American vs. European Contemporary Composers

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Modernistfan
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American vs. European Contemporary Composers

Post by Modernistfan » Tue Aug 30, 2005 4:41 pm

The difference between American and European contemporary composers has never seemed so wide as it is at the present time.

Many European contemporary composers favor music linked to some sort of complex extramusical schema or framework that is typically explained in philosophical terms; it is not a "program" in the sense of the tone poems of Liszt or Richard Strauss. All you have to do to see what I mean is to browse through the liner notes of the Col Legno label's recordings of the new music festivals at Darmstadt and Donaueschingen. Examples include Stockhausen and Birtwistle. They favor abstract, if not completely cryptic, titles. They make absolutely no concession to audience acceptance. Any reference to folk music, jazz, rock, or popular music is completely taboo for these composers.

By contrast, American composers, even the "terrible trio" of Carter, Babbitt, and Wuorinen, write music that is far easier for audiences to grasp, with more tonal references and more rhythmic regularity. There is much greater use of popular music references, including both jazz and rock. To see the extremes of the divide, compare John Adams's music with that of Helmut Lachenmann. They might as well be on different planets.

Of course, this is somewhat of an oversimplification. There are some contemporary European composers who do make use of various types of folk music. An example is the French composer Nicolas Bacri, who was born in 1961. He is of Romanian-Jewish origin, and some of his music reflects the influence of Balkan folk music and klezmer. Two major composers, James MacMillan and Poul Ruders, are much more accessible than the European norm, without resorting to a soupy neo-Romanticism. Interestingly, Ruders has written some "program music" in the old-fashioned sense of Liszt and Richard Strauss; listen to his "Solar Trilogy" or "City in the Sea" (the latter based on a poem by Edgar Allan Poe) as examples. Ruders is becoming a major opera composer; his "The Handmaid's Tale" was a huge hit, and his recent opera "Kafka's Trial" is reportedly a sensation in Europe (there is no recording yet). Ruders has been called "Europe's answer to John Adams" and "a 21st-century Richard Strauss."

Despite these exceptions, there is a very wide gap in methods and results between contemporary American and European composers.

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Post by MahlerSnob » Tue Aug 30, 2005 6:53 pm

You don't know much contemporary American music, do you? Babbit, Carter, Wourinen, and Adams are all fine composers but they are hardly representitive of what's being written today. I also think your comment that contemporary European music is devoid of references to outside musical styles is a gross generalization.
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diegobueno
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Post by diegobueno » Tue Aug 30, 2005 8:27 pm

Modernistfan may have a point even if the situation is not as cut and dried as his first two paragraphs depict it. Posts on boards like this can never hope to do more than make gross generalizations.

I found it interesting, though, that Modernistfan spends more time describing Ruders, the exceptional case, than the composers he finds more typical. He might have also pointed out Lindberg and Rautavaara as prominent examples of European composers who don't follow the high modernist line.
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Modernistfan
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Post by Modernistfan » Tue Aug 30, 2005 9:15 pm

MahlerSnob, whom would you consider representative of what is being written in America today? John Corigliano? Daniel Asia? Glass or Reich? Mark Adamo? Jake Heggie? David Stock? John Harbison? Michael Daugherty? Aaron Jay Kernis? Michael Torke? Michael Hersch? Frederic Rzewski? (All right, Hersch is somewhat closer to the Europeans in his style.)
Last edited by Modernistfan on Wed Aug 31, 2005 10:10 am, edited 1 time in total.

herman
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Re: American vs. European Contemporary Composers

Post by herman » Wed Aug 31, 2005 3:25 am

Modernistfan wrote:Many European contemporary composers favor music linked to some sort of complex extramusical schema or framework that is typically explained in philosophical terms; it is not a "program" in the sense of the tone poems of Liszt or Richard Strauss. All you have to do to see what I mean is to browse through the liner notes of the Col Legno label's recordings of the new music festivals at Darmstadt and Donaueschingen. Examples include Stockhausen and Birtwistle. They favor abstract, if not completely cryptic, titles. They make absolutely no concession to audience acceptance.
Stockhausen is not really the happening guy today, MF. Admittedly Birtwistle is.

However I have to confess your depiction of the European composing scene does not ring a single recognition bell with me. A return to sounds, textures and structures one can identify by ear (even without the aid of a degree in music) has been with us since 1980, and I think this has been going on the US, too. You'd have to make an exception for composers who are safely ensconced in academic institutions.
Any reference to folk music, jazz, rock, or popular music is completely taboo for these composers.
WRong again. In Holland Louis Andriessen has been doing this like forever, and there's Theo Loevendie, and I could go on and on.

BTW personally I don't see why this is so relevant. Music is music. Do you think this is the only way to gain "audience acceptance?" Some people would onm the contrary find it just a gimmick. And what if the composer doesn't like jazz, rock or popular music? Should he splice the ref in just the same, to be with it?

Modernistfan
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Post by Modernistfan » Wed Aug 31, 2005 10:22 am

Yes, I should have mentioned Louis Andriessen. He certainly does reflect an influence from jazz and popular music, as well as from American minimalism. I like Andriessen's music, but he was considered something of an anomaly in Europe. Interestingly, a lot of his music has been recorded on the same label (Nonesuch) that has done a lot of Reich and Adams.

My analysis was very oversimplified, of course.

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Re: American vs. European Contemporary Composers

Post by karlhenning » Wed Aug 31, 2005 11:08 am

Modernistfan wrote:The difference between American and European contemporary composers has never seemed so wide as it is at the present time.
Actually, as indicated by some of the exceptions you make here and there, composers in both America and Europe cover a wide range; and I don't think the overall situation is at all fairly described as a 'difference across the water'.

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Modernistfan
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Post by Modernistfan » Wed Aug 31, 2005 11:51 am

I accept that there is more in common than I might have stated. However, given that, it is pretty difficult to imagine an American composer titling a work "WU-TKAR; SSLA ZTASTAL-TKARBU" (Josef Anton Riedl, the 1995 Donaueschingen set on Col Legno).

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