04/24/15 Modernism: Radical Answers to the Basic Question, What is Music?

What instrument (or instruments) is this??
[audio:http://missmusicnerd.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/2-37-Cage_-Sonata-V-From-Sonatas-And-Interludes-Part-1-copy.mp3|titles=Sonata V]

More on different strands of Modernism in music:
– Taking romantic ideas to their extremes (Expressionism)
– Rejecting romantic ideas (Futurism)

Expressionism: Extremes of emotion, even if it’s not pretty
Arnold Schoenberg (1874-1951) Austrian composer
Expanded music beyond tonality: “The Emancipation of Dissonance”
In tonal music (i.e. music in a particular key) dissonance is used for contrast and to create tension that is resolved into consonance. In modernist music, dissonance is often left unresolved!

“Moondrunk” from Pierrot Lunaire (1912)
Pierrot is a sad clown character, driven crazy by moonlight. The singer uses a vocal technique Schoenberg developed called “Sprechstimme,” (spoken voice), a combination of speaking and singing.

Music critic’s review of Arnold Schoenberg’s music:
“Arnold Schoenberg evidently revels in the bizarre. According to [his student] Dr. Anton von Webern, his music ‘contains the experience of his emotional life,’ and that experience must have been of a strange, not to say unpleasant character. Is it really honest music or merely a pose? We are inclined to think the latter. If music at all, it is music of the future, and we hope, a distant one.” London Daily Mail, Sept. 7, 1912

Schoenberg’s response was to found the Society for Private Musical Performances. Audience members would be only those who would be open-minded about the music.

Anton Webern, a student of Schoenberg, had more of a sense of humor about the whole thing:

“It was so pleasant to fly ever further into the remotest tonal regions, and then to slip back again into the warm nest, the original key! And suddenly one did not come back… Major and minor were torn apart.

I go out into the hall to knock in a nail. On my way there, I decide I would rather go out. I obey the impulse, get into a train, come to a railway station, go on traveling and finally end up – in America! That is modulation!”

Minority report: Old-school romanticism was still a thing:
Sergei Rachmaninoff (1873-1943), Russian pianist & composer
Rhapsody on a Theme by Paganini (1934)

Futurism: Out with the old, in with the new
Luigi Russolo (1885–1947), an Italian painter and self-taught musician, wrote a manifesto called The Art of Noises in 1913 (the same year Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring was first performed). He proposed a new set of sound categories to replace the traditional instrumental families:

1. Roars, Thunderings, Explosions, Hissing roars, Bangs, Booms
2. Whistling, Hissing, Puffing
3. Whispers, Murmurs, Mumbling, Muttering, Gurgling
4. Screeching, Creaking, Rustling, Humming, Crackling, Rubbing
5. Noises obtained by beating on metals, woods, skins, stones, pottery, etc.
6. Voices of animals and people, Shouts, Screams, Shrieks, Wails, Hoots, Howls, Death rattles, Sobs

He didn’t succeed in making these categories standard or replacing the instruments of the orchestra, but his ideas influenced many musicians of the 20th century, including the composers we heard on Wednesday.

The world of instruments did expand, though:
In the Romantic era, melody and harmony were emphasized. In the Modern Era, rhythm became more central, and percussion instruments became more prominent. Composers began writing works entirely for percussion instruments.

Edgard Varèse (1883-1965), French composer
“The first concert hall composition for percussion ensemble alone… The premiere was at Steinway Hall, on March 6, 1933… One critic described the performance as “a sock in the jaw.”

The piece is named for a scientific term:
Ionization is the process by which an atom or a molecule acquires a negative or positive charge by gaining or losing electrons.”

Composers also found new ways to use old instruments:

John Cage (1912-1992), American composer
Started messing around with the piano:
Sonata V, from Sonatas and Interludes (1948)

Prepared piano: inserting small objects between the piano strings to change the sound
(metal screws, rubber erasers, small pieces of paper or plastic, etc.)

John Cage on sounds and silence

“In 1951, Cage visited the anechoic chamber at Harvard University. An anechoic chamber is a room designed in such a way that the walls, ceiling and floor absorb all sounds made in the room, rather than reflecting them as echoes. Such a chamber is also externally sound-proofed. Cage entered the chamber expecting to hear silence, but he wrote later, “I heard two sounds, one high and one low. When I described them to the engineer in charge, he informed me that the high one was my nervous system in operation, the low one my blood in circulation.’ Cage had gone to a place where he expected total silence, and yet heard sound. ‘Until I die there will be sounds. And they will continue following my death. One need not fear about the future of music.'”
wiki on 4’33”

John Cage had a radical answer to the question, what is music?
4’33″ (1952), a piece for any instrument or group of instruments

There is a score and everything!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *