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This 24 message thread spans 2 pages:  < <   1  [2] > >  
  Re: joy  EugeneMarshall at 07:13 on 23 March 2008

Sorry I should have clarified.
I meant musical force... as an influence on composers.

  Re: joy  Misuc at 10:52 on 23 March 2008

I still don't know what you mean by 'force' and I don't think you are justified in calling this a "a matter of fact". What is undeniable fact is that there is more minimalist music around than some of the other styles you mention. What I was doing was to try to explain why. Do you have a better explanation?

  Re: joy  Jim Tribble at 11:01 on 23 March 2008

Misuc you seem a bit angry at the world. How would you define Joyous. Are there pieces that most people would agree are full of Joy. The opening of Zadoc the Priest? I feel that any emotion that you put into music is a learnt response. Most of music of any culture is by agreement a learnt response/association. Other culture do not have or agree that the standard cadences mean particular endings or solutions. The job of a composer is to explore these emotions and responses and to gain through insight, practise and luck new connections with their own and other peoples minds.
In regards to minimalism I feel that it has had its day as an all out form and should now be part of the armoury of modern composers not the be all and end all.

  Re: joy  Misuc at 13:13 on 23 March 2008

I agree.

The case you quote: Zadok the Priest, is a good example of the point you are making. The particular device which gives these opening bars their 'punch' is the extraordinarily prompt apparent turn in the direction of the subdominant and the necessary balancing mechanism he has to set up in order to realign the forces of tonality. The crucial step here is the chromatic alteration of just one note - and this semitone change of a single note has set a momentum in motion which affects the time-scale of the whole piece - such is the power of tonality as a system.

Of course, as you say, the power of this note-change depends upon the general understanding of the system [and not simply on the cleverness, or inspiration of the individual composer] in the same way as the power of a dollar note depends on its use as currency. This general understanding of tonality (and other systems + subsequent developments) does not, of course, depend on scholarly learning, but it does absilutely depend on the active, creative participation of listeners, performers, composers and patrons/bosses. This has been severely undermined by the way in which governments, educational, cultural and media institutions have given way to the needs of big business which are, as far as possible, to restrict the role of most of us to that of passive consumer. Under globalised capitalism, 90% of existing human languages are set to be destroyed before the end of the century, and the same is happening to musical languages and systems.

Big business is quite open about what it wants out of its music division: the welfare of the art is not among its top priorities.

" The funds raised by Terra Firma are used to acquire companies…. These healthier companies are subsequently sold or listed on the public stock markets to realise a return for the pension funds and other investors in Terra Firma’s funds. ..... it is these attributes, rather than any specific sector, that determines where Terra Firma will invest...."

This is the factual situation that lies behind 'postmodernism': on the one hand, our easy access to the whole heritage of music from all times and places - but as mere passive voyeurs or tourists - and, on the other hand, the comparitive lack of an authentic music of our times which can face comparison with the authentic music of other periods or cultures.

Am I "a bit angry with the world"? Not with the world: just its rulers.

I find Jim's description of the job of a composer just about perfect: an inspiration. I absolutely agree that composers have to use their experience and understanding of the [culturally-derived] objective implications of the musical 'systems' or 'languages' [which they have inherited from the collective experiences of many peoples throghout human history] in order to add to - rather than take away from - music's expressive power and range.

  Re: joy  IanTipping at 14:46 on 23 March 2008

I have to say Misuc, you are coming across as a real ray of sunshine. Perhaps you should look again at the title of the discussion thread? There may be truth in some of your arguments, but you must look at the contemporary classical music of the 50s, 60s and early 70s and its contribution to the situation we currently find ourselves in. The relentless rejection of the audience as part of the consideration when embarking on a composition throughout that period, exascerbated by the exclusion of more 'audience-friendly' contemporary composers from broadcasts by the prejudicial pro-hypermodernist stances of a few powerful scheduling executives led to the core classical audience feeling excluded from the then-current serious music world. This in turn led to the prevailing wisdom among those people that contemporary composition was nothing but 'squeaky-squawky, wrong-note' music, to coin a phrase. It's all very well bewailing the lack of publication opportunities for contemporary composers, but the publishing companies from the smallest to the biggest are BUSINESSES, not charities, and the only reason they go under or are 'forced to sell up' is that they cannot sell their wares. If you really feel so impassioned about this, why don't you set up your own publishing company? The internet has opened up such a vast avenue for distribution that the argument of a lack of a publisher simply doesn't hold water any more.

