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.


Actions

Information

16 responses

12 12 2010
Lucian

The “Musical Moment“, by Nicolae Kirculescu

10 12 2010
Leah

I really like Shostakovich’s Jazz Suite #1. It reminds me of Thomas Mann’s “The Magic Mountain” even though jazz wouldn’t have been developed when that book takes place (1907-1914). This is probably because I was reading TMM when I first heard it.

10 12 2010
The Western Confucian

10 12 2010
Ariston

Have you read Stravinsky’s “Poetics of Music”?

9 12 2010
KarlH

What of Samuel Barber?

9 12 2010
Sam Urfer

Yeah, that seems a fair portrayal of the man. He reminds me somewhat of John Milton in that regard, very bright but not very amenable to others.

9 12 2010
Henry Karlson

http://www.amazon.com/Monastic-Song-Century-Monophonic-Chant/dp/B000QQWPRE

This is the CD I have which has Abelard’s music in it.

As for Peter Abelard… here is my view: on a human level, I like him quite a bit. He was very, very human. It was his humanity, however, which got the best of him. He thought he knew everything. He was quite bright, and proved it when he bested experts in competitions while still a mere student. However, his lack of humility also led him to some dangerous paths, and he was right to be called out on his errors. How this was done was not always the best way — but it was a different time and place. I think the best of him was taken up through Lombard, and his challenges helped create the need for scholastic engagement of patristics, to recognize things people didn’t want to recognize and allow for honest debate. But again, his own taking on things ended up on the wrong end of the equation.

9 12 2010
Sam Urfer

Okay, fair enough. I haven’t heard any of Abelard’s stuff, actually, I’ll have to look that up. I don’t know how heterodox he was (though Bernard certainly thought so), so much as having a gift for saying and doing the things that would more anger everyone around him on a personal level. “Hey guess what guys, I just figured out that there is more than one St. Denis, and that ours didn’t write the celestial and ecclesiastical hierarchies after all! Guys?”

9 12 2010
Henry Karlson

Sam: I said it as a side note. I prefer Abelard’s works to Hildegards. I have cds of both, but Abelard’s is beautiful to me. Hildegard’s? Some good lyrics but not as good music, imo. I do like my modern interpretation of Hildegard’s works, though, from Garmarna.

9 12 2010
Sam Urfer

I like Phillip Glass, personally. His operatic work is something else.

Some of the better stuff this last century came out of the Soviet Union, I would say. Dmitri Shostakovich made beautiful music. Having goons point guns at your head and demand Socialist Realism in symphonic form has interesting results.

9 12 2010
Sam Urfer

And how does that relate to Hildegard? She was *weird*, certainly, but she was essentially a 12th century Mother Angelica-esque Ultramontanist.

9 12 2010
The Singular Observer

For me – Stravinsky largely yes, Schoenberg – no. Karl Jenkins – yes (do you know the piece Imagined Oceans?). Arvo Part – the little I’ve heard, yes.

9 12 2010
Leah

When I first saw the reconstructed choreography of “The Rites of Spring” (about nine years ago), the music and the dancing made no sense to me. I saw a video of the same performance on youtube last month and loved it. The works of Phillip Glass and Schoenberg are also starting to grow on me. Sometimes it helps to revisit some works after the passage of a few years.

9 12 2010
rabidgandhi

I think you’re right to complain about those who reject on a wholesale basis all music composed after a certain year, but there is certainly something important to be said in the fact that contemporary symphonic music has been relegated to such a small homogeneous audience– and I say this being a member of that very audience. Most contemporary music seems to me to come from a small group of very academic composers aiming at listeners who “get” twelve tone composition. And this comes from a very self-conscious academic teleology of what is “modern” and which direction music should be evolving in. Frankly most of it, even with all of Schönberg’s expressionist freudian angst, is more academic and calculated, and I think people pick up on this, and listen to Jazz or blues instead.
Personally I enjoy listening to serial works, but the truth is I never crave them the way I do Bach, Bird or Nirvana, and I think this is just because they reach me on a much more limited level. There are plenty of folk out there who think the world is going to hell in a handbasket and see any music after 1900 as a sign of this. Frankly, that’s not a musical opinion, it’s a social one, and I think you are right to react against it.

9 12 2010
Henry Karlson

As a side note, I would have to say, some of my favorite music comes from heretics or at least those who are heterodox. I think Abelard’s chants are some of the best of all medieval chant. I love listening to the music of Henry VIII. Something must be wrong with me! 😉

9 12 2010
Henry Karlson

I disagree — if you do a concert based upon the works of Hildegard, you might indeed sell out. She’s quite popular today. The name brings people in.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s




%d bloggers like this: