A Clarion Cry: Abandon the Past!!!!!

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Post by Corlyss_D » Thu Jul 21, 2005 12:01 pm

karlhenning wrote: Then plainchant, which is modal and long predates the major/minor system, is not tonal?
Ummmm, I think not strictly speaking, no. I think tonal evolved from modal, which means it shares some characteristics but isn't totally. I'd have to check my music history book for a straight answer. What I as thinking of here was the kind of rigid treatment of dissonances in plainchant/monophony. I think for 500+ years there were philosophical and religious dictates that limited the use of dissonance.
"Tonality" is bigger than the major/minor system.
Okay. I have no problem thinking of the pentatonic scale as "tonal."
Karl wrote:
Corlyss_D wrote:As I have said here before, the system is hardwired to human nervous systems and that's why it satisfies us.
I missed the memo. Publication, please? As I have said here before, claims that any one means of organizing pitch is "hardwired to human nervous systems" are problematic at best. But if there is a paper out there which makes it plain to the meanest intelligence, I should read it with great interest.
This is going to take a while for me to turn up in a coherent form. Bear with me. I'm recalling research some 15 years gone on the 3-5-8 patterns in nature, including the organization of the human (and other) nervous system. I'm not thinking "math" here in the strict sense, because that would dismay me and scare me off forever. But it's the use of organizational patterns found in nature which can be described by numbers.
Karl wrote:
Corlyss_D wrote:If upon risking it you find that people think it's ugly and they don't want to hear it, don't blame the audience.
And if, when they hear it, there are people who find it beautiful despite its unseemly deviation from the sacrosanct major/minor system ... why, I won't blame the audience or composer either :-)
If some think it's beautiful, I won't stand in the way of their perceptions. But I can tell you right now, 1) they will never be in the majority; 2) composers and orchestras that insists this is the wave of the future will find themselves without patrons - composers, maybe, patrons, no; 3) their best hope for finding patrons will be in scouring the headbanger community, not the people who like Schubert or Brahms.
Karl wrote:And you last heard La damnation de Faust in its entirety ... when?
In the early 80s, when Philips was doing that Complete Berlioz thing.
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Post by Corlyss_D » Thu Jul 21, 2005 12:14 pm

karlhenning wrote:
Corlyss wrote:
karlhenning wrote:But leave us not forget that no artist achieved greatness just by regurgitating the past.
None of them got there by totally rejecting or denying it either.
Which what composers, exactly, have done?So we want the names of 25 composers working today, who will never be great, naturally, who have "totally rejected and denied" the past.
First of all there aren't 25 classical composers working in the "modern" idioms of atonality, aleatory, minimal, or serial music because they can't get hired as composers. Secondly, here's my list:

Schoenberg (with certain exceptions)
Berg
Glass
Reich
Blitzstein
Adams
Pendrecki
Lutoslawski
Boulez

I can name you 40 living, working and in-demand composers whose work will be remembered because they didn't abandon tonality.
Last edited by Corlyss_D on Thu Jul 21, 2005 12:23 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Post by Corlyss_D » Thu Jul 21, 2005 12:18 pm

MahlerSnob wrote:I think all this proves is that you have little or no awareness of the musical world around you.
If by this you mean I don't deliberately set out to listen to music that annoys and insults me, you're absolutely right.
If you want an accurate picture of what composers today are writing, listen to works by the following:
If I want an accurate picture of what composers today are writing that will be rememberd 30 years from now, I'll stick to movie score composers, thanks all the same.
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Post by karlhenning » Thu Jul 21, 2005 12:37 pm

Corlyss_D wrote:In the early 80s, when Philips was doing that Complete Berlioz thing.
Thanks, Corlyss.

But you know, our ears change. The fact that you didn't twig the Berlioz on that occasion, is not an argument of any strength again either the work or the composer.

There are many pieces to which I first listened in the 90s, which failed to move me much, or even at all, but which now I like a great deal.
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Post by karlhenning » Thu Jul 21, 2005 12:39 pm

Corlyss_D wrote:I can name you 40 living, working and in-demand composers whose work will be remembered because they didn't abandon tonality.
That's quite a statement of faith, and of its nature unassailable.

But my own expectation is that, since many of the composers who write tonal music today, write tonal music that is forgettable by the standards of any age, in 40 years, no one will care who they were.
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Post by herman » Thu Jul 21, 2005 12:45 pm

In between all this pontificating I'm sure you can also explain this slur of yours:
karlhenning wrote:Don't go by where the Dutch spend their music money :-)

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a major/minor point

Post by Louis » Thu Jul 21, 2005 12:47 pm

Corlyss_D wrote:
karlhenning wrote: Then plainchant, which is modal and long predates the major/minor system, is not tonal?
Ummmm, I think not strictly speaking, no. I think tonal evolved from modal, which means it shares some characteristics but isn't totally.
I rather think that plainchant can be called modal or diatonic, the first term simply describing a scale pattern and the latter indicating the scalic incorporation of both half and whole steps. The term 'tonal' is not really apporpriate as it implies something more. And that is the use of notes, with or without chords, that are used in relation to a home key, or tonic. According to the harmonic system developed in the 17th and 18th Centuries, this would imply the presence of a leading tone, among other things. Plainchant often finds its point of repose on notes that lack the leading tone and thus can be called modal and diatonic, but not tonal.
I have no problem thinking of the pentatonic scale as "tonal."
Not so sure of that as there is no tonic implied by the pentatonic scale, at least the one conventionally thought of as being the same as the pattern of black keys on the piano.
Karl wrote:
Corlyss_D wrote:As I have said here before, the [major/minor] system is hardwired to human nervous systems and that's why it satisfies us.
Maybe in the same way that the English language and Twinkies are hard-wired to our nervous systems, by repeated exposure and thus, prior conditioning. What about the very different scalic patterns that characterize the traditional music of India and other Eastern cultures? Are the nervous systems of these cultures wired incorrectly? Don't think so.

Louis

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Re: a major/minor point

Post by karlhenning » Thu Jul 21, 2005 12:57 pm

Louis wrote:I rather think that plainchant can be called modal or diatonic, the first term simply describing a scale pattern and the latter indicating the scalic incorporation of both half and whole steps. The term 'tonal' is not really apporpriate as it implies something more ...
All much to the point, thanks.
Louis wrote:... Plainchant often finds its point of repose on notes that lack the leading tone and thus can be called modal and diatonic, but not tonal.
Well, while you are correct that "tonal" came to mean something in tandem with Common Practice, the idea of tonal centers ('centers of musical gravity') is one with applications beyond Common Practice.

Since the modes of plainchant do 'gravitate' and have cadences, their pitch-world is indeed a tonal pitch-world.

But (and speaking as a composer) I think that all music is tonal; that even 'atonal' music can (or ought to) establish some center(s) of pitch gravity, and that this can be managed well, or poorly.

Good post, Louis, thank you.

Cheers,
~Karl
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Post by markhedm » Thu Jul 21, 2005 2:24 pm

Wikipedia has an excellent article on both Tonality and Atonality.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tonal_music
While many regard the works of Schoenberg post 1911 as "atonal", see atonality, one influential school of thought, to which Schoenberg himself belonged, argued that chromatic composition lead to a "new tonality", this view is argued by George Perle in his works on "post diatonic tonality". The central idea of this theory is that music is always perceived as having a center, and even in a fully chromatic work, composers establish and disintegrate centers in a manner analogous to traditional harmony. This view is highly controversial, and remains a topic of intense debate.
However, tonality may be considered generally with no restrictions as to the date or place at which the music was produced, or (very little) restriction as to the materials and methods used. This definition includes much non-western music and western music before 17th century. In fact, many people, including Anton Webern, consider all music to be tonal in that music is always perceived as having a center. Centric is sometimes used to describe music which is not traditionally tonal in that it used triads of a diatonic scale but which nevertheless has relatively strong tonal center. Other terms which have been used in an attempt to clarify are tonical and tonicality, as in "possessing a tonic," and Igor Stravinsky used the term polar. See: pitch center.
=========================================================

Bernstein makes a similar point in his Norton Lectures when says he that "all music is tonal even when it isn't." He mentions that even Schoenberg and Webern made the same point, which is stated in the above quote. Bernstein said that there was a innate tonality and innate musical grammar, just as there was an innate linguistic grammar. He made an analogy between the different languages and different musical styles which are based on culture, yet are rooted in an innate grammar. It is too bad that Bernstein did not supply his source material or footnotes for his lectures. He had months to think and research his subject.

The Widipedia entry on Atonality mentions
Musicologist Robert Fink, who has a large website:
http://www.greenwych.ca/index.htm#All_Music

He is a strong advocate of tonality as being innate, and has written a book about the tonal origins of music.
He has a webpage on The False "Science" of Modern Atonal Music:
http://www.greenwych.ca/atonal.htm
===========================================


Even if tonality is natural and all music has a center, there has to be a movement in the music away from the center. All consonance would be boring, and some dissonance is necessary for variety, contrast, and tension. The question is how far away to go?

Mark H.

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Post by karlhenning » Thu Jul 21, 2005 2:37 pm

Even if tonality is natural and all music has a center, there has to be a movement in the music away from the center.
Why?

I agree that, since movement away from the center is an obvious means of creating contrast, there may be a challenge to 'sticking to the center' ... but how can you say "there has to be" ... well, anything?

History is littered with "thou shalts" which great artists ground into powder.
All consonance would be boring, and some dissonance is necessary for variety, contrast, and tension.
This makes one of the same errors that the total serialists made: mistaking the managing of pitch for the supremest importantest thing in music.

That is an enormous blindspot.
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Post by MartinPh » Fri Jul 22, 2005 3:36 am

karlhenning wrote:Who says the Glass and Reich are the world's only two living composers? Or that what they are doing is necessarily "the state of the art"?

Don't go by where the Dutch spend their music money :-)
I don't know what that is supposed to mean. I would wager though that Glass, Reich and the like had at least as powerful and important an influence on contemporary music as Schoenberg had. Yes, Glass is repeating himself ad nauseam these days, and pure minimalism, like serialism, is dead as a doornail, - but the snobbish pooh-poohing of minimalists mainly seems a facile way of ignoring the valid point these composers made: that music should speak, first and foremost, to the ear.

Tonality and traditional tonal relationships (including pentatonic and other scales) have been proven to have cross-cultural meaning and appeal. Tonality is not a coincidence that can be replaced by just any intellectual construct. It's like novelists saying, let's stop using the rules of grammar and construct sentences based on throwing dice, or the rule that a word may not reappear in the text until a predefined row of other words has appeared. The text would be meaningless, and frankly that's what many non-tonal contemporary pieces also seem to be. You could rearrange half of the notes at random and yet end up with a piece that doesn't sound significantly different.

Many contemporary composers prove that fresh, original pieces can be written in traditional or at least traditionally rooted idioms. Listen to James Macmillan, - or Louis Andriessen, for that matter, whose "The State" is, in my view, one of the greatest works of the 20th century.
If composers feel the need to radically eradicate a musical heritage of centuries in order to come up with something "new", that's due to a lack of imagination on their part, not any limitation inherent in the possibilities of tonal music.

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Post by karlhenning » Fri Jul 22, 2005 5:44 am

MartinPh wrote:I would wager though that Glass, Reich and the like had at least as powerful and important an influence on contemporary music as Schoenberg had. Yes, Glass is repeating himself ad nauseam these days, and pure minimalism, like serialism, is dead as a doornail, - but the snobbish pooh-poohing of minimalists mainly seems a facile way of ignoring the valid point these composers made: that music should speak, first and foremost, to the ear.
Hi, Martin.

Good post. Permit me to qualify my agreement, though.

If music needed to wait for Glass and Reich for the 'revelation' "that music should speak, first and foremost, to the ear," that were a sorry state of affairs indeed. Happily, composers understood that centuries before Glass or Reich.

I agree with the heart of the observation "Glass is repeating himself ad nauseam these days, and pure minimalism, like serialism, is dead as a doornail" ... i.e., that Glass is the musical equivalent of a walking dead man. This is but one quarrel I have with the proposal to regard him in light of a great artist; great artists don't wallow in dead ends the way Glass has.

To a degree, I concur that some of the gadgets in the minimalists' toolbox are capable of being turned to actual musical effect; and my agreement to this principle is borne witness to in some of my scores, though they sound nothing like Glass ... which again, makes me cautious of lauding Glass as an important influence on contemporary music on the order of Schoenberg. Schoenberg (who has been made severally good and poor musical use of) produced work which was positively and richly fruitful ... if serialism is a dead end, it is a different order of dead end than Glassian "I repeat myself", and it has contained the seeds of its own reinvention, has in fact expanded the understanding of organizing pitch far beyond the narrow confines in which the post-war avant-garde tried to channel it.

Cheers,
~Karl
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Post by karlhenning » Fri Jul 22, 2005 6:44 am

MartinPh wrote:Tonality and traditional tonal relationships (including pentatonic and other scales) have been proven to have cross-cultural meaning and appeal.
You are not going to get any argument on that point from me, someone who has written choral music which is pretty clearly in E major, G major, e minor, &c. (though not all at the same time).
MartinPh wrote:Tonality is not a coincidence that can be replaced by just any intellectual construct. It's like novelists saying, let's stop using the rules of grammar and construct sentences based on throwing dice, or the rule that a word may not reappear in the text until a predefined row of other words has appeared. The text would be meaningless, and frankly that's what many non-tonal contemporary pieces also seem to be. You could rearrange half of the notes at random and yet end up with a piece that doesn't sound significantly different.
Your simile is tendentious, and of limited use.

