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This 24 message thread spans 2 pages: [1]  2  > >  
  joy  Janet Oates at 15:26 on 08 February 2008

I'm looking for contemporary (c. 1975 onwards) pieces whose overall mood / affect could be described as 'joyous'. There are many baroque examples, and some great Romantic orchestral movements, and then early 20th c. pieces (mostly jazz-influenced?) - but I can't think of any recent ones. Maybe I'm looking in the wrong place? Related to this, from which elements does 'joy' arise? I immediately think of rhythm and tempo, but surely that can't be all?


  Re: joy  Misuc at 14:43 on 09 February 2008

I don't think you can pin joy down, certainly not to single musical elements like that - least of all to rhythm, tempo etc. (Think of Beethoven's 'Ode to Joy' - what tempo or rhythm has that got that makes it so joyous?)

Joy pervades some music through all its elements - as it does your body and soul at times - it would be grotesque if it came through, say, your legs, finger-tips or hair alone.

There's a lot of it in some of the best of new music. I can't think of particular examples at the moment, but some composers who come to mind in this context are Elliott Carter (e.g. Symphony of 3 orchestras) (or, come to think of it: Stockhausen's 'Gruppen', Ligeti, (Melodien), Benedict Mason (Chaplin Music, String Quartet) (also Messiaen if he counts, timewise, and also if you can stand his perfumed unctiousness). Wolpe (Saxophone Quartet)...You won't know it, but my own 'Dizzy Spells' is the clearest example I can think of of something conceived in a spirit of 'pure' joy - which includes - as do all joyous sensations and the music that conveys them - enthusiasm, good humour, mockery, ecstasy, drama, wit, aggression, love, excitement, wonder....

  Re: joy  Janet Oates at 22:12 on 16 February 2008

thanks for this - I'll check out all your suggestions. Do you have an MP3 file of 'dizzy spells'?

  Re: joy  Misuc at 16:53 on 17 February 2008

The recording of my "Dizzy Spells" was irreparably damaged years ago. The last person to see (but not hear) it was Dizzy Gillespie. (But the damage had already happened). It is a piece of 'high' 'art' 'modern' serious' 'classical' 'avantgarde' etc. music but was partly inspired by Gillespie's vertiginous spirit. He was in London at the time and consented to look at the score. Scratched his head. Looked at another page. Looked at me. Scratched his head again. Pause. Said: "You put a lot of work into this". Scratched his head again. More pause. Finally edged away. His voice echoed from the distance: "I never did master them dots" I feebly called after him reminding him that there was this tape.......He had gone.

I still think he might have enjoyed hearing it. Maybe not. Anyway, I am really embarrassed reading what I wrote about the piece on these pages. It's not THAT good. I do like it a bit anyway, and so did the audience. The critics didn't. But then I too was a writer on music back then and had just slagged them off in print a week or two earlier - not realising they would have a chance for a come-back so soon!. I revised the piece and changed quite a bit later, but I'm still not sure I got it entirely right.

The joy in joyous music comes mainly from the form, in my opinion. There is a moment in many pieces in the 'classical' period = and in other styles, where things start to come together and become more and less than they were i.e. come into perspective/proportion on the wider scale of things. the joy comes from the discovery of this .... there are so many examples of this in the literature - I'm sure you will know them. This does definitely happen in my piece, but I am not sure whether it happens at the right time - whether it is fully justified by the accumulated tensions that have built up or whether these are adequately dissipated......

  Re: joy  piargno at 03:07 on 19 February 2008

I hate to be so cynical, but if you want a stereo-typical joy that audiences can respond easily and quickly to, then listen to the music of William Bolcolm, Michael Daugherty, Derrick Bermel, Michael Gandolfi, and perhaps the flute and guitar pieces of Robert Beaser, and the happy "tonal" works of Chris Theofanidis, the works of James Yanatos, Larry Bell, Libby Larsen, John Adams (whom I LOVE actually, but I think his music is 'joyous' ), and Charles Fussel.

