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hamarplazt
23-03-2005, 09:46 PM
Through the rambler blog I got around this interesting critique of the status of 12 note composition in music history:

http://www.artsjournal.com/postclassic/archives20050301.shtml#98286

Now, I basically agree with the main point - that 12 note music is more a cult of technique than the heroic journey into the unknown that it's often described as - but one thing in particular puzzles me: that it's supposed to be a traditional argument for 12 note technique that it was an inevitable development. I'm no expert on this, and therefore hope to be enlightened by someone who is, but wasn't it the breakthrough of atonality that was seen as inevitable, and didn't Shönberg himself say that the 12 note technique was a way to control the limitless freedom of pure atonality?

Personally, I've always felt that the 12 note thing was an oddly arbitrary way to deal with the problem of pure atonality, or that it's somehow a cowardly way to avoid dealing with it at all. But maybe it was necessary so the composer could force himself not to fall back on tonal habits. More positively one could also see it as a kind of self restriction, a way to avoid the mess totally "free" music often end in. Not that it explains why this single idea of the 12 note series should be the only way to restrict oneself.

Eventually, even though I do consider the pure atonal phase more interesting than the subsequent serialism, a lot of the Shönberg stuff that I enjoy the most (and, I might add, in a direct, un-analytical way) is of the 12 note phase. And the one of his (main) works that I have the greatest trouble with is actually one of the "key" atonal ones - Pierrot Lunaire. But maybe that's just because I assume it's the main inspiration for the huge amount of deadly dull soprano+chaimber modern classical works that take up far too big a share of 20th century music.

Rambler
24-03-2005, 10:32 AM
Hi! Thanks for reading. :)

The breakdown into atonality - that was certainly inevitable (or at least as inevitable as music history can claim to be). The fact that the 12-tone system was included in this 'inevitable' historical thrust is mostly down to Schoenberg's own propaganda: "The method of composing with twelve tones grew out of a necessity" ('Composition with Twelve Tones', 1941). It's very easy, and mistaken, to go from the idea that a system of compositional organisation was necessary, to the idea that 12-tone serialism was necessarily that system. Plenty of composers coped with the collapse of tonality at the start of the 20th century without having to turn to serialism. And, as someone like Alex Ross would argue, the main thrust throughout the 20th century was actually a return to tonality, that the purely atonal phase was a blip rather than the norm. I think there's a lot to be said for that.


Personally, I've always felt that the 12 note thing was an oddly arbitrary way to deal with the problem of pure atonality, or that it's somehow a cowardly way to avoid dealing with it at all. But maybe it was necessary so the composer could force himself not to fall back on tonal habits. More positively one could also see it as a kind of self restriction, a way to avoid the mess totally "free" music often end in. Not that it explains why this single idea of the 12 note series should be the only way to restrict oneself.

I think all of this is true. You do get the feeling that Schoenberg (who by instinct was a traditional Romantic in the mould of Brahms, say) was quite alarmed by the freedoms he had opened up with pure atonality. Classical form and perceptible (ie conservative, traditional) structure were essential to him, and serialism was a way of reintroducing that back into his music - it also gave him a (somewhat contrived) way of returning to traditional forms like sonata form, or Baroque dance suites.

For those that are interested, there's been a long-running debate sparked by Gann's post over at the Composers Forum blog (http://www.sequenza21.com/forum.html), between composers from all sides of the fence.

MiltonParker
25-03-2005, 12:42 AM
I very much enjoyed Gann's post, & your response as well Tim. The anecdote about being confronted with a room full of baffled students who'd been skipped over their serialism classes was hilarious. And I almost hope things like that keep happening.

Gann's comment about how lines of traditional harmonic expansion pointed not towards serialism but the 11th & 13ths of Bebop holds particularly true for me.

The job of the musicologists enforcing the Canon got immeasurably more complicated during the 20th century, serialism provided a strong narrative to hold things together in present tense... Paul Griffiths' 90's update of 'Modern Music and Beyond' ends with him basically throwing his hands up in the air and saying 'there is no one direction, this is just getting imposssssssible'... makes sense coming from a critic who basically saw Boulez as the culmination of 20th century composition, but now that the 20th century is over, the threads tying all the music together are slowly becoming more apparent (not like _I'm_ going to try writing a book about it just yet)

I'm rootin' fer Ives

wonk_vitesse
25-03-2005, 08:53 AM
Agree with Milton over this one , Serialism was just a way holding things together, and provided something for musicologists to latch onto, but was it ever a clear system anyhow, obviously the total serialists went too far in illogical use of parameter matching although this did produce some startling music.

As the C20th fades we have a more measured view of all the music created and Schoenberg (please let's get the spelling right at least!) was just one of many new visions of creativity. Roger Sutherland's excellent book on C20th music starts with the futurists, the noise makers, for me that is where the rich seam of unexplored territory lay. It also includes a whole chapter on Parmegianni, the first time anyone had attached so much importance to this composer.

