April 2009 Archives

Serialism, atonalism, 12-tonalism, spectralism, minimalism, polytonalism, microtonalism, whole tonalism, tritones, open fifths, symphonies, sonatas, and music concrete. If you've ever wanted to understand classical music in the twentieth century, this book may be for you. Alex Ross introduces us to the wild world of twentieth and twenty-first century music--from Schoenberg's Harmoniolehre to John Adams's Harmoniolehre and Nixon in China. Along the way we have whole chapter divergences into the work of Jean Sibelius and Benjamin Britten.

I have to admit to not fully comprehending all that the book had to offer by way of commentary. Nevertheless, Ross opened my eyes to some of the developments within music and made me more inclined to try to understand and appreciate what had happened in this century. The book starts with Debussy, Ravel, Les Six, and Stravinsky and move chronologically through the century. Chapters cover "totalitarian music" including the music of Stalin's Russia, Hitler's Germany, and let's face it, Roosevelt's America (a more gentle kind of totalitarianism thanks to the system of checks and balances.)

There are a few seeming problems with the book. Particularly in the latter half, Mr. Ross tends to be a little gossipy, telling me far more than I need to know about the sex-and-drug lives of composers. I don't really need that much detail to understand the development in the music. However, to his credit, I may need to know that much to understand the "meaning" of music. Additionally Mr. Ross leaves out some major composers entirely--there is hardly a mention of Holst, Elgar, and Vaughn Williams, and not mention at all of Rachmaninov, Bax, Arnold, Scriabin, and other such. However, that too is less a fault than a matter of focus. The undertaking represented by this work was difficult enough--if Mr. Ross had tried to take in more and explain where Elgar and Holst fit into the whole, the book may have fallen into an incoherent set of vignettes. As it is, the book trembles on the threshold, but always manages to retain integrity as a history of the development of musical theory during the twentieth century.

As a result of this, I came to understand why Ligeti, Pärt, Gorecki, Reich, Glass, Riley, and Adams are all so immediately appealing to me and why Stockhausen, Boulez, and Schoenberg are not. I came to have small arguments with the sometimes nonsensical aesthetic positions of the composers (most particularly Schoenberg and Boulez--"We've come to set music free from the tyranny of tonalism; however, we'll impose a new tyranny, so it isn't really free after all, but we'll say it is.")

It's a long work and an involved one, but anyone interested in music with a little understanding of theory has much to gain from making the attempt to understand it. It was fascinating to see Duke Ellington, Brian Eno, and the Velvet Underground (as well as Miles Davis, John Coltrane, and the whole be-bop ensemble) in conjunction with Schoenberg and the atonalists. Understanding the drone behind "All Tomorrow's Parties" can only help increase ones appreciate for the complexity of some music that appears to have none at all.

For those interested in music and its development, this is simply a must-read. Highly recommended.

Bookmark and Share

Sam and His Dance


The dance competition season is over! We're both relieved and perhaps a little disappointed.

Sam participated in three dances throughout the season--large group tap, large group (line) Musical Theatre, and Line/Large Group/Production Tap. (I don't quite know all the division and it seemed that in each competition the names changed slightly.)

In this last competition Sam danced his very best. What made us so tremendously proud of the entire troupe is that when they did their large-group tap (to the tune of "Bare Necessities") there was a complication. The music stopped in the middle of their routine. This is a bad, but not unprecedented glitch in proceedings. However, what made it worse is that the music picked up again after they had continued their dance for another minute or minute and a half, so they had to finish their routine out of time with the music. And they did--beautifully. There was never a false step or hesitation. They went right on through to the end. Best of all, when listening to the tap sound the entire group was synchronized--not one foot out of step. Needless to say we were very, very proud of the entire team.

The experience has been both stressful and wonderful. During it we have been able to watch Sam bloom as a dancer. And more importantly, we've come to discover Sam as performer. He was following one of the older boys around during his second competition. He followed right up to the time of the dance. The school dance master took Sam aside and told him that he really had to give the boys time to prepare. Sam acknowledged this. Then he later said to me, "I don't understand. I always do better when I have my fans around me." And it is true--piano or dance, he really does much, much better with an audience.

Bookmark and Share

By the attitudes of some who claim to love his music.

As Adorno decreed, the job of a composer was to write music that would repel, shock, and be the vehicle for 'unmitigated cruelty.'"

[quotation in The Rest is Noise by Alex Ross, referring to the Darmstadt and Cologne schools of the late 1950s and early 1960s.

So, my contention, his music was not formed to be liked, admired, or appreciated, but to be merely music--hopefully music that would elicit a gut level reaction. If so, then my view of it would far more please the theory of the school than that of purported admirers. However, we must keep in mind, that despite the theory, everyone wants to be loved, it's just that sometimes we want to exclude the "rabble" from that warm embrace. If so, more's the pity, because it is in that rabble and their acceptance that any chance of a lasting contribution remains.

I become convinced that in atonal and serial music after the advent (partiuclarly in serialist music), what is really being conveyed is the composer's inability to compose without a method. Just as, after Picasso and their crew, as we move into the realm of abstract expressionism, what is really being revealed is the artists' inability to deal with any classical form. So, instead, like Pierre Boulez, we construct musical theory in which detraction is far more important than putting forward any coherent sense of what it is you are about. "I can't compose a concerto or a sonata, so I'll crush them instead."

Interesting musical theory.

Bookmark and Share

Never likely to be a happening place--nevertheless a new revision is in place: Before and After III.

Bookmark and Share



About this Archive

This page is an archive of entries from April 2009 listed from newest to oldest.

March 2009 is the previous archive.

May 2009 is the next archive.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.

My Blogroll