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Who killed classical music?

Started by Retinend, January 22, 2014, 12:04:34 PM

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Retinend

Quote from: NoSleep on January 24, 2014, 01:44:26 AM
This thread is a symptom of the same disease that caused the other. That 3rd-gen Prokofiev offspring in the OP is like a trendy vicar trying to fill church seats in his parish.

I think the second part of that analogy is fair. He's trying to fill "church seats" in his "parish," or rather, asking how classical music can connect with the public. I think that the major difference between him and you is that he thinks that it's a cause for concern if the public are disconnected from it, and that the disconnection needs some sort of explanation.

Johnny Yesno

Quote from: Retinend on January 24, 2014, 12:20:21 AM
Yes that includes atonal music, but also jazz, and Dadaism, and die Brücke painters, and abstract art, and Joyce-inspired writing like Berlin Alexanderplatz. Hemingway was banned. Picasso was banned.

I don't think anyone claimed the Nazis only hated atonal music. What's your point again?

Quote from: Retinend on January 24, 2014, 01:40:50 AM
It's plain that this thread has 0 relevance to the other one. I haven't been bringing up my own aesthetic preferences in this thread for the sake of themselves, just supporting the point of view of the documentary.

And the documentary happens to support your view.

Ah, you slagged off industrial and noise music in the other thread, so I'm obviously wasting my time in this one.

NoSleep

I think the explanation of that disconnection has been a an ongoing dialogue for the last 100 years (at least) so he's kind of late to the table if he thinks he's some sort of vanguard, "bringing young people" to the table.

Why shouldn't it be more concern that people aren't engaging more directly with some kind of living culture? As I stated earlier, Classical Music has divorced itself from its roots as a living culture, preferring the divide between the esteemed composers and conductors and the people who have to play the music (who don't need to understand a thing that they are playing). Compare the relationship between the composer and performers in Jazz for example, and what constitutes a basic training for a jazz musician (the necessity to understand the musical structures you are playing within).

NoSleep

Quote from: Retinend on January 24, 2014, 01:40:50 AMI feel like I'm being reasonable towards other points of view, and not haranguing people like Nelson Swillie.

That wasn't the point of my comparison. You are like Nelson because you seem to want all the "jokes" to be upfront. Consider Nelson's hate of Stewart Lee and the latter's taste for the joke unspoken (also consider Stewart Lee's love of free improv and how it has inspired his own approach to comedy).

Quote from: Grass Mud HorseThere's a statistical proof out there somewhere that for the life of me I can't cite at the moment (for some reason Bill Bryson springs to mind, it may be one of his essays). The reason the age of the Great Composer is passed is the same reason that baseball score averages have declined over the years.
Found the bastard: not Bryson, but Stephen Jay Gould, in his book Full House (review). Excerpt from review: "Like the disappearance of .400 hitting [baseball average] Gould wonders why, in a gene pool significantly larger than in the 17th century, and with endlessly greater opportunity, we don't see the likes of Bach, Handel, Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven. Gould cautiously suggests that "perhaps the range of accessible styles can become exhausted, given the workings of human neurology and the consequent limits of understanding. Perhaps we can reach a right wall of potential popularity, where our continued adherence to an ethic of innovation effectively debars newcomers, whatever their potential talents, from becoming the Mozart of the new millennium.""

Gould may or may not be correct, but it's certainly something to think about. It's not just baseball averages or great ages of classical composers either - the principle can be applied to just about any discipline. Why were the Great Physicists clustered into the first half of the 20th century? Where are all the great new Blues guitarists1?

It's a bit like mining Bitcoins. Piece of piss at first, but increasingly difficult as the available options are used up.

For an accelerated view of the same principles, take any mature popular music genre. Rhythm and Blues, Punk, Jungle, Bashment, whatever. By definition these genres are inherently more limited than orchestral music2, and so are going to saturate much more quickly. Where are all the new Acid House artistes? Trying to develop the successor to Dubstep is where.

1. The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion had a good go at reinventing the Blues, with limited success, then along came Jack White to show everyone how it's done. An exception that proves the rule.
2. Orchestral music isn't quite the same as Classical music. But that's another topic.

Retinend

Quote from: NoSleep on January 24, 2014, 03:34:57 AM
That wasn't the point of my comparison. You are like Nelson because you seem to want all the "jokes" to be upfront. Consider Nelson's hate of Stewart Lee and the latter's taste for the joke unspoken (also consider Stewart Lee's love of free improv and how it has inspired his own approach to comedy).

Eh alright. I'll keep my dignity and let others decide on that comparison.

Johnny Yesno

Quote from: Grass Mud Horse on January 24, 2014, 01:13:22 PM
Gould cautiously suggests that "perhaps the range of accessible styles can become exhausted, given the workings of human neurology and the consequent limits of understanding. Perhaps we can reach a right wall of potential popularity, where our continued adherence to an ethic of innovation effectively debars newcomers, whatever their potential talents, from becoming the Mozart of the new millennium.""

It's an interesting idea, but it assumes that accessibility is an independent feature of music rather than just the result of exposure. Beethoven's music was revolutionary at the time and now it's part of the canon. Even the likes of Metallica have lost their original shock value and their sound is very much part of the establishment.

QuoteGould may or may not be correct, but it's certainly something to think about. It's not just baseball averages or great ages of classical composers either - the principle can be applied to just about any discipline. Why were the Great Physicists clustered into the first half of the 20th century? Where are all the great new Blues guitarists1?

It's a bit like mining Bitcoins. Piece of piss at first, but increasingly difficult as the available options are used up.

Yes, there may be just less to discover. Perhaps I got too hung up on Gould's use of the word 'accessible'.

QuoteFor an accelerated view of the same principles, take any mature popular music genre. Rhythm and Blues, Punk, Jungle, Bashment, whatever. By definition these genres are inherently more limited than orchestral music2, and so are going to saturate much more quickly. Where are all the new Acid House artistes? Trying to develop the successor to Dubstep is where.

