Here is a summary of what must be done:
Make the commentary interesting reading for the assessor
Have a total word count of 1500-2000 words
Give details such as titles of the works being discussed, as early as possible
Give reasons for the choice of works
Place the pieces of music in context
Identify the stylist features of the music
Comment in a detailed manner about the compositional features of the music
Give evidence of a clear understanding of the music studied
Give correctly notated examples that are referenced to the text and are accurately related to audio examples.
Summarise your findings briefly and effectively in your conclusion
Include appendices to index any audio examples and resources used e.g. books, CD ROMS, websites etc. (i.e. a bibliography, discography etc.)
Below is the full details of what must be written and how it must be written. At the bottom there is also a section on what to avoid.
Writing Your Essay
You should now collate your notes on each piece and start writing your commentary. Treat it in a similar way to a critical essay in English. The essay should not simply be a list of concepts. It should be structures in sentences, showing that you really understand the music you have been studying.
Introduction (about 200-250 words)
The introduction should be quite short and to the point. It should:
Clearly identify the pieces and composers that you have chosen to study•
State why you have chosen these particular pieces•
Show you have a clear understanding of both the style of music and the place of the composers in the development of this style.•
Briefly place the pieces you have chosen in musical context e.g.•
The Clarinet Quintet by Mozart was written in 1789 for the clarinettist Anton Städler. It is scored for clarinet in A and string quartet. Mozart was very fond of the clarinet ever since first hearing it in London as a child. He included it in many of his orchestrations and wrote a concerto for clarinet in 1791 and a clarinet trio in 1786. The work follows a four movement structure and displays many characteristics of the classical era.
Main Observations about the music (about 1100-1500 words)
This is the main part of your commentary which must demonstrate a detailed knowledge and understanding of the music you have chosen. (Remember that observations of actual musical features and concepts must be at the heart of this section.) You must:
Compare and contrast your pieces in terms of style and use of compositional techniques•
Ensure that any information contained is accurate•
Support your observations by referring to appropriate sources•
Acknowledge any source that you quote from, or get an idea from•
Draw on, and refer to, a variety of materials from different sources•
scores, recordings, books, performing the music yourself, attending concerts etc.)
Present your observations in a clear and coherent manner•
Form your own opinions from having listening to/performed the pieces you have chosen•
as well as using other sources.
Reference conceptual descriptions to manuscript and audio excerpts•
Make valid points of comparison•
1. ‘Scarlatti used suspensions and pedals, passing notes and temporary modulations. There are repeated phrases, contrasting figurations, leaping arpeggios and octave doublings.’
2. ‘Brahms uses many complex rhythmic structures including extensive use of syncopation. In the following manuscript quotations, bars 83-86, the right hand of the piano part plays off-beat chords to sustain the rhythmic vitality of the movement. See quotation below and listen to audio excerpt 8 on the CD.’
The first candidate has produced a list of concepts in a rather vague statement; the candidate should be advised to go back to the score and detail where and how each of the concepts is used.
The second candidate has dealt with a specific feature and displays a more detailed approach with bar numbers, an accurately referenced musical excerpt/quotation and a short audio excerpt of the section being described.
Conclusion (about 200-250 words)
In this final section you should draw your commentary to a close by summarising some of the most important musical observations you have made. In other words, you should now:
Draw some overall conclusions about the composer and/or the music you have been studying•
Sum up what you have learned or discovered, personally, by carrying out this research•
Demonstrate that you have developed informed opinions about the music For example, an acceptable conclusion would look something like:•
All three works are very dramatic in mood and differing rhythmic ideas are used in each to maintain the tension created by the composer. In each work the instruments used, other than the clarinet, are all very important and not simply used as an accompaniment. Each of the three works exploits the full range of the clarinet and dynamics possible on the instrument. Detailed markings of tempo and dynamics can be found in each work. All three works also show how instruments being used imitatively in conversational passages. The instrumentation used in each work was obviously selected to highlight the clarinet’s different sounds in each style of music. Use of syncopation can be found in each work as can stark contrasts in dynamics, tempi and mood. Each of the three works shows the clarinet playing fast scale passages and each exploits the lyrical qualities of the instruments. A great deal of modulation occurs in each work both between and within movements.
Any appendices might contain some details of the evidence to which you have referred.
Musical examples: Musical quotations, or excerpts from musical scores, to illustrate your observations.
Bibliography: Titles and authors of any books or scores to which you have referred. These should be organised alphabetically by the authors’ surnames, so that the names are presented surname first. The rest of the bibliographic information should be given in the same order as the example below:
Headington, C., Britten, London: Methuen, 1981, pp. 42-43
(Author, title, place of publication, publisher and date of publication)
Discography: Details of any recordings you have listened to (title, composer and performer).
Try To Avoid
Simply analysing your two pieces as you will fail, even if done well.
Using up too much space on the context of the works
Simply repeating information on the scores
Giving a list of cadences, lists of modulations, list of dynamics etc. or a list of line-ups
Copying information from the web when there is no evidence of any understanding of the contents