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Thread: The Relative Value of Musical Compositions

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    Senior Member Bach's Avatar
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    Default The Relative Value of Musical Compositions

    On Wednesday of this week, I went to a concert of new works by various little known British composers. Once piece required a CD of radio-tuning noise to be played in the background whilst the ensemble played some reasonably dissonant chords in the gaps.

    It suddenly struck me that the music I was listening to was rubbish. Unmitigated pretentious, meaningless ****. I then asked myself why this deserved the title of 'art music' when (for example) 'The Wall' by Pink Floyd (which has far more depth both musically, architecturally and programatically) was confined to 'pop'.

    I've never believed 'classical' to be a genre - just the most artistically interesting music of its time - but, 'The Wall' will live on long after that radio tunings piece has died out and yet somehow the radio piece is classical and the Pink Floyd is not.
    Si vos agnosco is tunc vos es quoque erudio

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    Senior Member David C Coleman's Avatar
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    Well I think there's been a general sanitising and de-sensitising attitude to most of the art forms which seemed to start in the mid-twentieth century, when day I say, pop music started to gain momentum in most societies relieving the inaccessibility of modern "art" music of the time.
    Sorry, I don't think there will be another Mozart, Beethoven or any of the other so called "greats", because the present society is generally geared toward commercialism and profit and NOT through artistic creativity.
    That doesn't mean to say there are not clever people out there, ther are! but I think the golden age of classical music is behind us..Doubtless someone will disagree!!...

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    Super Moderator jhar26's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by David C Coleman View Post
    Sorry, I don't think there will be another Mozart, Beethoven or any of the other so called "greats", because the present society is generally geared toward commercialism and profit and NOT through artistic creativity.
    That doesn't mean to say there are not clever people out there, ther are! but I think the golden age of classical music is behind us..Doubtless someone will disagree!!...
    Well, regardless of whether one likes the music or not I don't think that contemporary classical music is about commercialism. Quite the contrary I think. Those composers of old cared a lot more about the public's response to their music than most contemporary composers. I don't think that the composer of Bach's example was exactly trying to please the listener.

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    Senior Member Bach's Avatar
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    Just to clarify, I love contemporary music. Boulez, Birtwistle, Ferneyhough, Finnissy etc.
    Si vos agnosco is tunc vos es quoque erudio

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    Senior Member Weston's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bach View Post
    Just to clarify, I love contemporary music. Boulez, Birtwistle, Ferneyhough, Finnissy etc.
    I am in total agreement with your original post. I think the difference between art music and popular music is attitude. Just because someone is approaching the organization of sounds with the attitude of its being a high art form doesn't necessarily make it so.

    You will probably agree however that the more popular the pop, generally the less artistic it is. The Wall was (and is still) very popular, but not in the same sense as whatever pop diva happens to be showing her navel currently. Pink Floyd have always been a far more artistic form of rock or pop. And there are many others too, hence the term art rock that many people find pretentious -- but I don't. That is no more pretentious than art music.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Bach View Post
    It suddenly struck me that the music I was listening to was rubbish. Unmitigated pretentious, meaningless ****. I then asked myself why this deserved the title of 'art music' when (for example) 'The Wall' by Pink Floyd (which has far more depth both musically, architecturally and programatically) was confined to 'pop'.

    I've never believed 'classical' to be a genre - just the most artistically interesting music of its time - but, 'The Wall' will live on long after that radio tunings piece has died out and yet somehow the radio piece is classical and the Pink Floyd is not.
    I can answer your piece from a "by definition" standpoint: "art music" is defined as classical music (what's the real term, historic european music???), artistic jazz, and avante-garde music. So basically, as long as its wacko, its technically art music.

    I do agree with you: I find that in the hyper-modern trend music is going from being emotional to just being a competition over who can be the wierdest. I'm just waiting for someone to claim emotinality in a concerto for blowing-into-glass-bottles with banging-on-garbage-cans orchestra.

    In stuff like Schoenburg that I don't find emotion in, I figure that its me not understanding a-tonalism/modalism. But in people that think they are cool because they think of random ways to make noise and then call it music--no thanks.

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    Senior Member Elgarian's Avatar
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    Don't you think the situation is confused by simply living in the present? There's always been bad art of all kinds, but as history proceeds, most of it just gets left behind. Take a look around any junk shop and you'll see how many really bad old paintings have been made, and nobody wants them now.

    I don't know any hard facts on the matter, but it seems likely to me that the same is true in music, and that vast tracts of bad music from the past have simply been forgotten. But here in the present the water is seriously muddy, with the best contemporary rock music rubbing shoulders with the worst contemporary 'art-music '. All this stuff hasn't gone through the historical filtering process yet. What I'm suggesting is that even if we were living 100/150/200 years ago, we'd still be saying similar things about contemporary art, and rubbishing a lot of it. It wouldn't take the form of 'Pink Floyd versus radio-tuning-noise' of course, but there'd be (and indeed were) contemporary equivalents.

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    Senior Member Herzeleide's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bach View Post
    'The Wall' by Pink Floyd (which has far more depth both musically, architecturally and programatically) was confined to 'pop'.
    'The Wall' is outrageously pretentious and altogether pretty shallow. Pink Floyd, amongst many other prog-rock groups, really had/have ideas above their station. Best to leave the sophisticated stuff to contemporary classical composers.

    Regarding the radio-tuning noise: I do concede that there are loads of charlatans in the acousmatic music world. As Stravinsky said, most art is bad art. Still... Pink Floyd?

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    Senior Member Bach's Avatar
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    It was an example - When I said The Wall, I meant <insert good pop album here> .. A Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder or Beatles if you prefer..
    Si vos agnosco is tunc vos es quoque erudio

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    Senior Member Elgarian's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Herzeleide View Post
    Best to leave the sophisticated stuff to contemporary classical composers.
    I think there are at least two difficulties with that approach to the arts in general:

    The first concerns accepting that 'contemporary classical composers' inevitably know best. I have no great love for Pink Floyd myself, but it seems to me that to ring-fence a particular group of artists, and maintain that they, and only they, should attempt 'sophisticated stuff' (whatever that means) would produce a system guaranteed to stifle the progress of art.

    The second is that the approach in general has such a poor track record, art-historically speaking. In the visual arts, if 'sophisticated stuff' had been left to those who claimed to know best (or whatever the painterly equivalent of 'contemporary classical composers' might be), we'd have had no Impressionism, no Cezanne, no Matisse, no abstract painting ... and on and on. I suppose there are similar parallels in musical history.

    If you're an artist, you do what you can (whether attempting the sophisticated or otherwise), and hope for the best. The historical test is, basically, and crudely: will it survive? If Pink Floyd's Wall is still standing 100 years from now, it must have some quality that's proved valuable to people.

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    Senior Member Weston's Avatar
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    Ian Anderson (best known as the maniacal spinning spitting frenentic often one-legged, but still somehow graceful flute player / lead singer of Jethro Tull) has a fun and interesting persepctive on this topic. He has toured extensively playing as a guest with local orhcestras around the world and has written a song "A Raft of Penguins" about the experience, poking a bit of good natured fun at the prejudices orchestras can have for pop musicians, the raft of penguins being the sea of tuxedoed musicians who found Anderson's music a bit more complicated than they were expecting . . .

    A raft of penguins on a frozen sea.
    Expectant faces look down on me.
    Shuffle uneasy.
    The whistler plays.
    Counting eleven, they begin to pray. (the song is in 11/8 time, at least in places)

    Tenuous but clinging, the missing link
    Joins us, closer than we might think.
    Some half remembered coarse jungle drum
    A naked heart-beat, trill and hum.

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    Senior Member Elgarian's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Weston View Post
    Tenuous but clinging, the missing link
    Joins us, closer than we might think.
    Some half remembered coarse jungle drum
    A naked heart-beat, trill and hum.
    There's more than a smack of truth in that.

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    Senior Member Edward Elgar's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bach View Post
    It suddenly struck me that the music I was listening to was rubbish. Unmitigated pretentious, meaningless ****.
    It's excelent that you can distinguish the good contemporary music from the ****, and to be honest, there is a lot of **** out there!
    When all the paint has been dried, when all the stone has been carved, music shall remain, and we shall work with what remains.

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    Senior Member Herzeleide's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Elgarian View Post
    I think there are at least two difficulties with that approach to the arts in general:

    The first concerns accepting that 'contemporary classical composers' inevitably know best. I have no great love for Pink Floyd myself, but it seems to me that to ring-fence a particular group of artists, and maintain that they, and only they, should attempt 'sophisticated stuff' (whatever that means) would produce a system guaranteed to stifle the progress of art.

    The second is that the approach in general has such a poor track record, art-historically speaking. In the visual arts, if 'sophisticated stuff' had been left to those who claimed to know best (or whatever the painterly equivalent of 'contemporary classical composers' might be), we'd have had no Impressionism, no Cezanne, no Matisse, no abstract painting ... and on and on. I suppose there are similar parallels in musical history.

    If you're an artist, you do what you can (whether attempting the sophisticated or otherwise), and hope for the best. The historical test is, basically, and crudely: will it survive? If Pink Floyd's Wall is still standing 100 years from now, it must have some quality that's proved valuable to people.
    By 'contemporary classical composers' I mean those who have studied in depth the various styles, approaches and methods relevant to the current musical climate. There's that old adage that says one can only break the rules if one knows what they are. I'm not sure about the artists you quote, but I know that, for example, Picasso was highly trained in traditional and technical styles before he became really innovative. And we know that Debussy could jump through the academic/traditional hoops when he had to, and the Second Viennese School were all highly versed in counterpoint etc.

    These things are important. Studying music, absorbing its spirit, learning its technique increases and refines one's appreciation of music. Anyone who does this thoroughly and over a number of years is in a better position to know what's best than someone who hasn't.

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    Senior Member Elgarian's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Herzeleide View Post
    These things are important. Studying music, absorbing its spirit, learning its technique increases and refines one's appreciation of music. Anyone who does this thoroughly and over a number of years is in a better position to know what's best than someone who hasn't.
    I agree that this is likely to be a helpful general position provided no radical breakthroughs are imminent. This is how academies seem to operate - at least, in the visual arts. But once that general approach is elevated into a dogma, there's a serious risk that it will overlook or even condemn the genuinely inspired new work that fails to conform. Cezanne is a good example, because in the standard academic terms of his day (established by those who had studied painting, learned its techniques, etc) he was a clumsy draughtsman and a bad painter. It wasn't understood that he was effectively reinventing painting. There's no shortage of examples. It's always possible in any art that the next major leap will be made from an unlikely source that will not conform to expected standards, and one has to remain open to the possibility of that, while of course (not minimising the difficulty of this!) doing one's best not to be so open as to resemble a dustbin.

    Reverting now to Pink Floyd: one simply cannot know in advance (and neither can they) what the outcome of their efforts might be until they've tried, regardless of whether their credentials to date conform to currently-held principles. It may be thought probable that the outcome will be a mess; we may even be tempted to say 'I told you so', afterwards. But surely we mustn't tell them not to try?

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