Perhaps it would be more useful to compare orchestral music with electronic music, rather than its sub-genres.

Funcrusher

Why do some of the cleverest people listen to nonsense like Harry Partch, Sun Ra and Moondog? Got to admit, I can't fathom where Retinend's coming from on this thread at all.

NoSleep

#128
Retinend dropped those names as avantgarde artists he appreciated, I think you'll find. Although he was implying that there was a kind of listener[nb]A straw man, perhaps.[/nb] that lumped them together with Schoenberg (who he has difficulty with).

Johnny Yesno


Petey Pate

Somebody should create an avant-garde composition that just consists of a loop of Stewart Lee saying "crisps crisps crisps" for 45 minutes.

The very apex of all that is absolute, patience-testing wank.

Howj Begg

#131
Here's the thread about the G.Prokofiev programme from the Radio 3 boards where I lurk  sometimes.http://www.for3.org/forums/showthread.php?10291-Who-Killed-Classical-Music
This is a board mainly composed of 50+ your old people who are heavily invested in both the 'traditional' classical forms and their repeated exposure, and in the modern concert-going/CD buying experience: consequently they have a foot in both camps, i.e. they may be tempted to agree with Prokofiev because of natural sympathies with the musical tradition, but on the other hand they might feel protective of the classical industry as it exists. It's very interesting to read.
They don't talk much about the programme itself after it's aired, but they do spend a lot of time responding to the blurb: - which is stunningly idiotic, and has clearly been written in the same way Daily Mail clickbait articles are.

Ok so the premise is incredibly dumb. I'm not going to bother with the programme itself, but the tired old shit that Schoenberg, the 2nd Viennese School, Darmstadt, whoever else "killed classical music" is exactly the same as saying Picasso killed off painting. Change happens in art. That's really the fundamentals of what you need to know. To go further than that, if the premise is about the continuity of tradition, if we look at the music being produced in the early 1900s, the vast majority of it is no longer performed - Schoenberg and Berg are staples of concert repertoire in comparison with so many composers who were successful in their time. Just look at this list http://www.classical.net/music/composer/dates/comp9.php, scroll down to the 'Romantic/Modern - Late 19th Century' list, and see how many of those you don't recognise. These people were writing in styles that, I suggest, even people who feel scared by Schoenberg would probably turn their nose up at. This was the tradition which was creatively moribund - obviously that's a judgement call, but art has a way of sustaining itself based on how much juice it still has left to be squeezed out. And what's more that late 19th c style continued, and still continues, to be popular amongst audiences: as mentioned in film soundtracks, but also on light concert programmes, radio programmes of the type that Radio 2 recently ditched , Classic FM etc. So what did change? In the early 20c the centre of creative gravity moved to composers who were willing to experiment - not just Schoenberg, but any number of others, there's no need to provide a list. At the same time, you have creativity, change and vitality going on elsewhere in other genres, in popular music/music hall, jazz, and then eventually the plurality of music that we all know about from the mid 50s onwards. These did as much as classical composers themselves to """kill""" dead modes of music composition.

Also why the fuck is 'classical music' branched off from them like it's a protected species in a zoo? Why isn't it considered a genre, like all the others, which can draw from its own rules, traditions and impulses, or it can decide to cross with others, take inspiration from them, hybridise, whatever. Which it does, when it fancies. And what's more contemporary classical music is still written, in a style which suits the composer,and gets airings at the proms where a decent amount of people are exposed to it. 'Classical' music, defined in tediously strict genre terms,  is about as alive as 'rock' or 'country' or 'jazz' - that is to say, no one could accuse it of being ground zero of creativity and connection with an audience right now, but it has its market, it makes some big money from time to time, but it has no right to demand musical hegemony over the other genres which are more popular, profitable or vital.

How much do we, should we, care about that? Personally I give a shit, cos I like the genre, I like the fact that radio 3 exists even though it's going down the pan, I like going to see opera, I like the fact that the Barbican puts on festivals of contemporary composers. But I don't want the kind of classical culture that Classic FM promotes, which may be what G.Prokofiev wants, I don't know and don't have the patience to find out.

I also find it weird that you think the music fans of this board give a shit about that programme's premise, given the plurality of unmarketable and interesting music they consume. Surely you know an Argumentum ad populum isn't going to fly with people who mostly care about the quality of a piece of music on a subjective level, rather than handwringing about genre standards?

Sam

The question 'Is Classical Music Dead' is just a snappy programme title. It's a fairly inane question to ask, but I suppose you could break it up into lots of separate questions and answer them in-depth. Prokofiev Jnr and the BBC are the last people on Earth to do this, though. Classical music will never die. Perhaps a better question is: "Who made Classical Music less popular", to which you could answer programmes like this.

Classical music doesn't need to be popular. It is never going to appeal to everyone and any attempt to use mass marketing and social media to increase its audience is futile. In fact, hard data shows that every attempt BBC R3 has made to do so has had the opposite effect with a decline in numbers.

Quote from: Retinend on January 22, 2014, 12:04:34 PM
Are the Schönbergs and Boulezes to blame for the decline of classical music's popularity - the reason it's come to be "chunked" into a genre, "classical", in the first place? Not at all? Not totally?

I think they must accept a great deal of the blame.

Let's consider Boulez. As a conductor and an ambassador for modernism he has been immensely important. He was an iconoclast who shrewdly realized that you have to change institutions from the inside. He set all sorts of precedents with authoritative interpretations of difficult music. Before him, so much was played shoddily or not played at all. Listening to him conduct you knew that if you didn't like the music it was the score and not the performance. So as a person in general he has done an enormous amount for classical music, and has certainly not killed anything. His legacy at the BBC, NYP and IRCAM are all in evidence.

His compositions are only really difficult by reputation. They are very pleasant to listen to, conventionally beautiful even. This goes for everything from Le Soleil des Eaux through to Notations (for Orchestra) and things like Sur Incise.

