On “modern” classical music

9 12 2010

Really, I have very little patience for people who say I hate modern classical music. To tell the truth, “difficult music” comes in all genres, and challenging pieces can offer unexpected rewards. I do not expect Bach’s Musical Offering to be on easy listening classical CD’s, nor do I expect people to use the late Beethoven string quartets in television commericals. Arguably, some of the most difficult music to listen to are some of the scholarly reconstructions of medieval music: Perotin, Machaut, and so on. So to unnecessarily dump on Schoenberg, Webern, Stockhausen, Feldman and Co. seems to be an exercise for weak minds who want to score cheap points at being erudite.

[I realize that the critic may share my sentiments. I am more targeting my ire at those who mindlessly attack composers after a certain year.]

I think I have learned to appreciate “atonal” music after seeing a composer like George Balanchine choreograph to it. It has really helped me “see” the music. Other than that, I may not want to listen to the complete works of Anton Webern (all three hours of it), but in the right setting, I can see myself enjoying some of it. One of the best concertos of the 20th century was Berg’s Violin Concerto. Stravinsky after his neoclassical period did some interesting works that flirted with serialism (like the score for Balanchine’s ballet, Agon, heard above). There are moments of beauty in many other “modern: composers who I could cite: John Cage, Luciano Berio, John Adams, Frederic Rzewski, La Monte Young, and so on. The fact that people don’t want to listen to them is beside the point. Often the world of classical music is all about hype and names. You are probably not going to sell out a concert of Hildegard von Bingen’s chant, or even a ballet by Lully. People tend to like crap. I rejoice when popular taste and aesthetic quality meet, but such instances are all too rare.