Sunday, April 5, 2009


It's the fifth day of the fourth month. What better time is there to celebrate songs in 5/4 ?

About a year ago, when I was 100% determined that I was quitting my job, the song of the moment for me was When Your Minds's Made Up, from the movie Once.

(My mind truly was made up. Why I didn't actually quit is another story, but at this moment I'm glad I didn't, because things got better there and got worse elsewhere.)

That song plays a central part in the movie, and we get to see it built up bit by bit through a long recording session. Though the 5/4 signature is rare, and has a reputation for sounding odd, when it is done well it can sound just as natural as 3/4.

Since it is a rare meter, it is rarely done well, especially by non-professionals. To prove that point, here is me doing Serenade by Emma Lou Diemer. (MP3)

I don't know much of her work, but the piano scores I've looked at look right up my alley, but mostly too hard for me. Very rhythmically interesting, with what appears to be an influence from Khachaturian.

The first piece I ever learned in 5/4 was In Mixolydian Mode from Bartok's collection Mikrokosmos. I had a hard time learning this one. For a long time I thought that was because it was in 5/4. I understand now that it was really hard because Bartok was making it hard on purpose. Though it starts out with a strong 5/4 feeling, very soon he starts playing with the stress, hiding the downbeats and subverting the rhythm so much that it is very hard to keep the feeling of 5. This is one of the very rare times I recorded with a metronome. (MP3)

If that doesn't sound good to you, you are not alone. I think Mr. B was thinking more of challenging the piano student more than making something that sounds good.

A few more famous examples of 5/4 actually done well are, of course, Take 5 and the theme to Mission Impossible.

Less well known, but good, are:
Science, by Sevish.

All I can say is, I'm glad this isn't the 7th day of the 8th month, because it will be a good while before I can play Hovhaness' Macedonian Mountain Dance at the right speed!


Anonymous said...

i'm looking forward to your entry on Aug 11.

Anonymous said...

and your fremont explanation... what extra-northamerican Fremont exists, anyway?

Ed said...

@finnocchio68> you should have told me you like Kopanitsa!