The big mistake people make with contemporary classical music is to think you have to understand it on a deep formal level, or to critique it against parameters relevant to earlier music.

Take a piece like Le marteau sans maître. When this was first heard nobody had a clue how it was put together. If the most intimidatingly brilliant minds at Darmstadt didn't know, then the chances of the man on the street knowing are zero. Ligeti (who must be one of the most rigorously formally educated polymaths of post-war music) was completely baffled on a formal level but instead praised its 'sensuous, feline beauty'. This is our cue to not get hung up on how or why the music sounds like this, but to just revel in the pure sonority, the gestures and textures rather than the narrative.

In general, this is a good way to explore contemporary music. I've sat in Snape Maltings watching Knussen and Carter pieces with a friend of mine who has a Masters degree in composition and he doesn't have a clue how these pieces are composed either. Ironically, a lot of modern music is far, far easier to appreciate than the Bach - Bruckner stuff, in which there is the constant sense that you should be taking cues from everything. In the earlier styles, a knowledge of Sonata or Rondo form, how a piece modulates etc will improve the listening experience. Again, you can listen to this stuff as 'pure sound' too, but to me the formal aspects (a lot of which are ingrained into subsequent music from pop to soundtracks) are very explicit and on the surface.

Re: Schoenberg and the Second Viennese school. As with any modernism, the stuff that really lasts is the stuff which has an intense engagement with the past, with tradition, with form. In fact some of the most seemingly iconoclastic and avant-garde stuff is the most traditional deep down.

Schoenberg's music is another case of his reputation being scarier than the reality.

Quote from: Retinend on January 23, 2014, 07:26:59 PM
Most detractors of Schönberg, both me and my buddy Adolf, think the music sounds bad and that's it. Not repulsive or frightening - bad. Bad music.

It's true his music is neglected and under-heard but it really shouldn't be this way. People don't think his music sounds bad, it's the reputation not the music they are listening to. Again, a lot of it is conventionally beautiful, ravishing even, in the case of something like The Book of the Hanging Gardens. Transfigured Night is completely accessible, as is Gurre-LiederPierrot Lunaire is standard repertoire, too.

Another important point regarding declining popularity is that Schoenberg's music was often performed in his private music society concerts. There wasn't the audience for this kind of music then, and there were riots at Berg's Altenberg Lieder (this masterpiece and its reception gets overshadowed by the Rite of Spring story). Compare that today where the latest Harrison Birtwistle opera will play to packed audiences at the Royal Opera House. Yes, people protest about his kind of music but at least it gets exposure and performances.

Webern is massively important for subsequent developments, he paved the way for all the post-war Avant-garde. Berg is the most popular in terms of audience numbers. Wozzeck, Lulu, the Violin Concerto, the Altenberg Lieder, Lyric Suite etc are all recorded and performed constantly.  Perhaps this is due to his music sounding the closest to late-Romanticism like Mahler and Strauss.

But you wouldn't have any Webern (pivotal figure in the development of the 20th century) or Berg (audience favourite) without their teacher, Schoenberg.

So, clearly, Schoenberg and Boulez are to blame for absolutely nothing and instead should be heralded as key figures who've enhanced and propelled Western classical music through the pre-war and post-war eras, respectively.

Quote from: Johnny Yesno on January 22, 2014, 01:02:54 PM
As Howard Goodall pointed out in one of his shows...

I know you weren't advocating him, but Goodall is not to be trusted on modern music. He's said a lot of wrongheaded things about it in his programmes. In composing terms he's a hack, a glorified TV theme tune composer, who's entirely in the pay of the Classic FM/Crossover market.

Hearing him present a show that touches on the 20th century is a joke. I would instead turn to something like Simon Rattle's "Leaving Home" series (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BSkidzg6TUQ) which was basically an expert touring you round 'difficult' music with a lightness and charm that doesn't mean dumbing down. This kind of programming doesn't exist anymore, obviously.

Quote from: Retinend on January 22, 2014, 01:37:15 PM
Writers and musicians and artists all became involved in self-expression which sought to find new "style paths," it's true, but this was a rather self-conscious process which was motivated by WWI and the depression, amongst more social issues such as the decline of the traditional educated man and the rise of mass culture.

To say that it was inevitable seems like dubious hindsight to me. Look at the progress of art before the 20th Century: a slow evolution of mutual respect between generations. To take an example from art, Cubism lasted for about 5 years as a "direction." Why not as long as the romantic age did?

You seem to be saying modernism happened after or because of WWI which is problematic. Modernism is such a diffuse term that whatever start date you put on it, you can always go back further. Marshall Berman's "All That is Solid Melts Into Air' is one of the best surveys which manages to open out these definitions so well that they become almost meaningless. But without casting the net too wide, everything that happened in early-twentieth-century modernism can be found in the 19th, all the seeds had been sown.

'A slow evolution of mutual respect' is just as much dubious hindsight. The problem with seeing cultural history in terms of eras and styles is that you end up with a linear chronology which acknowledges that which validates the pattern and leaves out what doesn't. There's always an example of a person, style or work which subverts or contradicts whatever was supposed to be going on according to the history books.

"Cubism lasted about 5 years'' is also very reductive. Perhaps in terms of painting, but there's a strong case for Cubism to be a relevant metaphor in music. Stravinsky was essentially a cubist composer around the time of the famous Russian ballets. Jonathan Cross's "The Stravinsky Legacy" outlines the massive contribution that he made to the 20th century. You can hear a lot of Stravinsky and Cubist aesthetic in Harrison Birtwistle, someone who says that cubism is one of the most significant developments of the 20th century. So if you mean by 'lasted 5 years' that there were a slew of paintings that could explicitly labelled as such for that period, then yes, but in reality cubism 'lasted' more like a 100 years.

Quote from: Retinend on January 22, 2014, 02:19:30 PM
What chunks would "the nobility" impose? This is nonsense. The nobility and church were the musicians.

Historically the nobility and church have been very restrictive and imposing. The nobility were philistines, same as today. The composer was a lowly figure, with the rank of jester or cook. Look at the fawning letters Leopold Mozart wrote to nobility trying to market his son. Classical composers were, in the main, not writing for posterity. Most of Mozart's piano music was written for his wealthy female piano students. Without them, no sonatas. Most of Bach's music was written for occasion and restricted by circumstance. Many composers were banned from writing music by the church. There were all sorts of rules and codes.


Quote from: Retinend on January 22, 2014, 03:13:19 PM
However since we're talking about music, I have to say that to me there is no obvious equivalent of "the portrait" or "Country House Poem" in which the patron is a central dominating presence.

There are lots of equivalents and examples. Most major composers were reliant on patrons (including Beethoven) and it was those patrons who shaped what got written.

QuoteFor one thing, in the case of poetry and painting, the patrons are not usually participants in the artistic world. But for modern European history you see that the people who were the patrons and the people who were the great composers were involved in the same activity.

Not really. The patrons were mostly laymen. They had a basic musical education but were not the equals of the composer. There are exceptions, such as Gesualdo who was both nobility and great composer.

QuoteIt's this sort of consideration which made the early 20th century composers deeply hostile to popular forms of music, with no such heritage.

Way off the mark. Popular music in the form of folk music was of immense importance to modernist composers. Bartok's music is sonically far more abrasive than, say Stravinsky (The Rite of Spring draws heavily on Russian folk themes), yet comes from a deep engagement with Hungarian peasant music (he was one of the first ethnomusicologists). Ditto for Janacek, Kodaly and others.

You mentioned Weimar, but from that era what were Neue Sachlichkeit (the New Objectivity) and Zeitoper (Opera for the Times) if not the opposite of hostility to the popular?

Anyway, this is a great thread and I'm only scratching the surface. I think there's going to be more agreement than disagreement and we're bound to get wires crossed nitpicking when throwing around terms so vague as "classical music", "the 20th century", and "modernism".

My conclusion for now is that thinking of history as an even line from past to present on which you pin convenient labels is just a starting point from which to argue or oppose. The conceit of the programme in the OP is just inherently reductive and serves to close off enquiry. There wasn't a 'modernism' but 'modernisms, a disparate bunch of people who probably had more differences than things in common. Each took their own path and responded idiosyncratically to their millieu. Once you start to move away from the idea of a single grand tradition or of neat eras and styles the whole question of 'is classical music dead' is pretty irrelevant.

People aren't going to suddenly forget who Bach is, anymore than they would Newton or Plato.

If you want to compose serious classical music these days you could pick up from people like Elliot Carter, Pierre Boulez or Jonathan Harvey (who are just one stream or path of many to go from). In turn, these figures are just extending 'high modernism', an unfinished project really. Never mind 'dying', a lot of these traditions have tons of mileage in them and are waiting to be explored. That's why you could pick any point in the 20th century and expand on it creatively without it really being to backward looking.

The only people who need to worry about a lot of the issues in this thread are big corporations such as the BBC, artists' management, PR middle men etc. They want classical music to be more popular because that translates to money. They want to promote a narrow range of composers, focus on their anniversaries (built in marketing) and turn people like Britten into a brand.  It's not in their interest to promote difficult music, because the audience for this is fairly finite and unchanging. Therefore to even worry about whether classical music is dying is for them disingenuous.

As others have said, it's just clickbait guff. Classical music is robust, and it's a conglomeration of disparate paths, niches and esoteric avenues.


Retinend

Quote from: Howj Begg on January 24, 2014, 05:45:59 PMexactly the same as saying Picasso killed off painting.
(...)
[a popular plurality of styles] did as much as classical composers themselves to """kill""" dead modes of music composition.

As you said, talk of "death" is just clickbait, a trivial bit of packaging, and it's easy to separate content from packaging if you try. You say "exactly the same as..." but a truly equivalent argument would track modernism in painting as a tradition and argue that it coincided with the decline of that culture in the wider cultural milieu. This is not an outrageous perspective on the history of art. In fact it's the state of the affairs which arises from the facts. A stronger version would be to say there was some causative role. I outlined my own view in the first post of this thread.


QuoteThis was the tradition which was creatively moribund - obviously that's a judgement call, but art has a way of sustaining itself based on how much juice it still has left to be squeezed out.  ... the centre of creative gravity moved to composers who were willing to experiment - not just Schoenberg, but any number of others, there's no need to provide a list.

At what point? Ravel, Stravinsky of course, Honegger, Ibert, Janacek were active in the 20s. In the 30s there was Messian, Bartok, Martinu, outside of Europe e.g. Gershwin, Ives, Villa-Lobos.   I know that there's no very easy line to be drawn - it's more like a "centre of gravity" as you say, but still where is the moribundity? What was the earlier tradition that had run out? What I hear in the change of gravity is generally a move towards austerity. Perhaps that felt more respectful after the war e.g. Penderecki's "Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima" and Theodor Adorno's belief that writing writing poetry after Auschwitz was barbaric.

Quote'Classical' music, defined in tediously strict genre terms,  is about as alive as 'rock' or 'country' or 'jazz' - that is to say, no one could accuse it of being ground zero of creativity and connection with an audience right now, but it has its market, it makes some big money from time to time, but it has no right to demand musical hegemony over the other genres which are more popular, profitable or vital.

If you dislike the language, make up a better one. But your fury is over the top. Putting names on genres is just a convenience. You can use your "animals in a zoo" rhetoric for any sort of discussion of abstract categories: e.g. what is "the english economy"? What's it made of, exactly? Perhaps we should just shut up about the english economy since it's obviously not real.

