Art is a changing phenomenon. As Van Gogh’s paintings that was unpopular in his day, maybe future generations will be shocked by our ignorance to all white paintings. Yes, contemporary art always lives through this. But, when it comes to classical music, do we even discuss this music in our daily lives? We argue about a banana taped into a wall, but we considered classical music as a dead art form in our ordinary routines. So, what happened to Western art music and what’s going on right now?
Allow me to speculate that 90% of concert programs are old music today. But up until 19th century, people always demand new music. Audiences tend to go to the concert to hear new music. In 19th century, people demanded to hear Haydn and Mozart and the old music takes its place in the concert programs. Today, this is much extreme; fewer composer and even fewer demand for the new music. What’s the breaking point? It’s second Viennese School: Schoenberg, Berg, Webern.
After that point, music itself is not in the primary role (so no melody, rhythm, instrument dominance). The idea behind the piece is much important. It’s the principles, not the audience’s emotions or appreciation.
What is twelve-tone method?
All began with Schoenberg; he invented 12-tone method. It’s a system where a note cannot be repeated before every other tone in a scale is used. This leads to no repetition, no melody, no tonality. Major principle is the equality of the tones to dismiss the dominance of a tone by hearing it more often.
What is serialism?
Then comes the serialism. Serialism is applied serial procedures. A serial pattern repeated over and over. It’s led by Stockhausen and Boulez. The sense is total randomness.
Electronic Music in Classical Music
If you’re not a classical music enthusiast, you may be surprised to this music’s categorisation. Yes, it is classical music. In 1970s, by the enhancement of recording technology, electronic sounds and sound manipulations first explored in art music long before becoming mainstream in popular music.
The Avant-Garde Era
In a post-war era, composers seek a place in classical repertory by exploring new things. It’s the ‘white painting’ era of classical music and you may already know these names. Just keep in mind that these composers didn’t suddenly come up with this new, bold ideas. There was a transition all along.
The most famous one is John Cage’s 4’33’’. One of his major invention is prepared piano which is a piano it’s sound is altered by placing objects between the strings. He also composed chance music.
What is Chance Music?
Chance music is the indeterminacy at the composition level. Composer composed the music by the element of change. Making decisions in a piece by flipping coins, throwing a dice etc. But once compose red finished, the work performed the same way it’s written. John Cage is the main composer of chance music.
What is Aleatory Music?
Allegory music is indeterminacy at the performance level. In other words, composer leaves certain decisions to a performer. So the piece can be heard differently in each performance. Scores of these pieces may be traditional and the combination of it left to performer; or in extreme cases scores are interpreted by the performer.
Minimalism in Music
Minimalism in art focuses on basic forms to avoid emotions. Minimalism in music uses minimal musical material such as repetitive patterns. Steve Reich, Philip Glass and John Adams are the minimalist composers. (Notice that how many composers are in i.g. classical era and how long it takes vs the 2-3 names and small period of time we mention now). Steve Reich used samples in his music and by delayed repetition he created phasing.
The most accessible music in modernism was Ligeti and Avro Part which are used in films very often. Classical music today was alive thanks to cinema. Remember Shining? You’ll be surprised the sounds you heard was mostly Ligeti; yes, art music.
Post-modernism is where all musical style is available and composer can juxtapose different styles in different places in the same piece. Examples: Alfred Schnittke and John Corigliano
Neo-Romanticism in Music
Not a surprised style since romantic era is totally dominating the art music. Composers like George Rockberg and David Del Tredici adopted the language of 19th century Romanticism.
Are you lost? Here, don’t go anywhere. These composers incorporated popular elements just to keep you here. Composers such as Piazzolla, Golijov, Daugherty combined popular elements such as jazz, tango, klezmer into classical music and create a distinct style.
So yes. These may sound different to you. No, let me paraphrase. These pieces sound definitely different. But they didn’t appear out of nowhere. Music is evolving since the beginning. There is war, technology, philosophy and many more aspects behind these developments. But, I admit, it’s more fun to read about them rather than listening.