Composers' Forum

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First Blog Post: When does classical music become boring?

A jazz pianist and I had this discussion tonight: when is it just too much, or too little? My friend is a gifted artist; he can handle dissonances well, by ear.

I always wonder why jazz and classical music have mistrusted one another in the concert hall. The conservatories are worse: their theory tracks are completely different.

But this not about that difference. This is about interest. When does it get boring? Anything, really. Any music.

For me, when I am hopelessly lost in any work - I mean nothing to hang on to - no harmony, no counterpoint, no rhythm (and of course no melody, since that is nearly banished from the major-league composers' possibilties). I get angry when the music stays angry for over 10 minutes.

I tire of gongs and glocks and snaps of violin strings, and lately rhythmic shouting by players. All the sounds are identified, and color alone does not usually work in the long-run (there are exceptions).

I really prefer to ask the question rather than answer it. Every human being has a right to answer this question honestly. No opinion is wrong or unlearned.

Many people chose to never answer the question. Our culture encourages us to pay out a lot of money, sometimes over $100 per ticket to hear what is programmed. There is no way to please 2,000 or 5,000 people at one time. Even 200 people is a tough audience for new music. Not answering is like staying home and not voting. Others will just choose for us.

I know that I am always hopeful, and almost always disappointed at the symphonic "premiere." This is a situation that I hope changes soon. Classical music may need it's own Spring Revolution. I wonder what it might sound like?

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Comment by Johan Roeraade on January 30, 2012 at 2:43pm

Indeed an interesting question, which could be discussed at length. I do not think at all that jazz and classical music distrust each other. Both classical and jazz musicians have a deep respect for each other. It is just that these two different styles of music emerged from totally different backgrounds, and were performed in totally different environments. And usually, traditions are not so easy abandon!  But the styles have influenced each other very much. Listening to Debussy, one can immediately identify fundamentals of jazz chords (and even Chopin has used dissonances which are very common in jazz).  Miles Davis (for example in “Sketches of Spain”) was deeply influenced by Stravinsky. There are many more examples.

 

Does it get boring?  Well, it does not get boring, I think it is boring!  Sometimes I have the feeling that the ever increasing number of peculiar sounds and noises like snaps, strange glissandos or whatever, which are used so abundantly in contemporary music are included to keep you awake, or keep you from walking away. But.., there will certainly be people who find this the ultimate form of music. I learned about a composer who immediately switches off his radio when hearing Beethoven or Mozart. This does not bother me, but I wonder about a thing or two (!)

When does it not get boring? I think that David made a very good comment here. But good music goes deeper than a story. Even without an association to a story, it can evoke emotions of incredible strength (like for example Mozart´s Requiem). This will never ever get boring (which does not mean that I would like to hear it day and night).

 

Is there a need for a Spring Revolution ?  Maybe a good start would be to focus a bit more on tonal music in composition education.

Comment by David Archer on January 29, 2012 at 10:27pm

To me, interesting music tells a story. This could be emotional, thematic, or abstractly musical, but ideally I need to be able to follow it (or some strand of it) through on the first listen. The best music rewards listeners with layers and depth discovered after many listens. While composers can't aim to please everyone, they need to ask the question: "Why should other people care about my music?" What benefit is it to them?

Comment by tropicalontour on January 23, 2012 at 2:50pm

It baffles me that classical music and classical composers don't use more electronic instrumentation or samples that have been radically processed and manipulated.  Such a wealth of tonal colours.  Is there a reason why that I am unaware of?

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