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Topic: Modern Composers

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  1. #1

    Modern Composers

    So, I went to the Playground Ensemble's 5th-Annual Colorado Composer's Concert (CoCoCo). I rather enjoyed it and was very surprised to find that most of the pieces were predominantly tonal. I was expecting this. Most concerts I go to with modern works in them are atonal, 10-tone, or some other style that is hard on the layman's ear.

    Now, as a composer myself, I am not a layman (in terms of music, only), however even as a composer I have never understood the modern penchant for "academic" music styles. They are usually uncomfortable to listen to and no one in the general public would want to commission a composer to write one for them (or their film). Since there really can't be much profit or even wide-spread acceptance of the style, why do modern composers insist in writing this way?

    I don't get it. Don't get me wrong: a sprinkling of atonality in a piece can have great dramatic effect--I just don't think an entire piece should be composed of it.

  2. #2

    Re: Modern Composers

    1) this is the wrong part of the forum for this post

    2) if you can state that you "never understood the modern penchant for 'academic' music styles", then you are, in effect a "layman" as your training is incomplete until you have a firm grasp on the REASONS for the existence of the various forms of non-tonal composition.

    3) there are more people than you appear to be aware who actually enjoy contemporary music.

    4) there is ample financial incentive to compose non-tonal music (film scores often require it)

    5) what you think an "entire piece" should consist of is entirely irrelevant and only reflects your own prejudice and misunderstanding regarding non-tonal compositional techniques.

  3. #3

    Re: Modern Composers

    addendum:

    lest anyone find it odd that a composer as "tonal" as I be defending non-tonal music, well... I can only say that, just like in ALL music, there is GREAT non-tonal music, and there is also a LOT of pure crap.

    The problem is, most people are incapable of making out the difference. We've had centuries to get used to what constitutes "good" tonal music. We've barely had a full century to become acclimated to post-tonal music.

    There are brilliant non-tonal works out there, overflowing with emotion, with brilliant development, with awe-inspiring melodic richness.

    And there are a lot of hacks out there who pour out pure crap because they actually have no "musical" talent, and no one dares TELL them it's crap.

  4. #4

    Re: Modern Composers

    There are brilliant non-tonal works out there, overflowing with emotion, with brilliant development, with awe-inspiring melodic richness.

    And there are a lot of hacks out there who pour out pure crap because they actually have no "musical" talent, and no one dares TELL them it's crap.
    I'll second that!

    I like all kinds of music. I even tried to write with some success. I find truly outstanding compositions hold their own weight in what ever genre they are written.
    [Music is the Rhythm, Harmony and Breath of Life]
    "Music is music, and a note's a note" - Louis 'Satchmo' Armstrong

    Rich

  5. #5

    Re: Modern Composers

    Well, I obviously stepped into it here...

    Michael, I am a huge fan of modern work. I grew up on movie music and found some of the more challenging scores (non-tonal) drove me to studying the craft. For example, Ligeti's "Lux aeterna" is an amazing piece I would hesitate to call "tonal." John Williams (one of my favorite "movie score" composers) peppers non-tonal parts into his scores. Even Bartok (who Williams steals from consistently--my professor said all composers tend to "borrow" from one another and it only becomes wrong when you cannot cite your source) was a great tonal and non-tonal composer.

    I suppose what I struggle with is the concept, as Sam Adler put it in a lecture I attended at the University of Denver's Lamont School of Music, that "Today's music should not be for the peasants." (Yes, he said that!) This seems off to me considering it is the "peasants" that pay composers. The music listened to on the radio is "peasant music" and is what tends to pay the music bills. How many nationally-known (not just to academics) music stars are out there who compose/perform non-tonal music?

    I don't believe most movies feature predominantly atonal music, but rather tonal (something the layman can hum or whistle by themselves in the car on their way to work) with non-tonal parts sprinkled in for color. Maybe I am wrong, but I think this is because the layman does not like non-tonal work.

    I did not mean to offend, Michael, with my comments. I was (an am) truly looking for someone to explain to me what the fascination is with many modern composers and non-tonal music. Much of it is, sad to say, disturbing to listen to. As an artist, I can appreciate the patterns and thought behind non-tonal work, but eventually it becomes an act of analysis for me, understanding the patterns in the music and piecing together "why" the composer did what hey did in the work.

    I guess it is all about the pattern to me. If I can understand "why" atonality is pursued the way it is, perhaps then I can understand its use beyond what I see now.

  6. #6
    Senior Member rwayland's Avatar
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    Re: Modern Composers

    Quote Originally Posted by FossMaNo1 View Post

    I guess it is all about the pattern to me. If I can understand "why" atonality is pursued the way it is, perhaps then I can understand its use beyond what I see now.
    Perhaps it would be useful separate your listening from analysis, and just consider what the music expresses. As a separate exercise, analyze however much seems good to you.

