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I don't know if anyone is interested in this. Not sure I am.

The question is: What are quantifiable bullet points that define contemporary music? Do they only apply to concert music, as opposed to something one might hear in a bar? I don't hang out in bars, but I saw one on TV once. Is it only bleeding edge (or bleeding ear)(oops, sorry) atonal-ism? Is it a rock band performing with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir (a real thing)? Is it 4'33? Or ten minutes of seven clarinets playing random overtones? And is it the same thing in different countries and cultures? 

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The work contemporary means something that is current, happening in the present time. So musically that could be anything from Justin Bieber or Brian Ferneyhough to the Gregorian chants that are still being performed in Catholic churches. That's kind of meaningless.

I think to those of us who love classical music, 'contemporary classical' implies the radical changes in 'classical' composition that have occurred roughly since 1900 and continue on today. Since many of us don't like a lot of what has happened since 1900 I am hoping that Julie and others will help us here by posting music that is both 'contemporary' and enjoyable to our ears that have been conditioned by common practice period music. I think some of this music has already been posted on this forum but it won't hurt to repeat it for our newer members. Maybe that will help us define 'contemporary classical'.

I don't think that music written in the 'classical' style but in the current era qualifies as 'contemporary classical' but please comment on that thought as well.

This may sound strange, but I think I would prefer no musical examples.

I agree with the definition of your first sentence Ingo. I was going to write something similar myself but you covered me.

Speaking only about myself, I am an omnivore of music. I like it all, (sometimes I think I like music that I normally don’t like, if that's making any sense).

Because I am a nocturnal bar-frequenting creature, I am exposed to all sorts of music that normally I will not seek out, but sometimes I feel "thrilled", so to speak, by its social functionality.

To give an example: We have in Greece some type of modern pop which we all call "dog's music" (Skyladiko) and normally most people hate it, but we all love it in full blast for dancing and getting drunk in a bar at night.

So far so good, the phenomenon is global and it is extra-musical, social in nature.

We also have another type of music, ideologically opposed to the previous one, called "entechno" (art song) with a smaller but still considerable following.

Although I don’t normally listen to either species out of choice, I am exposed to both, and I noticed in the last ten years that the dog music started getting much better in actual musical terms and sound quality, plus its lyrics are much more strait forward and clear in meaning than the supposedly art song. Where does that leave me as a listener? It is still my choice, of what, where, and when to listen, but always refuse to follow labels.

I believe that "contemporary" music the way it is proposed it's still a label, no more than that. Contemporary is, as you said, the music that exists in one's own life time, and that includes all music of the past. (Philosophically neither music nor anything else exists after one's death).

So the word "contemporary" to me is only a pretence, in an effort to give this word the status of an accepted and descriptive technical term, which, I for one, I am not prepared to accept unless otherwise persuaded.

All music, "serious" (questionable term) and otherwise, changes all the time, and there is no way of knowing what it will sound like even tomorrow.

So, there is no point imo, in talking about contemporary vs classical, or whatever else. I can only descern and deferrentiate between languages and compositional techiques involved, but I believe that there is a hell of a lot to be expressed still with a simple C major triad (though not in Terry Riley style, as far as my personal taste goes).

Is this piece contemporary still? Of course it is.

Do I like it? No!

Never did, never will.

So, to answer to your last thought, imo, all classical music of the past qualifies as contemporary classical music.

Since all music was contemporary at one time, it is somewhat of a misnomer.  I prefer modern or avant garde, where modern means unusual, new, or innovative.  But all music was new unusual and innovative at one time.  Perhaps contemporary, modern, avant garde are all synonyms as they apply to music. 

     I think we live in a unique era where there is a trend away from tonal harmony towards atonalism, so for our purposes contemporary music includes elements of atonalism.  This trend began in the early 20th century.   We have a composers like Holst, Stravinsky, Prokofiev and others who bridge the gap between classical (tonal) and modern (atonal).  Anyway that is the distinction I make between the present modern music and the modern music of the past when the new sound was baroque, romanticism, neo classicism etc.  The contemporary music for our time is partial or whole atonalism.  Will the contemporary music of our time replace older styles?  I think not, but only add to the whole spectrum.

So I think what I am really after has more to do with the building blocks of music. What is the style matrix that denotes "contemporary"? Can you tell if something was written this year, or 50 years ago? 

Every musical era had its standouts. But I'm sure there were many composers just as capable that we never heard of. And as those eras came to an end, there were complaints about where music was headed. The rules changed. Style changed. We like to think that there was positive progression. Was there? What are the positive and negative stylistic things that are happening right now?

I have always felt, as does Lawrence, that the music keeps some things that develop and rejects others, as it progresses. What do you all think is happening now. And wouldn't it be interesting to what kinds of things were rejected in the past.

Contemporary music is one thing however, starting a sentence with the word ‘so’ is an abomination.

Getting the comma in the wrong place is an abomination.

It's for sure that all music was modern, avant garde, or contemporary at one time.  So for the purposes of my comments, I am talking about classical music written outside of the common practice period, roughly since World War I or thereabouts.  Debussy, Ravel and a few others had already moved past functional harmony long before WWI.  Rite of Spring came before the war as well.  Therefore, I’m going to talk about any classical music written in the late 19th century or during the 20th and 21st centuries that does not follow the guidelines/rules of common practice.

I’m going to use the term “modern” music in this discussion, for want of a better term.  I particularly like this quote about modern music:

“Currently, almost every piece of music is entirely situational, each with its own series of rules, architecture, and anatomy.”

I think it’s probably impossible to list the characteristics of modern music.  There are too many schools, genres, methods, approaches to mention or to fully understand.  If indeed new pieces are situational with their own set of rules, all we can do to define or understand modern music is to take individual pieces and see what makes them tick, and whether or not they appeal to us or satisfy us musically. 

What I like to do is to take one aspect of modern music and study it thoroughly, try it out, teach it, listen to it and then either add it to my toolkit or discard it.  I tried serialism and quickly tossed it aside.  A lot of atonal techniques don’t appeal to me, but even those techniques are many and varied and can’t be tossed out as if they were all the same.  So rather than trying “atonal” music, I try one aspect of so-called atonality and see what I think about it.  I just want to move away from functional harmony and common practice, not necessarily from having some sort of tonal center.

We know that we can still have a tonal center without having functional harmony – Debussy’s “Sunken Cathedral” and Ligeti’s “Musica Ricercata I” are just two examples.  Anyone who thinks parallel fifths are “wrong” needs to stay away from Debussy.  Ligeti certainly doesn’t “destroy the tonal center” in his piece which only has one note!!  By the way, if I were giving Ligeti’s MR-1 a grade, it would definitely be an “A”.  Inside joke.

One aspect that I love and have started using with my students and in my own music is harmonic planing (aka parallelism).  Harmonic planing is modern, but is not brand new. Debussy used it.  Stravinsky used it.  Bartok used it.  One hundred years or more isn't "new", but some of these 100 year old techniques haven't been adopted yet by a lot of composers. It doesn’t have to be the newest technique to be appealing at the present moment.  I’ve found harmonic planing to be one great way to replace functional harmony and the old voice leading rules.

I could go on and on, but I think it’s best to stop with just one aspect of “modern” music. 


" I just want to move away from functional harmony and common practice"

This is fine, but can you share why this is important to you? Any specifics? We all want to grow. What is it about this new plan that appeals to you.

Surely that does matter more than appeasing the concepts of good composing you personally cleave to?

steven gustin said:

"it's whatever you want it to be.  because that's all that matters. "

steven what do you like best about music

the sound or the rules

you can follow the rules and create acceptable music

the rules wont make it great

why do you write music

Here you go, Steven...

steven gustin said:

i want minor 2nds to sound like consonances.  thank god music is subjective, now i don't have to worry about pesky resolutions anymore.

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