It's fine if you're uninterested in why things are the way things are. History isn't interesting if all that matters to you is how you personally react to it today with your earphones on. Absolutely you're right that pointing out that a decline in popularity has happened isn't

Quotegoing to fly with people who mostly care about the quality of a piece of music on a subjective level.

But believe me, I'm not trying to convince you about how you perceive things on a subjective level.


QuoteI also find it weird that you think the music fans of this board give a shit about that programme's premise, given the plurality of unmarketable and interesting music they consume. Surely you know an Argumentum ad populum isn't going to fly with people who mostly care about the quality of a piece of music on a subjective level, rather than handwringing about genre standards?

If I understand you - it was wrong of me to post this programme in a thread because I knew that it would get up peoples noses?

Retinend

Quote from: NoSleep on January 24, 2014, 02:08:47 PM
Retinend dropped those names as avantgarde artists he appreciated, I think you'll find. Although he was implying that there was a kind of listener[nb]A straw man, perhaps.[/nb] that lumped them together with Schoenberg (who he has difficulty with).

You can read marginally better than Funcrusher, but still you missed that the post I was quoting (Petey Pate's) mentioned exactly those names I repeated.

NoSleep

Petey didn't mention Schoenberg alongside them; he actually separated their work from the fruits of the academies and described them as "outsiders".

Sam

Penderecki's Threnody wasn't really a response to the war. It was pure sound piece, the programmatic title was ascribed after it was composed.

Funcrusher

Quote from: Retinend on January 24, 2014, 07:45:06 PM
You can read marginally better than Funcrusher, but still you missed that the post I was quoting (Petey Pate's) mentioned exactly those names I repeated.

I read just fine. My post was expressing slight bemusement that someone who likes those artists would reject Anthony Braxton as nonsense. I could see not liking his music, but why is it nonsense? Do you not like free-improvised stuff like Cecil Taylor or Derek Bailey in general? I've got an lp by Braxton somewhere, and I saw him live as a support once I think - I know the thing I've got has titles that are mathematical formulae - does he have some harmolodics type theory that you think is nonsense? Like I say, I just find you hard to make out.

Retinend

#138
I found this long post an interesting and informative read, Sam, but when I whittle it down, past the parts which are either just fleshed-out history or value judgement, there are only a few things I can say are true disagreements.

QuoteIt's true his music is neglected and under-heard but it really shouldn't be this way. People don't think his music sounds bad, it's the reputation not the music they are listening to. Again, a lot of it is conventionally beautiful, ravishing even, in the case of something like The Book of the Hanging Gardens. Transfigured Night is completely accessible, as is Gurre-LiederPierrot Lunaire is standard repertoire, too.

Just looking up the dates we see

1903, 1908, 1900-1911, 1912

This is not the period anyone is talking about when they say "I don't like Schönberg." I've expressed my admiration for Verklärte Nacht twice now, and in the case of a transitional piece like Pierrot Lunaire it's to me a different kettle of atonal fish to what came after. Not something I'd dismiss at all.

QuoteYou seem to be saying modernism happened after or because of WWI which is problematic. Modernism is such a diffuse term that whatever start date you put on it, you can always go back further.

....But without casting the net too wide, everything that happened in early-twentieth-century modernism can be found in the 19th, all the seeds had been sown.....

I think that without being so fussy as that, and bearing all these precursors in mind which I'm certainly not unaware of, the 20s is definitely the decade of modernism. I guess you don't disagree, so this again is just a seeming-disagreement.


QuoteMarshall Berman's "All That is Solid Melts Into Air' is one of the best surveys which manages to open out these definitions so well that they become almost meaningless.

Hm. I'll read it. However I'll be surprised if it makes a term like modernism "meaningless," though it obviously is fuzzy, just as "postmodernism" is.

edit: The fuzziness is just because "modernism" was the sum total of many prevailing trends, "modernisms" as you put it (but with misplaced gravity.) A complex of cultural tendencies that forms a set and not an object - but the more you know about "modernism" the more meaningful it gets, so long as you're reading real history  and not unwinding the dogma of a self-appointed theorist like Frederic Jameson (not saying you are).



Quote'A slow evolution of mutual respect' is just as much dubious hindsight. The problem with seeing cultural history in terms of eras and styles is that you end up with a linear chronology which acknowledges that which validates the pattern and leaves out what doesn't. There's always an example of a person, style or work which subverts or contradicts whatever was supposed to be going on according to the history books.

You're right, but you're ignoring the bigger picture. The remarkable thing about the 20th century when compared with any century before it is that innovation became not only one quality but a entire raison d'etre, without the traditional tension between aesthetic conservatisms and progressiveisms.  You're not wrong in anything you say about canons and those left out and such, but it doesn't bear much on the scale of change when you compare 20th century history of all art forms and architecture to any other century. This is plain as day and I don't think you can actually be disagreeing with this.


Quote"Cubism lasted about 5 years'' is also very reductive. Perhaps in terms of painting, but there's a strong case for Cubism to be a relevant metaphor in music. Stravinsky was essentially a cubist composer around the time of the famous Russian ballets. Jonathan Cross's "The Stravinsky Legacy" outlines the massive contribution that he made to the 20th century. You can hear a lot of Stravinsky and Cubist aesthetic in Harrison Birtwistle, someone who says that cubism is one of the most significant developments of the 20th century.

So if you mean by 'lasted 5 years' that there were a slew of paintings that could explicitly labelled as such for that period, then yes, but in reality cubism 'lasted' more like a 100 years.

Almost everything is deemed "one of the most significant developments of the 20th Century." It's quite meaningless. But let's say at least that cubism was deeply influential for the first two thirds of the 20th century, and let's keep just to the art world to make this an easy win. Wrong. Try telling that to the dadaists in the 20s. Or Surrealists in the 30s. Or to pop artists in the 60s, or to the conceptual artists. You can only argue further that Cubism lasted 100 years if you abstract the qualities of cubist art past any reason and you, say, pick some nice-sounding phrase like "geometric," or let's go with "freedom of form", and you proceed to apply this generic phrase with respect to anything you want, then draw the dots. This is typical of art history books on 20th century subjects, sadly.



