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Contemporary music

  1. Jun 5, 2005 #1
    i don't understand modern music one bit. i've got a dvd of glenn gould playing stuff by the members of the so-called "vienna school" which is all abstract & weird, & not really musical at all. some people think that stuff is great though, but i can't understand why. i've heard other 20th-century stuff by stravinsky, rimsky-korsakov, prokofiev & others & i don't get it. is can someone explain why it's so interesting?
  2. jcsd
  3. Jun 5, 2005 #2
    No, I can't, really. I can't tell from listening to this music why anyone bothered writing it. I wish I had some insight, but everytime it is explained to me it sounds like unmitigated BS.

    I like The Rite Of Spring, but only because I have heard it enough times that it now sounds coherent to me. You could do the same with any random collection of sounds, however, and many people have. I like Revolution 9 by the Beatles for the same reason. I've heard it so often it sounds coherent.

    Schoenberg's 12 tone music got alot of people very exited, but I haven't the vaguest idea why. To me it sounds like random notes.

    To a very small extent I have understood the argument that harmonic sounding music had been taken as far as it could go and there was nothing original left for anyone to do with it. Musicians I used to know claimed that modern music had to be appreciated from a solid background in theory and harmony. That may be the only standpoint from which it is of interest. The average concert-goer is left out of that experience.
  4. Jun 5, 2005 #3
    All I have to say is...I agree
  5. Jun 5, 2005 #4
    First, I would like to defend the three composers mentioned here.

    Rimsky-Korsakov write music like Scherazade, Trombone Concerto and The Flight of the Bumblebee (from Tsar Saltan). All of this is good music.

    Stravinsky was not one of my favourite composers and he still isn't. However, try listening to his Symphony in Three Movements. That is good music. I will agree zoobyshoe about The Rite of Spring. If you listen to it enough, the high bassoon, continuous driving rhythms and general scale of the work will make you like it more and more each time. Having said this, my Dad still prefers Stravinsky's Firebird.

    Prokofiev was unusual for me when I first listened to the Lieutant Kije Suite. It was not what I was expecting. However it was good music. That is something else to Profokiev that you have to understand to like it. You have to realise that he wanted to write simple sounding music or simple looking music that turned out to be the opposite of what came across. However, his first piano concerto is not special to me and is one that I would say does not make me understand him completely.

    Now for your modern stuff. Your Seralism, your Post-Impressionism and your Minimalism. I cannot stand Webern or Schonberg (unless it is Miss Saigon) or Berg or people of that nature. There music is mathematical. Interesting to study it might be but as performance music it is not what you would pay money to listen to. It sounds like a three year old has hit keys on a midi keyboard and the computer has written the manuscipt for it.

    However, I think it is unfair to say that all modern music is like this. I will have to finish this post later as I, myself, am off to make music.

    The Bob (2004 ©)
    Last edited: Jun 5, 2005
  6. Jun 5, 2005 #5
    For some reason it did not register in my mind that Rimski-Korsakov had been mentioned with the others. The Bob is right: his music is perfectly comprehensible by normal concert going standards.

    Prokofiev's Peter and the Wolf is also perfectly accessible, but I understand some of his other music is alot less so.

    The modern stuff that is fractured sounding is analagous to alot of modern art where people threw the old aesthetics to the wind. Somehow it seems to have worked better in the visual arts. I find more of that stuff interesting than I do the music.
    Last edited: Jun 5, 2005
  7. Jun 5, 2005 #6
    Prokofiev's Classique Symphonie is nice. It is neo-classism. It takes what you would expect of Mozart or Schubert and turns it into Beethoven (well in his Third and Fifth anyway). Also his Romeo and Juliet and The Love for Three Oranges are good as well. Just love the Tenor Saxophone entry in The Dance of the Knights (The Montagues and Capulets).

    Now to finish:
    What you must realise is that after the romantic period, people thought they had heard it all. Huge works, hard music (concerti) and they were bored. It was normal to them to listen to Wagner's Ring Cycle and then listen to three Mozart Operas. What composers were losing was they chance to be new and inventive by adding more to what existed. This is where the strange music came about. It was meant to be simple, music that people could (in a 'I-used-to-mess-around-on-the-piano' sort of way) like. It was new and thought to be original (although having heard some of it I would not be surprised that Monks accidently sang in the same way at some point in history). It started with Minimalism (simplifying melodies). Then came Seralism (simplifying everything). Today, people are trying to do even newer things but they can just be seen as silly. I am going to suggest some music for people to listen to. It is modern and some is strange but some is good even though it is what people would call strange:

    Einojuhani Rautavaara - Autumn Gardens
    Igor Stravinsky - Symphony in Three Movements (not really strange, more of a defense for Stravinsky)
    Olivier Messiaen - Vingt Regards sur l'Enfant-Jésus (some of the movements are nice but some are very strange)
    Avro Pärt - Berliner Messe - V. Veni Sancte Spiritus
    Toru Takemitsu - Twill by Twilight

    This are a few that I can say I either like or have had to learnt to like.

