Analytic essay: The Art Teacher

April 1, 2006

[This article has been removed and revised and will appear in my book.]

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

twarner April 3, 2006 at 8:43 am

I must say, “The Art Teacher” is hauntingly strange and ghostly in it’s perspective, voice, and content. There’s a detached sadness that I can’t seem to pin down, but I enjoy, nevertheless.

I didn’t realize how structured it was. I thought it was more of a rambling stream of consciousness… Wow, though. Very structured. There’s almost a cycle thing going on. You call it symetry, but, I think of a cycle, almost returning to the beginning. Imperfect nostolgia.

Anyway, thanks!

JoeGreen April 3, 2006 at 4:32 pm

The Art Teacher clearly has an attraction, and seems to rate quite high amongst Rufus fans. I’m not sure I’d like a whole CD of it, but as a one-off it really does work. The vocal melody is strong, and benefits from being exposed by the minimalist accompaniment. The narrative, although straight-forward, is atmospheric and almost charming.

Thanks for the analysis. As an enthusiastic listener rather than a musician, your approach suits me well, and provides a valuable resource which I know I’ll return to. (And yes, I’ll definitely be buying the book!)

I was somewhat disappointed that your classes often gravitated to the words more than the music, but I guess there were reasons for that. It seems to me Rufus’s words are more provocative than poetic.

As a composer, however, I believe he’s a 19th century opera composer who’s landed in the 21st. Let’s hope so – Verdi had barely got going by Rufus’s current 32 years.

On that topic, Roger, I wonder whether you’ve ever explored why classical composers invariably get better with age, whereas rock and pop stars are all but finished as writers by 30 years old? From the interviews I’ve seen, Rufus is fully aware of how wonderfully inspired Verdi’s late years were. That gives me cause for optimism. Hopefully what we have so far are just ‘early works’.

dysonation April 5, 2006 at 3:58 am

This isn’t exactly about Art Teacher, but is it correct that Dinner at Eight is sonata-allegro? (Though I love your analysis!)

davide April 12, 2006 at 11:04 am

I stumbled on this song following a few links, and I cannot refrain to comment a bit n its analysis.

The piece has really no tonal ambiguity at all, it is in the G-flat tonal area solidily from the first measure. What is slightly unusual is the use of e-flat in the inner voice, at measure 1. Aurally, non-harmonically, one hears distinctly G-flat as the tonal center from the beginning, and the song never really moves away.

Where does the e-flat comes from? It is part of the e-flat seven chord (e-g-b-d flats) that is used to harmonize g-flat (see the final chord). This device (using a seventh harmony with a different root then the tonic of a particular tonal area) goes back a long time, but is used systematically in Liszt, Wagner and of course Debussy.

Just as a suggestion: if one wants to hear something from the classical era which is much more adventurous in terms of tonal uncertainty I would suggest Brahms Intermezzi, where often the home key is only found in the last measures.

As far as comparing to Verdi, well … there is a real way to go!!! (with a smile)

Roger Bourland April 14, 2006 at 10:52 am

TW: you’re right; it is like a cycle, but can’t cycles be symmetrical?

JoeG: you mentioned “minimalism” and I forgot to report that Rufus was supposedly “influenced” by Philip Glass on this one.
My Rufus class was all non-musicians, so I was not comfortable getting too technical about musical issues. We DID talk about the music and I didn’t always report it, but we definitely did spend more time on the words. Early on I had decided to not include ANY interpretaion of the lyrics in my book, now I realize I will need to include some discussion when relevant.
Classical composers DO seem to get better, but they are trained well and usually have a huge knowledge of repertoire. Many rockers are rarely trained and know what they hear on the radio. For me, artists like James Taylor keep recycling the same 3 or 4 songs. Many audiences prefer this, I for one don’t.

Dys: IMHO, Dinner at Eight is NOT in sonata form. It’s a song. I haven’t done an analysis of it, but I think it’s primarily a song with a bunch of verses, no chorus, and a couple of bridges – or contrasting sections (“so put up your fists…”)

davide: The Gb tonality permeates the piece. But once it is reached at the end of each verse, he immediately leaves it. It’s as though there is a huge Gb magnet pulling the music to itself, but as soon as it attains control it throws it away. This being in sharp contrast to what Beethoven might do. I”m not sure what you mean by “hearing something … more harmonically adventurous” — yes, I know all that music, but am hesitant to incorporate too much of it in this book. The Chopin prelude, to me, is well known, does similar things and seemed to be a good classical parallel. I agree with you that Rufus is really nothing like Verdi at this point. They are utterly different composers and people.

Kivitel April 10, 2007 at 4:25 pm

I originally found this page because I wanted some basic information regarding this piece (the key, the gist) because this song is so riveting. What I found absolutely thrilled me! Not only do I have a lot of admiration for Rufus, especially the incredible courage that he musters to make pop records with actual musical drama, unembarrassed melody and so forth, I also really like your approach and instructional sections, too.

I look forward to reading your back entries! And three cheers for the hypnotically repetitive and yet structurally one-sided composition! What got me hooked on Rufus was this quality: knowing what the one big idea was. Creating a song with minimal self reference and one big resolution slakes my musical thirst for some reason.

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