Why do we hate modern music?

Discussion in 'The Rehearsal Room' started by westoe_horn, Nov 29, 2010.

  1. westoe_horn

    westoe_horn Member

  2. MoominDave

    MoominDave Well-Known Member

    Hmm. Brass band composers really haven't pushed the boundaries in the ways that have been heard in the wider musical world. As a whole movement, we are grudgingly inching towards accepting points of musical advancement that were first put forward by someone as long ago as Richard Strauss (1864-1949). He wrote material over 100 years ago that was easily-enough accepted at the time that is more aurally challenging than anything accepted by the majority of bandspeople without grumbling.

    However... This sounds like a condemnation of banding, but it isn't meant to be. The most "serious" composers in the Western tradition spent the 20th century ripping up any rule book they could lay their hands on, with the result that much of the most critically well received 20th century music (and also 21st, so far) is decidedly audience-unfriendly, which for me means that it missed much of the whole point of writing it.

    I find the linked article a little disingenuous. There is a very clear reason why 20th century music in the main still fails to resonate with concert-goers - composers began to place far too much emphasis on directing musical taste and 'educating' audiences, rather than working with the evolutionary impulse that kept musical innovation within bounds that would be accepted by concert-goers. There are some great 20th century works from composers who worked out personal sets of rules that let them use this great artistic freedom to their advantage, but there is so much wilfully harsh dross out there that seeking out the gems can be a painful experience.

    It is decidedly ironic that it was the Soviet insistence on keeping styles connected to the past that made Russian music of the 20th century an exception to the endless parade of meaningless academic games that have characterised the last hundred years of 'serious' musical development. The controlling actions of a tyranically controlling regime proved beneficial to the ears of the country.

    Banding is another such musical enclave (though hopefully a more benign one!). We dip into current musical thought every now and then, adopting some points, rejecting many others, and by doing this have maintained a coherent strand of musical thought from the time before the musical establishment left its audiences behind. This blo*dy-minded conservativeness can easily spill over into musical small-mindedness, but it has the inestimable strength of having worked with its audiences rather than against them.
  3. yoda

    yoda Member


    How do you expect anyone to like something until its at least 25 years old.........

    *Removes tongue from cheek*
  4. Mattytheshark

    Mattytheshark Member

    There is much 'Modern' classical music which I love but I do think that the music of some composers comes across as superficial. I heard that statement describing Benjamin Britten's 'Peter Grimes' not so long ago and I love that piece. My Girlfriend winces whenever I put on 'The Rite of Spring', another fav of mine. I guess it comes down to our understanding of music in general. Most people are subjected to lots and lots of music in comparison to say art or dance. They have pre-concieved ideas about how music should sound. As a little example of this I gave a little waltz to a class at my school (I'm a music teacher) to play on the recorder. The simple rhythm of crotchet-crotchet-crochet | dotted minim------ | crotchet-crotchet-crochet | dotted minim------ | was subconciously changed by the kids to crotchet-crotchet-minim------ | Semibreve------------|. This is because the relentles 4/4 time signature of most music on radio, TV, Pop concerts etc sort of brainwashes them! Same goes for harmony. Deviation from more conventional harmony instantly gets people's backs up. Just my thoughts :)
  5. brassneck

    brassneck Active Member

    This is my view as well (but for all the Arts). The listener must be able to bridge that gap of understanding how/why music is constructed in a certain way before appreciation can be achieved.
  6. TrumpetTom

    TrumpetTom Member

    Becuase alot of it's **** and is just pointless noise that doesn't make you feel anything apart from tortured! Not saying it's all like that becoase some of it Is very good though.
  7. brassneck

    brassneck Active Member

    ... a bit like this at the Tate Modern? :dunno Imagine a musical equivalent!
  8. mikelyons

    mikelyons Supporting Member

    Already started it...
  9. brassneck

    brassneck Active Member

    More of the same then, Mike? :D
  10. Anno Draconis

    Anno Draconis Well-Known Member

    Hmm. I'm not sure that the "rule-breakers" only surfaced in the 20th century. Beethoven late string quartets were castigated by some contemporaries, as was the music of Liszt and Wagner. Few people understood or liked the music of Bruckner in his day, and Rameau was generally regarded as a nutter; understandable when you listen to some of his music. There are plenty of examples of loose cannons on the musical deck before the last century.

    It's also impossible to ignore the impact of the geopolitical turmoil of the 20th century on music - particularly the second world war. The Darmstadt school (Stockhausen, Berio, Boulez, Nono, etc.) and the RMCM school of Maxwell Davies, Birtwistle and Goehr deliberately and purposefully rejected the dominant Austro-German symphonic tradition (the great developmental "arc" from Haydn to Mahler) at least partly in reaction to the hideous trauma of the first half of the 20th century. They felt that a new society needed a new musical tradition, even if they had to invent it from scratch. They went down a lot of dead ends, in my opinion, but I can see why it would have been unappealing to write quasi-Wagnerian epics in the aftermath of 1945. Ironic, then, that some of the 20th centuries greatest names were committed symphonists - for example Copland, Vaughan Williams, Tippett, Shostakovich and latterly Maxwell Davies.

    I've got quite a lot of time for the Art Gallery comparison. Artists also "directed taste" and "educated their audiences" over the course of the last century, with mixed results, but I think it's a fair point the article makes when it implies that modern art has gained much more widespread acceptance than modern classical music. Galleries made the transition from being places where paintings hung on walls to being "Exhibition Spaces" for more modern works, whereas concert halls continued to present music in the same way that they had in Mendelssohn's day. We still do. One of the main planks of John Cage's philosophy was that the way we listen defines what we're listening to as music. The much maligned 4'33" was an example of this. You're not actually listening to silence; you're listening to all the day-to-day sounds of life - birds, cars, air-conditioning, people coughing, etc. - but because you're actually listening, sitting in a concert hall, in the same way you listen to a Beethoven Symphony, the context defines the experience. It's an odd concept, but not an entirely invalid one, and if you accept it even partially you have to consider that maybe a more innovative way of presenting concerts would allow for more innovative repertoire.

    Ironically, between 1860 and 1910 brass bands were instrumental (pun accidental) in bringing innovative classical music to the working class masses - how else were Bury cotton workers to hear the works of Wagner or Berlioz, or the latest grand operas from Paris? It was the bands in the park, playing the latest selections and arrangements from the classical repertoire that provided the opportunity, and their public lapped it up. If we'd kept that up, we'd have seen bands playing selections from Gawain, Nixon in China and The Electrification of the Soviet Union in recent years. That would have been interesting, down your local park.

    You make an excellent point about banding's innate conservatism, mind you. It's acted as a very effective filter, keeping out some of the 20th centuries siller innovations - like total serialism or musique concrete - while occasionally allowing some genuinely new sounds through. There are times when I personally find it frustrating that many of us are still obsessed with the music of Ball and Vinter as the cutting edge of modernism in brass band music, though, in the same way that I often find the presentation of modern classical music in the concert hall to be a frustrating experience.
  11. MoominDave

    MoominDave Well-Known Member

    I think the difference in the 20th century was that the breaking of rules became mainstream. If you simply wrote music that pleased people, then you were looked down on and not taken seriously by an establishment that had become obsessed with iconoclasm to the near exclusion of all else. There had always been those who were willing to experiment [I can't believe some of Domenico Scarlatti's harmonies!], but it became deeply unfashionable to do anything else. The lasting disconnect between composers and audience that this produced is one of the greatest artistic tragedies of all time.

    It's interesting that you mention banding's role in bringing 'art' music to the masses in Victorian times... Whether or not bands still want to fulfil this role, they are very effectively prevented from undertaking the kind of freeform musical composting that produced this [e.g. local bandmasters making arrangements of the latest operatic material for their bands] by the ferocity of modern copyright law.
  12. brassneck

    brassneck Active Member

    The majority of composers have always used techniques to try and become popular. The further back in time you go it was needed more for employment. They begged, borrowed and stole from another to get the edge. If a certain harmonic style was in fashion, more complex contrapuntal techniques were used to become more flashy but you can only go so far before it becomes saturated. Result? New harmonic style, more simple structured melodies or use an earlier style revamped with existing methods. Add to that the development of new instruments and timbres, more experimentation is used to carve a composer's niche and popularity. On top of all this, more people getting educated or access to instruments just adds to the pile. What happens is this ... periods of popular style becomes shorter and shorter and more diversity is generated with more experimentation (or again, earlier popular styles re-invented). A flooded market has to be controlled with certain ideas protected. Enter copyright and media control. Original and innovative ideas get ignored unless a niche market is found. The general public tend to follow trends and reject what they don't understand unless bottle-fed by the media. Simple, eh?
  13. Zappa

    Zappa Member

    Although i'm not into my brass banding much any more i'm a big supporter of composers pushing the boundaries!! As has already been stated, it's been done for centuries. An opera singer would get a Wagner opera and think 'this is impossible' ... Stravinsky 'Rite of Spring', Mozart, Monteverdi, Bach (the founder of 'modern' harmony) ... They've all pushed the bounaries.

    But ...

    Listen to some Zappa!! One of THE GREATEST American composers (and I mean this in the same breath of Copeland, Gershwin, Ellington etc etc). To be in his band (including the horn section of his 88' tour) you had to complete an audition that could go on for 3 days ... Then LEARN up to and over 100 numbers for a tour. Daily rehearsals lasting 6 hours for 2 - 3 months. This included numbers written in 17/16 ... Crazy stuff but astonishing music.

    I believe Miss Pankhurst is influenced by FZ which as you can see from my Avatar thing I think is great ... I can remember finding this out from mentioning it to her!

    I think Ray Farr arranged 'Dog Breath Variations' and the NYBB performed it a number of years ago!

    All other genres of music are continually pushing boundaries ... Why shouldn't we/banding do this? We may lose audiences ... But what is the average age of the audience are we losing? We should be looking at creating music that will gain a new audience. I don't mean introduce new modern things all at once ... but gradually (I do also like The Floral Dance ... No Joke!!)
  14. brassneck

    brassneck Active Member

    This quintet's first album actually had Zappa rehearsing and producing his material and sounded great. 2nd album after his death wasn't so convincing. I expect FZ will be turning in his grave with this one ... Jon Nelson's improvisation is a no-goer with respect to Zappa (my opinion).

  15. katieeuph

    katieeuph Member

    As has already been alluded to, a lot of modern 'classical' music is like some of the art world's more 'avant garde' creations like the 'unmade bed' and the 'dead cow' in a case (I'm sure they had specific names but I didn't pay that much attention). They are created not for people to 'like' but to challenge and cause a reaction. Most people would choose to put art on their walls that they liked and enjoyed looking at and music is very similar- people, very often, just like a good tune that they enjoy listening to.
    Yes, I can appreciate how 'clever' the serialist composers were and can 'appeciate' the experimental ideas of Stockhausen ( as I have studied them), but I'm not going to sit down and put it on in the evening to relax to or hum along to. Much as I hate to say it (and I'm sure there will be lots of tutting) a lot of people who listen to brass band would like to hear arrangements of popular 'classics' (of all genres) and tonal, approachable music rather than anything too way out and experimental. As has been said many times before, test pieces written to 'push boundaries' are usually written for contests, but I guess that some of them would alienate a 'mainstream' audience- just like much 20C 'classical' music.
    Personally, I love much 20c orchestral music, but many of the techniques are more suited to the wider timbral qualities available which just aren't there in a brass band.
    Yes, try new ideas and adapt and develop the 'brass band genre' but keep the old stuff too, i say!
  16. nethers

    nethers Active Member

    Blimey this is getting tough to read at the end of the working day, brain ache... some great posts and opinions.

    As the author of the article in the first post says, walking around a gallery, a sculpture etc is something we choose - the amount of time and attention we give to the subject is up to the observer.

    However in music we are strapped in to seats and pretty much trapped, with what we experience dictated by others outside of our control. Of course, music exists in the extra dimension of time making this inevitable.

    I wonder if such music was performed in an open situation (say a busker in the street) would it be better received?
  17. mikelyons

    mikelyons Supporting Member

    I think one of the problems with music in such a situation is that it has to be be listened to. Unlike a visual art, where the subject is often static and unchanging through time, music is constantly changing during a performance and there is nothing left behind other than the audience's feelings/emotional response - and even this relies on memory.

    How often do you think you would see a busker surrounded by a milling crowd of hundreds, who were actually listening to a piece of modern music? It would be a small enough group of listeners when the music was familiar or popular. When they are outside their comfort zone, people want reassurance and a lot of modern (20th C.) music is unfamiliar in idiom and soundscape, hence it does not provide that reassurance.

    Our primary function, it seems to me, is to entertain. We also have a secondary function, in order to continue to survive, to expand the range of music we play to audiences so that we can at least maintain sufficient popularity/esteem with our audiences as they move on in their taste. If you want to call that 'educating' that's fine with me. However, as I constantly have to say to people, it requires a fine balance to determine the right mix of music. That's what your MD is for! :D

    Tom, just wait for the memoir! :)
  18. Backrowmike

    Backrowmike Member

    Brass banding is a popular music movement rather than a Bohemian or avant-garde one. Banding in some area is struggling, to survive we have to give audiences what they want to hear, but their is nothing wrong with occasionally stepping out in to the modern.

    Now I think I'll get my coat!;)
  19. TrumpetTom

    TrumpetTom Member

    I can't post any links, as I am writing from an iPod, but there is a piece of music by Heinrich Biber called Battalia à 9 written in 1673 which may be worth listening to. My head of music showed me It and although it was written in 1673, it seems contempory to this age. As I say I can't send links, but there are videos on YouTube and there is a score on imslp.
  20. MoominDave

    MoominDave Well-Known Member

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