h_ghigliaoscarIn the second part of Maestro Ghiglia’s interview, we talk about practice techniques, modes, solfége and approaches to learning.

Oscar has also asked that I publish his text on modes which is an incredibly interesting article.


Here it is:

Dear friends,
Why do I love to talk about “modes”…

It exists as many modes as we are able to hear and none of them belongs to a single specific style. The different styles use them and their derivatives, the “scales” in their specific ways, in order to express what distinguishes their respective characters.

Without scales there would be neither BACH nor JAZZ.

But all scales were made ​​artificially, by connecting two pre-existing modes together, each covering the space of a perfect fourth. The first mode descending in a I-V intervallic motion, the second mode completing the octave in a ‘plagal’ IV-I conclusion.

By this I mean to emphasize that, although the composers of all ages have used scales, in their historically different styles, this has never affected the independent, expressive content of the modes of which their scales had been formed.

In the search for expression, in the works of my repertoire, finding modes has always been crucial, in order to shy myself away from clichés, ubiquitous in all that relates to the ‘expressive’ interpretation of the musical content of any music.

It is my firm conviction that the immediate emotion, perceived while listening to such basic groups of sounds,“re-lived” in performance, is the most sincere and personal testimony and tribute that the interpreter can express, in return to what the text offers him.

In fact (without unnecessary, unfathomable -and therefore misleading- vague references to any performance habits within a particular historical style) this emotion is most probably the only true -and the very same- the author was induced to share in the moment he wrote those notes.

Of course, the notes of a melody (or harmony) can suggest different emotions, according to their disposition in our tonal memory…

The interpreter will have the task of finding the right one, highlighting the sequences of four notes, thus encircling the latent modes embedded in it.

For this purpose, I suggest to the following method:

  1. Once the tonic of the music paragraph is established, reposition all the components in a single diatonic line composing an octave –ascending or descending.
  2. Divide the scale thus obtained in two groups of four notes each, starting from the tonic, upwards or downwards, thus giving shape to two figures recognizable as modes and carrying the expressive flavor inherent to their respective position in the original melody analyzed.
  3. Sing the modes thus obtained, first as they appeared after repositioning and then in the original form of the paragraph.

The emotional impressions received, while listening to this melody, after hearing its latent modes as indicated above, will ring noticeably more meaningful, both structurally and emotively and this method may constitute, elementary and basic as it is meant to be, one of the main bases on which to build the final expressive curve of any piece interpreted.

Composers often refuse to pay much attention to the emotional potential of the modes used in ‘their’ creations -when they don’t ignore their presence in their works altogether.

However, even though they may not consider this aspect of their production. they are nonetheless responsible of its impact and consequent feelings their music may produce on the educated ears of the listener!

With regard to the previous statement, I would recall a meaningful episode in which Franco Donatoni complimented my performance of his “Algo”, in an evening dedicated to the new music written by the composers in residence within the Accademia Chigiana (Chigiana Novita’) .

Donatoni :

“You were able to find  ‘poetry ‘, even where it was not required! “.

And I answered :

” The pieces may have been yours, but the notes you used existed long before you used them for your score ! ”

These sound “precepts”, foreign to the spoken language, albeit reflecting the logic shared with it, exist because we humans are able to appreciate intervallic relations and group them within the space of one of the most significant intervals: the fourth.

In this space (whose boundaries might reflect relevant limits in our appreciation of meaningful structural elements) we can group different notes, thus obtaining expressive characters suggesting different emotions.

But when did this process of evolution begin?

We humans, sharing with the great majority of earth’s life forms the senses of sight, hearing, smell, touch and taste, owe to their use almost all of our present existence.

A sudden noise, an unusual odor, the visual perception of a moving unknown object in the immediate vicinity… could mean a sudden threat to our security.

How many of us did not survive such critical moments…

However, to our advantage, the more regularly new objects were perceived, the more familiar to us they became and the more our five senses assured u s a peace of mind in their presence.

Furthermore, with the acquisition of a primitive ability to create words and to speak we instinctively attributed to these objects, now familiar, a more and more specific ‘voice-call’ that brought us back to the sensory and emotional effects already stored in our memory. In other words, ‘proto-names’ were given to the known objects and thanks to these sounds we now ‘recognized’ them even without being in presence of them …

Nevertheless, the step between attributing a name to an object, or set of different objects, and naming a familiar vibration or set of different vibrations (requiring a developed ability to reflect objectively on a particular perception such as sound) was probably enormous!

Thus it would seem that our evolution, while gradually developing our languages and enabling us to discover the growing importance of what we finally named ‘music’ in our everyday existence, gave us the feeling that these two branches of creative expression, together with visual expressions such as sculpture, painting and proto-architectural building were indeed stemming from the identical roots from which derived our growing experience and deepest awareness. The increasing wealth of experience and the need to immortalize it were giving us and our experience the new tools to assure their survival: painting and writing.

Some populations developed, in relatively recent times, the ability to express their collective awareness of historical events at first through the more fluent use of painting and written words, later thanks to their music.

Art, in its different ways of expression, began to appear as a fundamental function of manhood.

Much later, musical forms appeared on the historic scene. These newly discovered ways to model sound though structural shape portraying our re-projection of past and present events, developed according to the emotional and intellectual substance resulting from our individual daily life and gradually our collective historical experiences – Prehistory, Antiquity, Middle Ages, Renaissance, Modern Era.

Musical forms of varying lengths and depth were thus created.

Hundreds of thousands of years after our first evolutionary steps, having entered the newly created class of ‘Concert Guitar’ in the Conservatory of Santa Cecilia, in Via dei Greci (the Roman street dedicated to the Ancient Greeks – precisely !) during the first lesson of ‘Acoustics’  it came to my ears that, since very long… a certain Pythagoras had been handing to his future readers some basically and pertinently important information….

But not so fast!

It would seem obvious that the repeated emotional effects felt by our distant ancestors in front of the perception of the outside world communicated through the senses, were probably among the main causes of the origin of spoken language; the perception of sounds gave birth to the future “musical language”

Much later in the evolution of the human race, the ‘modes’ had the opportunity to be recognized, among the members of the social groups most advanced of prehistory and early history.

Thanks to the association agreement between a sound indefinitely, as the word and the number of certain sounds and melodic, distinct from those issued by our primitive ancestors, the “protomodo” began to emerge in the context of the most fundamental and important right by them acquired in the times: the memory.

Inside this extraordinary mental dimension, they recognized “memories” ancestral, the meaning of which, more emotional than the current, albeit impervious to simple language, was, however, thanks to it, able to “recur” if associated with a “name”, thus creating a new “communication system”, foreign to the word but evocative: capable, by listening to groups of sounds, to bring to the surface the emotional experiences received since the dawn of time.

It was probably then that future “Tetrachords” riflessero for the first time some emotional content of ancestral memory, responding to “recall”

which later became the name given them by the Greeks of antiquity.

Pythagoras we passed on the science of the acoustic laws and so-called “Greek modes”.

The names that thanks to Pythagoras came up to us meant, for the ancient Greeks, expressive characters typical of peoples to their neighbors.

Passing by the Arabs, the Romans, the Middle Ages where the ways were renamed backward (Zarlino?) The time came when it was decided that the stairs could serve to make music more intensely expressive in reflecting the evolution of our species and increasing formal development in the growing musical language.

The invention of the “major mode” and less, regardless of the style of writing, but only considering its emotional impact, so let a hitherto virtually unknown human dimension begin to express new, much more effectively and directly, through the new form of expression of some of the most significant moments in the evolution of Humanity.

In fact, skipping the limitations and shortcomings of the word, linked to a more formal absolute linearity, in its various languages ​​and subject to different paths and limiting philosophical and social, related to different periods, a musical composition, symphonic, vocal or electronically produced, may be able to evoke emotional images comparable to those that would raise an entire novel in language, requiring dozens of pages for a purpose comparable.

Today, their sound evokes the same emotions at the time, although the Dorian, Phrygian, Lydian, Mixolydian Aeolian … or no longer has the same associative effect of thousands of years ago … However, the thrill transcendentally ancestral , in us aroused by a set of sounds within a fourth, containing a semitone and two tones, or other combinations diatonic, is basically identical to that experienced by Leonida or by Ulysses!


For this reason, the search of the emotional reflexes, still alive within us, and traced the origin of our art, we have served and fully pursued, interpreting it personally in front of the sensitivity of the spirit of our fellow men is of vital importance, moral and human “tout court”.