    To finish, it is unfair to say that what we think is rubbish actually is. There must be some brilliance behind it. It takes a very open-minded person to accept all these different types of music. There is a reason for the musical styles being invented and some are described above. Composers really had no choice but a good example of a composer that did more than one is actually Schonberg (reasons above, again). I ask that you listen to more than one modern composer and also if one piece is not your cup of tea try another by the same composer. You may learn to like them.

    The Bob (2004 ©)
  8. Jun 5, 2005 #7

    How can you not like stravinsky? And schoenberg's twelve-tone system is a personal favorite of mine, the vast majority of my personal compositions have used this method. Its interesting for the same reason a new field of physics or mathematics is interesting. Its new, unexplored territory. By 1900 we had gone about as far as we could with purely tonal music (like in the baroque or classical style) and even the romantic period hadn't livened things up wuite enough. So composers needed something new to express new themes, to keep from rehashing the same stuff over and over.
  9. Jun 5, 2005 #8
    I've heard this explanation alot, and it seems to be logical. The trouble, though, with the modern music, when all is said and done, is that it is so unpleasant to hear. I'd rather listen to the interesting explanations of why it is noteworthy music, than listen to the music itself.
  10. Jun 5, 2005 #9
    yes THOSE were the composers who wrote the stuff that gould plays on that dvd! that's what i was talking about; i thought to myself that i could write music like that. i guess it's similar to abstract paintings too, some people would probably think that they can easily paint like rothko or pollock.

    re: stravinsky & rimsky-korsakov i haven't heard a lot by them but i'll say it's not as bad as webern or schoenberg. what little i heard (flight of the bumblebee, etc) still isn't as good as my old-school baroque stuff though. maybe i need to be more open-minded...

    one modern composer i'm very interested in hearing is eugene ysaye. i'll try to get hold of a recording of his solo-violin sonatas (written in the 1920s?) & maybe that will open the door for me since i like solo violin so much. i think zehetmair does a good recording.
    Last edited: Jun 5, 2005
  11. Jun 5, 2005 #10
    I like listening to most of it. Some of it (Phillip Glass in particular comes to mind) I enjoy purely for academic reasons and not aesthetic reasons, but Stravinsky and Schoenberg I do like. Copland (to the extent that he can be considered in the same group as these others, which is not much) I'm also a huge fan of. I really like Schoenberg's system, because it is so mathematical, and yet you can create some really neat things with it that are perfectly pleasant to listen to (though its been a while since I've written anything using it, actually since I've written anything at all).

    Then again, I'm the kind of person who tends to find academically interesting things aesthetically interesting as well. Hence why Kafka and Nietzsche are two of my favorite authors (Camus is another).
  12. Jun 6, 2005 #11
    I can't say I have hear Schoenberg's twelve-tone system in use (like franznietzsche likes so much) so I intend not to judge it until I have. However, I have heard some music by Anton Webern (namely the first movement of his Quartet Op.22). I can't say it caught my 'liking it' attention but it did get my attention. I have listened to it a few times and I can't say I dislike it anymore. It is quite enjoyable and studying the music (I have the score in front of me) does allow you to see what the instruments are capable of and how someone can turn 12 notes into a mathematical piece of music.

    I think it might be worth zoobyshoe and fourier jr listening to some modern music (as you have both stated your dislike for modern music). I am not going to say I am any better (I still like my baroque and classical more) but try listening more than once. That is what it needs.

    The Bob (2004 ©)
  13. Jun 6, 2005 #12
    well i said i'd check out eugene ysaye. he was around in the 1920s & his sonatas for violin solo are supposed to be like the mt everest of violin playing, at least since bach wrote his stuff. it probably wouldn't hurt to read the liner notes to the cds since they explain things fairly well usually.
  14. Jun 6, 2005 #13
    I believe that if you record any random sequence of tones, or even noise, and listen to if enough times it will start to sound coherent, and might even seem to have internal integrity. I think that's more a function of the human mind than of the sounds you might be listening to.

    There is a story of a critic who took a score to a performance of a modern piano concerto (I've forgotten all names) and was shocked to realize the pianist was making things up as she went along. Her performance was energetic, it looked and sounded confident and focused, and she was enthusiastically applauded. The reviews were also enthusiastic. The critic in question cornered her at some point and asked what was going on. She confessed that the music was so chaotic she kept losing her place in the score and was forced to either improvise or stop the performance.

    If we take the intervals from 1 to 12 and rearrange them randomly, almost any result will be of some mathematical interest. The more of a mathemetician you are, the more interesting relationships you'll find. This is a new way to approach music, but is it a musical way to approach it?
  15. Jun 6, 2005 #14


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    All enjoyment you get from any piece of music is a function of the brain/mind. There is no such thing as sounds that have inherent internal integrity or coherence.

