I was wondering what everyone thinks about the direction of what we refer to as "classical music." This is a topic that I give much thought to, and for me, it presents a rather irksome dilemma.

 

I am a huge fan of quite a bit of 20th-21st century music. I thoroughly enjoy works by some of the most relentlessly avant-garde composers. I love the concept of trying to do something completely unconventional, as long as it produces something that I can recognize as having a clear purpose. My general attitude about art is that even if my first reaction to a work is negative, if I can perceive that it has "purpose," it is worth it to me to try to develop an appreciation for it.

 

Regardless, I have no desire to compose music in this way. In fact, I have no desire to compose music that completely deviates from tonality. If one listens to my music, certainly one will find that the tonality is far from static; I tend to weave through many keys, and in some works such as my Dream Cycle or String Quartet, there are many sections where the tonal center is nearly impossible to detect. But in general, it's fairly obvious that I take a tonal approach to my music. I've found a harmonic language that (despite the fact that it continues to evolve) is rather consistent, and it can be defined mainly by use of polytonality, continual tonicization and jazz chords. This harmonic language, I've found, is complex enough to interest musicians but "pleasant" enough to appeal to non-musicians.

 

However, here's the dilemma: do I continue to compose in a style that is accessible, or do I expand my harmonic vocabulary to the point where the general feeling of tonality is obliterated? On one hand, I feel like writing "tonal" music will benefit me, because it will appeal to a wider audience. On the other hand, it seems that tonal contemporary music is often taken less seriously (if not ridiculed) among the general community of academic composers.

 

What further complicates things is the fact that classical music is losing its audience. I think a large part of this has to do with the fact that it's generally presented in a very elitist fashion that makes most people who lack exposure to it question whether its worth it to actually bother learning about it at all. I often wonder if classical music would gain a wider audience if the performers left the tuxedos and luxurious dresses at home and came out wearing casual attire. And what if contemporary composers were able to write music that is not only masterfully written but also "cool" enough to bring a younger audience into the concert hall? Maybe that's also part of the problem -- perhaps we should get classical music out of the concert hall and into venues where it will reach a greater social demographic?

 

So, fellow composers, I ask you: what do you all think about the direction of classical music, both artistically and politically?

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Replies

  • The direction of classical music is certainly backwards and probably still dying or dead.

    Ray Kemp said:

    Never shying from the contraversial............

    The direction of classical music is found by looking backwards because that's where it came from.

    Converse to your hearts content but there it is.

     

  • this is a common dilemma that most starting out composers face, so let me tell you a few facts that you must know before you make any brash discissions about your compositional style.

     

    1. despite what most people will say, there will ALWAYS be an audience for your music no matter how avaunt garde or classical it is.  To understand this you must understand your audience. We tend to think of our audience as stupid and unable to understand certain types of music, however, most often or not, if they are attending a concert of a LIVING composer, they most likely except over the top or highly cerebral music. If you are trying to apple to the "masses" then you have even tougher battle ahead because they werent interested in classical music period.
    2. Tonal music is not the only way to get an wider audience. The general public of classical music lovers will still not go to your concert, not because your music is to above their heads, but because you are an unknown composer to them. They know Beethoven and Brahms and Mozart, they have never heard of John Galt Carey. And what would really put the nail in your compositional coffin if you start to sound to much like Beethoven, Brahms, or Tchaikovsky because then they really have no reason to go to you, they can just go hear Beethoven instead of a sound alike. If you are going to remain a tonal composer, you need to know how to make it new and most importantly, make it you. An audience can tell when you are dumbing down your music for them, and they dont appreciate it.

    with that being said, do I think you should expand your musical ability to more complex harmonic languages, YES YES YES. These fears that you can not find an audience that likes your music is unfounded. Though you as a composer might not reach the appeal a pop star like Lady Gaga or Justin Beiber has, you will always have an audience if you push your music out there and be completely yourself.

  • I want to ask all of you - do you want to go at concert hall and see 1 hour how somebody design sounds on  computer? No, you go to "real" pianist, to "real" symphony orchestra, to violin concert, etc, otherwise say - to live music! All the time that will be humanity - will be, like you sayd "classicall music", I call "symphonic", "chamber", choral, vocal etc., music. This type of composition is other, its higher level like commercial, pop, etc,. music. If you want to advance in composition activity, the last level is "clasical"! And for me is much interesting.

  • yeah, but you cant say that there isnt an audience for sound design or electronic music. You might not want to hear a computer make noise/music for an hour, I might not want to either (though I have sat through three concerts just like that and have submitted works for the next one known as 60x60) but there is an audience for it. A rather large one at that too.


    Festivals like Electric Daisy Carnival, 60x60, Spark Festival of Electronic Music and Art, Volt, and MANY MANY MORE show that there is an audience for it. it might not be what we like, but there is an audience for it. 


    Vlad Burlea said:

    I want to ask all of you - do you want to go at concert hall and see 1 hour how somebody design sounds on  computer? No, you go to "real" pianist, to "real" symphony orchestra, to violin concert, etc, otherwise say - to live music! All the time that will be humanity - will be, like you sayd "classicall music", I call "symphonic", "chamber", choral, vocal etc., music. This type of composition is other, its higher level like commercial, pop, etc,. music. If you want to advance in composition activity, the last level is "clasical"! And for me is much interesting.
    The Direction of "Classical Music"
    I was wondering what everyone thinks about the direction of what we refer to as classical music. This is a topic that I give much thought to, and f…
  • Sorry, I want to continue. About what type of composition is better? Tyler is right - nobody can write in Beethoven style better that Beethoven! Each generation has its "tempo", "harmony", "modus", etc. In 20 century music I define two categories: experimental (atonalism, dodecaphonyca, aleatorica...) and advanced "melody" music ("expanded tonality", modal technique,...) that brings traditional (classical) music to another level (modern level). I prefer this one beacose all experiments only open new techniqui, but   can not build many different types of artistic works like advanced "melody". And history has proven it. Important to compose honestly, professional and explicitly, your audience will come to your!
  • Look, art is a lot of different activities, not only music or painting, I know and you know too. I accept all arts but good, very GOOD artisticall level!  I was at big electronic music show with lasers, fireworks, on the castle wall (in France), amazing, but I prefere to compose simphony!
  • No one really knows the future. Leonard Myers who was a musicologist at the University of Chicago once wrote (around 1969} as a prediction something to the effect that he believed that in the future there would be a static situation in musc where no one style would predominate and each type would have a rather closed following. ( Good Lord! Could you imagine always hearing nothing but drones?)

    Ray Kemp said:

    So my friend, all that will survive is sound design masquerading as a meditational aid. Hmm!

     

    Norbert Oldani said:

    The direction of classical music is certainly backwards and probably still dying or dead.
    The Direction of "Classical Music"
    I was wondering what everyone thinks about the direction of what we refer to as classical music. This is a topic that I give much thought to, and f…


  • Tyler Hughes said:

    this is a common dilemma that most starting out composers face, so let me tell you a few facts that you must know before you make any brash discissions about your compositional style.

     

    1. despite what most people will say, there will ALWAYS be an audience for your music no matter how avaunt garde or classical it is.  To understand this you must understand your audience. We tend to think of our audience as stupid and unable to understand certain types of music, however, most often or not, if they are attending a concert of a LIVING composer, they most likely except over the top or highly cerebral music. If you are trying to apple to the "masses" then you have even tougher battle ahead because they werent interested in classical music period.
    2. Tonal music is not the only way to get an wider audience. The general public of classical music lovers will still not go to your concert, not because your music is to above their heads, but because you are an unknown composer to them. They know Beethoven and Brahms and Mozart, they have never heard of John Galt Carey. And what would really put the nail in your compositional coffin if you start to sound to much like Beethoven, Brahms, or Tchaikovsky because then they really have no reason to go to you, they can just go hear Beethoven instead of a sound alike. If you are going to remain a tonal composer, you need to know how to make it new and most importantly, make it you. An audience can tell when you are dumbing down your music for them, and they dont appreciate it.

    with that being said, do I think you should expand your musical ability to more complex harmonic languages, YES YES YES. These fears that you can not find an audience that likes your music is unfounded. Though you as a composer might not reach the appeal a pop star like Lady Gaga or Justin Beiber has, you will always have an audience if you push your music out there and be completely yourself.


    Perhaps I should have made myself clearer. I was not asking whether or not I should expand my musical vocabulary -- obviously I should. And perhaps it is misleading for me to describe my music as "tonal," as it is certainly not tonal in the conventional sense (like the composers you listed). Listen to my string quartet if you're interested in getting an idea as to the general character of my harmonic language.

    At the Hartt School, composition majors are encouraged to draw inspiration from composers such as Carter and Xenakis. There is quite a bit of emphasis put on avant-garde music, and the majority of faculty members tend to write music that is completely atonal. Thus, most of the students also compose music that is either atonal or extremely experimental. The composers that write "tonal" music generally don't have any idea how to make it unique/interesting, and those that attempt to usually fail to do so effectively.