    Richard

  7. #7

    Re: Modern Composers

    Quote Originally Posted by qccowboy View Post
    1) this is the wrong part of the forum for this post
    Agreed, he didn't quite get the right area for this conversation but then he has less than a dozen posts and only joined the forum this month. How kind of you to extend such a warm welcome.
    Quote Originally Posted by qccowboy View Post
    2) if you can state that you "never understood the modern penchant for 'academic' music styles", then you are, in effect a "layman" as your training is incomplete until you have a firm grasp on the REASONS for the existence of the various forms of non-tonal composition.
    Understanding the reasons for a particular composition style does not mandate appreciation for it. Just because a chef may know why say... Lutefisk exists doesn't mean they would want to create a cookbook based on variations of the dish.
    Quote Originally Posted by qccowboy View Post

    3) there are more people than you appear to be aware who actually enjoy contemporary music.
    Why do right handed people eat more than left handed people? Because there are more right handed people. In the last 500 years or so of written music, even if the major periods (Renaissance, Baroque, Classical, Romantic, and Modern) had all equal shares of people who loved one particular style over another, there would be many many more people on the side of tonality.
    Quote Originally Posted by qccowboy View Post

    4) there is ample financial incentive to compose non-tonal music (film scores often require it)
    For the reason stated above, there is more financial incentive for tonal music.
    Quote Originally Posted by qccowboy View Post

    5) what you think an "entire piece" should consist of is entirely irrelevant and only reflects your own prejudice and misunderstanding regarding non-tonal compositional techniques.
    How can this be irrelevant? It is part of the initial post meant for discussion. What he thinks an entire piece should consist of is entirely his opinion and he is entitled to voice that here (wrong area of the forum not withstanding) He was only stating his preferences and never even mentions technique. How can you claim he misunderstands anything... unless you were only out to smack a new member with a single digit post count thinking they had nothing worthwhile to add because he made a statement that challenges your own creativity.
    Experience what is necessary to build upon self character, for that is Life's most significant learning event.

  8. #8

    Re: Modern Composers

    Quote Originally Posted by FossMaNo1 View Post
    I don't get it. Don't get me wrong: a sprinkling of atonality in a piece can have great dramatic effect--I just don't think an entire piece should be composed of it.
    The same question has been posed several times by very talented composers.
    I suggest you to listen this http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vPm_64adVr4
    This is truly contemporary music. But enjoyable for everyone as well. Because it uses common musical language.
    The real question is why many composers think they HAVE TO use a music language which only a very small minority of people understand.

    But I also suggest to listen to Arvo Pärt, Vladimir Martynov - they are contemporary composers writing modern but harmonic music.

  9. #9

    Re: Modern Composers

    Just to throw a thought in the pot, here...

    Discussions like this too often suffer from failures of communication... in
    the sense that the various parties to the discussion either do not have
    clear and concise definitions of the terms used -- or may, amongst them-
    selves, have different definitions of the same term.

    Take the word "tonal". What exactly is meant by that? To some, anything
    unfamiliar or that uses advanced harmonic techniques is automatically
    called "atonal" (though it might easily be theoretically argued to be completely
    tonal). To others (like me), even the twelve-tone work of Schoenberg, Berg,
    and Webern has a very complex but certainly tonal aspect to it... an unavoidable
    natural consequence of the raw materials, regardless of the intent of the
    composers.

    Perhaps it might be productive to establish a common ground of terminology,
    rather than hazard the implicit but incorrect assumption that each of us is
    speaking the same language.

    Best,



    David
    -----
    David Sosnowski
    www.DavidSosnowski.com

  10. #10

    Re: Modern Composers

    I tend to agree with David on the communication issue. But setting that aside, I think what is also important is that everyone has a threshold of tolerance when it comes to music, or any form of art for that matter. I think it is safe to say that NOBODY likes everything that they hear. Some people like to hear songs that they can sing back in the shower, while others prefer to feel the effect that they get from pitches and aural textures. (for example, video game sounds or mood inducing textures used in film scores.) Of course there are many who like to sing a tune in the shower, and like to listen to Schoenberg in their car when driving to work.

    Whether a composer’s work can be analyzed as “tonal”, “atonal”, “experimental” or whatever, what is important is that you experience something positive from it.

    Even though I have enjoyed some music generated mathematically or randomly, (without any aural input), and may have enjoyed a painting or two that perhaps a paint soaked monkey might have created with his butt, I still have a problem with music being created without the composers aural input and a painting created without the artists visual input.

    Jay

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