Your complaint is certainly a valid criticism of some percentage of post-war avant-garde music. However, it does not invalidate all 'atonal' music. Your simile, for instance, has absolutely no applicability to, say, the Schoenberg String Quartet No. 4.
MartinPh wrote:Many contemporary composers prove that fresh, original pieces can be written in traditional or at least traditionally rooted idioms. Listen to James Macmillan, - or Louis Andriessen, for that matter, whose "The State" is, in my view, one of the greatest works of the 20th century.
Of course, I've listened to Louis' music — I studied with him in Buffalo :-)

Louis is IMO a much stronger, much more artistic composer than Glass. De staat is a fine piece ... is it "traditional"? "Traditionally rooted"? Is it necessarily more "traditionally rooted" than the Schoenberg quartet, or than Wuorinen's Third Piano Concerto?
MartinPh wrote:If composers feel the need to radically eradicate a musical heritage of centuries in order to come up with something "new" ....
Strawman, Martin. You can point to perhaps a handful of outspoken ideological composers who made such strident (and, we agree, inartistic) claims; but flying that flag does not invalidate the artistic merits of 'atonal' music.

At the Art Deco exhibit which we saw at the Museum of Fine Arts here in Boston earlier this year, we saw a telling quote from the era:
No modernity without tradition, no tradition without modernity.
Is this a new statement, or is it not even at that time, an established modus operandi in Art?

Any important artistic contribution is at once both a continuation of tradition, and a departure from tradition.

And there are always people who are discontented that the tradition be departed from.

Mind you, I largely agree that a lot of forgettable music was written over the past 75 years.

Some of that forgettable music is tonal; some of that forgettable music is atonal.

Cheers,
~Karl
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Post by karlhenning » Fri Jul 22, 2005 7:11 am

And ... on the lines of "intellectual construct" ... what of Louis' De Tijd ... well, this was some years ago, so I think it was De Tijd ... but one piece, Louis timed/paced the events in the composition based on the floor plan of a cathedral. Isn't that an artificial, intellectual construct? Hardly seems "traditional" to me.

Mind you, I think the piece works very well, and I have no argument with how Louis got there, so to speak.

I just don't think we can, with any fairness, draw a neat "tonality is all natural" and "atonality is all unnatural/intellectualized" type of iron curtain.
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Post by MartinPh » Sat Jul 23, 2005 6:10 am

I think we agree the distinction is not a simple one; there are a lot of grey areas. Andriessen used the cathedral floorplan construct in De Materie, and it works fine musically. Just as Bach's music is full of mathematics and works fine too (well, there's the understatement of the century...). Andriessen's music surely is traditionally rooted, though less in classical than in medieval traditions. Vey much unlike Schoenberg, who moved music away from the general audience into a realm of rarefied intellectualism, Andriessen strives to create music that is alive to the audience and that breaks through the traditional concert mould. He a sworn enemy if the conservative classical music establishment (famously, he was one of the Notenkrakers ("Nutcrackers") who went into Concertgebouw Orchestra concerts disturbing them with rattles), and has much affinity with pop culture.

I guess what I am opposing to is a singleminded or dogmatic use of intellectual principles in music, the iconoclastic "anything goes as long as it isn't traditional" stance. Such modernists degrade music into a mere sound phenomenon, whereas I think (traditional, tonal) music represents the most refined language humans ever devised to communicate emotions (one that puts my own metier, psychology, to shame).

As for the grey areas: There is a lot of music by Schoenberg that I like listening to - yet there isn't much among it that I will ever love the way I love Beethoven, Mahler or Vaughan Williams, simply because it speaks a less natural, less ' lovable' language. And if I do love the Berg violin concerto, it is probably because the emergence of the (tonal) Bach chorale at the end does me in every time...

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Post by Corlyss_D » Sat Jul 23, 2005 11:29 am

karlhenning wrote:
Corlyss_D wrote:I can name you 40 living, working and in-demand composers whose work will be remembered because they didn't abandon tonality.
That's quite a statement of faith, and of its nature unassailable.
:shock: Here? Nothing is unassailable! You were supposed to plumb the depths of my perception and conviction! :wink:
But my own expectation is that, since many of the composers who write tonal music today, write tonal music that is forgettable by the standards of any age, in 40 years, no one will care who they were.
I simply don't believe you. 50 years from now, Schoenberg, Glass and Adams will be iconic curiosities, like The Police or The Animals.
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Re: a major/minor point

Post by Corlyss_D » Sat Jul 23, 2005 11:36 am

Louis wrote:What about the very different scalic patterns that characterize the traditional music of India and other Eastern cultures? Are the nervous systems of these cultures wired incorrectly? Don't think so.

Louis
Well, ya got me there because I haven't read any studies about the relationship of their music to this model.
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Post by Corlyss_D » Sat Jul 23, 2005 11:43 am

markhedm wrote: All consonance would be boring, and some dissonance is necessary for variety, contrast, and tension. The question is how far away to go?

