Claude Debussy’s Gamelan

Published in College Music Symposium 2013,

Abstract: The year 1889 marked the 100th anniversary of the French Revolution and the nation celebrated with the Paris Exposition Universelle, an extraordinary World’s Fair. The event’s importance is marked by France’s most famous icon, the Eiffel Tower, built for the occasion. Twenty-seven year old Claude Debussy frequented the many exhibits from all over the world and was enthralled by the Javanese gamelan and the dancing it accompanied. The experience inspired him later to capture the sounds of the gamelan in his 1903 piano composition Pagodes. This article examines how he does so and places Pagodes’ composition within the contexts of documentation by his contemporaries, his other works, and recent scholarship about exoticism. Four principal elements of gamelan music—timbre, tuning, polyphonic layering, and rhythmic structure—are examined through the eyes of twentieth century ethnomusicologists. The same four elements are analysed in Pagodes. Elements of Western musical composition complement the analysis. What emerges is not a vague impression but, rather, a remarkably successful rendition of the Eastern gamelan on the Western piano.

Composer Béla Bartók’s Visit to Vermont

Broadcast on WCAX TV, 2011

In a television interview celebrating the 70th anniversary of composer Béla Bartók’s visit to Vermont, Sylvia Parker tells stories about Bartók, performs some of his piano music, and leads a walk in the woods where the cottage he visited once stood, just down the road from her own.

A Riverton Retreat: Royal Charter to State Forest

Published in Vermont History Vol. 78, No. 1, Winter/Spring 2010, pp. 95-111

Abstract: A piece of Riverton, Vermont, evolves over the course of two centuries from empty land in the Royal Charter, to the site of a grand cottage peopled by diverse occupants including a tycoon’s family, a Hungarian hostess, and composer Béla Bartók, to empty land once again, now preserved as state forest. [Note: The author lives just up the road from the cottage in this article.]

Béla Bartók's Arab Music Research and Composition

Published in Studia Musicologica Vol. 49/3-4, 2008, pp. 407-458

Abstract: In 1913 Béla Bartók traveled to Algeria to research Arab folk music. He took with him the most modern technological device then available, the Edison phonograph, and recorded Arab peasants performing their music. Analysis of his ensuing scholarly documentation and free composition reveals the inspiration Bartók drew from Arab folk music, not only in his treatment of traditional musical elements-melody, rhythm, and harmony-but also in novel incorporation of exotic timbre, scales, drum modes, ululation, and exorcism. This paper elucidates diverse musical elements with examples from authentic folk music and Bartók's compositions. What emerges is a remarkably comprehensive image of Arab music, seen through the lens of Béla Bartók's unique scholarship and creativity.

CD: Bartók, Griffes, Mozart, D. Scarlatti: Sylvia Parker, piano

Published by Centaur Records (2006)

  • Sample: The Fountain of the Acqua Paola by Charles Griffes

    Sample: Sonatina (Bagpipers) by Béla Bartók

  • Steinway's Grand: Sylvia Parker's new CD features UVM's fine piano

    Article in The View Click here

    Review of Parker CD

    American Record Guide (2006)

    This recital of works by composers who were formidable keyboard players is varied and easy on the ears. Parker's playing is warm and plush, as is her instrument, a Colodny Steinway recorded in the resonant University of Vermont Recital Hall. Her Scarlatti has careful voicing, with interesting overtones and nuances. Mozart's Sonata 12 is limpid and lyrical. The four tone paintings by Griffes are gently exotic, with gorgeous bass sounds and generous pedal. Some may want more bite in Bartok's Sonatina and Suite (Opus 14), but I find Parker's subtle musicality refreshing.

