Sinfonia (for Orbiting Spheres)
When listening to Missy Mazzoli’s piece, Sinfonia (for Orbiting Spheres) I thought the way she merged electronica music and aspects of baroque music was very interesting.
I was immediately drawn to its beautiful harmonies and textures, which were supported by the rolling dynamic changes to help portray traveling through the solar systems in outer space. Although I felt this work was definitely a 21st -century stylistic piece, I could still hear moments where she joined the electric synthesizer on top of the counterpoint played underneath. What initially got me thinking about music from the baroque era was the title, “Sinfoina”, a term that directly refers to baroque music. In my opinion, this was a small hint to her listeners to pay attention for how she could make this odd partnership of electronic music and baroque music come together to create this musical imagery of traveling in outer space.
Sinfonia, like many contemporary compositions, is through-composed. To me this was a very affective decision for this specific work, adding to the full scope of traveling through endless space. The majority of the piece had no clear meter, which to me made the music have a weightless, zero gravity, feeling to it. Mazzoli uses different rhythmic patterns in a series of imitative textures, forming an echo effect, to add layering to the melodic phrases. She accomplished this through techniques such as glissandos, false harmonics, and lack of vibrato in the strings to keep the pitch’s tone clear and resonant. The meter is immediately apparent at the beginning of Sinfonia and stays prevalent throughout the piece. The upper strings begin with a soft drone, which builds using a slow crescendo only to then descend chromatically with a glissando. The echo resulting stays constant even though the rhythmic pattern changes.
The way Mazzoli keeps her piece moving forward without the use of meter, is mainly through her exaggerated dynamics. Throughout Sinfonia, you can hear how she uses the different variations of dynamics to add overlapping colors in the harmonies that weave in and out of each other. This effect to me produces the imagery of soaring smoothly through space and watching the plants pass by. An example of this in the music is when she introduces the brass in the middle section. As the brass builds on a fast moving crescendo, the string voices below simultaneously move but in contrary motion, but at a slower pace. The dynamics used help build the intensity of the music and create a heavier and fuller sound to imitate a new character or image in space.
Sinfonia, although having a modern twist to it with the addition of an electronic synthesizer, still didn’t convince me that it had completely departed from traditional classical music. Tying back to the idea of musical styles found in the Baroque, there were moments I could hear contrapuntal sections where two beautiful, independent melodies, one played by the string section and the other in the winds, slowly began weaving together to produce one new harmonic line. Another connection to baroque music was her use of small ornamentation and exaggerated embellishments in the percussive instruments and flutes, over the long harmonies. This technique reminded me of works composed by one of the most iconic Baroque composers, J.S. Bach, specifically his works written for organ. There is so much beauty and detail in her work that I could really imagine myself traveling through space as I listened.