How Disappointed Stockhausen Would Be

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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.

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These guys could write in the classical forms. They had to as part of their education. Similarly, many of the abstract expressionists were well versed in classical drawing. As to the inability to compose without a method...that is partly true. Serialism came about because free atonality tends to wobble around, unless it falls into the classical forms, which ultimately get their motivation from functional harmonies. Serialism gives a means to structure.

Stockhausen went farther than this in his electronic music. His essay "Four Criteria of Electronic Music" outlines how a sound itself can generate form, through electronic transformation.

If we are to see parallels between painting and music, the abstract expressionists (and here I am referring strictly to the first generation) would be like the Alban Berg of the Piano Sonata or Wozzeck: deliriously free, often borrowing from classical forms for strictly personal ends. With serialism comes a sense of a strict internal logic, best compared to Diebenkorn's Ocean Park paintings.


I do not think my point is so much as to say that these people were incapable, but rather, when your aesthetic theory centers around "shocking the bourgeoisie" it leaves much to be desired. Further, when you wander off into the realms of "Art isn't for everyone," a la Schoenberg, it sounds to me rather like Lady MacBeth, "Methinks the lady doth protest too much," in terms of defending what is essentially indefensible (the majority of Schoenberg's Oeuvre--although not that of some of his followers. Art is for everyone and I think it is a matter of self selection. Some opt out--obviously we can't chase every person down and make them appreciate art--but when there is something there other than self-indulgence or mere theory, it becomes rapidly incorporated in the great majority of acceptable art. In this I think particularly of Stravinski, who may have shocked the bourgeoisie at first, but whose purpose was not solely to shock, and who did not eschew a public that was listening.





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This page contains a single entry by Steven Riddle published on April 3, 2009 7:43 AM.

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