    UVM pianist in outstanding recital

    Article by Jim Lowe in The Times Argus Friday, December 15, 2006

    Central Vermont is full of hidden gems. One such is pianist Sylvia Parker, Berlin resident and longtime University of Vermont music professor, who is often heard at UVM but seldom here. She has just released an outstanding recital album, one that whets the appetite for more. Parker's outstanding recital program, recorded this year at the UVM Recital Hall in Burlington, includes traditional works by Scarlatti, Mozart and Bartók, all well-played, but it is the "Roman Sketches," Opus 7, by American composer Charles Tomlinson Griffes (1884-1920) that makes this a true gem of a recording. Although Griffes' music employs decidedly 20th century language, polytonal and polymetric, the influences of the French Impressionsts and German Romantics dominate its unique flavor. Griffes' "Roman Sketches," written 1915-1916, take their cue from Franz Liszt, both in piano style and coloring. Parker, an excellent concert pianist, successfully brings out the four very different flavors of this descriptive work, with clarity and power, making it truly compelling. "The White Peacock" is very cocky, but with a quiet grandeur. "Nightfall" has a darker grandness, while "The Fountain" explodes. "Clouds" has a more ethereal, untouchable quality. Parker uses a wide palette of colors-in an American way, more by volume control than quality of touch. The passion is restrained, giving it grandeur. It's quite beautiful. Mozart's Sonata in F Major, K. 332, is given a full-blooded, rich-sounding performance, full of spirit. Although the Mozart is ideally done with a steady pulse, the first movement Allegro, is a little square rhythmically. The slow movement, Adagio, on the other hand, is very personal with some subtle and unusual-but effective-rubato. It's not predictable, yet it's very musical and convincing. The last movement, Allegro assai, is spirited and exciting. She is clearly passionate in Mozart, but all within Classical parameters-which is what makes it successful. Parker has always had an affinity for the edgy folk-based music of Béla Bartók (1881-1945), and is heard here in the Sonatina and the Suite, Opus 14. Parker combines a nice lyricism with rhythmic incisiveness, and a playful rather than a hard-edged approach. It's attractive and fun. The program opens three harpsichord sonatas by Domenico Scarlatti (1685-1757), two of which are seldom heard. Parker's performances are all skillful and spirited.

    Understanding Sonata Form through Model Composition

    Published in Journal of Music Theory Pedagogy Volume Twenty 2006

    Composition is an important aid to musical understanding. This paper describes a plan for guiding intermediate music theory students to hone their understanding of classical sonata structure through composition. Sonata-allegro is arguably the quintessential form in tonal music, certainly the most elaborate and prescriptive in terms of its component parts. The average undergraduate student comes to an understanding of the contrasting functions of the sonata's thematic, transitional, and developmental sections only with difficulty. Students who compose such sections themselves acquire a better understanding of the form than they who limit their study to analysis. Composing a sonata may seem too large a project for an undergraduate class in form and analysis. Yet such a project was completed, with great success, in an intermediate theory class at the University of Vermont. More than a success, the experiment culminated in three students presenting their projects at a conference of the Vermont Academy of Arts and Sciences. This article recounts how the project began as a multi-part homework assignment with drafts and revisions spreading over several weeks, continued in a take-home segment of the midterm exam, and concluded in presentation of compositions by the most successful students in a scholarly venue.

    UVM Music Majors Presentation at Vermont Academy of Art and Sciences

    Article in The View (2004)

    UVM music majors Victoria Drew, Michael Gorgone and Rebecca Kopycinski, under the guidance of Sylvia Parker, lecturer of music, gave the keynote presentation at the Intercollegiate Student Symposium of the Vermont Academy of Arts and Sciences on April 24. Their proposal stemmed from an academic study of the classical sonata, one of the most important musical forms since the 18th century. Students were assigned to compose a piano sonata in style and form similar to the works of master composers studied in an Intermediate Theory class taught by Parker. At the VAAS conference, the students described sections of the composition project and played CD recordings of their own sonatas while displaying the scores on an overhead projector.

    Bartók at the Crossroads: A Classical Sonatina from Five Rumanian Folk Dances

    Published in College Music Symposium Volume Forty-Three 2003

    Abstract in RILM

    Theoretical analysis of the Bartok Sonatina (1915) proceeds from several viewpoints. Surface view presents five Rumanian folk dances grouped into three movements in simple classical forms. Schenkerian analysis reveals one unified diatonic structure in the key of D. Motivic unity consistently pairs pitches E-D, whose dissonance and resolution as ^2 - ^1 define tonic. Symmetrical design stems from Eastern European folk music, featuring particularly the perfect fourth and its consequent division of the octave into equal halves, and the symmetrical construction of the minor-seventh chord.

    CD: New England Reveries, Mark Nelson, tuba and Sylvia Parker, piano

    Published by Crystal Records (1991).