As a side note was discussing last night which composers lives would make great films, nobody seems to be taking up the challenge? Cage and Xenakis jump to mind.

hamarplazt
25-03-2005, 11:12 AM
As the C20th fades we have a more measured view of all the music created and Schoenberg (please let's get the spelling right at least!).
Isn't Schönberg the original austro-german spelling? I have at least two records where it's spelled that way.



was just one of many new visions of creativity. Roger Sutherland's excellent book on C20th music starts with the futurists, the noise makers, for me that is where the rich seam of unexplored territory lay.
I doubt anyone would question the variety of new creativity at the beginning of the century. But let's assume the futurists and noisemakers had the same kind of exposure, cultish following and academic goodwill that the atonal/12 note movement got - would it have reached a greater audience than Schoenberg/Berg/Webern did? I think it would be just as shunned by most people as the 12 note stuff.

redcrescent
25-03-2005, 01:20 PM
Isn't Schönberg the original austro-german spelling?
It is indeed. However, you often find umlauts (ä,ö,ü) appearing in their long form (ae,oe,ue), so writing Schoenberg is acceptable, too, if a bit dated. Both are acceptable and correct.

wonk_vitesse
25-03-2005, 03:50 PM
It is indeed. However, you often find umlauts (ä,,ü) appearing in their long form (ae,oe,ue), so writing Schöenberg is acceptable, too, if a bit dated. Both are acceptable and correct.

Schöenberg is what i meant, sorry

MiltonParker
25-03-2005, 08:08 PM
But let's assume the futurists and noisemakers had the same kind of exposure, cultish following and academic goodwill that the atonal/12 note movement got - would it have reached a greater audience than Schoenberg/Berg/Webern did? I think it would be just as shunned by most people as the 12 note stuff.

You might be right, but taken out of the past tense, & with hindsight, which manifesto seems to have better summed up the general course of 20th century music, & which is more relevant today; Schoenberg's "Composition With Twelve Tones" or Russolo's "The Art of Noises"?

It's the latter. Yet the latter's virtually out of print (outside of a $70 specialty edition) and only now starting to get widely taught & read again. The first one has been shoved down the throats of composition students for the last fifty years.

MiltonParker
25-03-2005, 09:17 PM
to answer your question more specifically about 'wider audience', you're right, Schoenberg & Russolo's music never reached a wider audience, but I can hear the influence of Rossolo & concrete in modern pop. you can hear Ives' dissonant pan-tonality in hip hop created by layering two pieces/samples of music in different keys on top of each other; incredible propulsive tension when familiar melodies in one key are introduced into another one, and the familiar notes suddenly begin to push -- this is an expansion of traditional tonality. but you don't, and won't, hear systematic _atonality_ in pop.

the point is, the early 20th century orchestral music which pioneered the trends that did seep in to the mainstream is still marginalized, not taught, rarely performed, let alone performed well. when they're programmed as part of a festival, they're still programmed as 'outsiders' instead of centers of influence, because their influence didn't pass on within the orchestral tradition; even more horrifyingly, it migrated to jazz and pop, underlining the orchestral tradition's decreasing returns...

Gann's saying it all better than me, he's started a great blog-war and I'm definitely looking forward to Gann's book. Even Alex Ross chimed in sort of saying 'Hey guys MY new book is going to be about this TOO'

redcrescent
26-03-2005, 11:24 AM
SchöenbergEither Schönberg or Schoenberg, not Schöenberg. :)

hamarplazt
28-03-2005, 03:19 PM
to answer your question more specifically about 'wider audience', you're right, Schoenberg & Russolo's music never reached a wider audience, but I can hear the influence of Rossolo & concrete in modern pop. you can hear Ives' dissonant pan-tonality in hip hop created by layering two pieces/samples of music in different keys on top of each other; incredible propulsive tension when familiar melodies in one key are introduced into another one, and the familiar notes suddenly begin to push -- this is an expansion of traditional tonality. but you don't, and won't, hear systematic _atonality_ in pop.

You seem to be confusing convergent evolution with influence here. Do you really think hip hop producers have heard Ives, or modern pop musicians Russolo? Well, maybe a few, but the music certainly developed the way it did independent of that particular past... especially when it's so difficult even for classic avant garde afficionados to get to hear it. This is not the same as saying that it shouldn't be performed more often - Ives is truly mindbending and derserves at least as much attention as any of the 12 note bigwigs - but so it should no matter if mainstream pop producers much much later happened to invent a technique with some similarities.

I do think that the whole futuristic art of noises-thing have been truly influencial, at least the concept of it (how many people have ever actually heard any if the music? I got around a single Russolo track once, and it was pretty dull), but the people it have influenced usually seem at least as cultish and snobbishly audience-hostile as the established academic avant garde. And I still think that for most people Ives, Russolo, Schönberg, Merzbow, whatever, it's all just a mess.

MiltonParker
28-03-2005, 09:30 PM
'influence' probably not the best word for it, you're right. though there are direct chains like Russolo > Art of Noise/Trevor Horn > Keith Shocklee on record. My point had less to do with the direct influences and more to do with the fact that certain composers explored things that turned up in pop later, unlike systemic atonality. this should be validating.

most of the people on this board probably take Gann's argument entirely for granted, it's not news... people who grew up with electronic music feel perfectly comfortable with varese / xenakis / satie, but schoenberg is a nonstarter... it's just fun watching the argument start to hit home elsewhere

hamarplazt
29-03-2005, 03:53 PM
'influence' probably not the best word for it, you're right. though there are direct chains like Russolo > Art of Noise/Trevor Horn > Keith Shocklee on record. My point had less to do with the direct influences and more to do with the fact that certain composers explored things that turned up in pop later, unlike systemic atonality. this should be validating.

most of the people on this board probably take Gann's argument entirely for granted, it's not news... people who grew up with electronic music feel perfectly comfortable with varese / xenakis / satie, but schoenberg is a nonstarter...
Yeah, but this is a thing that really puzzles me. I just can't see why Schönberg should be more difficult or less enjoyable than Varese and Xenakis. I don't have the analytical knowledge to distinguish between a 12 note composition and one of some stochastic method or one of pure "noisemaking" - I didn't even know until recently that "Gruppen" was 12 note, or that later Stockhausen isn't (well, so I assume from the blog discussion), I just listen to the stuff and either like it or not... and I simply can't hear why 12 note should be so much more un-enjoyable. Some is, and some I just enjoy.

Still, I think it's important to distinguish between 12 note and pure atonality... Is there any reason pure atonality couldn't be straightforward "noisemaking" a la the futurists? That's very much the way I've heard something like Schönbergs five orchestral pieces. I've always thought his idea of "klangfarbenmelodien" is highly related to the way sound-in-itself can be the hook in much popular music, if not in straightforward pop as such.

Rambler
01-04-2005, 02:36 PM
which manifesto seems to have better summed up the general course of 20th century music, & which is more relevant today; Schoenberg's "Composition With Twelve Tones" or Russolo's "The Art of Noises"?

It's the latter.

As you say, with hindsight that seems true to me. But hamarplatz touches on something that I think brings the two together


Is there any reason pure atonality couldn't be straightforward "noisemaking" a la the futurists? That's very much the way I've heard something like Schönbergs five orchestral pieces. I've always thought his idea of "klangfarbenmelodien" is highly related to the way sound-in-itself can be the hook in much popular music, if not in straightforward pop as such.

I think certainly once you start to look at the 60s sound composers (Ligeti, Penderecki etc.) what they were doing had an intimate and conflicted relationship with serialism, as well as being descended from Russolo et al. You can easily think of a piece like Apparitions or Threnody as klangfarbenmelodie blown up to a massive scale (and both pieces, in fact, have serial passages of a kind). However, outside the recording studio that interest in pure sound for its own sake disappeared, and concert hall composers quickly stopped writing with timbre as the foreground element of their music (they still think about it, but hardly anyone these days writes like Penderecki was in the early 60s, and they're certainly not taken very seriously by the establishment). However, what both Russolo and Schoenberg contributed to, and which is still prevalent in a lot of contemporary music, is a breaking up of musical time into smaller discrete units that follow one another without an immediately apparent logic. Traditional tonality gave you a framework by which you could more-or-less predict what was going to come next, and without that atonality, serialism and noise were all ways in which to compose outside the familiar logic of musical time.

MiltonParker
05-04-2005, 09:49 PM
'a breaking up of musical time into smaller discrete units' is a very good way of putting it. once you put it that way, you can see the impact spreading far beyond contemporary orchestral & concrete, all the way to pop.

it's interesting. it hadn't occurred to me but you're largely right, orchestral composers have sort of turned their back on the expansion of timbre (though alternative tunings & spectralism spring to mind offhand as recently explored areas. love that Dumitrescu).

klangfarbenmelodie almost seemed to foreshadow musique concrete. at the same time sometimes it almost seems like it was discovered as a side-effect of serialist practice; it wasn't at the core. when Schaeffer went further and placed nearly the same idea at the center of his practice, the two camps declared war (feeling like they had to _fight_ over the common ground). but I agree with hamarplazt, the same shared concept turns up in pop with abstract noises made into hooks.

and even if composers have turned away from timbre novelty (there are only so many things possible with traditional instruments), the emphasis on discrete units places more stress on the individual sounds than before, we're listening harder to the Klangs (to borrow James Tenney's mindcarving meme) in ways that much classical found to be besides the point, or merely ornamental.