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Schiller Institute Music "Manhattan Project"
Planned in Europe

by Benjamin Telmányi Lylloff and Michelle Rasmussen
February 2016

From The Schiller Institute’s performance of Händels Messiah in New York City. See videos from musical events in New York City

On January 2-3, 2016, a group of Schiller Institute organizers in Europe who are also musicians, met in Wiesbaden, Germany to replicate the campaign for Classical music, inspired by powerful efforts to promote classical music in New York City, known as the ”Manhattan Project.”

Schiller Institute founder Helga Zepp-LaRouche opened the seminar stressing that in this unique moment in history, our organization must take leadership in the cultural as well as political realm, and reach as many in society as possible. She emphasized the necessity of a Dialogue of Cultures, but one which is not limited to the present; she developed the idea of a dialogue between the Golden Age periods of civilizations going back many hundreds of years. The Schiller Institute’s work in New York City, where two very successful performances of Händel’s Messiah were held in December, had a profound effect on the 1,000 attendees, and continues to reverberate everywhere, can be achieved as well in Europe. One aspect involves reviving our campaign for the lower ”Verdi tuning” (C=256; A=432). Guiseppe Verdi, himself, led a campaign to return to the lower tuning at which the great Classical composers wrote their music, instead of the constantly rising levels in today’s concert halls, which damage the voices, and the artistic intention of the composers.

Participants, from Copenhagen, Berlin, Wiesbaden, Essen, Dresden, Paris, and Lyon, devoted the first part of each day to bel-canto voice training, the ”beautiful singing” Italian opera tradition, with discussion on how to develop the individual voices. The seminar then continued with presentations and workshops. In addition to the composition workshop described below, there were presentations on Saturday on the cultural battles inside French classical music and culture, which have been suppressed by Aristotelian thinking and decadence, and about forgotten composers in the classical tradition, such as Étienne Mehul and George Onslow; on the art of conducting, based on the work of Thomaner Choir conductor Kurt Thomas; and about the scientific Verdi tuning.

On Sunday, there were classes on Czech Classical composer Antonin Dvorák’s work in America in 1892-1895 where he drew inspiration from the Negro spirituals and Native American music, and on the famous African American baritone William Warfield, who was a Board Member of the Schiller Institute. Examples of Dr. Warfield's remarkable poetry recitations and musical performances, as well as his coaching and discussions with Schiller Institute members, and the quality of emotional intensity he expressed were given.

There were three original compositions presented by different members of the group, and sung. We concluded with more brainstorming about expanding our efforts to uplift people by giving them the gift of the beauty of Classical music.

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Left to Right: Guiseppe Verdi, Antonín Dvořák and William Warfield.


Learning Musical Composition From Bach

by Michelle Rasmussen

J.S. Bach.

In order to create a new Renaissance, we have to go backwards in time, to find the greatest masterpieces of the past, and try to look deeply into the minds of their creators, in order to discover the principles with which they were created. We must look back, in order to look forward. To create a new Renaissance, we must not only strive to recreate these great masterpieces, through perfecting the performance of great classical music of the past, but we must strive to use the discovered principles to creat new music, which can enable us to continue the tradition of, especially, composers such as Bach, Händel, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Schumann and Brahms. 

Therefore, though I am not an expert, I conducted a composition workshop based on Bach's education method, as related by his students, and by first biographer Forkel. "Bach's method of teaching composition was as sure and excellent as his method of teaching how to play."

After he had determined that the student possessed a quality of musical invention, he would  educate them in writing out four-part thorough bass excercises. Thorough bass is a kind of intermediate step between playing only the notes that the composer has written down, and composing totally new music. It is a method of musical short hand, where the composer provides only a bass line, and small numbers above the bass notes, which indicate which harmonical intervals the composer had in mind. For example:

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But it is left up to the musician to decide exactly how to actualize the progression of the harmonies through the construction of the independent soprano, alto and tenor voices. There is a book of thorough bass exercises written by Händel, himself, which can help the reader interested in learning this. ("Continuo playing according to Handel: His figured bass exercises" by Händel and David Ledbetter)


Bach "then proceeded to chorales (soprano psalm melodies). In the exercises, he at first set the basses himself and made the pupils invent only the alto and tenor to them. By degrees, he let them also make the basses. He everywhere insisted not only on the highest degree of purity in the harmony itself, but also on natural connection and flowing melody in all the parts. Every connoisseur knows what models he has himself produced in this kind; his middle parts (alto and tenor voices) are often so singable that they might be used as upper parts (soprano voices) .... (The students') sense of purity, order, and connection in the parts must first have been sharpened on the inventions of others, and have become in a manner habitual to them, before he thought them capable of giving these qualities to their own inventions." When composing themselves, Bach insisted that his students "pay constant attention to the consistency of each single part, in and of itself, as well as to its relation to the parts connected and concurrent with it.... This high degree of exactness in the management of every single part is precisely what makes Bach's harmony a manifold melody." 

In the workshop, we first looked at two chorals from Bach's masterpiece, the St. Matthew's Passion. In this work, the same psalm or chorale melody appears five times, each time with a different text, and different counterpoint. (The melody was actually not written by Bach, but would have been well known to the congregation.) We investigated the second (with the same setting as the first one) and the last one, looking at how Bach had written two different bass lines to that same melody, not only to avoid repetition, but also reflecting the specific text.

