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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
I am curious which composers/compositions do you find to be formalist? What makes them formalist and not formulaic? Or is formalism a version of being formulaic?

Any thoughts?

btw, I think that Haydn as a formalist but certainly not formulaic. That guy was so witty and very subversion within his framework.
 

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Discussion Starter · #3 ·
That is what I am hoping to do. What is formalism in music? I would like to get a better grasp on that first.
 

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You will have a hard time defining "formalism." Some writings of the late Stalinist time suggest it's music that is "autographical," describing the composer's own thoughts, ideals, or experiences -- rather than being aimed a pleasing tractor-drivers in Kazakhstan, which all proper music should do. Composers of the time found that incorporating some folk-like music in their works was a good defense against such charges.
 

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Discussion Starter · #5 ·
You will have a hard time defining "formalism." Some writings of the late Stalinist time suggest it's music that is "autographical," describing the composer's own thoughts, ideals, or experiences -- rather than being aimed a pleasing tractor-drivers in Kazakhstan, which all proper music should do. Composers of the time found that incorporating some folk-like music in their works was a good defense against such charges.
Is this the social realist view of music I presume? State-ist functionality?
 

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To the Soviet authorities, I think formalism just meant not proper socialist realism. More generally, I think of it as something along the line of music for music's sake. "Music can only be only about itself," as Stravinsky said. The Soviets hated that. Music was meant to serve the state.

Going backwards in time, you get the Brahms vs. Wagner debate, where Brahms (or really, Hanslick) would have been on the formalist side.

“Music has no subject beyond the combinations of notes we hear, for music speaks not only by means of sounds, it speaks nothing but sound.” — Eduard Hanslick
 

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Discussion Starter · #7 ·
To the Soviet authorities, I think formalism just meant not proper socialist realism. More generally, I think of it as something along the line of music for music's sake. "Music can only be only about itself," as Stravinsky said. The Soviets hated that. Music was meant to serve the state.

Going backwards in time, you get the Brahms vs. Wagner debate, where Brahms (or really, Hanslick) would have been on the formalist side.

"Music has no subject beyond the combinations of notes we hear, for music speaks not only by means of sounds, it speaks nothing but sound." - Eduard Hanslick
But what did they mean by music serving the state? Did they require the composer to include something that had to refer to the country's folk tunes because then it would be too abstract?
 

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But what did they mean by music serving the state? Did they require the composer to include something that had to refer to the country's folk tunes because then it would be too abstract?
Remember that the USSR was then a "dictatorship of the proletariat," a definition taken quite literally. The lower classes were in charge, not the artsy elite in St. Petersburg. Mosolov was kicked out of the composer's union for insulting waiters... Mao had a similar philosophy, referring to intellectuals as the "stinking ninth", on the presumption that one out of nine people was one.

In our own society, there are similar views. In the 1950s, Stevenson was often referred to as an "egghead" when he was running against Eisenhower. I won't get into more recent history...
 

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Remember that the USSR was then a "dictatorship of the proletariat," a definition taken quite literally. The lower classes were in charge, not the artsy elite in St. Petersburg. Mosolov was kicked out of the composer's union for insulting waiters... Mao had a similar philosophy, referring to intellectuals as the "stinking ninth", on the presumption that one out of nine people was one.

In our own society, there are similar views. In the 1950s, Stevenson was often referred to as an "egghead" when he was running against Eisenhower. I won't get into more recent history...
I think you need to look again at what "proletariat" means.
 

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You will have a hard time defining "formalism." Some writings of the late Stalinist time suggest it's music that is "autographical," describing the composer's own thoughts, ideals, or experiences -- rather than being aimed a pleasing tractor-drivers in Kazakhstan, which all proper music should do. Composers of the time found that incorporating some folk-like music in their works was a good defense against such charges.
This is your view isn't it? That music should be entertaining.
 

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I think you need to look again at what "proletariat" means.
"The proletariat (from Latin proletarius) is a term used to describe the class of wage-earners (especially industrial workers) in a capitalist society whose only possession of significant material value is their labour-power (their ability to work)." (Wiki) Also, "The term proletariat is used in Marxist theory to name the social class that does not have ownership of the means of production and whose only means of subsistence is to sell their labour power."

You may, if you wish, continue to speculate on my views!
 

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"The proletariat (from Latin proletarius) is a term used to describe the class of wage-earners (especially industrial workers) in a capitalist society whose only possession of significant material value is their labour-power (their ability to work)." (Wiki) Also, "The term proletariat is used in Marxist theory to name the social class that does not have ownership of the means of production and whose only means of subsistence is to sell their labour power."

You may, if you wish, continue to speculate on my views!
So it has nothing to do with being low class. It's about having only your labour power to sell, it's about material relations.
 

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But what did they mean by music serving the state? Did they require the composer to include something that had to refer to the country's folk tunes because then it would be too abstract?
Folk tunes were nice because they could be seen as honoring the national heritage. And they were usually "accessible." Experimental was bad. You were supposed to serve the people. Art wasn't for struggling with your internal demons or working out new ideas about harmony and rhythm.

But the Soviets shouldn't define the word Formalism (and the Soviet authorities weren't much different from other totalitarians). They sort of co-opted it, and gave it a political edge. You can reject formalism without being a tool of the state.
 

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Discussion Starter · #16 ·
Folk tunes were nice because they could be seen as honoring the national heritage. And they were usually "accessible." Experimental was bad. You were supposed to serve the people. Art wasn't for struggling with your internal demons or working out new ideas about harmony and rhythm.

But the Soviets shouldn't define the word Formalism (and the Soviet authorities weren't much different from other totalitarians). They sort of co-opted it, and gave it a political edge. You can reject formalism without being a tool of the state.
I would assume that the state wouldn't approve of the Mahlerian approach to using folk tunes into musical works because they just wanted a straightforward quoting?

Just trying to get a different perspective on a subject that I honestly don't have much clue about.
 

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I think there are two main ways that USSR wanted to align music with political ideas. One was about optimism. The Communist idea is a progressive and optimistic one, and music which is in touch with reality will reflect this vision. Buoyant sane music, full of inspiring marches. And second, Marx and others perceived a widening and unforunate gap between high art and folk art, and not unnaturally the communists wanted to reduce the gap. That meant the music should be accessible, with easy catchy tunes and no nasty, unnatural dissonances.

I'll just mention that I'm quite interested in how this affected performance, especially of early keyboard music. There were some interesting East German organsts, for example. It's also interesting to ask whether these ideas effected people like Yudina or Sofronitsky or Grinburg played.
 

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Discussion Starter · #19 ·
Every one of Haydn's London symphonies followed the same formula. Who cares? Each one is terrific.
I agree. Why change a successful formula? :D Just remember to switch it up a little :p
 

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I just looked up "formalism" in Norman Lebrecht's "The Companion to 20th Century Music" (I know he has a dodgy reputation with some but I always find him an entertaining read).

formalism Meaningless term that Stalin coined to define music he did not like. It became an article of Soviet cold-war cultural policy.
 
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