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This 23 message thread spans 2 pages: [1]  2  > >  
  Why can`t contemporary classical music be  Jim Tribble at 17:00 on 10 June 2008

on a similar footing as the other contemporary arts?

Sorry I have been out of discussions for a while, I am still trying to look at the overall scene and discuss some of the questions it throws up for me.

In art there is an ultra modern version with trends etc but there is also room for all of the previous styles of art to still be practised at every level. What I mean is that an artist who is particularly skilled at fine art can still make an impact and be culturally relevant.

In Poetry the same applies with modern poets free to explore and re-examine older ways of poetry.

In Literature there is endless variation of past and present on the shelves all the time.

In Dance you can correograph using the ideoms of ballet from the past right through all the other dance forms all of which are taken as relevant and interesting.

So why can contemporary classical music not be the same. In all of the concerts that are portrayed all of the repertoire in a particular style has to come from composers of that era, regardless of the quality of the piece.

So unlike most of the other arts it says that composers can not be taken seriously by the establishment (radio 3, critics, recording companies and musicians) unless it is supposedly cutting edge and new.

Just a thought


  Re: Why can`t contemporary classical music be  James McFadyen at 17:55 on 10 June 2008

Don't forget that most modern music using canon and fugue, even if only in an elementary form.

I think the modern stuff is just too modern for most people's ears. The only people that really appreciate it is the establishment and fellow musicians/composers. A shame but a reality. If you want to please a wider audience, you need to make your music more accessible.

  Re: Why can`t contemporary classical music be  Misuc at 19:29 on 10 June 2008

You people seem to have got your 78 rpm needles stuck in a groove. Don't you listen to BBC 3 - it's become a personality chat show where cosy cushion-eared music drips through the airwaves oozing self-satisfied bogus tonality.

Don't believe their hype. They talk about 'innovation' 'imagination' etc. but they aren't up to the stage of accepting Schoenberg yet. When is the last time you heard any Webern on the radio - not to mention Hartmann, Zimmermann, Dallapiccola,Gerhard, Sessions or any of the whole lot of missed generations of composers who could perhaps be said to be transitional to the present 'avant-garde' (which you still next to nothing of). And what about those truly great composers Wolpe and Dessau: not to mention the lost generation of 'modernist' russians and the BAuhaus and Dada composers in Germany let alone the thousands of contemporary composers from continental Europe and the USA let alone composers from other countries? As to the contemporary British 'modernists, when have you heard any of the composers around Ferneyhough, Redgate, Fox, even Dillon nowadays - or that extraordinary eccentric impossible to place composer, Benedict Mason. You don't even get to hear the on the surface conservative but deeper down inspired radical Goehr?

You don't hear anything genuinely challenging because of audience chasing and because of tie-ins with commercial ventures in staging, filming, recording and publishing etc. They want to keep their licensing fee arrangements in a world where commerce rules. The Arts Council now only gives grants expressly where they are hardly needed i.e. where they can guarantee 'bums on seats' i.e. cash into sponsors pockets. Thus we get the Lowest Common Denominator - the dumbing down of all broadcasting from the unspeakable game shows, being rude to would-be careerist shows, reality TV etc to the destruction of the very concept of public service broadcasting (e.g. You hardly get plays for TV any more at all, and none that that go beyond sensation or drama-documentary, none that challenge ways of looking or thinking...)

NOTE; There has been one exception, the recent opera by Birtwistle, but for the most part the nearest thing you get to modern music is talent-show competitions to help make sure that Lloyd Webber musicals don't flop, as they might if left to the free market.

This is in contrast to the visual arts - which have been dumbed down in the opposite direction, so that it is all but impossible to see a new painting or drawing (other than the infantile sketches of Tracy Emin etc.).

  Re: Why can`t contemporary classical music be  Jim Tribble at 22:29 on 10 June 2008

OK, so the radio/establishment was obviously not a good choice? But I asked a wider question about why should other previous styles not be taken seriously or be considered a worthy place to look at.

I know that contemporary music uses all of the techniques of the previous generations, tonality, form structure, orchestration etc. What I was trying to ask was 2 things.

1) Whether a composer could be taken seriously for being more of a classicist than a modernist.

2) Would expanding the field of acceptability to include composers who really want to write a full romantic symphony, rather than exploring the potential of double stopping on a flute, help the public face of contemporary classical music.

Our thunder has been stolen by the composers working in the pop industry, but I think that there is a place for promoting composers who do not push the boundaries but hope to polish the techniques used in other eras.

Maybe by exploring these we could create whole new strands or ideas and head the classical period into a whole new direction away from the romantic? Or the Baroque into the classical etc.

I'm sorry that this is a bit wishy washy but I have been thinking these things for a long time and find it difficult to express them. I'm just using you to bounce and explore them.


  Re: Why can`t contemporary classical music be  Ben Mueller-Heaslip at 23:04 on 10 June 2008

Hi Jim,

I find the fundamental difference between composition and other forms of art an interesting question as well.

Of your examples, I think dance is the least apt because it shares some important characteristics with music: they're both very resource-heavy endeavors and inherently communal in nature. A sculptor, poet, painter, novelist, etc, is (dodging the publishing question which is it's own topic in the forum) both the creator and medium for his or her work - they make it, they present it.

A composer or choreographer is dependent on many levels of resources: the basic resource of musicians/dancers, the financial resources to pay them, and - because music and dance happen temporally (i.e. a performance starts and ends within a particular duration of time, as opposed to a painting, book, or sculpture which exists and can be presented indefinitely) there's much more competition for the resource of venues.

The fact that all these resources are shared and competed for inevitably leads to much stronger divisions between people who want to encourage composition into one direction or another. It's only logical: the distribution of paper, paint, rocks, etc., is much more open and accessible than the sum of the resources needed to put on a concert.

That's why some people get up in arms when an orchestra chooses to perform a "neo-romantic work"; and why others get upset when they choose an experimental work; and why nobody gives a damn if a pianist puts on a solo recital of either Schubert or Schoenberg. Like a painter, what he presents is his own business because it doesn't drain communal resouces... but larger-scale activities affect everyone.

I think an obvious solution is for composers to do much more work to create new resources and make themselves as independent of this structure as possible... unfortunately some of them take the easy road of writing accessible but vapid music. But I've found many composers who are capable of being both serious, progressive, and independent.

To try out your second question: there's no debate about neo-classical/romantic composers presenting their work on their own. The issue is with support for that music from "official" structures: social funding, mainly. While there's a lot of admirable craftsmanship in creating an excellent piece of music in that language, there's a difference between arts and crafts; and I think that if these structures have any useful purpose, it's in supporting art that speaks the language of our time.

  Re: Why can`t contemporary classical music be  Jim Tribble at 16:54 on 12 June 2008

Great reply Ben thank you for that. In Misucs reply he asked the question, why are composers such as schoenburg and other composers, been neglected by the main general establishment, and media.

Playing Devils advocate, it occurs to me that these composers and other contemporary composers may have made a rod for their own back by seeming to ignore the listeners part in compositions.

They seem to have alienated the listener and sometimes the performer from compositions. And know the listening market is ignoring them.

For me the listeners experience is just as important as the performers experience and is part of the joy of writing. The idea that you can play with the listeners expectations as well and create a dialogue between the three of you.

I seem to come back always to the question of what is the point of composition.

There have been some heated debates about the commercialisation of music, where my contention is that because music is a material heavy art, it has to have a relevance to the moneyed world, and therefore the listener.


  Re: Why can`t contemporary classical music be  James McFadyen at 20:08 on 12 June 2008

I second that Jim!

