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This 26 message thread spans 2 pages: [1]  2  > >  
  Aesthetics, Style, Innovation, and the Future of Music  Zak at 05:00 on 12 February 2010

As a student, I realize that there is a lot of stuff I still don't fully understand, but if the more experienced composers out there will deign to hear me out, there are some things I think that need to be discussed that, looking over the forums on this site, aren't really being discussed (at least not here, anyway).

Let me begin with Aesthetics and Style. There are a lot of different musical styles out there--indeed, almost as many styles as there are composers, and composers often move between styles--, and more importance than ever is (rightly) placed on modern composers to find their own "voice". The question, though, is what does that mean, exactly? Is one style "better" than any other? And what style will be regarded as the leading style of the early 21st century? The tyranny of Boulezian serialism? The mind-numbing and unbearable repetiveness of minimalism? The messy hodge-podge of eclecticism? The outdated, uninventive harmonies of neo-romanticism? (Sorry, just trying to say the worst thing I can think of about each style.) All of those styles (with the possible exception of serialism) can be considered to be sub-categories of Post-Modernism (a linguistic oxymoron), but what comes next, Post-Post-Modernism?

What about innovation? Here at the close of the first decade of the 21st century, what is innovation? Is innovation even important anymore? Is innovation even possible now?

Any thoughts on these and related topics are welcome, but what this ultimately boils down to is: What is the Future of Music?

Of course, we can't know what the future holds, but we can guess, and it is something we will have a say in. So let's start guessing.

  Re: Aesthetics, Style, Innovation, and the Future of Music  Zak at 08:35 on 13 February 2010

I realized a couple of things:

1) I left out a number of stylistic trends, but it would really be impossible to list them all.

2) I should probably have told my feelings on these subjects, so herewith:

Style is personal, and always has been, to an extent. In the modern age, however, there are far more choices than in the past. I don't care what a composer writes, as long as it's written well (a very subjective term, yes, but how else to describe it?). Now, of course, there are somethings that aren't quite to my tastes, but so what? I don't particularly like hypocritical, arrogant scumbags, either, but other people do (in fact, they regularly elect them to political office). (Of course, hypocritical, arrogant scumbags in political office can have a greater effect on my life than composers trying to take the title of Most Annoying Piece of Music Ever away from Reich's Piano Phase, but the analogy holds for my purposes.) To sum up--write whatever you want, and write it well, and if I don't like it, well nobody's going to force me to listen to it, are they?

As for my own style, well I don't have enough of a body of work yet to really have developed a style of my own. So far, I have written mostly tonal pieces--nothing to brag about, more suitable for kindling than anything else. I don't foresee myself ever really abandoning tonality, but I have written some "atonal" pieces--worse than my tonal ones--and would like to compose more, and to blend tonality and atonality.

On innovation, I really don't have much to say. I don't think innovation ought to be the goal or purpose of composition, but rather a byproduct, something that arises out of necessity. However, I still must ask the same questions as above, especially "What is innovation?" and "Is innovation even possible?".


(Forgive the run-on at the end of the second paragraph under 2), it was hastily written.)

3) (I'm not sure about this one, but) Perhaps form should also be involved here, in some way, as form is an important part aesthetics, right?

  Re: Aesthetics, Style, Innovation, and the Future of Music  MartinY at 09:07 on 14 February 2010

Style / musical language is probably the biggest issue for a young composer today. Everything is possible but nothing seems sensible. You cannot get composition lessons and add a little bit to your teacher's style and that is musical progress in the same way as in the 16th / 17th / 18th and 19th centuries. Modern composition teachers usually do not want pupils to adopt their style.

I think the best way may be to let your style find you rather than actively find a style. Let the style dictate itself by the musicians you interact with and the pieces you might be asked to write. If you are at a hardline modernist university there will be a set of hoops you have to jump through in order to get progress and references you might need to do postgraduate study. IMHO this is nothing to do with music but it has to be done if you want to go down that line. Lots of people have done this really successfully winning prizes etc. but not coming out of this with the means to earn a living or getting a tenured teaching job. This is another issue, how do you earn a living as a composer. If you want to write microtonal non-folk music you will have to go down this academic route.

Let me explain why my style has formed itself into what seems to be quite a reactionary style. I live in the coutryside near an old indstrial town where the musical culture is largely about the former industrial wind bands rather than orchestral strings. However I am a string player. I write music which is likely to be played, so it tends to be for strings / early music instruments / recorders / guitars etc. and must be no harder than about grade 6 or 7 in the college exams, preferably a bit easier. I know all about the pitch continuum but I cannot use it because it does not correspond to what people have been taught. I will probably never live in a university town again and there are no good summer schools in the north of England, (Dartington is miles away and there ought to be something nearer here). I find the Doctor Who meets Anton Bruckner sound of even a lot of the best contemporary music a bit offputting. I would like something new but different to that. (We have something in the UK called Holy Minimalism, it is enough to make you give up music and take up a course in business book-keeping.)

Anyway the point of all this rambling is you should decide what your musical lifestyle should be and allow your style to evolve from what you do. If you want to go down the academic route you have to out-academicize the other composers. I think competion between composers is mentioned in one of the blogs. Academic composition is a bit like a funnel where many postgraduates enter but only a few make a living from it. Do not know what to advise really but I think I have more to say on all these issues.

  Re: Aesthetics, Style, Innovation, and the Future of Music  MartinY at 09:38 on 14 February 2010

Mixing Atonality and Tonality.....

There are lots of pieces which mix atonality (and serialism) with tonality, (in the past, Ives 4th symphony, Berg's Violin Concerto, Listz's Faust Symphony), loads of more recent pieces, 19th C pieces with long chains of diminished 7ths, etc.) There is an issue of purity which some people might be upset by. I think all the different styles of music can by hybridized as it were, but very often mixing of styles just sounds like a mess. Sometimes misunderstandings of style and lack of slick competence can be creative and lead to a good composition, where the composer has just been following his inner ear. Alfred Schnitke has written a lot about polystylism in music. I might read some of this to see whether there is anything encouraging there.

  Re: Aesthetics, Style, Innovation, and the Future of Music  Zak at 09:30 on 15 February 2010

"I think the best way may be to let your style find you rather than actively find a style."

That's a nice way to put it; I agree. I've never thought much about style, but it is an important issue, as you say.

I am interested in microtonal writing, though I haven't tried it yet.

I like the examples you have on your Show Case page, are those representative of your work?

"I think all the different styles of music can by hybridized as it were, but very often mixing of styles just sounds like a mess."

So you wouldn't like a serialized minimalistic piece with quotations from Puccini?

Seriously, though, I agree--one must be careful about unity, regardless of style.

(This is a question brought on in part by the "Cultural Identity" blog and your mention of Ives: Why isn't Ives mentioned in discussions of musical nationalism? To me, Ives' music is as American as Dvorak's is Czech, or Grieg's Norwegian, or Tchaikovsky's Russian, or Bartok's Hungarian, or... Of course, "nationalism" has become something of a dirty word amongst academics--thanks largely to Nazism, I suppose--, but I nevertheless find the appelation appropriate for Ives, with all his quotations from folk/popular music and hymns. Just something I was thinking about right now.)

  Re: Aesthetics, Style, Innovation, and the Future of Music  Zak at 05:55 on 16 February 2010

Sorry, that last post was not written very well. Let me expand a little.

You mention in your profile something about your "new style", would you mind explaining that? Just curious. I, too, want something new (who doesn't?), something bold, something different. I'm not sure yet what this will be; I have been working on a Concerto Grosso over the past month or so that I think might come close to this, but probably not very close (and I've been thinking about putting it off for awhile in favor of smaller-scale works).

And forgive me for not mentioning any of the great British composers in my list, but I wasn't sure which one--Elgar? Holst? Vaughan Williams? Of course, there is more to nationalism than quoting folk songs.

  Re: Aesthetics, Style, Innovation, and the Future of Music  MartinY at 07:18 on 16 February 2010

I will write a longer and more considered reply about style....

British composers... I saw the same article as Judith Bingham commented on. I was struck by the continuing myth that Purcell was the first English composer and Handel the second. Clearly nobody sings Byrd's Non Nobis Domine and Tallis' Canon at school anymore! And they clearly have never heard of Gibbons, Dowland, Locke, Lawes, Taverner, Dunstable and all the composers who wrote the Eton Choir Book whose names few can remember though the music is first rate. That is 250 years of music written off and ignored.

  Re: Aesthetics, Style, Innovation, and the Future of Music  Misuc at 21:59 on 16 February 2010

I approve most of what Martin Y writes in most cases, and he always comes up with challenging ideas, but here is one of a number of occasions where I disagree with him when he says: "Style / musical language is probably the biggest issue for a young composer today".

Let's remember: nobody minds if you compose something or not. There is no great demand for new music of any sort. There is only one reason why a genuine composer writes a piece of music: and that is because s/he has an idea which s/he feels needs to be said. If the style is an issue, then better not write anything. Listen to some actual music: any music that hits you, play it: try and find out how it works explore its possibilities: see how far you can stretch them - don't read second-hand theory books about it: do't take anything for granted: retain your sense of wonder and amazement that cycles of ear-wobbling [listening to music]can cause such mental devastation, yearning, triumph,joy etc. and try and do the same.

Another issue which is a non-issue: tonality vs. atonality. Tonality applied consistently and stretched to its limits in the way I talked about above IS atonality and atonality, felt and explored consequentially is tonality. If you don't see it that way, never mind; just pursue your idea honestly, passionately,deeply and intelligently and I'm sure you'll come to be creating something like what I'm referring to albeit in another guise.

  Re: Aesthetics, Style, Innovation, and the Future of Music  Zak at 07:40 on 17 February 2010

I agree with you about tonality vs. atonality. I think, however, that it must be remembered that tonality doesn't just mean major/minor keys with the old I-IV-V-I, but that there are various kinds and degrees of tonality. Wagner's Prelude to Tristan und Isolde could be called atonal, in a sense, even though it techically is based on a "simple" I-IV-V, that just doesn't "resolve" like it's "supposed to". And there are other scales to which principals of tonality can be applied (even the chromatic scale), not to mention the diatonic modes.

My view is that there are some things that traditional tonality can express that atonality can't (consider a Puccini aria, or a Brahms symphony), and some things that atonality can express that traditional tonality can't (consider Bartok's "Song of the Harvest" from the 44 violin duets, or Shoenberg's Pierrot Lunaire).

I agree with you mostly about style, Misuc, and I do think we ought to compose the kind of music we'd like to listen to. As for Martin's statement, it is his statement and he must defend it, but I'd have to agree with him, somewhat.


I should say that I think if you sit down and say: "Today I'm going to write a nice little piece in the style of..." you will fail to create art. If what you write is in the style of...(Mozart, Bach, Brahms, Shoenberg, Carter, Bartok. whoever) it ought to be by accident, or because that style just happens to line up with what you want to create.

  Re: Aesthetics, Style, Innovation, and the Future of Music  Graham Lynch at 09:12 on 17 February 2010

Berio once said that style evolved through problem solving, which I'd agree with. It's not an 'off the shelf' thing that can be discovered with ease; it will arrive in time if a composer is sufficiently self critical and able to discard all non relevant material in a piece.

I also think that 'MartinY' is spot on in his suggestion that as a composer these days you have to be realistic as to where your music is going to have an outlet. Academia will impose certain constraints, as will writing for a local choir - always best to go with what one enjoys doing!

  Re: Aesthetics, Style, Innovation, and the Future of Music  Misuc at 09:29 on 17 February 2010

I don't agree that one has to be 'realistic' about where your music is sort of going to have an outlet. On the contrary it is this dishonest, mind-destroying subservience and obsequiousness which has brought music to its present atrocious condition

  Re: Aesthetics, Style, Innovation, and the Future of Music  Graham Lynch at 09:46 on 17 February 2010

Perhaps there has been a misunderstanding here? It's not a question of being 'dishonest', quite the opposite. As a composer I believe you have to write exactly what you want to (within any pre-determined limitations, as would have applied to any composers from the past)but at the same time one has to be aware of the potential outcome for writing in a particular way. Certain performers/ensembles/concert series/academic establishments will be interested in particular styles. If one is a minimalist composer there's probably little point in trying to engage the interest of a string quartet that specialises in music of the 'new complexity' idiom etc, and so on...

  Re: Aesthetics, Style, Innovation, and the Future of Music  MartinY at 09:47 on 18 February 2010

this dishonest, mind-destroying subservience and obsequiousness which has brought music to its present atrocious condition. This is true but there are problems in advising young people not to play the system!

Rutland Boughton was I think the only composer who gave up composition in order to devote more time to goat breeding. If you do not play the system to some extent you will be overtaken by people who do, who are essentially spivs and con-artists and they will get the very limited jobs and the person who is totally true to himself will end up goat breeding. When Wagner was in dire financial straights even he tried to deliberately write a hit like the Merry Widow or Tales of Hoffman. However being Wagner it came out as the Mastersingers of Nuremberg! So I would say it is neccessary to compromise, but not too much.

If you are writing for a string quartet who you know what is wrong with writing parts which reflect the personalities / specialities of the players if you can?..... Rather a hard piece of feedback to do tastefully.

To follow the animal analogy further who was it who said Academic work is throwing artificial pearls before real swine.

Presumably the UK's cuts in education financing will make matters worse and everybody will have to satisfy bureaucratic metrics in order to survive. Unfortunately in passing an exam you have to satisfy the examiner not your own curiousity. Sorry to sound so negative. At least you do not have to write music for the top drawer anymore, you can put it on the internet now even if it is handwritten.....

  Re: Aesthetics, Style, Innovation, and the Future of Music  Hareton at 11:51 on 19 October 2011

That was some truth I think in your statement overall. Some people are ignorant of the very nature of the man. I can't but agree with the author of an article I read found by byfiles search saying that so many of the musically gifted composers of the last few generations have gone where the money is: soundtracks, pop music, other fields, etc. This is so sad.

  Re: Aesthetics, Style, Innovation, and the Future of Music  cyn_z at 20:33 on 03 November 2011

I think it is fine to gain inspiration from other composers, but in the end if you aren't authentic to your own vision you will only disappoint yourself by not reaching your potential.

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