For a deeper joy, a joy which, to me, comes from a combination of visceral and mental appreciation, listen to the string quartets of Peter Maxwell Davies, the works of Davidovsky, Nicholas Vines, Lee Hyla (there are good samples on his website, and on, Steve Reich, Martin Amlin, Pozzi Escot, Christopher Rouse, Leo Brouwer (I think he has many works after 1975), Martin Lodge, John Deak, Brian Cherney, Curtis Hughs, Matt van Brink (also has great web site clips), and me! (Had to throw that one in...) I'll send you some mp3s if you'd like...

  Re: joy  Jim Tribble at 19:29 on 20 February 2008

Hi Janet, I agree with you about the lack of joyous music, and have been trying to discover how to write happy music. I have written 4 happy pieces but still find that I have to mix in some minor sounds to smooth things through. I have also been working on what I call Happy rhythms. I feel that some of the rhythms used in Baroque music are intrinsically happy in the way that they work. I have used some of them and started looking for some of my own. Music in 5 4 such as Take Five played by the Brubec jazz group seem to give me some scope for upbeat pieces. I would be happy to send the pieces to you (as PDF files). Or discuss it further.


  Re: joy  IanTipping at 12:28 on 21 February 2008

Hi Janet

I think that you're right, there has been a dearth of truly joyful sounding music written in the last five decades or so, at least on a purely face-value appreciation. I think that many of the previous contributors have spoken of the deeper joy that comes from really appreciating a great piece of music and that's is something that I whole-heartedly agree with, however it doesn't help in your search for aesthetically joyous-sounding music. One of the problems is that, when listening to joyous music of the past, one finds that often the 'joyful' sections occur as a result of the sudden release after a period of relatively heavy tension within the work (whether that results from relative dissonance or complex contrapuntal sections, or some other musical device), and this release is something that many 'modernist' styles, particularly those deriving from serial ideas, actively seek to avoid. That's not to say that those styles can't give rise to 'joyous' sounding music, but it may help to explain why you've found it so hard to find examples. The other explanation of course could simply be that we contemporary types are just a load of old miseries!


  Re: joy  EugeneMarshall at 12:36 on 17 March 2008

Hi, I'll just pull a few off the top of my head.

John Adams - Short Ride on a Fast Machine (so popular it's getting cliché)
Arvo Pärt - Spiegel im Spiegel (well... at least *I* feel joy)
Philip Glass - Powaqqatsi
Nigel Westlake - Antarctica Suite, Penguin Ballet (Again, it sounds joyous to me but may not for you)

And then if you want to count film music, there's loads.
If you want any film music ones, ask and I can give you a few.

  Re: joy  Misuc at 17:01 on 17 March 2008

I don't know the last piece mentioned, but, as for the the others: horrible! Horrible! Nothing as repetitious, mindless, unimaginative, soulless, monotonous and commonplace as that can be called joyous.

I get suspicious when composers say they are trying to drum up joyous rhythms or phrases etc. If you've got a heart and soul, some experience of life, and a lot of experience of music [by imitating it, recomposing it, listening to it creatively etc.] - moods will transport you as musical ideas, fragments and formal conceptions hit you. Just allow your imagination to play with all this: try and write it down as soon as you can: change it - cut out the obvious or over-repetitive - surprise yourself - think about it - deepen it, sharpen it and the joy will come like a bubble comes out if you mix the soap and water properly and blow gently and firmly........

  Re: joy  EugeneMarshall at 10:02 on 19 March 2008

"Nothing as repetitious, mindless, unimaginative, soulless, monotonous and commonplace as that can be called joyous."

I may have to respectfully disagree with you here.
Minimalism is beautiful because of the subtle changes.
One a global level it may seem monotonous, but when you listen hard...
It's like a beautiful recipe. You start of simply and then add new flavours... until you have a rich texture and colour.
Every note becomes important... especially in Arvo Pärt's music... just so heavenly.
The rhythmic and harmonic repetition is powerful... when you hear the louder ones, your heart beat pulsates with it.

  Re: joy  Misuc at 23:19 on 21 March 2008


"....Like a beautiful recipe..."