  Re: Why can`t contemporary classical music be  Misuc at 00:16 on 13 June 2008

No, Jim. I did not ask why our culture bosses don't play Schoenberg etc. I don't expect them to. After all you don't get to the top in business or government on account of caring about imagination, true feeling, generosity of spirit, devotion, artistry, courage, deep thought or any of that non-marketable waste matter

But Jim did ask a question. He asked what composition was for? What is conversation for? Humour? Mourning? Going for walks? Having families? just to keep the wedding dress manufacturers in profit, or the shoe manufacturers, or the undertakers or brewers in business? What is human communication for? To give media-moguls a one-way monopoly? To guarantee the TV advertisers their revenues?

He argues that: "because music is a material heavy art, it has to have a relevance to the moneyed world, and therefore the listener." This begs so many questions! Medicine is also capital-heavy. By this argument the old and poor should be left to die in the street, schools and universities should be run for private profit, Child and slave labour ought to be increased (so that goods can be sold more easily). Theoretical physics should be stopped. There should be increased speculation in food futures. Public service broadcasting should be run down. In fact everything should be removed which in any way restricts opportunities for the world’s billionaires — just 497 people (approximately 0.000008% of the world’s population) who were worth $3.5 trillion (over 7% of world GDP).

Come to think of it, that is what IS happening.

The interests of the listener are of no more concern to the music producer/agent/promoter/sponsor/commercial composer than the interests of the human beings who together provide their customer base/voting fodder are to the bankers, profiteers, gangsters and politician who woo them. The Dutch pension Fund managers who now run what was probably the last remaining UK owned music publishers of any significance, do not waste tears over the fate of the businesses they take over or the composers they drop. Nor do they sink down-market as far as Jim and James fancy they should be doing. They try to get a finger in all markets and there is still quite a lot of money to be made in the Carter industry - maybe almost comparable to the Nyman machine.

It is a mistake to think that listeners and listening fodder are the same, or that composers of serious music aren't also listeners enjoying the interplay between performer, listener and composer of which Jim speaks. Please, please listen to, say, Schoenberg. Compose something where you've got to learn what it is you are making while you are making it, and then listen to Schoenberg again. And then write some more. You are human beings too. You are capable of understanding what better people than you have done. Try again. They have done it for you too.

  Re: Why can`t contemporary classical music be  Ben Mueller-Heaslip at 03:05 on 13 June 2008

Thanks Jim! I appreciate your appreciation for my analysis, and I'd don't think anyone involved in this debate would disagree, fundamentally, with your statement referencing my post:

...because music is a material heavy art, it has to have a relevance to the moneyed world, and therefore the listener.

Regardless of its language, music exists in, responds to, and depends on social resources - you'll note that I made a bit of a point by not limiting "resources" to economics. The most important resources here are people: performers and listeners.

But I'm confused about the implied details of your statement: is a material heavy art...

What exactly do you mean by music?

This might seem a silly question, but I'm not so sure: you definitely seem to be speaking about "music" as a homogenous thing and that should conform to this unifying standard you've laid out. But in my last post I was trying to point out the inadequacy of the resource melting pot, that it may be a thoroughly anachronistic model, and that composition might improve by a more pluralistic approach: What I was most definitely Not suggesting is that it should be a definition for validity in composition!

...and therefore the listener.

Again: who is this listener? I'm finding that people trying to bump up very traditional music often dress up a scarecrow in a tux and call it "the listener". But there are so many different sorts of "listeners"... and I find that people doing experimental music actually do a much better job of encouraging the growth of commumities of "listeners" actively interested in their music.

After all, many experimental artists have to build much of their resources from scratch and constantly re-prove their value: dealing with the conditions you've pointed out is a large part establishing their validity. Whereas traditionalists are working from a platform of convention and expectation several generations high.

In which case, have you considered the possibility that the idea of writing traditional music might not relate very well to the idea of real world relationships?

  Re: Why can`t contemporary classical music be  Jim Tribble at 23:05 on 13 June 2008

Thanks for the replies, in answer to ben and misuc.

Let me ask a question, are you arguing that composers such as bach, mozart and beethoven were not good composers because they wrote music that appealed to their audiences, they also educated and led, but principally appealed first.

The material that I speak of for these composers were the best available musicians, and halls available. This meant that they had to write music acceptable the people with money and their audience. So the listener was very much part of the equation of writing.

It always seems to me that a group of listeners has to be led to an understanding feeling of new music and that possible the journey to the current crop of new music is so tortured that not many people make it.

By the by Schoenberg was on radio 3 today in the afternoon concert.

I am also not suggesting in any way that the music that someone might write in the idiom of classical, baroque etc should or would be a copy. I feel that there is still scope for genuine discovery and innovation in former tonal systems. Re working and inventing them. I am constantly learning and trying to forge a new language but not from the starting point of the more modern techniques although I happily use current form and chordal ideas.

I am also not advocating commercial music although this has its place. I am merely building a picture of the modern classical scene through discussion. Musically I have recordings and have heard a lot of the composers already mentioned in other forums. So hopefully I am not foruming in ignorance. (well not too much)


  Re: Why can`t contemporary classical music be  Misuc at 23:59 on 13 June 2008

The relationship of composer, audience, performer and patron is a complex one.

Just to point out that Bach, Mozart, Beethoven did have better audiences than for today's 'classical' music. Jazz and Blues musicians have had a more active, discerning and critical body of people to work with and against.) In both classical times and in the jazz milieu in the 20th century, the 'language' used was the work of all concerned not just the composers/performers (i.e. listeners and entrepreneurs too - and not over just one generation, but built up and developed over many years of many-sided [multicultural] interaction .

Thus communication at quite a sophisticated a level was possible.

It is not impossible now. One of the functions of a site like this is to enable a free exchange of information, ideas, techniques, understanding (and verbal blows too) as part of a quest to create a living musical culture again. The creation of masterpieces does not only depend on the efforts of an individual composer

  Re: Why can`t contemporary classical music be  Jim Tribble at 08:57 on 14 June 2008

Hi Misuc thanks for your reply.

/and not over just one generation, but built up and developed over many years of many-sided [multicultural] interaction/

This is the point I am making that from Schoenburg on the audience/listener has been alienated to a certain extent with more and more people just not bothering to make the effort to understand the music.

This is a law of diminishing returns with each generation less people apart from those in the "know" listening and contributing and funding new music.

So the question should be through composition how can we as a body of composers make a better, more receptive world that builds up a body of audience to help our art function.

/free exchange of information, ideas, techniques, understanding (and verbal blows too) as part of a quest to create a living musical culture again. /

I don't think that this site has the capacity to let us brain storm on techniques, I feel that we should use this site to form a community not just of words but of action. What I mean to create spaces for these discussions that by pass academia and formal organisation, in pubs, halls, houses. To give energy to new ideas and help us come out of the closets that we compose in.

I have been thinking for some time of opening up my house (5 bedroom Victorian with music room full of instruments) for a free (just food) meeting place to discuss, argue, practise and play new works. This summer. I will put this on a new forum.


  Re: Why can`t contemporary classical music be  Josseline at 19:41 on 30 January 2012

It's really hard to create something new and good when you feel the pressure that it's all been previously done. I'm a New York architect and sometimes I think that all I'm doing is combining two different ideas from the geniuses that lived before me and making something new.

  Re: Why can`t contemporary classical music be  Jim Tribble at 21:46 on 30 January 2012

Hi Josseline,

That is part of the fun for me. I usually think that I have no more creativity left when I start a new piece but pieces continue to grow and mature.

For me personally, I am just following my nose, and I don't try to invent the new, but try to explore each new idea fresh and see where it leads.

It is upto other folk to say if it is any good or not. It is the best I can do at the moment. That does not mean that I am not continually self critical, or allow me to let myself off the creative hook.


  Re: Why can`t contemporary classical music be  Janice at 23:32 on 26 March 2012

Working for a video production New York company has made me very heedful regarding new (or better yet old) filming techniques, so whenever I'm watching old movies, I suddenly have the urge and the vision to create something new. It's a very funny and elevating feeling, at the same time.

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