Go to translation of recitative below image
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Go to translation of Chorale I

We looked at how he constructed his counterpoint. Counterpoint is the art of writing two or more lines, or voices, of music designed to be in dialogue with each other, from "point against point," writing a contrary note to a given note, or point. For example, adding one, or more, counterpoint voice(s), to a well-known psalm melody. Looking at the first chorale, we first determined that it was in the key of Eb major, and that the first bass note was Eb, a member of the Eb major triad Eb-G-B. We then looked at the first phrase, and noticed that the soprano and bass voices moved in parallel thirds for the first three notes, and then the bass hopped down to a third in a different position, and went in the opposite direction as the soprano, and then did the same thing again. 

Therefore, we learned that the bass sometimes moves parallel to the soprano voice, though usually not more than three times in a row, and sometimes in opposite directions, called contrary motion. Here, Bach mostly used consonant intervals of a third, and its inverstion, the sixth, with other intervals used as "passing tones" on non-stressed beats, when moving from one consonant interval to another. [1]

Go to translation of recitative below
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Go to translation of Chorale II

We then compared this with the same first phrase in the other chorale. The first thing we noticed was that the first harmony was in minor, not major, in this case A minor, in keeping with the more serious text. Here, Bach's bass first moved in the opposite direction, then in four-successive parallel thirds, hoped down and ended moving upwards.   

Then, we compared the third phrases in each chorale,  which both began with minor harmonies. But the bass in the second chorale was very different, moving in chromatic half-steps in contrary motion, which twice created the most dissonant interval -- the so-called "Lydian interval." It is so named because it is found in the old Greek "Lydian" scale, and before Bach's time it was called the "devils interval," a distance of three whole notes, its use here in keeping with the character of the text "Wenn mir am aller bängsten..."  (When I am most afraid).

So, here, we learned something about the creation and resolution of dissonances.

Then we were ready for the exciting part. I had wanted the whole group to compose its own bass line. But how could we do that? Composition, or musical creativity, occurs in the mind of a sovereign individual. How could we do that in a group? Then, I came up with the idea of doing it as if we were playing a game, where we would go around in a circle, and each person would come up with the next note. And that's what we did!

We performed an experiment with the goal of writing our own bass line to another chorale melody from the St. Matthew Passion. We started from one end of the room, and the first person decided which note the bass voice would start on, based on if we wanted to begin in a major or minor key. Then, we went around the room, and each person had to decide what the next note would be, keeping in mind the principles we had just learned -- if we wanted to move in parallel, or contrary motion, which intervals our new note would create with the given soprano voice, consonant, or spiced with dissonant passing notes, and if we wanted to include some rythmical variation from the soprano voice.   

The experiment worked! The group was very engaged, and we actually came up with a beautiful bass voice, which we then sang, together with the choral melody.

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Our bass line for the first phrase.


The experiment demystefied the idea of classical composition, allowing everyone to make one small decision, which contributed to creating a beautiful whole. Lastly, we compared our bass voice, with the one that Bach actually wrote, and also sang that.

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Bach's own bass line for the first phrase.

Afterwards, several people expressed the joy of discovery, and said that they would try to continue the experiment when they got home.  



[1] After the seminar, Philip Ulanowsky,  a colleague,  pointed out the importance of the distinction of major or minor intervals (major or minor third, or sixth, for example) which can be used to generate inversions, and impetus for further development.

Recitative before Chorale I

Wahrlich, ich sage dir: In dieser Nacht,
ehe der Hahn krähet, wirst du mich dreimal verleugnen.

Recitative before Chorale I

Truly, I say to you: this night,
before the cock crows, you will deny me three times.


Petrus sprach zu ihm:

Peter said to him:


Und wenn ich mit dir sterben müßte,
so will ich dich nicht verleugnen.

Even if I had to die with you,
I shall not deny you.


Desgleichen sagten auch alle Jünger.

The same said all his disciples.
[back to text]


Translations are from


Chorale I     

Ich will hier bei dir stehen;

Verachte mich doch nicht!

Von dir will ich nicht gehen,

Wenn dir dein Herze bricht.

Wenn dein Herz wird erblassen

Im letzten Todesstoß,

Alsdenn will ich dich fassen

In meinen Arm und Schoß.

Chorale I     

I shall stand here beside you;

But do not despise me!

I shall not go from you,

When your heart breaks.

When your heart becomes pale

In the last death blow

Then I shall embrace you

In my arms and bosom.

[back to text]

Recitative before Chorale II

Recitative before Chorale II


Das ist: Mein Gott, mein Gott, warum hast du mich verlassen? 
Etliche aber, die da stunden, da sie das höreten, sprachen sie:
Der rufet dem Elias!

Und bald lief einer unter ihnen,
nahm einen Schwamm und füllete ihn mit Essig 
und steckete ihn auf ein Rohr und tränkete ihn. 
Die andern aber sprachen:

Halt! lass sehen, ob Elias komme und ihm helfe?

Aber Jesus schriee abermal laut und verschied.

That is: my God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
But some, who were standing there, when they heard this said:
He is calling on Elias!

And one of them quickly ran,
took a sponge and dipped it in vinegar
And put it on a reed and gave it to him to drink.
But the others said:

Wait! Let's see if Elias comes and helps him?

But Jesus again gave a loud cry and left this life.
[back to text]


Translations are from


Chorale II        

Wenn ich einmal soll scheiden,

So scheide nicht von mir,

Wenn ich den Tod soll leiden,

So tritt du denn herfür!

Wenn mir am allerbängsten

Wird um das Herze sein,

So reiß mich aus den Ängsten

Kraft deiner Angst und Pein!

Chorale II        

When I one day must depart from here

Then do not depart from me,

When I must suffer death

Then step forward next to me!

When most full of fear

I am in my heart,

Then snatch me from my fears

By the strength of your agony and pain!

[back to text]