But all dissonance in an effort to avoid tonality or tunefulness is so artificial as to be a pointless intellectual cul-de-sac. Nobody ever left the theater whistling anything from "Moses and Aaron." The last time I heard of a production (I'm sure it wasn't the last production, just the last one I read about) they had to mount it with naked singers in order to get people into the theater. If that's the sort of stunt this music has to rely on to be tolerated by the audience (assuming the audience tolerated naked singers reasonably well), the entire "philosophy" behind the idiom is obviously doomed.
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Post by Corlyss_D » Sat Jul 23, 2005 11:56 am

MartinPh wrote:I don't know what that is supposed to mean. I would wager though that Glass, Reich and the like had at least as powerful and important an influence on contemporary music as Schoenberg had.
In what respect and on whom? What to avoid?
but the snobbish pooh-poohing of minimalists mainly seems a facile way of ignoring the valid point these composers made: that music should speak, first and foremost, to the ear.
If that's their premise, I'm completely mystified. My ear thinks what they produce is utter nonsense and won't listen to it. I forgot to include Ligeti in my list.
Tonality and traditional tonal relationships (including pentatonic and other scales) have been proven to have cross-cultural meaning and appeal. Tonality is not a coincidence that can be replaced by just any intellectual construct. It's like novelists saying, let's stop using the rules of grammar and construct sentences based on throwing dice, or the rule that a word may not reappear in the text until a predefined row of other words has appeared. The text would be meaningless, and frankly that's what many non-tonal contemporary pieces also seem to be. You could rearrange half of the notes at random and yet end up with a piece that doesn't sound significantly different.
Amen!!!! Why would I want to repeat the experience? I had the misfortune to hear a performance of an oboe concerto Holliger commissioned from Ligeti. I figured, 'who could make a mess of an oboe?' Well, Ligeti could. The concerto insulted the oboe, Holliger, and me (as an audience member).

Familiarity might tell you what to expect; it can't make you like a bunch of random noise. Like you say, you could dump the notes in a pile and rearrange them in completely different order on the page and have something that sounds pretty much the same.
Many contemporary composers prove that fresh, original pieces can be written in traditional or at least traditionally rooted idioms. Listen to James Macmillan, - or Louis Andriessen, for that matter, whose "The State" is, in my view, one of the greatest works of the 20th century.
If composers feel the need to radically eradicate a musical heritage of centuries in order to come up with something "new", that's due to a lack of imagination on their part, not any limitation inherent in the possibilities of tonal music.


:?: Shoot me some titles by these chaps. I'm willing to listen with a set up like you have just done.
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Post by Corlyss_D » Sat Jul 23, 2005 12:03 pm

karlhenning wrote:I agree with the heart of the observation "Glass is repeating himself ad nauseam these days, and pure minimalism, like serialism, is dead as a doornail" ... i.e., that Glass is the musical equivalent of a walking dead man. This is but one quarrel I have with the proposal to regard him in light of a great artist; great artists don't wallow in dead ends the way Glass has.

To a degree, I concur that some of the gadgets in the minimalists' toolbox are capable of being turned to actual musical effect; and my agreement to this principle is borne witness to in some of my scores, though they sound nothing like Glass ... which again, makes me cautious of lauding Glass as an important influence on contemporary music on the order of Schoenberg. Schoenberg (who has been made severally good and poor musical use of) produced work which was positively and richly fruitful ... if serialism is a dead end, it is a different order of dead end than Glassian "I repeat myself", and it has contained the seeds of its own reinvention, has in fact expanded the understanding of organizing pitch far beyond the narrow confines in which the post-war avant-garde tried to channel it.
Got tunes?

Maybe I should ask you who you have in mind. You know who I don't like. Who should I be listening to to try to understand your point? And don't tell me you because I'm not even close to wandering up to Boston anytime soon. :)
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Post by Corlyss_D » Sat Jul 23, 2005 12:15 pm

karlhenning wrote: Your complaint is certainly a valid criticism of some percentage of post-war avant-garde music. However, it does not invalidate all 'atonal' music. Your simile, for instance, has absolutely no applicability to, say, the Schoenberg String Quartet No. 4.
I don't think either of us is trying to say that a composer in the tradition of Schoenberg was all this way or that. But honestly Karl, nobody says "Oh, wow! That Verklarte Nacht was certainly a model of avant guard music for it's time." Or "Look what a gem that orchestration of Brahms' string quartet is!" Or "That Strauss really broke new ground with Der Rosenkavalier!" These compositions are not held up as models by the crowd that thinks fondly of Adams and Glass and Reich. They hold up the noise as the models.
No modernity without tradition, no tradition without modernity.
Is this a new statement, or is it not even at that time, an established modus operandi in Art?
Of course it is. That's why I see atonality not as a natural outgrowth of what went before but a deliberate attempt to eradicate the principles that produced what went before.
Any important artistic contribution is at once both a continuation of tradition
And I think this is what dooms atonality. It wants to acknowledge the tradition by denying it. It's not intrinsically organic and therefore has no place to go.
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Post by karlhenning » Sun Jul 24, 2005 9:51 am

MartinPh wrote:I guess what I am opposing to is a singleminded or dogmatic use of intellectual principles in music, the iconoclastic "anything goes as long as it isn't traditional" stance.
Martin, in this we are certainly in complete agreement.

