This Modern Music


The changes in serious musical composition from 1911 to, say, the late 1960s were quite monumental. The journey from, say, Stravinsky to Boulez and Stockhausen took us to brave new wonderful worlds. I feel in the last 30 years we have been given some interesting pieces but sadly nothing really new and shocking. I think we may be a period of decline.

Recently I have being playing recordings of the Stravinsky ballets and the Bartók orchestral works, amongst others. What exciting worlds of music these are; and yet they are from a bygone age and there is nothing today to touch their invention.

I’ve often felt that since Gruppen and Pli Selon Pli the emphasis has changed away from advancement to re-exploration. Quotation, back-reference, parody and austerity have opened the spectrum.

I remember Michael Berkeley saying a while ago that there’s never been a more exciting time to be a composer. It’s a little like ladies’ fashion. There’s not so much distinction between new and old-fashioned now. You could even begin a new piece with a scale of C major and few would mutter “how dated” as they would 40-50 years ago.

I don’t think we’re really in a “modern” era any more, maybe a post-modern era.

The main problem with “modern” music is that the vast majority of people have no interest in listening to it. There is no point intellectualizing it or telling people a certain piece or composer it better because you think it is less derivative, or contains more of the composer’s personality, or that it is “saying something new” or deriding another composer for “having nothing to say”.

Composers of “modern” (or for that matter any other kind of) music ultimately can only be composing to please themselves. Anything else is a bonus which the composer may welcome but has no right to expect.


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