QuoteWay off the mark. Popular music in the form of folk music was of immense importance to modernist composers. Bartok's music is sonically far more abrasive than, say Stravinsky (The Rite of Spring draws heavily on Russian folk themes), yet comes from a deep engagement with Hungarian peasant music (he was one of the first ethnomusicologists). Ditto for Janacek, Kodaly and others.

Okay well folk music is out since I was talking about forms of urban popular music that was at this time and for a LONG time after going to be heavily marginalized in preference to "real", "grown up" music. This continued well into the 70s, as reflected by how record companies continued to cheaply toss off popular records and exploit the artists, in comparison to the dignified business of making classical records.

And besides it's perfectly expected for the bourgeois of the early 20th century to idealize the simple, happy peasant and their rustic ways. I don't mean to be overly dismissive, since I like Bartok and Stravinsky, and for that matter I like E.M. Forster and Thomas Hardy too, but it's still how attitudes were - some notables may have bucked the trend of snobbishness.

QuoteYou mentioned Weimar, but from that era what were Neue Sachlichkeit (the New Objectivity) and Zeitoper (Opera for the Times) if not the opposite of hostility to the popular?

I accept that as a counterpoint, but don't forget that the population of germany was the same in the Weimar years as it was in the 30s. Just because Neue Sachlichkeit was what some art history books define as the spirit of the 20s, it doesn't necessarily mean that old bourgeois snobberies weren't still abroad. In fact during this time you have a great deal of interest in african sculpture. Does this mean that in art collectors in Paris and Berlin there was a true appreciation of what the art represented, or merely appreciation as a highbrow trinket?

I think the points in your conclusion are already addressed.

As I said. I enjoyed reading your post and it gave me a lot to chew over, so thanks for engaging me and making me feel less like I'm talking to myself.

Don_Preston

Stop making it about you then, you selfish bastard.

Retinend

But it's apparently what the people want, Don_Preston. Just look here:

Quote from: Funcrusher on January 24, 2014, 08:44:54 PMexpressing slight bemusement that someone who likes those artists would reject Anthony Braxton as nonsense. I could see not liking his music, but why is it nonsense? Do you not like free-improvised stuff like Cecil Taylor or Derek Bailey in general?

I like that album Bailey made shortly before he died. Not something I'd listen to every day but yeah, I like it. Not heard anything else. But that one sounds nothing like Braxton's "For Alto." If you listen to the entirety of "For Alto" now you'll understand the state of mind I was in when I wrote that infamous thread.

NoSleep

Quote from: Retinend on January 24, 2014, 09:11:16 PM
I enjoyed reading your post and it gave me a lot to chew over, so thanks for engaging me and making me feel less like I'm talking to myself.

FFS; can it, Nelson.

Funcrusher

Quote from: Retinend on January 24, 2014, 09:31:35 PM
If you listen to the entirety of "For Alto" now you'll understand the state of mind I was in when I wrote that infamous thread.

I probably won't. Listening to a bit of it now on You Tube. It's free jazz, as I would have expected. Some of it's kind of in your face skronking, some it's quite pleasant to my ears. I don't see why it's nonsense.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HxwyZDqsRd0&list=PLC873CEF9C244498F

Sam

#143
Quote from: Retinend on January 24, 2014, 09:11:16 PM
This is not the period anyone is talking about when they say "I don't like Schönberg."

Really? Who are these people anyway? Most people I know who really like classical music don't like Schoenberg [nb]By the way, the standard spelling is without the umlaut. He changed it to naturalise in America and that's the spelling that is used in all the concert programs and literature [/nb]. Of the ones who like the 20th century stuff, they might point to the pieces I listed above. But I have never really met anyone in classical music circles who knows enough about Schoenberg to specifically dislike the later period. This is a sort of paradox, in that if you know enough to know you don't like late period Schoenberg you should know enough to have a good chance of liking it.  I can imagine a totally unititiated listener hearing, say, Moses and Aaron and disliking it but who are these people who are listening who have a working knowledge of Schoenberg, and an appreciation of his stylistic development and its context in 20th century music but who suddenly stop short post-war and dismiss it? Well, you apparently, which is totally fine but would appear to be particular to you and not something I have witnessed in 'real life' (ie from talking with music students, audience goers, classical record shop customers, academics). Which leads me back to the idea that nobody is really afraid of his music from experience, just reputation.

I recommend 'Arnold Schoenberg's Journey' by Allen Shawn for an exploration of Schoenberg's maligned reception.

Quote from: Retinend on January 24, 2014, 09:11:16 PM
I think that without being so fussy as that, and bearing all these precursors in mind which I'm certainly not unaware of, the 20s is definitely the decade of modernism. I guess you don't disagree.

Well, if we're talking about music I would totally disagree. This is the problem with modernism: the time frames are very different according to the medium. With literature you could point to, say, The Flowers of Evil; with painting the first Impressionist exhibitions; but music is little behind: many critics would cite prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune  (1894).

The period 1908 -1913 (round number, lead up to the war) is probably a better point to locate musical modernism. Here you have Ravel, Debussy, Stravinsky, Schoenberg, Strauss etc all composing works which are textbook modernism. You could even go further and say 1913 is the key moment in music (as 1922 would be in literature due to Ulysses and The Waste Land) due to The Rite, The Altenberg Lieder, Jeux, Trois Poemes de Stephane Mallarme). There's a whole book about just this one year in modernism '1913: the cradle of modernism' by Jean-Michael Rabate.

There's a case for saying the 20s (my guess is your 'way in' to modernism is through literature) but you can choose any decade really and find all you need to support it.

For musical modernism the two best books I've read are 'Pyramids at the Louvre' by Glenn Watkins and 'Untwisting the Serpent' by Daniel Albright (he also edited a fantastic anthology 'Modernism and Music').