    It seems to me that many people write in such a style not because it speaks to them, but because they feel pressured to do something "new" and "modern." My impression of many student works is that though they may be interesting conceptually, they are missing the element of humanity that composers such as Carter clearly have in their works. If one's music starts off somewhat conservative but progresses naturally to modernism, then this is perfectly alright, but from my observation, it seems that far too many young composers are simply writing experimental music because they feel like they have to to "fit in" so-to-speak. The overall impression I get from many of these student works is that the composers' hearts simply aren't in it. You said: "If you are going to remain a tonal composer, you need to know how to make it new and most importantly, make it you." I would say that the same applies to atonal composers, just as much if not more so.
    The Direction of "Classical Music"
    I was wondering what everyone thinks about the direction of what we refer to as classical music. This is a topic that I give much thought to, and f…
  • People always wanted to autoafirme. The music performing or composing its a good opportunity for this, but history will decide who is "drone" and who is "composer". Drones will desappear clining up place for future composer and so on forever, from generation to generation.
  • it sounds like you have an old school professor. The idea that atonal and experimental music is better to write then tonal music came about in the 1950-70s. Its a very old fashion way of teaching composition to students, imposing the thought that you have to be on the cutting edge of music all the time. Though that mentality is starting to fade now, there are still professors of composition out there perpetuating this thinking, and it sounds like you have one of these types to some extent.I was fortunate to have a professor that exposed us to different ideas and styles but didnt encourage us to write in any particular way but instead nurtured our own style and allowed us to explore where music can take us by teaching us film scoring, writing for theater, along with concert composing, without giver preferential treatment to either form.


    We are fortunate enough to live in a musical world that accepts all types and forms of music. Tonal, atonal, experimental, diatonic, electronic, they are all tools in our compositional tool box that we can use however we please. You explore the tool box and see what works for you. If tonal music works good, if atonal music works also good, like I said and you quoted "you need to know how to make it new and most importantly, make it you." I only hope that your fellow students will find their own voice instead of borrowing the voice of others due to external pressure to fit in.
    John Galt Carey said:



    Tyler Hughes said:

    this is a common dilemma that most starting out composers face, so let me tell you a few facts that you must know before you make any brash discissions about your compositional style.

     

    1. despite what most people will say, there will ALWAYS be an audience for your music no matter how avaunt garde or classical it is.  To understand this you must understand your audience. We tend to think of our audience as stupid and unable to understand certain types of music, however, most often or not, if they are attending a concert of a LIVING composer, they most likely except over the top or highly cerebral music. If you are trying to apple to the "masses" then you have even tougher battle ahead because they werent interested in classical music period.
    2. Tonal music is not the only way to get an wider audience. The general public of classical music lovers will still not go to your concert, not because your music is to above their heads, but because you are an unknown composer to them. They know Beethoven and Brahms and Mozart, they have never heard of John Galt Carey. And what would really put the nail in your compositional coffin if you start to sound to much like Beethoven, Brahms, or Tchaikovsky because then they really have no reason to go to you, they can just go hear Beethoven instead of a sound alike. If you are going to remain a tonal composer, you need to know how to make it new and most importantly, make it you. An audience can tell when you are dumbing down your music for them, and they dont appreciate it.

    with that being said, do I think you should expand your musical ability to more complex harmonic languages, YES YES YES. These fears that you can not find an audience that likes your music is unfounded. Though you as a composer might not reach the appeal a pop star like Lady Gaga or Justin Beiber has, you will always have an audience if you push your music out there and be completely yourself.


    Perhaps I should have made myself clearer. I was not asking whether or not I should expand my musical vocabulary -- obviously I should. And perhaps it is misleading for me to describe my music as "tonal," as it is certainly not tonal in the conventional sense (like the composers you listed). Listen to my string quartet if you're interested in getting an idea as to the general character of my harmonic language.

    At the Hartt School, composition majors are encouraged to draw inspiration from composers such as Carter and Xenakis. There is quite a bit of emphasis put on avant-garde music, and the majority of faculty members tend to write music that is completely atonal. Thus, most of the students also compose music that is either atonal or extremely experimental. The composers that write "tonal" music generally don't have any idea how to make it unique/interesting, and those that attempt to usually fail to do so effectively.

    It seems to me that many people write in such a style not because it speaks to them, but because they feel pressured to do something "new" and "modern." My impression of many student works is that though they may be interesting conceptually, they are missing the element of humanity that composers such as Carter clearly have in their works. If one's music starts off somewhat conservative but progresses naturally to modernism, then this is perfectly alright, but from my observation, it seems that far too many young composers are simply writing experimental music because they feel like they have to to "fit in" so-to-speak. The overall impression I get from many of these student works is that the composers' hearts simply aren't in it. You said: "If you are going to remain a tonal composer, you need to know how to make it new and most importantly, make it you." I would say that the same applies to atonal composers, just as much if not more so.
    The Direction of "Classical Music"
    I was wondering what everyone thinks about the direction of what we refer to as classical music. This is a topic that I give much thought to, and f…
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