I very much resent the implication that Minimalist writing exists only to 'sell', that finding audience appeal means it is somehow artistically compromised. Where is the compromise in Riley's 'In C' or Reich's 'Clapping Music'? These are tremendous pieces when performed well (and unlike much contemporary work, it's easy to spot when they're not!) and they are without question uncompromised in their conception. I think that like all artistic movements, it is possible to take a concept too far, but at its best the experience of a great performance is truly wonderful. I am also discomfited by the implication that Minimalist writing is always nothing but 'Composition by Numbers'. This is extremely thin ice - what are serial tables if not composing to a formula? The truth is that, to quote the great Duke Ellington "There's only two types of music - Good and Bad". There is good Minimalism, there is bad Minimalism. There is good Serial composition and there is bad. There are good and bad examples of Avant-gardism. I could continue of course, but this has always been the case. After all, Mozart wrote the "Musical Joke" as a demonstration of the bad composition he witnessed in his day. We simply have the benefit of hindsight to know what was worthy of being remembered. After all that, I must admit, I don't actually consider myself a minimalist. I agree with Jim that by and large as a 'pure' musical approach, most of what can be said within that sub-genre has been said. It is part of a pallette I draw from, rather than being the basis for my work. However, I do think Minimalism's most important contribution is that it has demonstrated that working within a tonal framework is still valid for today's composers. It is also encouraging a few brave souls to dip their feet into the exciting world of contemporary music. If this gives those people the drive to experience more of the new music around, then this can only be a good thing. Audiences are important. Without them, the whole edifice of classical music will crumble and die, and I for one intend to make my contribution to stop this from happening.

  Re: joy  Jim Tribble at 16:12 on 23 March 2008

Well said Ian. I have to disagree with Misuc on one point concerning the power brokers. Musicians and composers have always been dependent on the power brokers, be it a chief of a tribe or the chief executive of a large corporation. Mozart and Bach both had there run ins with the wealthy patrons, ending with Mozart having to beg for money. In Charles the seconds day there was a scandal when the best harpist,who never had a day out of work, died from starvation due to lack of payment by said King. The number of Musicians and Composers is directly linked to how much spare cash is lying around for kudos and advertising.

It is also the struggle of Composers against the odds that has created some of the best music. Look at Shostakovich and the Russian Government. Unfortunately it seems that there are very few of us who get to fulfil and do the things that we would like to, and nowadays we are constantly shown on television things to make us dissatisfied. At least nowadays we have more chance to buck the system via the internet as Ian says.

I am going to change tack now and open a new forum on tonality.

  Re: joy  Misuc at 16:27 on 23 March 2008

"....publishing companies from the smallest to the biggest are BUSINESSES, not charities" My point exactly! I don't blame them - except for their hypocrisy in claiming to be anything else - I blame the system.

I hate musical categorisation, and I agree with you and Duke Ellington that there is only good and bad music. Actually I don't even think there is 'bad' music. There is just music with more or less content). In fact: if a piece fits too neatly into one or other of the existing categories, or marketing niches, it will tend to be just yet one more example of its genre and it will thus have removed most of the chances of fulfilling the tasks Jim proposed as the job of a composer - in other words it will have next to zero content.

There is relatively content-empty music in all periods and styles: none more so than in the Cage/serialism axis. The fashionable/soon-to-be-dumped 'minimalist' gimmick is only 5 - 10 degrees more time-wasting than the endless sequences and formulae of thousands of late baroque composers who had a similar excuse for an aesthetic 'philosophy' to the one that is trendy these days: "write for bums on seats". This is is prostitution. It is just like those critics of Einstein: "Why did he waste his time with all that clever stuff? Wouldn't he have done better to invent the electric toothbrush?"

By the way, in answer to Jim, i have not seen clear evidence that Shostakovich was fighting the system. On the contrary, he was a genuine revolutionary during revolutionary times, and a faithful representative of the bureaucracy during the Stlinist counter-revolution, wasn't he? sent to international conferences to defend offficial Soviet musical policy. Nor is there any evidence that Hitler's Reichs Chancellor for Music, Richard Strauss, was ever anything less than smug about his role, especially when he wrote e.g. the march for the grand opening of the notorious Nazi "Degenerate Art" exhibition which prefigured the slaughter of so many of his colleagues and rivals. I don't find either of them great composers - but they both had inspired things. (Strauss called himself "a first-rate second-rate composer" which I find startlingly apt) But in general, I agree that composers tend to produce their best work when in opposition to the system.

I do apologise. I have only just realised that reference to my being a 'ray of sunshine' was meant ironically! This was stupid of me. Just ignore me. I don't want to spoil anyone's party. Please don't read what I have to say, if it's likely to upset you, or at any rate, please don't think about it (in case you were)!!

  Re: joy  Jim Tribble at 18:47 on 23 March 2008

Misuc your right about the outright evidence for Shostakovich, but he did not write the kind of bland music that Stalin liked, understood and ordered from other composers of that era. He pushed against what was allowed and used irony in his symphony writing to get across some of his feelings. He also used tunes that were "banned" under Stalin but changing them in the way that Beethoven used revolutionary French folk tunes in some of his pieces in support of Napoleon.

  Re: joy  EugeneMarshall at 12:52 on 24 March 2008

Jim is right about Shostakovich.
Furthermore, Shostakovich subtly undermined the regime in his music.
Take the ever-wonderful Symphony 5.
Think of the 2nd movement. It's a mocking theme.
I for one know that Shostakovich could have been more passionate in his thematic writing, and intimate, but he chose to poke fun... subtly.

Anyway... back to minimalism.
If you are a tonal composer, you should be thanking your lucky stars for minimalism, because that almost singlehandedly returned tonality to modern music.

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