Quote from: Retinend on January 24, 2014, 09:11:16 PMHowever I'll be surprised if it makes a term like modernism "meaningless," though it obviously is fuzzy, just as "postmodernism" is.

What I meant was that the best books on modernism come to the conclusion that it's so broad a concept as not almost not be one. You end up having to create lots of separate arguments in lieu or an overarching concept. We agree on this, 'meaningless' was perhaps the wrong exaggeration to use.

Quote from: Retinend on January 24, 2014, 09:11:16 PMYou're right, but you're ignoring the bigger picture. The remarkable thing about the 20th century when compared with any century before it is that innovation became not only one quality but a entire raison d'etre, without the traditional tension between aesthetic conservatisms and progressiveisms

No, I'd argue more or less the opposite. The bigger picture, in fact, is that the innovation is superficial and it's precisely the tension between consevative/progressive from where key works of modernism arise. Yes, there's innovation a-go-go but in direct engagement with the previous tradition. The Futurists were hysterical about the break from the past but they fizzled out; someone like Schoenberg who will always be in the history books for changing the course of music, wrestled constantly with tradition. One of the key 'innovations' was total motivic coherence, where all of the ideas of the piece stem from a single cell. You can find this in Bach and Beethoven, nothing new.

QuoteAlmost everything is deemed "one of the most significant developments of the 20th Century." It's quite meaningless.

It can be, but not in the examples I quoted. Can't find the specific interview but Birtwistle said that, so with his credentials I'd hardly call it a meaningless statement. Again, if someone has explored it in book length (Aforementioned 'Stravinsky Legacy') it's not meaningless. I wouldn't say you need to 'abstract qualities' to trace a clear development between Picasso, Stravinsky and Birtwistle.

QuoteAnd besides it's perfectly expected for the bourgeois of the early 20th century to idealize the simple, happy peasant and their rustic ways.

You're generalising too much. This may be true in other cases but not in the specific ones we're talking about. There was no patronisation or cultural imperialism on Bartok's part. You might argue that more for Liszt, incidentally.

Retinend

Quote from: Sam on January 24, 2014, 10:44:19 PMThis is a sort of paradox, in that if you know enough to know you don't like late period Schoenberg you should know enough to have a good chance of liking it.

.... Well, you apparently, which is totally fine but would appear to be particular to you and not something I have witnessed in 'real life' (ie from talking with music students, audience goers, classical record shop customers, academics). Which leads me back to the idea that nobody is really afraid of his music from experience, just reputation.

Well the hypothetical person saying "I don't like Schönberg"[nb]It's still his name in Germany/Austria and I have german keyboard settings available so I choose to use them - it's not actually true in the spirit of the word to say he "americanised" the spelling of his name, since spelling of ö as oe (and ä as ae and ü as ae) is actually older then the umlaut (hence the name Goethe and "Götter", "Gods" are virtual homophones) and is still used as an alternative today: see more here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diaeresis_(diacritic)#History_2[/nb] is in this context wanting to say something about what his legacy was/ his broader significance was. You say that you've never encountered this stance/shorthanded "Schönberg" in real life and to that, well, all I can say is that I have. At least one such art history student and one such history student has existed, since they are my friends and have said as much to me, and we understood one another and talking about his later work. Admittedly it's not a common topic amongst me and my friends... You've also just heard a barely-closeted pack of "I don't like Schönberg"ers in the documentary.

Besides, the fact that Verklärte Nacht is one of Schönberg's best loved pieces amongst the general public is kind of a point in favour of the documentary's argument and not yours.

Sam

Your point about his spelling is a microcosm for where you're going wrong in this thread. His name is Schoenberg, to spell it otherwise would be as distracting as constantly writing 'Shakspear' in a literature thread just because he once spelled it like that. The broader linguistic points are neither here not there: there's a standard spelling, simple as that.

Retinend

That's not a working analogy. People in Germany write his name like that today. And I just told you that ö and oe are used equivalently. Today. You wouldn't object to me writing Fauré instead of Faure.

Quote from: Retinend on January 24, 2014, 09:11:16 PM
In fact during this time you have a great deal of interest in african sculpture. Does this mean that in art collectors in Paris and Berlin there was a true appreciation of what the art represented, or merely appreciation as a highbrow trinket?

I don't know if it was what you would consider appreciation but there was a significant attempt at an appreciation of what African sculpture or generally "primitive art" represented and in valuing poorly understood "representations" by altering aesthetic judgement away from the classical. Georges Bataille and Carl Einstein (preferable to Alfred 'the great, the great and the other great' Einstein to me at least) wrote a lot about this in their Documents periodical, but I suspect their quite dated and excitable codifications are close to what you might mean by the highbrow trinket in both slightly different cases. Or possibly the point was more that despite genuine intellectual concern the buyers had shallower motives. Also a hugely significant book by Wilhelm Worringer, Abstraction and Empathy, was as early as 1908 and probably worth a look if not already, concerning the idea that gathered some at least intellectual momentum that empathetic art was no longer viable as it was almost opressive in its nature. Where Alfred Einstein (another persecuted Jew not a Nazi oppressor) called Schoenberg 'inhumanly difficult' the alternative perspective was a horror of the humanly dominant.

I think you were alone in being concerned about some of the things to do with Naziism and raised a lot of defences from no attacks. Although I don't think I was as unclear as what followed suggests I am partly responsible for that shit turn in the thread. Apart from I think justifiably finding the documentary offensive, the point was really that the kicking against first wave serialism so hard is relevant in the more trenchant second wave. Exploring that would have nothing to do with the private value judgements of Nazis. Similar irrelevance of your purely thinking it bad here to anybody else's purely thinking it good.

