GCSE Revision

Music GCSE Set Work: Bach

The first Music GCSE Set Work we are going to study is Brandenburg Concerto No.5 by Bach. This is the first set work in the Edexcel Anthology, but may well be useful as wider listening for students studying with another exam board.

Music GCSE Set Work Analysis

When we study a set work we need to always consider the following:

  1. Who – composed the music? What type of composer & musicians were they? Does their nationality, year of birth/death and place of work have any impact? What other key works did they compose and did they have a favourite style. Historically, Socially & Culturally – what was going on when the piece was composed?
  2. What – This is where we go through the set work and look at what key features appear. this will include a wide range of key terms that need to be understood and remembered.
  3. Why – In light of all the key terms & features in the music we need to consider why. Why did the composer do as they did or compose as they did? What features are typical of the period of time or the cultural setting. Add a why to every key point made.
  4. Wider – We need to ensure we have a good amount of Wider Listening examples that link to the GCSE Set work and help to explain the style, context, composer and piece itself.
  5. Weigh – We need to be able to compare and contrast the Set Work with another piece of music or “weigh-up” the differences and similarities.

Studying Bach

What I don’t want to do with this blog is go over information that you will already be aware of from reading the GCSE Set Work handouts from the Pearson website. You can get a copy of the Bach notes by clicking here.

What I do want to do is provide some thoughts and questions that will help you with your studies. Each blog will then build upon the last. This blog has introduced the approach above of looking at Who, What, Why, Wider & Weigh. I hope that these “W” words will help you to remember what you need to consider.

Who

Bach was a German composer born in 1685. The key “who” points that we need to focus on are:

  • What kind of music did Bach Compose?
  • Did he have any particular compositional styles or approaches?
  • What makes him a Baroque composer?
  • What features of his music are typical of the Baroque Style?
  • Did Bach only compose Sacred music for a church setting?

Focussing on these questions will help you build up a picture of who Bach was as a composer.

What

This is where you need to look at What features appear in the set work, both key musical features & key stylistic features. It would be a good idea to write out a list of all the key terms that you can see included on the set work notes or in your textbook. You can then get your anthology and annotate this. I get my students to use different colours for each different element of music, you can read more about that here.

It is important that you know all of the features in this music as they will come up in different ways across the listening exams. You don’t need to memorise bar numbers though!

Why

The Why is often something that students left out. Here is a paragraph from a Long Answer Question:

“In terms of Melody Bach has chosen to base much of the music around the short opening theme that is played by the violin. This theme begins with a leap of a fourth from the A up to the D and helps to give a clear sense of D Major. Like most baroque melodies it is therefore Diatonic and follows a clear harmonic pattern. He makes frequent use of Sequences throughout the piece, again typical of the Baroque style. And Ornamentation is common throughout the piece and this gives it the Baroque sense of grandeur and decoration that was also seen in architecture of the time. There is frequent use of trills, but performers are also likely to add their own ornaments making no recording exactly the same as the last. Bach also includes a number of Appoggiaturas to help decorate the melody. Much of the melody is conjunct and includes scalic runs, especially in the harpsichord part.”

Can you spot all of the WHY moments in this paragraph? Can you see how they explain the key features or the WHATS that we mentioned above. If we only say WHAT Bach uses in his piece and don’t explain Why, then we are not fully analysing the music.

Wider Listening

My advice would be to listen to some other pieces to ensure that you are ready for the exam. You could listen to “The Four Seasons” by Vivaldi or the “Concerto Grossi” by Handel. Just make sure that when you are listening you are taking note of the Baroque features, but also listening out for things that are different to the Bach set work.

Make sure you also go into the exam knowing that this is a Concerto Grosso – Concertino & Ripieno, Basso Continuo etc. These are all terms you will be familiar with, but look them up if not, I won’t do all the work for you here.

Here is some Wider Listening that you might like to use in your studies.

  1. Handel, Concerto Grosso No. 1
  2. Vivaldi, The Four Seasons
  3. Bach Orchestral Suite No. 1
  4. Keyboard Sonata in F Minor by Scarlatti – This will focus your listening on the Harpsichord.
  5. Sonata in G Minor by Albinoni

The more you listen to the better. But an important part of this process is the topic of the final “W”.

Weigh

Hopefully I explained this term above, I started using it with my students. This is where I want you to “Weigh” this piece up against over pieces of music. What features can you see in Bach and any example of Wider listening? What makes them the same or different.

When we compare and contrast music we start to really understand what is going on. We start to see how composers, eras and styles are all different. But we also start to see some of the common threads in music. A piece of music in 2020 might have a similar characteristic to a piece of music composed in 1720. This discovery process through weighing up features is crucial.

GCSE Set Work Bundles

For each GCSE Set Work you will want to gather together a bundle of things that then form a complete overview of the piece. Here is what I think your bundle should or could include:

  1. Exam Board Set Work notes & any other handouts from your teacher.
  2. A Context sheet, feel free to download the one I have attached below.
  3. An Elements sheet, again, feel free to download the one I have attached below.
  4. A Wider Listening diary or log of listening – you can develop your own procedure for this.
  5. A 5 W’s sheet similar to the one attached below – please do check that your teacher doesn’t mind you using this approach. They may have a similar document to help you analyse the piece.
  6. A completed Long Answer Question of some kind.

A lot of this will depend on your teacher and situation, but the idea of getting a bundle of work together is a good one. What you want is a clear pack that you can use to revise from. Couple this with your anthology and you should know the GCSE Set Work inside out!

Conclusion

Your goal at the end of the study of Bach is to be able to tell me Who Bach was as a composer, what features he used in his music and what made his musical typical of the Baroque period. You will need to be able to form a controlled argument that shows an understanding of what key elements of music were used by Bach and why he used them!

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