Some Thoughts About Early Music

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Ralph
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Some Thoughts About Early Music

Post by Ralph » Thu Nov 02, 2006 8:12 am

From New Music Box:

Chatter - Read & React

Goldberg Variations
By Frank J. Oteri

Tuesday, October 31, 2006, 2:30:56 PM

I recently found a stack of old issues of Goldberg magazine, and I've been reading through them voraciously. The magazine is extraordinarily well done—informative articles, lavishly illustrated, etc.—but its high-end price tag and narrow focus had kept me from digging in until this seeming manna from heaven arrived. Said with the greatest respect, Goldberg is in some ways an anti-NewMusicBox, a publication devoted exclusively to early music, mostly from Europe. The reason I thought it might be worthwhile to talk about this adamantly non-new music publication in our adamantly pro-new music web magazine is because I've been ruminating over their definition of early music and thought it might spark some new ideas in our ever-evolving attempts at defining new music.

According to the editorial staff at Goldberg, early music goes back as far as archaeologists can dig up manuscripts and even allows for historical conjecture. (One issue even features a rave review of a disc recreating Ancient Egyptian music; no written music from Ancient Egypt actually survives.) While the beginnings of early music are messy, the end point is extremely tidy and convenient: 1750, the year that Johann Sebastian Bach died.

To me, it seems preposterous to give so much weight to one man, even someone as undeniably great as Bach was. Handel and Domenico Scarlatti, both born the same year as J.S.B. (1685), each lived further into the 1750s. According to Goldberg's definition, their late works disqualify as early music, as does most of the mature music of Bach's numerous composing sons, all of whom are hardly classical-romantic standard repertoire. The period instrument movement's exploration of the repertoire of Haydn and Mozart has made a compelling case for the music of the latter half of the 18th century to fall under the early music rubric. And the ongoing incursions by some ensembles further and further into the 19th—most recently Philippe Herreweghe's probing accounts of Bruckner symphonies—makes the early music cut-off point of 1800 seem arbitrary as well.

So when does early music really end? Perhaps when new music begins. When is that? Ives and Schoenberg have been dead for more than half a century, and their music still frequently gets called "new music." I couldn't imagine their music ever being called "early music," at least not in the lifetime of anyone reading this paragraph today. I like to think of new music beginning with the advent of recorded sound—which would theoretically preclude the need for reconstructing appropriate period performance practices—but that would take it as far back as 1877. I frequently hear people refer to Debussy, Satie, and Ravel as new music, or at least precursors of it. But then again, there are period instrument recordings of Debussy songs and an extremely revelatory set of Ravel's complete piano music performed by Gwendolyn Mok on an Erard, all of which make a compelling case for impressionism to be folded into early music.

Truth be told, there is no way to come up with a clear and fast rule for determining a cut-off point or a starting point. Ultimately, if you want to keep an open mind and open ears, early music is as impossible to define as new music.
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Post by jbuck919 » Thu Nov 02, 2006 9:40 am

This confuses me. All non-ethnological early music is European. And there is no problem telling its beginning, if you exclude the speculative reconstructions of the few tiny fragments we have of ancient Greek music. It began when someone decided to write down plainchant (Gregorian Chant is far too complicated to have been passed along as an oral tradition much before it was set to paper. Alternatively, if you insist on polyphony, it begins with Perotin and Leonin a few centuries later. But we have no reason to believe that there was serious art music in Europe before the tenth century at the latest. And it ends in 1600 with the passing of Renaissance music and the beginning of the New Style. The baroque has never been considered early music. So I'm kind of missing the point.

There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
-- Johann Sebastian Bach

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Post by karlhenning » Thu Nov 02, 2006 9:56 am

jbuck919 wrote:This confuses me. All non-ethnological early music is European. And there is no problem telling its beginning, if you exclude the speculative reconstructions of the few tiny fragments we have of ancient Greek music. It began when someone decided to write down plainchant (Gregorian Chant is far too complicated to have been passed along as an oral tradition much before it was set to paper. Alternatively, if you insist on polyphony, it begins with Perotin and Leonin a few centuries later. But we have no reason to believe that there was serious art music in Europe before the tenth century at the latest. And it ends in 1600 with the passing of Renaissance music and the beginning of the New Style. The baroque has never been considered early music. So I'm kind of missing the point.
Take it up with the editors at Goldberg, John :-)

Cheers,
~Karl
Karl Henning, PhD
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Post by paulb » Thu Nov 02, 2006 11:06 am

I love the ideas presented here.
I always felt Debussy, Ravel, some Varese, Bartok to be new music, even 75+ yrs after written. Of course Schnonberg, Berg, Webern also is fresh and new music.
I would say some of Stravinsky is old style, listen to his villin concerto. Sibelius syms are old style. Shostakovich also defies age limitations, even though his style harks back to past forms.
Chopin is old form/Debussy is new form.