I already stated that my complaint wasn't about political division and mentioned several mistreated Nazi examples - so political counterexamples are not at all necessary. You say atonality wasn't a big problem for the Nazis. This is absolutely right, they even bizarrely considered embracing atonality if it could be done with a certain positive German sheen. But ultimately Schoenberg (I don't even know how to do an umlaut so sit on the fence there) was one of the central targets of the music exhibition.

The not being frightened thing is definitely a credible perspective (as is Johnny Yesno's intuition of underlying fear being involved). The extent to which they were confident in displaying the degenerate art and people going along with their judgement - disatisfied with the Weimar Republic conditions - is remarkable in comparison with the disingenuity of lesser evils in politics (there are different plausible readings of a freak show or simple spectator preference accounting for the comparitive popularity of the degenerate art over the legitimised German art show). I tend to agree that on the surface there was not fear, not subterfuge, a very public propoganda campaign. They were confident they could discredit and destroy these artists. But that they only found it bad, plain bad art, as you justifiably do, but dubiously claim on their behalf, and not also repulsive is untenable. Actually it may be possible to hold this view in an obscure way and think they only went about presenting it as repulsive, but I think this is too singularly focussed on the important practical economic situation and discerning only their shrewd political tactics not actually supported as the all encompassing explanation by exposure to the cultural climate. More importantly, it's not the focus for anything anyone would be interested in here - since we're not comparing benign dislike of atonality with evil dislike of atonality, and this can only be recurring through an accidental antagonism in my posts, or my inclusion of a picture below seeming like an over the top visual attack. The concrete reality of how these movements were presented and how the artists and dealers were treated is what leaves an impression and marks a significant wedge ahead of the then thriving variety of modernist forms. That evidence is overhwhelmingly about associations - but not just the by the way guilt by association you find with all these groups chucked in together - but truly horrible aesthetic associations that matter.

The Georg Grosz example is a good way of trying to show why I find the economic explanation unsatisfactory and insensitive to draw on. You identify a subject of his art as the heart of what the Nazi culture cleansing was truly against (not completely inaccurately but it seems a wayward thing to observe), when in effect they were equally against his aesthetic, and him personally too. He was part of the degenerate cull (I don't say this as if you don't already know), his life was destroyed and he ended up a broken man making traditional landscapes that the Nazis would have approved of, saying what was frozen was thawed and now he could paint properly in the USA. Now there is a terribly nervous part of me that thinks you might prefer his later artistic style, or find the thawing was in relation to Weimar republic decadence only and good for him.

The show was clearly not about defining only bad art and the title wasn't a hyperbolic relation to its content. Here's one of the exhibits:

It's Schmidt-Rotluff and Modigliani placed alongside deformity photos from a Race and Art book from 1928. I can understand that you want to stress a propaganda element but to what purpose I don't see. It became so pervasive an identification in the culture that it's irrelevant whether the associations arose from a mere dislike of bad art or as a sincere grouping of degenerate style and degenerate Germany.

It could be interesting if you wanted to set out what you would really value about an integral popular classical culture that communicated with a large audience. I think this is the point of the thread - the documentary makes a terrible job of it and upset me more than anyone else - still nobody else here seems to desire a popular classical music defragmented so has no interest in defending it as popular. It's a dead end thread in that way. Although there's lots of life left in Shoenberg's spelling and I've already found two great links - the blog and the Simon Rattle documentary - from Sam's posts. I think I'm right in arguing that the Nazi attack on a fruitfully fragmented culture put it into a much stranger redoubled position. But a necessary one to me. I wish I could communicate my one thought more instantly.

As hinted at by Howj Begg, radio 3 is currently following a course in line with the mood of the radio 4 documentary, suspiciously so. It's pretty rubbish seeming unpopular populism to me. They have a lot of film music, only half the Early Music show and are getting rid of the musical composition documentaries. They say 'the slow movement' more now. When the Friends of Radio 3 complained, the director said there are some elitist people who prefer to keep classical music as their own little club.

I like classical music tradition and Stravinsky, and early and late Schoenberg. The music responds to its time - Boulez can't dictate things like a supreme headmaster of an epoch - and I can't even comprehend what a popular current musical tradition that is still closer to Mozart or Debussy would sound like or what people who wanted to go to see a kind of science fiction modern classical composer who isn't that sexy guy that plays Chopin on the culture show but is instead important would be like.

Johnny Yesno

#148
So I got round to listening to the programme today and it did indeed pretty much put the blame for the decline in interest in classical music concerts on the unfamiliarity of serialism. The programme made it sound like it was serialism that gave orchestral music its highbrow reputation and the sense that the audience should stfu. Darmstadt was written off 'a mirror image of the communist party'[nb]I have to admit to being a bit confused by the communist party comparison. According to the talking head, appealing to the masses was against Dormstadt principles, yet the actual communist party were telling Russian composers to make music that was popular.[/nb] trying to become the dominant culture in a power vacuum.

Fear of emotion and crowds was given as the reason for composing music that reacted against music lionised by the Nazis. That composers and musicians might want to rebel against people who collaborated with the Nazis and who still lived within European societies wasn't even considered. It is mentioned here in the BBC's Krautrock documentary, however:

http://youtu.be/cHUwkYkn_kA?t=3m40s

Neither was any consideration given to the varied sounds of Darmstadt composers. If Darmstadt was such a 'fist', how come the works sound so different?

Anyway, playing contemporary classical music in nightclubs will sort things out, apparently. Prokofiev didn't specify what it should sound like but I think we can assume it won't use serialist composition techniques.

Sam

Quote from: Retinend on January 24, 2014, 11:21:48 PM
People in Germany write his name like that today.

Ok, but we're speaking English in England.

QuoteYou wouldn't object to me writing Fauré instead of Faure.

That's not a working analogy either.

I'll just carry on writing Schoenberg, like it's written in encyclopedias, on CDs, in programmes, in books about Schoenberg, and by Schoenberg, and you write it like it's in some cases possible to. Everyone's a winner (except Shurnburck, whose music is sadly passed over...and he's dead).