Here begins a three-part experiment.
One semester in college, I took a class on Beethoven. We were required to purchase a specific set of CDs, most importantly the box set of all 9 symphonies as performed by the Cleveland Symphony Orchestra (conducted by George Szell). The reason we were all required to have the same performances is that the professor had developed a set of listening guides. Using the timing of the Szell CDs, he had gone through and pointed out the structural aspects of the symphonies, where they modulated or shifted to another section, which instruments soloed or featured here and there, etc. Not only did this give us a profound insight into Beethoven's compositional style and techniques, but it allowed us a skeleton key into memorizing the actual music.
Indeed, one of the papers the professor assigned for the Beethoven class was the creation of our own listening guide for a piece he hadn't annotated, the second movement of the Seventh Symphony. Because of that project, I know the music and compositional structure of the piece better than any other in the Beethoven oeuvre.
A few months ago, wanting to have a better grip on Duke Ellington's extended composition Black, Brown, and Beige - the piece often hailed as his greatest - I found myself reflecting on Professor Bonds' listening guides. "Well, why not?" I figured... and constructed one for the first movement, "Black."
I'd like to finish up the listening guide for the other two movements as well, and this column gives me motivation and opportunity. So we'll start with what I've already got, the "Black" movement, which is itself divided into three sections, "Work Song," "Come Sunday," and "Light." I've noted the basic structure of each section.
If you'd like to follow along, times and performance details are for the January 23, 1943 Carnegie Hall performance, on the CD The Duke Ellington Carnegie Hall Concerts: January 1943 (Prestige). If you don't have the disc, look over this guide anyway: it's quite revealing of Ellington's brilliant command of melody and structure, both in the jazz and classical sense - and in the considerable overlap between them. If you've ever wondered why Ellington is such an enormously revered composer, perhaps this will help.