Cheers,
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Post by karlhenning » Mon Jul 25, 2005 6:27 am

Corlyss_D wrote:But all dissonance in an effort to avoid tonality or tunefulness is so artificial as to be a pointless intellectual cul-de-sac.
There are 'atonal' melodies. (Again, 'tonality' is necessarily larger than Common Practice.)
Corlyss_D wrote: Nobody ever left the theater whistling anything from "Moses and Aaron."
Perhaps you did not, but some people do.
Corlyss_D wrote: The last time I heard of a production (I'm sure it wasn't the last production, just the last one I read about) they had to mount it with naked singers in order to get people into the theater. If that's the sort of stunt this music has to rely on to be tolerated by the audience (assuming the audience tolerated naked singers reasonably well), the entire "philosophy" behind the idiom is obviously doomed.
You're absolutely right! So the writing is on the wall for the Mozart/da Ponte operas, because just such gimmicks (and worse) have been relied upon to lure audiences in to see those ....

Cheers,
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Post by karlhenning » Mon Jul 25, 2005 10:50 am

Corlyss_D wrote:
karlhenning wrote:But my own expectation is that, since many of the composers who write tonal music today, write tonal music that is forgettable by the standards of any age, in 40 years, no one will care who they were.
I simply don't believe you ....
You don't believe that this is my expectation? :-)

BTW, I largely agree, in the case of Glass and Adams; unless they make an artistic quantum leap (hard to bank on, but then, great artists do this), I think the state of their work as is, won't wear well in 50 years.

But history has already gainsaid you in the case of Schoenberg; the man's been gone 50 years already, and his musical reputation is secure. Levine believes in it; and mind you, Levine is no drug-induced-avant-garde-zombie ... he's the fellow who dares to believe that Cavalleria rusticana deserves to be staged ....
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Post by karlhenning » Mon Jul 25, 2005 10:54 am

Corlyss_D wrote:Familiarity might tell you what to expect; it can't make you like a bunch of random noise. Like you say, you could dump the notes in a pile and rearrange them in completely different order on the page and have something that sounds pretty much the same.
Now, now, esteemed Corlyss ... this caricature of Martin's may possibly be applied to some pieces, but only to a very small subset of [ 'atonal' music ].

That was one of my objections to the Miles Hoffman essay.
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Post by karlhenning » Mon Jul 25, 2005 11:29 am

Corlyss_D wrote:Maybe I should ask you who you have in mind. You know who I don't like. Who should I be listening to to try to understand your point? And don't tell me you because I'm not even close to wandering up to Boston anytime soon. :)
Well, I won't tell you "me," because most of what I've been writing these eight years past has been more tonal than otherwise (though a 'virtual neighbor' on the West responded very favorably to my Square Dance, and calls it her 'favorite atonal piece' ... though it isn't atonal, really ....)

Schoenberg's influence is much broader than the post-War avant-garde sought to make out; his legacy is not only 12-tone (itself an idea which admits of various applications), but in the example of not limiting his musical world to 12-tone. He really did say, "Much good music remains to be written in C major."

I'll suggest two pieces, based on a BSO program this season past. One of the concerts I enjoyed best, featured pianist Peter Serkin playing Stravinsky's Movements for piano and orchestra, and a new piano concerto by Charles Wuorinen.

The Stravinsky piece really owes more, directly, to the soundworld of Schoenberg's pupil, Webern ... and one of the ways in which the piece resembles Webern's work is, the piece is short enough that it is over before serious annoyance can set in :-)

Seriously, it is a piece which is going to sound absolutely chaotic the first time; and I encourage you to give it at least that first time (and even the first time, hey, it might float your boat, or some portion of your boat). But the coherence of the piece will only really 'sink in' after a few listenings (and again, in the case of this piece, "a few listenings" in the aggregate, will total less than an hour by the clock ... though unless the spirit move specifically in that wise, I shouldn't advise doing all the listening the same hour :-)

And the objection has been raised, why should repeat listenings be "necessary"? I cannot answer absolutely. But I think we all have favorite pieces, which were something dense to us when we were first exposed to them, but whose sense and content became clear to us only with greater familiarity.

