One of the things I love about music is its ability to express emotions and thoughts. Even the idea of humor and irony can be expressed without a word being said. Below are four examples of this that I like : )
Bela Bartok was one of the 20th Century’s greatest composers. His 6 string quartets rank with those of Beethoven.
Bartok String quartet #5 fifth movement: Notice at about the 5th minute the music begins to build to what one might think is a triumphant ending, instead the tone turns sarcastic at about 6:28 with a deliberate banal melody and out of tune violin, then the finale ends after the unexpected twist.
When Dimitri Shostakovich was about to compose his 9th symphony, the brutal Russian dictator Josef Stalin asked him to make it on the grand scale of Beethoven’s 9th in honor of him. Shostakovich could not bring himself to write music to honor such a man he secretly hated, who almost had him killed at one point. Instead he composed a small scale light little work full of sarcastic trombones and bombast to reflect his true feelings. This was his “Finger in the pocket” to Stalin. Shostakovich Symphony #9 first movement:
Frank Zappa was a master of humor in music. Throughout his career he used music as a sarcastic tool to lampoon corrupt politicians and fake TV evangelists. But he also just loved to hear how music could be used to express humor as fun. At the same time he created music that was interesting, intelligent and original. A great example is from his album Burnt Weeny Sandwich: Igor’s Boogie, Phase Two/Holiday in Berlin, Full Blown/Aybe Sea.
One of the greatest symphonies of the 20th Century was Gustav Mahler’s 9th. The famous 4th movement “adagio” is as moving as any music can be. However, before we get to this movement of acceptance of death and peace, we need to understand the 3rd movement “Rondo Burleske”. It is a bitter, sarcastic, biting commentary on life from a man who was only a few years away from death and he knew it. He had been diagnosed with a heart condition. In this movement, he expresses his anger at his fellow composers who dismissed him as a conductor who just composed on the side. He even made a side sarcastic side note dedication in the score: “For my brothers in Apollo”. The music is fast and angry with a slow section which anticipates the final movement to come.
Mahler Symphony #9 third movement Rondo Burleske: