Does new music have to be "original"

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Does new music have to be "original"

Postby klavieronin » Wed Feb 10, 2016 4:59 am

While studying at university I briefly considered transferring from the Bachelor of Music Studies degree to the Bachelor of Music Composition degree. I went for the interview and was told that they would be happy to take me but they warned me that if I did enroll they would be pushing me strongly in a different direction to the direction my music was currently headed (I think they felt my music was too traditional). In the end I decided to stick with the Music Studies degree.

My question is; How does everybody feel about new music that that employs the same devices/harmonic vocabulary/forms etc. as music that has come before it? If a 21st Century composer wrote music like Bach, Chopin, or even Shostakovitch, would the music be any less relevant or worthy of an audience because of its foot in the past?
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Re: Does new music have to be "original"

Postby HullandHellandHalifax » Wed Feb 10, 2016 11:41 am

Hi klavieronin,
you ask what potentially requires a very long answer, but I will try and keep it brief.
Firstly up until 1850-1900 all music performed was contemporary, virtually no-one played Bach or composers older than him and where a composer composed in his style as happened in France with the organist/composer Boely, he was heavily criticised for being out of step and composing in a dead style. Even at the end of his life Bach was criticised by his contemporaries for writing old-fashioned out of date fugues.
The Composition degree course has to (as far as I know) give the students all the tools necessary to compose in all styles from baroque to contemporary because the formal structures in use from the earliest periods are highly technical and still valid and have altered little over the centuries, just the harmonies and scales being used change what your ear hears. As a composer unless you have a full technical command of procedures and styles, that can stop you from being able to write what you want.
Composing in the style of Bach, Chopin, Rachmaninoff, Shostakovitch etc. has it's own problems, firstly the perception is that you have nothing new to say or are at worst plagiarising another composer. Some will see it as a tribute but that also has to be clear to the public and then of course you run the gauntlet of being compared, usually unfavourably with that composer, so is it really worth the effort to sound like Bach or Chopin and then be roasted unfavourably for it?
I would say absorb all you can from the composers that speak to you, technically at least, and then try to find a language that lets you express what you want to say. If you just want to amuse friends with Fugue on the Star Wars theme in the style of Bach, fine but it is doubtful if it would travel the world in beyond that.
good luck in any case
Brian
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Re: Does new music have to be innovative?

Postby klavieronin » Wed Feb 10, 2016 1:02 pm

Hi Brian,
Thanks for your reply. I agree with most of what you said though I kind of posed the question more for general discussion than for anything relating to me personally. Also, when I mentioned writing music that sounded like Bach, Chopin etc. I just meant in terms of harmonic vocabulary etc. You are right though, if a composer today wrote music that sounded suspiciously like another composer, without it being a clear reference or homage, it would seem a little suspect. I am wondering now if I phrased the question wrong. Perhaps it should have been; "Does new music have to be innovative?"

As far as the composition degree goes (at least at the university I studied at) there really was no attempt to teach students to compose in any style. Even though I didn't do the degree, I did take several composition units and did a short composition course with one of the lecturers and the focus was very much on being innovative - even more than on being accomplished it seemed (to me anyway).

To give you some idea of how things were there, the Australian composer Peter Sculthorpe was somewhat derided among the other composition students and when I mentioned to the lecturers that I felt a certain affinity with his music, they seemed less than impressed and asked me if I liked any composers who were more avant garde. Composers like Iannis Xenakis, Karlheinz Stockhausen, and Arnold Schoenberg, on the other hand, were held in high regard (as I'm sure they deserve to be).
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Re: Does new music have to be "original"

Postby HullandHellandHalifax » Wed Feb 10, 2016 1:51 pm

Hi klavieronin,
thanks for the clarification, I think a large part of the problem today is that the public hear wall-to-wall Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin, Schumann, Tschaikovsky, Debussy etc. on the radio or in commercials but comparatively little contemporary (read difficult to understand) music. Minimalism is OK if you like to feast on empty pie cases and have it played often enough so it works like a sort of mantra on your brains requiring absolutely no effort on the side of the listener other than endurance. But this is the problem old equals familiar and understandable, new means what the heck?, can't be bothered.
Does new music have to be innovative? unfortunately at the moment I am afraid that is the case, the teachers only consider the Stockhausen, Xenakis etc. music as being relevant irrespective of quality, I rather like listening to Stockhausen though I would never want to compose that way, I think it could become a blind alley with no future, where indeed do you go from such total control of every aspect of the music.
What it needs is for a new understanding of music that allows anyone to compose in any way they like, not following this or that trend, and the quality of the music determining it's value whether it be a pastiche alla Chopin, Brahms, Bach or Beethoven. No-one can say that everything that could have been expressed in a certain style was said. Perhaps that is one reason why many composers attempt to complete the unfinished works as stylistically accurate as possible by Bach, Bruckner, Mozart and Elgar to name but a few.
Labels have never been really useful other than to tie composers into certain periods irrespective of their style. In the time of Bach and Beethoven music was music unless it was written in an old-fashioned manner, and then it was plain old-fashioned. Perhaps now we need to ditch the labels and enjoy music for itself whether it be alla Bach or alla klavieronin or alla Xenakis.
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Re: Does new music have to be "original"

Postby klavieronin » Wed Feb 10, 2016 11:56 pm

Yeah, I think you are right. Unfortunately the current 'classical' music environment is not well suited to the more traditional composers. I think part of the blame belongs to audiences who insist on hearing the same things over and over (Mahler, Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, etc.). Don't get me wrong, I have nothing against them, but it doesn't leave much room in a concert program for new music. As a result I think composers today feel they have to stand out in order to get noticed and the best way to do that is by doing something nobody else has thought of.

I do wonder how much of this has to do with the lack of music education today. I'm sure it is different in different parts of the world but here in Australia music doesn't get much attention in the education system. Sport on the other hand is more or less compulsory.
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Re: Does new music have to be "original"

Postby fredbucket » Fri Feb 12, 2016 11:18 am

Having been involved for some years now with experiencing (and playing) modern pianos which eschew the traditional (and outmoded) Steinway paradigm in favour of a sound and clarity more in keeping with the requirements of 20th and 21st century piano music, I would suggest that 'original' is probably better expressed as 'different'. I've recorded avant garde piano music, and came to realise very quickly that one of the critical aspects of developing new music is to provide a technical and musical platform to allow composers to better develop that 'difference' in ways that have not been possible up to this point. The technical development of the piano by Wayne Stuart and Stephen Paulello has shown an entirely new soundscape to be explored that has not been possible before.

Beethoven would not have been the Beethoven we know without the English style of piano developed by Broadwood in the 1790's under the influence of the London School. Chopin and Liszt would not have been the composers we know without Pleyel, Erard and Pape, amongst others. Now the piano has moved on from the Steinway restrictions, and a whole new panorama of sound has opened up.

Where it will lead I have no idea, but it will lead.

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Re: Does new music have to be "original"

Postby HullandHellandHalifax » Fri Feb 12, 2016 1:13 pm

I agree with you Fred, I used to own an early Robert Wornum Piccolo upright piano, wood frame and bi-stringing, 5 octave compass and it played early Beethoven magnificently, none of that booming bass of the Steinway family. You could hear the harmony in the low chords, they were easily recognisable. Late Beethoven didn't sound quite so good as his requirements had changed in favour of the more powerful English Broadwood sound.
Up to now the instruments have not kept pace with the composers requirements and as you rightly say that must and will change, the horrible drums and cymbals sound of the Steinway is totally inadequate given the demands of Messiaen, Stockhausen etc. I hope you are right that the Stuart piano will change the horizon, alas, only time will tell.
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Re: Does new music have to be "original"

Postby klavieronin » Sat Feb 13, 2016 9:05 am

fredbucket wrote:The technical development of the piano by Wayne Stuart and Stephen Paulello has shown an entirely new soundscape to be explored that has not been possible before.

True. The Stuart and Sons piano is quite remarkable. I haven't had a chance to play one but I've heard it in recital.
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Re: Does new music have to be "original"

Postby fredbucket » Sat Feb 13, 2016 10:14 am

klavieronin wrote:True. The Stuart and Sons piano is quite remarkable. I haven't had a chance to play one but I've heard it in recital.

Fortunately, I've been able to do both :-)

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