The other piece on the program, which takes late Stravinsky as an important model in a way analogous to late Stravinsky taking Schoenberg and Webern as models, was Wuorinen's Fourth Piano Concerto. I can't recommend that (though I found it a strong piece) because of course, no recording is available yet. But Garrick Ohlsson's brilliant recording of the Third Piano Concerto has been reissued, and it is exciting, well-shaped music. And ... it closes with a major chord :-) :-) :-)

Still, you know ....

Much as I like these pieces, and even when you give them a good try, it's possible that they still may not convince you. To paraphrase Archbishop Sheen, no one can make you like any music against your will :-) ... and there's more to it than the will.

But, at least, rest assured that there are people who do like these pieces, and they aren't unnatural aliens from another planet.

And after all, you just may like them, yourself, you know ....
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Post by rogch » Mon Jul 25, 2005 1:05 pm

These debates about "traditional" versus "modern" music tend to over-simplify things. It sounds like music before and after Schönberg and Stravinsky are two completely different matters. In fact the system of tonality was challenged in different ways by several composers during the 19th century. Beethoven's late string quartets are early examples and they sound much more "modern" than Adagio for strings by Samuel Barber. And listen to some of Gesualdo's music from the late 16th and early 17th century. Not all music from earlier centuries are strictly "tonal".

But what is this "tonal" versus "atonal" nonsense anyway? Needless to say there are tones also in "atonal" music. Calling music "atonal" is like calling modern poetry non-literate or something like that.

Sadly it seems like some people see Schönberg as a destructive composer. But i am quite sure that if "verklarte Nacht" was composed by, say Brahms, the same people would praise it for its beauty and indeed its originality. And even though "the rite of the spring" is Stravinsky's most famous and perhaps also most extreme work, he has also written music which is called "neo-classical". Great music if you for some reason don't like "the rite of the spring" or "petruchka". And not all modern composers write difficult music. If you don't like Adams, Reich, Glass or Pärt it is probably not because it is difficult music, some of it is just boring music.

What makes classical music superb in my view is the combination of century-old traditions and new ideas from brilliant composers and preformers. Why should today's composers try to sound like Mozart or Beethoven? It would be unsuccsessfull anyway. Don't get me wrong, my favourite composer is Mozart (i am really quite pig-headed about that, can't see why there is any doubt about it :oops: ). But i find it very fascinating that classical music also has produced composers like Berio and Bartok. What other musical genre can present such a variety? But modern music-making is not just avant-garde compositions. It is also new recordings of baroque masterpieces on period instruments based on scientific research. And many modern composers are inspired by baroque music or even renaissance music. The idea of a sharp distinction between "traditional" and "modern" music is not very helpfull in my view. What about Prokofiev? Was he a traditional or a modern composer? A bit of both i guess. But most important: he was a brilliant composer.

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Post by karlhenning » Mon Jul 25, 2005 1:21 pm

Great post.

And it's not so great a stretch, perhaps, imagining Verklärte Nacht composed by Brahms.

Prokofiev is really a great undersung composer!
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Post by Corlyss_D » Mon Jul 25, 2005 2:13 pm

Karl, are you related to Wuorinen? He keeps popping up in your posts like an ambitious nephew.
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Post by diegobueno » Mon Jul 25, 2005 7:10 pm

Corlyss_D wrote: Nobody ever left the theater whistling anything from "Moses and Aaron." The last time I heard of a production (I'm sure it wasn't the last production, just the last one I read about) they had to mount it with naked singers in order to get people into the theater.
Well, the four naked virgins are specified in the stage directions.

I recall playing the Dance Arond the Golden Calf for friends during my college days. More than one commented "gee, you're going to make a Schoenberg fan out of me".

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Post by karlhenning » Tue Jul 26, 2005 6:58 am

Corlyss_D wrote:Karl, are you related to Wuorinen? He keeps popping up in your posts like an ambitious nephew.
No, but I am very pleased for him that Serkin and the BSO have done such a great job with the new concerto, and that it is such a fine piece. He's been a little in the news, and it is an occasion where, artistically, he merits the news.
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Post by karlhenning » Tue Jul 26, 2005 7:02 am

(Pleased, too, for Carter when the BSO did such an amazing job with his Symphonia: Sum fluxae pretium spei )

Also, Corlyss, since the occasion of Wuorinen's premiere prompted a certain volume of kneejerk anti-Wuorinen rant in the press, there should be counterweight.
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Post by karlhenning » Tue Jul 26, 2005 9:15 am

Corlyss_D wrote:
No modernity without tradition, no tradition without modernity.
Is this a new statement, or is it not even at that time, an established modus operandi in Art?
Of course it is. That's why I see atonality not as a natural outgrowth of what went before but a deliberate attempt to eradicate the principles that produced what went before.
Again ... but (1) I see 'atonality' as an enrichment of tonality (i.e., I heartily agree that tonality is an embrace of The Way Sound Is, though tonality resists neat definition, or neat codification of Correct Musical Application).

