A New Style

If you had to create a new style of classical music, how would you do it? Would you build upon a past style? Would you use a technology-based process? And, what would you call it?

I understand that there was an attempt to counteract minimalism, with maximalism; it was based upon the idea of "more is more"; I think I know what that means.

I got a say, I'm a big fan of the idea of more is more, it gives me lots of scope to hide my bad compositional techniques, just kidding, but with everything humans have done to music, do you think that it is still possible to create a new style of classical music?

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  • There is a lot of new music being produced by talented composers all the time. A new 'style' with enough followers to attract media attention and become widely known is unlikely since classical music in general continues to get a smaller share of the market all the time. But there remains a small but vibrant community of music lovers world wide who are eager to hear something new and different.

    Here's one example:

  • Hi Rob,

    Hidden in your half-dozen questions are about a hundred other questions, so in the interest of keeping it short, I will answer with a tangential reply. I personally have no interest in music without a good melody and beautiful harmony, so this leads me personally to the conclusion that any "new" form of classical must have both. Unless a person is a super-genius who can invent a completely new system unconnected with anything in the past, you're going to have to draw on some influence from the past or the present. Other than good melody and harmony, I think the key element an outstanding composer will bring to a piece is to add something new to it. If all you do is copy a style from the past, and don't bring something new to it, you're not going to be outstanding, just at best a good copier.


  • I agree with Ingo's comment that there's plenty of talent out there, much pushing existing styles to new frontiers. Practically every sonic possibility must have been covered from acoustic instrumental music to electronic with and without the aid of computers; musique concrète; aleatoric; combinations of them all - so that there's cause to rename music "sound organisation." I looked down the list of UK composers and there are hundreds registered somewhere, somehow.

    What's probably as relevant is do we need a new style of listener? The "avant garde", using the term loosely, appeals only to a tiny audience. I doubt that's down to lacking in musical education. (And from personal experience I venture that familiarity with a piece in which there's something likable no matter how little sense it otherwise makes, does yield an understanding. But it's otherwise a cultural, progression issue. How far can one bend the semiotics of music before they fail.

    But I suppose, like Gav says, that leads to even more questions, the big one being "What's music for?"


  • Hi Ingo,

    I'm part of that small community here in Australia. Sometimes I go to concerts of new music and there are only 5 in the audience.

    The reason there is such as small audience has little to do with the style or type of music, it's because groups, orchestras, concert promoters, and radio stations will not play new music. That is why no one knows about new music and as it never gets an outing, no one can grow to like it.

    I do like that David Bruce piece, it is very similar to a lot of new music here. 

    The thing I'm getting at with a new style is that no one has claimed or named that new style. These new styles are specific to each composer. It's not treated as something like Minimilaism or say Rap, or Hip Hop is, where there are many people and groups all composing in that one style. Because this is what gets studied. This is what becomes history and a movement when many are doing and it gets developed and progressed, just like Baroque did and then moved to classical.

    I'd like to see that happen to a new style.



  • Hi Gav,

    I partially agree with you on new music having harmony and melody, but just rhythmic music works too. Think of Clapping Music by Reich. Think of the many percussion-only pieces by Xenakis and others. They are popular and performed regularly.

    I know it is not possible to create a totally new style unless it's a computer-based algorithm doing it, so that is out for us humans. 

    When I say new style, it could be something as simple as "Sad Music". I've composed pieces that are all tonal, but all slow and sad, even a full string quartet with four slow movements. I think if a composer can just shift the fundamentals like the fast-slow-fast concept, or by using a guitar or say a double bass in a string quartet, maybe that sort of thing will move us into the new music territory.

    I think of Debussy with his whole tone scales and suspensions as a new style when I say a new style, hence impressionism.

    Since around the year 2000, we have stopped naming or looking for new styles of music. Back prior to 2000, we always named styles. Atonalism, Complexity, New Complexity, Serialism, and so on, but today, we don't have a style. Maybe not having a style is progressing music further. But if it is, the audience for new music is getting smaller and smaller all the time. That's why I think a new style could help give us contemporary composers back our voice.

    It would offer upcoming composers a grounding for their new works. It could be taught in music schools, it could become part of the music vernacualr and progressed. This might help give new music a direction.



  • Hi Dane,

    You are dead right when you say, "Practically every sonic possibility must have been covered". I'm a composer and concert reviewer. I review about 80 concerts per year and see about 150 in total. And, if I haven't heard it all, I don't know what I'm missing out on.

    There are new styles of listeners out there, but they can not hear the new music. Because as I said to Ingo, no one is promoting it or teaching it, and it can not be heard anywhere outside a small concert space.

    We have a joke here (Australia) among my composers friends where one says, "I've got a World Premiere happening this week. But we all know that the joke is that it will be the only performance that these "World Premieres" will ever get, and it's true. Almost all new works are only ever performed live once.

    I can fill a concert hall ten times over with an all Beethoven program, I could not fill a room with one concert of new music because no one has had the chance to be exposed to it; so it shocks them. 

    I think a new style that is developed and progressed might just be the thing for audiences to grasp onto. If many are doing it, hopefully, many will like it and support it.



  • "We have a joke here (Australia) among my composers friends where one says, "I've got a World Premiere happening this week. But we all know that the joke is that it will be the only performance that these "World Premieres" will ever get, and it's true. Almost all new works are only ever performed live once."

    It's probably the same everywhere. A decade ago BBC Radio 3 put on Saturday evening broadcasts of new music (Hear and Now), usually about 2 hours. Sad to say most of the premières were also their dernières. I'd record these programmes but have to admit that many of the works were carp (typo) in the sense that I doubt their composers really knew what they'd composed. They just splattered notes on staves - plenty of evidence to show it too. 