Yes. that's just what it is! A touch of this - a smidgeon of that - a concoction prepared from the page [or the TV show] to titillate the pallette and dull the appetite: to draw the undiscerning over-fed punter and feed him smells and colours. Brecht had a word for operas written that way: "culinary operas" - all the ingredients: the aria, the duet, the 'denouement' etc. - ways to pass the time away without anything happening or to distract the listener from even noticing the shattering events happening around him/her.. He proposed to replace this with 'epic theatre'. When composers he was working with complained that what he was asking for was not "music", he said "so don't call it music - call it, say, MISUC - just do what is needed" [or words to that effect]. While I cannot entirely go with this point of view, I found the thought telling enough to provide me my pen-name for this forum. I like Beethoven's remark to someone who commented on the 'beauty' of one of his pieces: "Beauty? Music should strike fire out of a man" [I have left out the male chauvinism of B's actual words here]

  Re: joy  ccachristina at 23:40 on 21 March 2008

Try 'Spiri' by Franco Donatoni. Not 'joyous-shallow' but definately bright and gratifying.

  Re: joy  Misuc at 00:13 on 22 March 2008

Yes. I have never heard this piece - I will try and get to hear it asap - but Donatoni is certainly a real composer with real soul and brain.....!

  Re: joy  EugeneMarshall at 04:32 on 22 March 2008

You are not a fan of post-modernists, are you Misuc?
The fact of the matter is, minimalism is by far the biggest force in the modern music making world.
It has even surpassed the serial technique and electro-acoustics.
It's different to other music, but it's not inferior.
You just have to listen to it in a different way.

  Re: joy  Misuc at 17:58 on 22 March 2008

"....minimalism is by far the biggest force in the modern music making world...."

The biggest force in music making is not the business of the music-makers. It is Warner Brothers, EMI, Vivendi, the Music Sales Group, and other private equity global conglomerates. In the UK the Music Sales group has bought up nearly all the existing classical and other music publishers, closing down many of their London premises, taking over 20% and more of all music shops in the UK, and blocking out other publishers' stock, recently taking over the world's biggest supplier of renaissance and baroque instruments etc., terminating the contracts of non-profitable composers and wiping out music publishers such as Koenemann's - [hitherto the most scholarly, clearest printed and by far the cheapest editions of the classical piano repertoire], pushing its stuff out to 30,000 schools and thus boosting its profits by £millions. The one significant remaining 'independent' [Boosey & Hawkes] was forced to sell off its instrument making division years ago and sold out the rest to Hg Capital, an international conglomerate, with intersts in banking, oil, coal (they own the last coal mines in Britain) etc. who are now selling out to Vivendi, a French entertainment conglomerate which used to own the company which provides my water (in London, UK) and now ownsall sorts of music, TV and film companies as well as trains, travel and other water companies. 'Terra Frma', the owners of EMI (Electrical and Musical Industries) also happen to own Odeon cinemas, the biggest UK railway rolling stock and aircraft leasing companies, are the biggest private landlords in Germany and in the UK, own massive pub and hotel chains etc. They are a low-tax paying private equity firm, registered in Guernsey. They have recently threatened to move out of the UK rather than pay the ridiculously modest tax-rise the UK government is calling for from non-domecile companies.

What are we musicians to them? What influence could we possible have? Minimalism imay not be "the biggest force" but there is certainly a lot of it around. This may be a consequence of the corporate takeover of the culture industry. Public Service broadcasting has all but ceased to exist. The British Arts Council and the BBC are bound to back only what can "pay its own way" - what does not disturb private profit [nor are they llowed to compete] The commercial TV stations accept programmes as a necessary interruption to the commercial ads on which they depend. The increasing privatised public education system has long since lost any sense of a mission to combat TV's advertisers' £billion pester-power child brainwashing. In addition to more general factors, this has meant that independent thought, expression, ideas, experiments, action are now ignored as dangerously subversive or as 'elitist'. Consequently a generation has grown up - among whom are music graduates! - which may never have heard a serious piece of music through to the end: which does not know how to listen to music and has never tried. It is these people who make up the bulk of minimalist composers and audiences.

It is not that one "must listen in a different way" - it is that one must somehow learn not to really listen at all. To be able to tolerate this music you have to learn to switch off your brain power, to dumb yourself down to the level expected by the bosses of the 300 companies which run the world.

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