each other to take the piece to another level. (Did I mention that I really like this piece!!)

Anyway, I have tried it at many tempos and found that even down to 66bpm it doesn't lose its character – but perhaps this is because I am so familiar with it. Of course it does lose it's liveliness. My target is 81 bpm but I think that the 'original' MS score is around 103. Having heard it at 81 so much, I now find that 103 seems hurried so I guess it's whatever you get used to.

In reply to by yonah_ag

"Is the TWV 33:8 important? I like "none of the above"

Of course, it's important. TWV for 'Telemann Works Catalogue' (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Telemann-Werke-Verzeichnis), 33 is for the Opus (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Opus_number) and 8, piece n° 8 of this opus.

Be precise and quote the sources is always a good thing.

"Having heard it at 81 so much, I now find that 103 seems hurried so I guess it's whatever you get used to."

Not because I get used to, but in respect to the Vivace tempo.

" what do the dots mean underneath some of the notes?"

Means "staccato" symbol. In Articulations palette.

In reply to by yonah_ag

Actually it's probably something of a moot question in this case since it would be hard to play the quavers shorter on a guitar, (certainly at my level of ability.) Staccato on these first 3 quavers would require lifting of the fretting finger or some sort of right hand muting – done very quickly.

So I have to adapt the piece to the instrument I'm using.

In reply to by cadiz1

@cadiz: "They were hidden".

That's why I missed them. As I'm not a pro user I could not download the score so I first had to manually enter it. I wouldn't have known what they were at the time so may have ignored them. Anyway, they are not easy to play on guitar when on the same fret.

In reply to by yonah_ag

As for the dots under some notes in editions from that era, they are sometimes used to mean not slurred. This is especially true if they are only found in measures with slurs. Since so many of these are still hand copies or prints from a hand drawn score the dots are for clarification purposes. You will often find the slurs in these measures are not drawn complete and may even look like they are only over a single note.

This is a generalization, I didn't look at the score in question.

In reply to by yonah_ag

"Stacatto" means: short / separate / detached (Not the "detache" technique, which is a bow technique for string instruments)

But the answer to the question "how long should be in duration" is not clear. Some say 50% , some say 60%, some say 66% (based on the original length).

Depending on the age in which the composer lives, it is possible for the note's duration to be anywhere between 2/3 and 1/2 (66% ~ 50%).

But it doesn't make much sense to specify a constant duration for these.

When the teachers explain this to the student, I know it is said: "play it like half as short". But the important thing here is "play it like ...".

This is up to the choice of the player. Player can also choose a shorter (percussive) style also.

In reply to by BSG

It would be nice if it was adjustable:

However: depending on the characteristics of the soundfont used and the way the synthesizer interprets it, the result heard may differ from what was written. And we want the playing settings for articulations to be adjustable (and be able to change them).

In reply to by yonah_ag

Staccato means separated. A rule of thumb is it means play the note at half of the printed length but thumbs vary in size :P

In hand written baroque music they didn't always use multiple dots so the other notes in the measure, often beamed to the dotted note, tell the impact of the dot on the note.

Staccato and dotted notes really are related because a note can have both.

In reply to by yonah_ag

As for preferring the slower tempo, this is not unusual. We have Beethoven's metronome so when he put a M.M. mark on his score we know what he meant. Modern performances of his works are still (sometimes much) slower than what he marked on his scores.

In reply to by mike320

Let's not forget that music is not a science. How could it be? Why would anyone want it to be? Setting all staccato notes to a certain length doesn't make music. Staccato notes might want to be a different lengths based on tempo, dynamics, direction of melody (upward moving passage or downward moving, hairpins, rit, or any of the dozens of things that make music. Mark something staccato and let the performer worry about it. That's their job.

In reply to by bobjp

Ce n'est pas vrai. I think remember reading that you prepare visual scores, and don't care a misconfigured midi adapter about MS performance. Well, I do. In fact, every MS articulation has a default "%" (which presently you can't adjust without mscx surgery). Frankly, I like to adjust the exact % of almost every note individually, and that's why I invented the articulation plugin to make it trivial to do exactly that. But for a movement which uses a consistent motivic vocabulary, and in which the composer uses articulation marks, if any, consistently with that vocabulary, "All staccati 75% (for example) except the ones which I adjust otherwise" just might, and in fact, does, often does work well.

In reply to by BSG

Personally, 75% can't apply to all instruments under all conditions, no matter how many notes we adjust otherwise. I like to spend time making playback sound good. Whatever that is. I have the articulation plugin, though I haven't messed with it much.

In reply to by bobjp

I agree you should have as much control as you suggest (e.g., different parms for different parts). 75% is not "for all instruments" but "for all explicit staccatos", which are very few in number in most of the scores I deal with and often confined to one part. Yes, I would like much more and easier control. I hope you read my posting on first steps in musescore phrasing (https://musescore.com/bsg/phrasing ), and have listened to some of "meticulously-phrased" scores.

In reply to by BSG

A much appreciated plugin. It allows easier and more accurate use of guitar "let ring" than the option in the Lines palette and is a handy primer for plugin writing. Much of the article on phrasing went over my head, ("augmented fourth", "dissonant interval" etc.), but the clips of music show the usefulness of the plugin to good effect.

In reply to by yonah_ag

Yes, composers knew and know all this. TWV EVERYTHING, as well as BWV EVERYTHING and BuxWV EVERYTHING is rooted in Baroque counterpoint. And Mozart, Haydn, Schubert, Chopin etc ... in later variants thereof. My Chapter 1 is just the beginning. There are now some excellent YouTube courses in Music Theory and composition. See the pinned post in the group "Counterpoint and Fugue", esp the latest post citing a very excellent and lengthy new resource.

In reply to by BSG

Counterpoint is not "let's use some counterpoint in this piece" any more than "let's use some protein in this food" explains nutrition. Counterpoint is the means by which Baroque and earlier music (and to varying degrees later music) is effected. There are other non-optional branches and disciplines of compositional technique, harmony, rhythm, rhetoric, etc. that all interact in a serious composition. Books explaining counterpoint to incipient composers go back 200 years before Bach and Telemann.

In reply to by BSG

Unfortunately I dumped music when I took my subject options at school as it just wasn't interesting at the time. Now, over 40 years later, I'm finding it fascinating and I have a respect for music teachers that I didn't have at school. It's certainly no 'easy option' lightweight subject.

In reply to by yonah_ag

YAY YAY YAY! A big smile on a bitter day in my country (USA). To write a decent song with a garage band (either a real one or the product), you don't have to know much about counterpoint -- harmony, though, yeah. But to understand what, say, Telemann is doing, or even see transmission or transcription errors in his score, or add additional stuff to them (something Baroque composers did to each others' scores regularly (ask if want to know more)), you'd better have a solid understanding of composition theory (harmony, counterpoint, orchestration, figured bass (for the Baroque)) to even begin. I am delighted that you seek to know more.

In reply to by BSG

TWV 33:8 has really piqued my interest. I have definitely listened to it at least 40 times over the past few weeks and it has amazed me at how much pleasure such an apparently simple score can give. Although adapting it for guitar has been slow it has not been painful. I started to know where the score was going in terms of notes and rhythm and could appreciate some of the expertise that had gone into the original composition.

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