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  May New Music became N(you) Music?  ruska02 at 18:25 on 03 September 2009

“The main problem we have with Contemporary Classical music is the fact that the message is just not getting out of the niche”.

One of the most urgent challenges classical music has been recently facing is the task of spreading forth the message of how really new contemporary artistic music sounds and breaths. In academic and traditional amateurs circles we tend to view the “Earlier Periods” of classical music as an idealized time in which the unity of listener and creator was not only unique but prevailed. Absolutely wrong! It is certain that in all those glorious days it was also quite rare for anything sophisticated to enjoy a wider audience.
I remember with the word of Shakespeare that “ … , the wits of former days
to subjects worse [that the one we produce today] have given admiring praise.”
If you take the piano programs Clara Schuhmann delivered to posterity, it is not exactly the works of her lover(s) Robert Schuhmann and Brahms that dominate. It is more the works of salon composers who, although they were immensely popular at the time let’s say like John Adams, remain more or less unknown today. There has always been an imbalance between the art of any particular time and the feedback of the audience and the cultural ambassadors of that time.

I sincerely do not think this lack of understanding however goes much further today than it did before. The term New Music with a capital “N”, was coined by Adorno, and for many came to identify a kind of expulsion from paradise – a banishment from the Masters Club of all those bad intellectuals more interested in destroying and doing “tabula rasa” that worried of continuing the subtle art of building visionary architectures of sound. Instead it was nothing new, it was just a necessary a moment in which rethinking and revaluing the musical bricks was as necessary as the birth of the temperate system or the work of Guidone D’ Arezzo and friends. Evolution needs evaluation and choice but above all research and discovery.

Today the term “New Music” or “Contemporary Music” is perceived in too many different ways, most of them felt by the audience as extremely negative and awkward.
It serves as generic representative name for all contemporary artistic musical trends like serial, post-serial, minimalist, post-minimalist, post-modern, neo-modern and of course electronic music. The Ipodman-in-the-street on the other hand does not associate it with any kind of music played on any radio during daytime programs. For some educated ordinary people and newcomers as well however it is quite simply “twelve tone music”, even if this particular style does not actually exist any more. But let’s face it – for most people “New Music” or even “Contemporary Music” is purely and simply the latest pop commercial music.

Last year I did intensive Educational Projects in secondary and upper education schools, it was always the same story:
Q “Write what music do you like and listen.”
A “ I love new music. Every day I listen to all the latest songs.

Or worst the other way round

Q “Professor which band do you work for?”
A “Oh I don’t work for a band, I write classical music, for example, chamber and orchestral pieces...”
“Ah, classical! I think I once saw one classical concert. It was in the Arena in Verona o La Fenice in Venice. It was so atmospheric, exotic! ”

As a classical music composer I must now start putting some blame for our plight on our state-run TV stations and our education system, but it is our fault not the one of the people we have chosen to manage culture and entertainment for us. “Every people has the rulers it deserves” (Tacqueville) The forever dwindling number of educational and at the same time entertaining and inspiring programs on TV as well as on the radio has also played a major role in this development. I grew up in the 70’s and 80’s. This was the time when Germany, France, UK and Italy had only three TV stations and it was impossible to watch TV without being confronted again and again with an opera or theatre performance or reports about the latest art exhibitions. Back then there were no real protests about the programs being too “intellectual” or too “highbrow, whereas these days on the other hand it might be quite a good thing if there were more protests at the abysmally poor quality of today’s TV shows.

The whole thing is quite simple – you cannot be curious about something you have never heard of the rule is and has always been “Learning from exposure” The teaching of art and music in our schools today has become so secondary – an accessory – due to the ever increasing focus on business-related subjects. This has led to the production of a new generation that knows increasingly little about something that has modeled all European culture, social and spiritual attitude. Our culture, our life, our civilization !

We need to evoke fascination and enthusiasm on the part both of the listeners and the performers. Artistic music should be neither trivial nor particularly simple and it should not borrow any of the usual clichés. It should always be striving to conquer new territory and go beyond popular aesthetics, “open doors that have not have been previously opened” (Pierre Boulez) . It can be, and at times really ought to be, challenging, difficult, demanding but , more than anything, it should need a second chance!
I am absolutely fighting those abominably conservative and reactionary people who are demanding a return to a much more acceptable and “agreeable” music, we all have seen what money can buy and it is not worth the price, we have other PRIORities.

Nobody should dare to point which direction music has to take. It will come about itself and I am convinced that music will always have a great appeal for all the generations of the future that are able to stop and listen, they won’t be millions of people anyway.
Today’s composers must realize we have two basic things to do if we are to survive. Educate the younger to be able to stop and listen not only to hear, draw new ways of opening up concerts, rehearsals and exchange. In a few words we must follow the foreseeing suggestions of Eric Booth in his book “The teaching musicians Bible” and jumping on the bus to be able not to miss our destination : art for a purpose!. Develop international digital and physical webs able to propose the same music one , two , three , many times in order to let everybody get accustomed with music that needs to become familiar to be able to be enjoyable. Forget therefore the flippant forms of “Multi-Kulti” music or “World” fusion and trans-post-neo movements – the very idea alone of keeping on criss-crossing and revoking dead bodies is naïve and sick.
Real artistic music now has the unique opportunity to break away from all the other genres and to then so to say represent once again a spiritual outburst for us al. Bach and Beethoven, who transformed all the classical forms of their time into their particular languages and later raised to the dimension of a unique spiritual gurus of music, would be the perfect role model here. We already have composers like them, we only do not yet realize it!. On the many trips, residencies, masterclass and performances I have undertaken I have been able to enjoy this view of culture from the outside and inside and this has taught me so much – among other things just how ridiculous and petty-minded the problems of the “New Music” scene seem when you are trying to get the message across to a cultural circle that does not have the slightest idea what “New Music” is all about. This enthusiasm for the music gives me hope for the future and the belief that the message of music can go further away beyond borders, styles, epochs and …money.

Roberto David Rusconi
Composer and Educator

PS Please all neo and post tonalist or classicist avoid
answering and comments thanks!

  Re: May New Music became N(you) Music?  MartinY at 08:26 on 05 September 2009

Unity of musical language in the classical period always was an illusion.

I can not not make an important point that the apparant unity of musical style over all genres in Mozart's time is an illusion caused by focusing too much on a subset of the music of that time in the educational system. It is such a widespread illusion that I sometimes forget that it is not true.

In 1800 it is to be presumed that more of the sorts of music which were collected by Percy Grainger, Bartok and Kodaly etc. were in existence. including the microtonal singing styles in the southern balkans and all the various types of court and folk music which existed in North Africa and the Middle East, than survived in 1900. 1900 was the time when collection of 'exotic' musics became relatively widespread. And this does not count the musics which were in existance in Asia and were interacting with European art music once initial exploration was replaced by cultural and intellectual exchange. The music which was first studied after 1900 clearly had hundreds of years of living culture before it came into our view and some styles might have had more practitioners than European court music..