    They'd probably derived much pleasure from the process but not the result which is where a work is communicated to others. The groupies may love the stuff, but not an audience brought up with cultural expectations. It still comes down to semiotics - the meaning of musical gestures which are culturally developed over time. Many avant-gardists or whatever you want to call them simply don't appreciate this. Just as I wouldn't expect anyone to read let alone understand this reply if I typed it in, say, Japanese. 

    In the short time I tolerated college I witnessed too many embarrassing moments where it was obvious a composer had no idea of their score. It taught me a lesson when my turn came (and something reaching to my stuff performed locally if and when): be sure to know every single note of your score.

    The problem seems to be parallel to that faced by Schönberg with atonality creeping through romanticism: impressionism was thriving in the mid 20th century and perhaps also reached its limit. I was/am fascinated by your Austral composers: Sculthorpe, earlier Meale, Coyningham... as they passed through impressionist phases. People could close their eyes and let synaesthesia take over. There was enough to which to anchor - and I think this important: giving people enough anchorage points to 'get' a meaning. Atonality works if one allows an audience enough time to cotton on to what's happening.

    I reckon it'll a time for consolidation: blending whatever one chooses from what's been done. Not much use trying to classify the resultant style. An acquaintance college teacher calls my stuff "postmodern" (a term of which I'm most suspicious - it always lights my bull-o-meter up red) because of this and perhaps that's where it'll go. 

    The world of music performance is changing. Sample libraries are good for composers but useless for preserving orchestral talent. Ok, there'll always be orchestras but the numbers of professional ones are falling. Live music is falling. Smaller ensembles are rising. Attendance at concerts aligns with attendance at theatres - diminishing but always there because such things are 'occasions'.  And of course, money is so important. Someone has to fund it all. Recorded music sales help the funding but very few works or composers of the sort of composition taught in colleges these days account for record sales or big audiences.

    We just have to work as best we can! Nice if we can get any public exposure of our work. 

  • I'd like to contribute one small perspective not as a performer (which I am not) or as a composer (which I am, although of very limited accomplishment,) but just as a person who likes music, and which may be useful to offer since I don't think anyone has mentioned it yet.

    Music, like any art, has an audience as its context.  Different sorts of music or other arts can be to greater or lesser extents be integrated into the general culture, an integration which can change over time.  Well integrated art is considered "our art," less integrated art is considered a special interest.  Some examples:

    • In ancient Greece and Rome, poetry was thoroughly integrated into the general culture.   "Everybody," from the emperor to the guy in the local market vegetable stall, considered Homer, Euripides, Vergil, and Horace as "our poetry."  Likewise in Elizabethan England:  Shakespeare and many lyric poets were read and valued by "everybody."
    • Today, in the Anglophone world, at least, poetry has become specialized.  Only "poetry types" pay any serious attention to it; is has declined into minimal integration.
    • Classical music, as I understand it (I don't know much about its history,) was for "everybody" in many European cultures in the 18th and 19th centuries.  Opera, today considered a posh special interest, was well integrated into its culture and was considered for "everybody."  One evidence of this is that Strauss's Rosenkavalier  was for a time so popular that special express trains were scheduled to take people to the town where it was being performed.  Those days are long gone.
    • In America, at least, from about 1920 to 1970, cinema was the great popular art form, well integrated into the culture.  "Everybody" went to the movies.

    The type of music generally called classical has moved from being a popular art form to a special interest one.  In this is is in some ways similar to poetry:  like poetry, classical music, I mean newly written classical music, has become very much an academic pursuit, practiced largely by college and university teachers and students for the same sort of people.  (Incidentally, the David Bruce piece posted, which I am also only qualified to judge as an average listener, strikes me as a good example of academic music: though interesting and accomplished, it ultimately strikes me as something created as a demonstration of how to compose the type of music the composer thinks should be composed, rather than as something that speaks from one heart to another.)

    In this context, the question of whether a new style of classical music can or should be created becomes two questions: the creation of a new style which will revivify classical music within its current academic context, or whether a new style can be devised which will create a type of music still within the classical tradition which will expand its audience beyond the current one, creating a wider field of cultural integration for such music.  I believe everyone would agree that the latter option would be better, but to be honest, I don't see much hope for either happening.

  • Maybe I should add that any opinion I express should be followed by the essay question directive, "Discuss."

  • Jon you make some good points here and I agree with much of what you have said but I would like to discuss some things as you have requested. 

    I don't think it is accurate to say that what we call classical music was ever for everybody. This issue is complicated for a number of reasons. While it is safe to say that during their lifetime Hayden or Mozart melodies would often show up in popular venues as arranged for folk or popular musicians, then as now large (or even small) ensembles of highly trained and well rehearsed musicians were not playing art music for everybody. Of course there are exceptions as far as some opera productions or classical "pop" concerts, like the 1812 overture on the 4th of July in the US in our time. In the 19th century Franz Liszt had a very active concert schedule and is known as the first "superstar" of music. But the public in general had access to folk and religious music and musical theater productions as well as art music and they enjoyed all of it when they were able. 

    I posted the David Bruce piece because it has had over 100 public performances which is unusual for contemporary classical pieces, most of which are very happy to get even one. The reason Gumboots is popular is because for the most part it is not academic. Part 1 doesn't have a lot of popular appeal but Part II (12:02) consists of five short dances which are catchy, uptempo versions of South African 'gumboot' dances that are lively and accessible to large audiences which is the reason that this piece is popular. 

    I agree that the integration of art music into popular culture is unlikely.



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