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Thread: An Interesting and Useful Treatise on Twentieth Century Music

  1. #31
    Senior Member Strange Magic's Avatar
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    One could always read the text. Again, no hurry. No one will be graded. One can continue to enjoy whatever music one prefers.....

    Pauls' argument will cause me to re-evaluate my own views on the utility of Leonard Meyer's thesis regarding his proposed New Stasis in the arts, as it applies specifically to music. Meyer may himself have acquired a not entirely accurate picture of the actual pervasiveness and true potency (or lack of it) of many of the multiple schools and trends that are alleged to typify twentieth century "classical" music. My own ox might be at some risk of being gored.
    Last edited by Strange Magic; Apr-28-2016 at 09:52.

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  3. #32
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    I know that reading the work would answer this question, but I'm not sure my interest is worth the 400 pages (for now). Reading the OP, I thought maybe the author was saying that Romantic and near-Romantic music actually makes up much more of 20th century music than people think because histories ignore these works or composers. This thesis would presumably not involve any bias but rather just a careful detailing of what works actually exist. Nereffid's post:

    Quote Originally Posted by Nereffid View Post
    Pauls by and large doesn't talk about today's music (or the last several decades), and he absolutely does not describe Part as "Romantic". In fact the only mention of Part is in a lengthy list of composers that appear in the Penguin Guide. But he does describe Webern's "musical temperament" as "ultra-romantic".
    And an entire chapter is devoted to how one could apply the word "romantic" to 20th-century music - "a question bristling with difficulties".
    makes me think the thesis is perhaps more along the lines of "One could interpret modern music more along the lines of Romanticism than most historians do." In other words the works are what everyone thinks they are but they're really more Romantic than everyone thinks.

    Is one of these views correct? If so, which one?

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    Quote Originally Posted by mmsbls View Post
    I know that reading the work would answer this question, but I'm not sure my interest is worth the 400 pages (for now). Reading the OP, I thought maybe the author was saying that Romantic and near-Romantic music actually makes up much more of 20th century music than people think because histories ignore these works or composers. This thesis would presumably not involve any bias but rather just a careful detailing of what works actually exist. Nereffid's post:


    makes me think the thesis is perhaps more along the lines of "One could interpret modern music more along the lines of Romanticism than most historians do." In other words the works are what everyone thinks they are but they're really more Romantic than everyone thinks.

    Is one of these views correct? If so, which one?
    Strange Magic's description is a better summation of the work; I was just addressing a particular point.

    From the introduction:
    Rather perversely, perhaps, one of my
    goals here is to encourage continued use of the term romantic in
    order to highlight the twentieth century’s many audible links to
    nineteenth-century musical styles and languages, and also to
    remind ourselves that we need not be embarrassed by the many
    obviously nineteenth-century-sounding stylistic features which
    continued to survive and even flourish in the early modern period
    and after. In other words, we are celebrating those composers who
    chose to pursue a much more gradual change in musical language
    and style, and are putting the radical early twentieth-century
    musical revolutions in the much larger perspective of our standard
    twentieth-century performing repertoire, which is undeniably still
    dominated by a preponderance of romantic-sounding works. We
    recognize that everyone has the right to listen to the music that
    pleases them, and reject the urge to intellectually belittle those who
    do not find pleasure in the most esoteric or “difficult” musical
    languages of the recent past.
    and, later:
    Composers
    like Puccini are representative of the side of twentieth-century
    music which historically dominated the recording and concert
    world in much the same way that the more radical streams of
    modernism dominated history textbooks and musicological
    research. In certain respects, the long-term academic and music
    industry views of the twentieth century are so fundamentally
    contrary to one another that I have decided to reflect that fact in
    my main title, not only by using the word “romantic” but also by
    using Philadelphia Orchestra administrator Simon Woods’ phrase
    “two centuries in one.”

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    Senior Member EdwardBast's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by violadude View Post
    I mean, the sentence is prefaced with "Paul's argument in a nutshell", but now you are telling me that Pauls considers the term Romantic as applied to the 20th century troubling? hmm...seems kind of the opposite of what this nutshell statement was reporting.
    Pauls' argument but someone else's nutshell?
    Last edited by EdwardBast; Apr-28-2016 at 17:01.

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    I read the first 100 pages last night, and I was shocked by the appearance of such a grossly false statement as this:

    Whatever the reasons for the alleged corruption of the tonal system, it remains a matter of history that musical composition finally came to a critical point with atonality, which Schoenberg famously described as the "emancipation of the dissonance," or, as he also put it, "air from another plant [sic]."
    Emancipation of the dissonance is a wider term used to describe the process by which dissonances come to be used freely, without the restrictions of earlier eras, and it is something which he describes as already true in the music around him before he stopped writing in keys.

    Added to which, Schoenberg obviously didn't describe atonality as the "emancipation of the dissonance" as applied to his own music, because he regarded the term as meaningless and certainly not descriptive of what he was doing.

    (As for the rest, "air from another planet" was a phrase from Stephan George's poem Entrucknung, which Schoenberg set in his Second String Quartet. The last word, incidentally, is set with the sound of a triad in second inversion.)
    Last edited by Mahlerian; Apr-28-2016 at 17:47.

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  9. #36
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    Quote Originally Posted by Strange Magic View Post
    I find it always a source of wonder that a person can read and digest a 400-page text in less than 24 hours, or that some can penetrate to the very core of a detailed argument on the basis of a quick précis of another who also has not read the work.
    I wonder that a 400-page text can be reduced to a nutshell...but there you go...wonders never cease. I don't see that my gross oversimplification is so far from your nutshell - another wonder perhaps, which can be confirmed when we all convene here in x days/weeks having read it.

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    Senior Member Strange Magic's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by MacLeod View Post
    I wonder that a 400-page text can be reduced to a nutshell...but there you go...wonders never cease. I don't see that my gross oversimplification is so far from your nutshell - another wonder perhaps, which can be confirmed when we all convene here in x days/weeks having read it.
    I read it. The whole thing. Took me weeks. But it gave me legitimate nutshell rights, IMO.

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    There's nothing wrong with nutshells.

    Unless you have bad dreams, of course.

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    Quote Originally Posted by MacLeod View Post
    I wonder that a 400-page text can be reduced to a nutshell...but there you go...wonders never cease. I don't see that my gross oversimplification is so far from your nutshell - another wonder perhaps, which can be confirmed when we all convene here in x days/weeks having read it.
    I understand what you mean, but it is a common expectation that the candidate who submits a thesis is able to 'put it in a nutshell' in the form of an abstract of pretty restricted length
    "Time is a great teacher, but unfortunately it kills all its pupils." Berlioz, 1856

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    :Strange Magic: You are a true gentleman. Thank you.

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    Senior Member Strange Magic's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by JosefinaHW View Post
    :Strange Magic: You are a true gentleman. Thank you.
    Thank you for thanking me. But thank you even more for having the diligence to ferret out Pauls' dissertation from a maze of other leads and sources. It really is all your fault.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Headphone Hermit View Post
    I understand what you mean, but it is a common expectation that the candidate who submits a thesis is able to 'put it in a nutshell' in the form of an abstract of pretty restricted length
    Thanks HH, but I just wanted to play on the 'wonder'. I didn't get as far as Masters or Doctor myself, but I did write an extended piece once, though no abstract was required - either 'back in the day' or at humble BA level. It was about the novels of EM Forster and the extent to which his writing and philosophy was influenced by 'modernist' tendencies.

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    Senior Member Strange Magic's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by MacLeod View Post
    Thanks HH, but I just wanted to play on the 'wonder'. I didn't get as far as Masters or Doctor myself, but I did write an extended piece once, though no abstract was required - either 'back in the day' or at humble BA level. It was about the novels of EM Forster and the extent to which his writing and philosophy was influenced by 'modernist' tendencies.
    You must have discussed The Machine Stops. Blew my mind when I read it as a kid, and it's largely coming true.
    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Machine_Stops

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    So I've finished reading it, and here are some thoughts.

    First off, let's get one basic criticism out of the way, which is that it really needed a good proof-reading; there were some horrible errors such as misspellings of cited authors, and his "two centuries in one" quote was attributed to the wrong person. Annoying as such mistakes were, they don't affect the basic points he made.

    I suppose an obvious criticism from someone unsympathetic to Pauls's view is that he's just cherry-picking data and/or using spurious appeals to popularity or dubious definitions of terms to justify the existence of the music he likes. Well, the first response to that is that - even if it's the case - it's the sort of thing done to a greater or lesser degree by anyone who wishes to defend their own taste in the face of other people's dislike. And second, it seems to me his approach is instead a perfectly reasonable one of attempting to describe a reality and seeing how it squares with ideology.
    That Table 2, as SM mentioned, is a really interesting one. It's an imperfect measure, of course (take away Giordano's 4 most popular arias and he's nowhere) but it's one of those data sets that rises above such flaws. I'd love to see an equivalent table for 19th-century (and earlier) music. And also one for column-inches in the New Grove!
    Of course popularity isn't everything, but on the other hand it's not nothing. And of course history books would be a chore to read if there was a lot more "and then composer X wrote some music that was quite similar to that of composer Y..."; it makes sense to focus on change and innovation at the expense of (relative) stability. The problem is that it appears that this kind of historical viewpoint doesn't stay confined to the textbooks in which it's found. I know myself: while reading the book, I would listen to something by a composer he mentioned, and I was struck by the fact that even though I don't consider terms like "old-fashioned" or "traditionalist" to be pejorative, I nonetheless do think of such terms when appraising the music; and the lesson I learn from Pauls is that such thinking in of itself perpetuates the misleading progress narrative (Taruskin's "law of stylistic succession"). So the main thing I'm actually going to get from reading Pauls is that when I think of, say, music composed in 1960 - Penderecki's Threnody and Poulenc's Gloria - I'm going to avoid calling one modern and the other not; they're both pieces of music from 1960. Whether I will translate this personal view into a trope that annoys people on TC remains to be seen.

    One other key part of the thesis was the use of the term "romantic" and how it could apply to 20th-century music. As I noted above, the label we give something will contribute to how we view it, and by the time I was through I found myself rather resistant to labels generally. Was such-and-such a romantic or a modernist? I kind of don't care (though Pauls's discussion was interesting). Given that one can characterize the 20th century as one of increasing pluralism, we can trace lineages all over the place. Let's just make sure that no one appoints themselves the guardian of history and insists on the primacy of their personal labels.

    In conclusion, then, Pauls's thesis, though not a work of humour, does indicate that the idea that a particular strain of music was the dominant force of the 20th century is quite laughable.

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    Senior Member Strange Magic's Avatar
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    I certainly agree about the need for proofreading. I used to earn my daily crust, in my youth, as a proofreader, and am constantly dismayed at the low and always lowering state of spelling, punctuation, etc. in what are supposed to be serious publications these days. But glad to see that you've read Pauls' thesis. From your remarks, I take some comfort that my nutshell contains an essential kernel of truth. Several other points crop up in the thesis: A) There is a concern, expressed by others quoted by Pauls, and given clear expression by Milton Babbitt, that there exists a wrong-headed effort to keep avant-garde works off of concert programs and off of classical radio. B) Pauls posits a counter-thesis that, for decades, music history texts have wrong-headedly promulgated a distorted view of what really has been written, recorded, and listened to over the past hundred years. Conspiracy v. Conspiracy, if you like. Another section I found fascinating was Pauls' discussion (pp. 141-163) of the myriad small independent labels that have sprung up over the decades to both create and satisfy a demand for relatively obscure mostly "tonal" works by a host of 20th century composers. Labels like BIS, Lyrita, Hyperion, Chandos, Vox, Albany, Naxos, cpo, Dutton, etc., founded by wealthy enthusiasts for such music, and evidently selling heaps of CDs.

    I suppose the arguments all come down to popularity--who wants to pay money or take the time to hear what kinds of music. Pauls' point is that, broadly defined, Romantic music just never went away.
    Last edited by Strange Magic; Apr-29-2016 at 17:13.

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