Another new episode of my improvised, in-progress book — on
the future of classical music — is online.
In the last few episodes, I’ve been discussing classical music’s past, both
what it was in the 18th century (when it wasn’t classical music yet, and
therefore didn’t have any aura of sanctity), and how it started in the 19th
century to turn into what it is now.
The present episode is the second in a series that looks at
the effects of modernism. In my
episode, I showed how vital new music could be — how closely connected to
the audience — even in the 1890s, when the percentage of new works on concert
programs had badly declined. (Declined, that is, from what it had been in the
18th century, when it was nearly 100%, and throughout the 19th century.) Now I’m
going to talk about what happened when modernism hit, and new works started
seeming unfamiliar and uncomfortable. You’ll see that I defend modernism very
strongly, but I also use some strong language to describe the bad effects of
this, which — at their worst — were that uncomfortable new music was forced on
an unwilling audience, and also (something I’ll discuss much more fully in future
episodes) that modernism in music got to be quite different, far stiffer and
more opaque, than modernism in the other arts.
James Joyce, for instance — surely the leading modernist in
literature — could write Finnegans
style='mso-bidi-font-style:normal'> Wake, which makes up its own version of
the English language, and can be incomprehensible to many people. But the book
is full of joyful takes on everyday life, references to drinking, popular
songs, opera arias, smells, tastes, sex. And now look at two composers who both
say they owe a lot to Joyce, Pierre Boulez and Elliott Carter. Do we ever hear
snatches of popular songs in their works? Forget it! They’ve entirely divorced
themselves from everyday life, something Joyce never, ever did.
Subscribers to the book will get some extras, as always.
(Look for them next Wednesday or Thursday.) Anecdotes, extra thoughts, whatever
comes my way. Subscribers also get notified immediately when new episodes
appear. To subscribe, click here, and
in the subject line of the e-mail form that’ll appear, please write “subscribe
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send spam subscriptions. I’d also be grateful if you’d write a brief message,
telling me who you are and why you’re interested in the book. I find this
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you, though maybe not immediately.
One further note. My friend Jorge Martin,
a fine composer, wrote an important comment to this new episode, pointing out
that when I say “modernisim,” I really mean atonal
modernism, an important distinction. Everyone should read what Jorge has to