    What is the definition of a musical way to approach music? Here's a thought experiment. Imagine you grew up listening to compositions in a 12 tone scale almost exclusively. Given what you've said about any collection of sounds sounding coherent after a while etc., don't you think you would find such compositions pleasing? Having grown up listening to this music, do you think you might find more traditional compositions awkward or strange sounding by comparison?
  16. Jun 6, 2005 #15
    That's true. The fact we respond to certain successions of notes as having internal integrity is more an indication of how we are structured than of how the music is structured.
    But there is such a thing as sounds that sound like they do. I understand that this is us responding to a certain broad range of harmonies and rhythms because of how we are structured, but we talk about music as though the coherence is in the music.
    And when I say "the way we are structured" I mean the human race, not how a given individual is conditioned. Humans respond to a certain broad range of harmonies and rhythms as "music", as opposed to mere sound, and especially as opposed to noise.

    That all being the case, the difference between a succession of sounds that immediately strike you as having internal integrity, that is: all the elements compliment and strengthen each other, and a succession of sounds that don't seem to bear any relation to each other should be clear. With repetition, over time, the latter can take on the illusion of coherence simply because we are used to hearing them sounded in succession. The contents of a junk drawer can seem to comprise a "set" if every time you look into it all the same things are always there in the same arrangement.
    What I mean by a "musical" way to approach music is any that takes the best advantage the composer can think of of what music can do. In opposition to that, consider the compositions of John Cage et al, who seem intent upon negating those advantages. Or consider Schoenberg. Are our ears best served by reducing music to an intellectual excercize? It was an interesting thing to do, but I don't consider it a musical thing to do.
    No. I think I might find them to be coherent and maybe even interesting. As FranzNietsche said, his attraction to this stuff is intellectual, not directly emotional. If he becomes pleased when his intellect is engaged, that is a secondary phenomenon.
    Very doubtful. I'm sure they'd be surprising, though.
  17. Jun 6, 2005 #16
    Yes. It does. But then you start to really listen. I mean really listen to what is going on and then it can be seen to be more musical (in your mind, of course). There is some music that will not work, though, and to those I agree with you but some I will disagree because I either know something about the composer, their intentions or because I have found what I so interesting about the music. However, I do see your point in this post and your last.

    The Bob (2004 ©)
  18. Jun 6, 2005 #17


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    Sure-- I think you're referring to perceptual grouping/Gestalt psychology/etc. Our minds naturally organize certain perceptual phenomena into groups if they meet certain critera, such that they seem to form parts of a whole rather than being completely disparate chunks.

    If what I said above was accurate, then here I assume what you mean is that our brains/minds have a natural tendency to perceive certain perceptual phenomena as coherent wholes, but can learn to do so for other phenomena. So more traditional classical music conforms well to our natural tendencies for holistic aural perception, and the more abstract/intellectual use of the 12 tone scale does not, although we can learn to perceive it at least partially in such a way, given enough exposure. If that's correct, I think I could buy that-- but I still suspect it has more to do with how the music is composed than the scale itself. I know for a fact that different cultures use different scales, although I don't know offhand if they tend to use more or less notes than Western music.
  19. Jun 6, 2005 #18
    Some of the music is borderline, and I'd say Stravinsky falls in that category. His stuff is a long way off from pieces for "prepared" piano by John Cage. Stravinksky is much more "coherent" to being with than John Cage. There may be alot of other composers I'd label as "borderline coherent" that I've never listened to. I recall hearing some Scriabin, and stuff by Max Reger that might be in this category.

    I was exposed to hours and hours of "contemporary" music in college, but never to the same pieces repeatedly. I was always so happy when these pieces were over, and glad I'd never have to listen to them again. All the conservatory students composed or performed that kind of music along with the accessble kind, and all the college students like myself went to hear our friend's recitals. There was some recital or another every day of the week.
  20. Jun 7, 2005 #19
    here's an explanation of schoenberg/hauer's "12-tone system":

    things make a bit more sense now... "though this (still) be madness there is method in it". now i can appreciate that stuff a bit more but i think i'll still stick with my old-school baroque stuff.
  21. Jun 7, 2005 #20
    I don't know if what I'm refering to is what you're refering to. I'm not familiar with gestalt and the other concepts you mention.
    This is true. I didn't think I implied that the scale had anything to do with it. As FranzNietsche pointed out you can write fairly traditional-sounding music with the serial system if you want.

    I'm pretty sure that classical Indian Sitar music uses a very different scale than ours, yet you can pick up on the coherence and harmony just about instantly. The rhythms they favor are also quite different than our own, but they are still obvious and coherent rhythms. The contemporary music that is bothering fourierjr and I seems designed to sound like unstructured noise made with traditional instruments. Quite a bit of the serial music I've heard seems to have been written with the idea of making the most incoherent possible line from the 12 tones. I'm wondering if you've been exposed to the stuff we're bothered about.
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