(2) Every generation of artist, in order to create something new (which is to say, to justify his role as an artist, and not be a mere copyist) has to distance himself, in some respect, from the immediate past. That of itself is nothing new, but only part of a well-established cycle.

(3a) The talk, the arguments, the polemics, the poses from mid-century and later which 'philosophically embodied' some of the artistic upheaval in what was, after all, a historically unusually rich time in the arts ... the chatter doesn't matter. The art will stand or fall on its own merits.

(3b) The chatter is easy to fixate upon, especially as new art is notoriously resistant to accurate appraisal (in consensus) in its own time; but the definite remarks made about art now, do not necessarily square with the art. Great art is necessarily uncontainable by the remarks made about it.

(4) History has repeatedly demonstrated that, the fact that a large percentage of the audience doesn't understand a piece of music in its own time, is an unreliable barometer of actual artistic merit. The fact that a large percentage of the audience doesn't understand a piece of music in our time, can reliably be interpreted to mean only, that a large percentage of the audience doesn't understand it. :-)

And, as an aside, our listening last night was Dvorák, Brahs and Rakhmaninov :-)
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Post by Corlyss_D » Tue Jul 26, 2005 1:14 pm

karlhenning wrote:
Corlyss_D wrote:Karl, are you related to Wuorinen? He keeps popping up in your posts like an ambitious nephew.
No, but I am very pleased for him that Serkin and the BSO have done such a great job with the new concerto, and that it is such a fine piece. He's been a little in the news, and it is an occasion where, artistically, he merits the news.
Didn't he used to run the Mostly Mozart festival 30 years ago?
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Post by karlhenning » Tue Jul 26, 2005 1:21 pm

Corlyss_D wrote:Didn't he used to run the Mostly Mozart festival 30 years ago?
That would probably be Rudolf Serkin; this is his son, Peter.
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Post by Werner » Tue Jul 26, 2005 2:24 pm

We've ben at Mostly Mozart concerts pretty much from the beginning - and neither of the Serkins ever ran that festival, as best I recall.

Rudolf ran the famous Marlboro festivel in Vermont, which may be what you remember. His son Pter has been a very welcome soloist at Mostly Mozart - or, for that matter, anywhere, but what I think Karl esteems him for is his involvement in new works.

An admirable and versatile musician.
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Post by karlhenning » Tue Jul 26, 2005 2:34 pm

Werner wrote:... His son Peter has been a very welcome soloist at Mostly Mozart - or, for that matter, anywhere, but what I think Karl esteems him for is his involvement in new works.

An admirable and versatile musician.
I think it sends entirely the right signal, when artists like Peter Serkin, Robert Levin and Garrick Ohlsson excel not only in traditional repertory, but in new works, too.

In that same spirit, I will not esteem Serkin only for the involvement in new works :-)
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Post by Brendan » Tue Jul 26, 2005 5:29 pm

Personally I am not so convinced that originality is the artists reason for being or composing, or that someone like Chaucer (in a related art form) was a "mere" copyist, but maybe that's just me.

I doubt if they would have understood our demand for originality or valued those works in their own age which were original any more on that account. If you had asked Lazamon or Chaucer ‘Why do you not make up a brand-new story of your own?’ I think they might have replied, in effect, ‘Surely we are not yet reduced to that?’ Spin something out of one’s own head when the world teems with so many noble deeds, wholesome examples, pitiful tragedies, strange adventures, and merry jests which have never yet been set forth quite so well as they deserve? The originality we regard as a sign of wealth might have seemed to them a confession of poverty.
Lewis, C.S. – The Discarded Image [Cambridge 1964 p211]

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Post by Corlyss_D » Tue Jul 26, 2005 6:18 pm

karlhenning wrote:
Corlyss_D wrote:Didn't he used to run the Mostly Mozart festival 30 years ago?
That would probably be Rudolf Serkin; this is his son, Peter.
No, not them. Wuorinen.
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Post by karlhenning » Wed Jul 27, 2005 6:35 am

Brendan: I agree that 'originality no matter what' became an inartistic fetish in the 20th century. But there is also an artistic truth in Schoenberg's injunction, Never do what a copyist can do for you :-)
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Post by karlhenning » Wed Jul 27, 2005 6:36 am

Corlyss_D wrote:
karlhenning wrote:
Corlyss_D wrote:Didn't he used to run the Mostly Mozart festival 30 years ago?
That would probably be Rudolf Serkin; this is his son, Peter.
No, not them. Wuorinen.
Wuorinen does conduct, but I haven't known him to conduct any traditional repertory. I don't imagine that he did run Mostly Mozart ... but neither do I absolutely know, one way or t'other.
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