I would perhaps like the exapnd the theme abit. Maybe a point I've covered before. But any way here goes.

Schnittke is undiscovered as yet, as his music is not new, because relatively not performed.
"Do you know Schnittke's music?"
"No, I do not own any of his music , But I have heard his name before"

Pettersson is not new music, because he is The Unknown composer.

"Do you know Pettersson's music?"
"No I do not know Pettersson's music. In Fact I've never herad that name before. How do you spell it? Where is he from? Syms? Can you recommend anything?"

Unknown, no one has even heard his name.
Schnittke iand Pettersson is futuristic music. Mankind is still in a semi conscious state on mind.
Psalm 118:22 The Stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone.
23 This is the Lord's doing , it is marvelous in our sight.

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'new music'

Post by BrianB » Thu Nov 02, 2006 4:11 pm

When I was in music school (the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore)
we had a music history prof. who's pet theory was that everything after Bach was just a re-hashing.
We even had to justify his position on a final exam!
If you look at music from a purely harmonic analysis, his idea is hard to dispute, but what music history, in it's teaching invariably overlooks, is
the social changes that led to a change in basic musical impulse.
After Bach, music got simpler in structure but it got louder. Instruments got louder, keyboard playing and writing became denser and more 'heroic.'
If you like these changes or not, they are the sort of thing that really defines 'new music.' If you only ever look at the harmonic structure, then things don't change that much even since ancient Egypt.
Even though the harmonies in the romantic period are more chromatic, it's still the same chords with more notes and the primary chord functions still inevitably show up.
Brian
Alchemy in music

paulb
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Re: 'new music'

Post by paulb » Thu Nov 02, 2006 4:21 pm

BrianB wrote:When I was in music school (the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore)
we had a music history prof. who's pet theory was that everything after Bach was just a re-hashing.
We even had to justify his position on a final exam!
If you look at music from a purely harmonic analysis, his idea is hard to dispute, but what music history, in it's teaching invariably overlooks, is
the social changes that led to a change in basic musical impulse.
After Bach, music got simpler in structure but it got louder. Instruments got louder, keyboard playing and writing became denser and more 'heroic.'
If you like these changes or not, they are the sort of thing that really defines 'new music.' If you only ever look at the harmonic structure, then things don't change that much even since ancient Egypt.
Even though the harmonies in the romantic period are more chromatic, it's still the same chords with more notes and the primary chord functions still inevitably show up.
Hi Brian
Excellent post. Thansk for contributing. There is much to be said for your professors theory. But what he missed was the key word , originality.
Now you also mention that things got louder and HEROIC. man you hit the nail. I do not like bombast nor the heroic ideas. Lets see, which composer might I be describing? :roll:
That mystery composer, set a example for others to follow. Frankly I hear Brahms, Dvorak, Bruckner, Schumann, Schubert, even some Chopin as a extension of Beethoven. IOW all these compoers sound to my ears as "variations on a theme by Beethoven".

I look for originality. if its there I'll like. provided it has something to offer.

btw Schnittke loves to incorporate phrases/chords from many old masters throughout history. Quite a composer.

Sibelius, tchaikovsky, many others , all sound to my ears to possess to much influence from Beethoven. I wouldn't doubt if this "loud/heroic" element is also present in Mahler. the german romantic tradition.
YUCK!
Psalm 118:22 The Stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone.
23 This is the Lord's doing , it is marvelous in our sight.

paulb
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Post by paulb » Thu Nov 02, 2006 11:06 pm

The german romantic affectionados cry "its still alive and as fresh as ever, as lovely as the day it was scored" The problem, as they see it, lies with anyone who cannot hear as they hear.
yet ask many of them about Schonberg, Berg, Webern. :? "duh"
Don't even ask them about Schnittke and Pettersson, and then Carter.

First we have to get them to Debussy, Ravel, Bartok, Shostakovich.
"well at least i like some stravinsky"....Strav doesn't count much in my book. Sure its new music. but to my ears doesn;'t amount to much outside the ballet.

Lets forget Wagner's 3 graetest operas for a moment, as some will say "Wagner is the beginning of the new" In part i completely agree. But Wagner is so controversial, its best if we leave his wonderous melodies out of the picture.

Debussy, Prelude to afternoon of a fawn. Ring any bells? Good, binbo, here we have something strikingly different from everything that came before this work.
the lightening bolt has struck. fateful was that storm.
bartok, Ravel, Shostakovich, more lightening strikes from the HIGH heavens.

Schonberg, Berg, Webern causing a gigantic lightening display.

We first have to understand thsi new music, before even thinking about moving on to Schnittke, Pettersson, Carter.

My good german/russian/east european romantic Culb.
We, the modernists, faithfully committed to the new........will always recognize the 19th century composers.
Their dedications, hard work, foundations they laid ,their ideas that many 20th century composers learned from.
We the moderns, do not wish to deny you the right to fully enjoy your "oldies but goodies". Yet understand there's no amount of convincing that will bring us around to appreciate the romantics as you do.
Its pointless to argue who's graeter/better/superior.
Its never been anything positive as the end result, only fruitless debates.

The changes that await the musical community will happen on their own accord. No one single individual can alter the changes that will take place. But occur they must.
Of course you will do all you can to support your cause, your beloved romantics. Likewise we can only speak what our hearts and minds tell us.
"From the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks".
So it has, so it shall forever be thus.

We still love you guys :D
Psalm 118:22 The Stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone.
23 This is the Lord's doing , it is marvelous in our sight.

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Post by Dalibor » Fri Nov 03, 2006 4:31 pm

paulb wrote:The german romantic affectionados cry "its still alive and as fresh as ever, as lovely as the day it was scored" The problem, as they see it, lies with anyone who cannot hear as they hear.
Agree
paulb wrote: yet ask many of them about Schonberg, Berg, Webern. :? "duh"
Don't even ask them about Schnittke and Pettersson, and then Carter.
All that bunch is worth for nothing, Berg being the only one with any imagination at all. Who ever enjoyed a work by Webern?
paulb wrote: First we have to get them to Debussy, Ravel, Bartok, Shostakovich.
"well at least i like some stravinsky"....Strav doesn't count much in my book. Sure its new music. but to my ears doesn;'t amount to much outside the ballet.
I don't see why would you introduce anyone to the music of these composers, they introduce you themselves. That's the difference between them and the vampires you mentioned in the previous paragraph
paulb wrote: Lets forget Wagner's 3 graetest operas for a moment, as some will say "Wagner is the beginning of the new" In part i completely agree. But Wagner is so controversial, its best if we leave his wonderous melodies out of the picture.
Let's forget 90% of any Wagner opera and we lose nothing, as all of his ideas throughout his works can be presented in two hours

paulb wrote: Schonberg, Berg, Webern causing a gigantic lightening display.
God save us all
paulb wrote: My good german/russian/east european romantic Culb.
We, the modernists, faithfully committed to the new........will always recognize the 19th century composers.
Their dedications, hard work, foundations they laid ,their ideas that many 20th century composers learned from.
We the moderns, do not wish to deny you the right to fully enjoy your "oldies but goodies". Yet understand there's no amount of convincing that will bring us around to appreciate the romantics as you do.
Its pointless to argue who's graeter/better/superior.
Its never been anything positive as the end result, only fruitless debates.

The changes that await the musical community will happen on their own accord. No one single individual can alter the changes that will take place. But occur they must.
Of course you will do all you can to support your cause, your beloved romantics. Likewise we can only speak what our hearts and minds tell us.
"From the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks".
So it has, so it shall forever be thus.

We still love you guys :D
I don't like romantism neither, but chaotic pieces that people you warship produced will never be music for me
Last edited by Dalibor on Fri Nov 03, 2006 4:34 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Post by karlhenning » Fri Nov 03, 2006 4:33 pm

Dalibor wrote:Who ever enjoyed a work by Webern?
I do, I do.

Cheers,
~Karl
Karl Henning, PhD
Composer & Clarinetist
Boston, Massachusetts
http://members.tripod.com/~Karl_P_Henning/
http://henningmusick.blogspot.com/
Published by Lux Nova Press
http://www.luxnova.com/

Dalibor
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Post by Dalibor » Fri Nov 03, 2006 4:42 pm

karlhenning wrote:
Dalibor wrote:Who ever enjoyed a work by Webern?
I do, I do.

Cheers,
~Karl
Hmm. Are you sure?

As for the theme itself (early music), I'm not that interested to evangelise about when it started/ended, but I am interested in this: why there is less and less harmony in "new" music, as opossed to the early? When I say harmony I mean in the broadest sense of the word. Music of this "novel" composers never poseses harmony that early music possesed and was all about, but is instead rythm-driven and/or downright chaotic. It is also by rule over-complex, there are never simple but effective ideas like in early music.

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Post by Länzchen » Fri Nov 03, 2006 8:42 pm

All that bunch is worth for nothing, Berg being the only one with any imagination at all. Who ever enjoyed a work by Webern?
I enjoy Webern immensely, and Schönberg often even more so. I feel glad when I hear their music and find Pierrot Lunaire and the Serenade of Schönberg to be superb driving music. Regardless of what anyone says about their chaos, those three had unmatched musical understanding, just delightful stuff :D

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