What makes music good?

I put this up for discussion two years ago, and the way the threads are going at the moment (plus the fact that we a lot of very new and colourful characters on this forum now) tells me to re-open the discussion.  I also expect a lot of constructive argument and emphatic disagreement with my examples.

A friend of mine once told me that there are three criteria that contribute to the quality of music.  They are:

Intellectual Content
Emotional Content
Pleasant to listen to

But in order to make the music good, it must contain at least two of the above elements.  Therefore, for example (and these are my personal examples, seeing as it's all subjective anyway, so you may not agree with them).

Schumann's "Dichterliebe" contains intellectual content and emotional content, but for me it is not pleasing to listen to.  However, I must concede that it is good.

J Strauss's "Blue Danube" contains no intellectual or emotional content, but it is pleasing to listen to, yet according to the above criteria, it is not good.

Gerhard Stabler's "Red on Black" has intellectual content (of a fashion), no emotional content (except tears of laughter within the audience, which the composer actually expects and appreciates) and isn't terribly pleasant to listen to.  Therefore, one out of three means....not good.

Mozart's "Requiem" is filled to the brim with intellectual and emotional content, and is absolutely sublime to listen to.  So I guess it must be very good.

John Cage's "4'33"" has neither intellectual or emotional content, neither is it particularly pleasant to listen to, due to the fact that you can't hear anything.  So.... you know what the answer is.


Please discuss

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Replies

  • Exactly, you'd need a quantum type indeterminate thingy to break into something new, with a time machine, perhaps.

    Eclecticism, that's the answer.

    SEDstar said:
    cliche... never been done before...

    Well, never say NEVER, but, "never been done before" in mujsic is a pretty tall order...

    Youd almost have to invent a totally new style, not just blend one or more styles together, some genius somewhere has exhauseted about every hybrid, most likely. Possible, just improbable. technically possible though. i mean, who could have predicted "stravinsky"??

    GOD someone turned me onto spring rite, sacraficial dance the other nite on here. i was complaining it must be a "rhythm soup" because of what the SHEET looked like, every measure was a different complex time signature! SOmeone said, "OH, you have to hear it, its not start-stop like you think by looking at the sheet rhythm...".

    Good christ, I have HEARD that song before, just didnt realize it was stravinsky... I mean, well, you know, youve heard it (and if its your first time, be sitting down...lol)

    Now, Stravinsky broke new ground. I would say he avoided cliche with that one, but, its a tall order these days.
    What makes music good?
    I put this up for discussion two years ago, and the way the threads are going at the moment (plus the fact that we a lot of very new and colourful ch…
  • I don't actually agree the with the above formula.

    But I have to admit the examples were my personal choices. I'd studied Dichterliebe for A'level, sung by a counter-tenor, and although I appreciated the harmonic movement that Schumann used, I just couldn't get to grips with it. Later on, I heard it sung by a soprano and for me, it was much improved.

    Not too sure about the Blue Danube though.

    Michael. I'd be interested to see you put a couple of examples and try and mould them into the above formula. It's a bit of a wrestling match.

    Michael Tauben said:
    Schumann's "Dichterliebe" contains intellectual content and emotional content, but for me it is not pleasing to listen to. However, I must concede that it is good.

    J Strauss's "Blue Danube" contains no intellectual or emotional content, but it is pleasing to listen to, yet according to the above criteria, it is not good.



    How anyone can not find Dichterliebe pleasing is beyond me.
    Do you know the intro to the Blue Danube? Very emotional.
    What makes music good?
    I put this up for discussion two years ago, and the way the threads are going at the moment (plus the fact that we a lot of very new and colourful ch…
  • Salvin, I shudder to ask this because I'm afraid of what your answer might be. But did you decide on the word 'cliche', after having listened to my music? Because if so, I'm going to drive to Beachy Head cliffs and continue to drive until the steering doesn't work. Amen (Goodbye cruel world).

    Salvin Cransby said:
    I think SEDstar's got it. Non-cliche music can reflect music from the past in any way. It doesn't even need to introduce new vocabulary to our musical language. But when you hear it, you know that the composer has really done something (provided other necessary elements of good music are also present).

    It's a tall order, but maybe it only seems this way because new types of music are unknown to us.


    Simon Godden said:
    The word 'cliche' is a very 'throwaround' word to use when in argument, much like the word 'pretentious'. How DOES one avoid 'cliche'. Are you talking about music that has a certain form that has been used for centuries? Are you talking about using the normal orchestral ensemble that is generally favoured amongst composers? If you were to explain YOUR meaning of the word 'cliche', you may get a sufficient reply to what is a very vague question.

    Salvin Cransby said:
    What about doing something that's never been done before?

    What about avoiding cliche?
    What makes music good?
    I put this up for discussion two years ago, and the way the threads are going at the moment (plus the fact that we a lot of very new and colourful ch…
  • Haha! Of course not. I just wondered because this is so important to other composers I've talked to.


    Simon Godden said:
    Salvin, I shudder to ask this because I'm afraid of what your answer might be. But did you decide on the word 'cliche', after having listened to my music? Because if so, I'm going to drive to Beachy Head cliffs and continue to drive until the steering doesn't work. Amen (Goodbye cruel world).

  • I agree with Per-Erik in that it is by having a fertile imagination married to a command of the language or techniques of the chosen art that the artist may create a new entity. 

    A work of art is a whole that is greater than the sum of it's parts. Hence it is still possible to create something new and original using chords I-IV and V.

     

    I believe that the really great composers were seldom self consciously trying to be original or brake with tradition. It is more that they were original in spite of themselves. That is why so many were shocked and upset when the public didn't 'get' their work.

    Perhaps the 2nd Viennese School and their followers were aware that they were breaking with centuries of practice (harmonically) and that the public would need time to catch up but that may explain why the history of 20th Century music sees a split between 'modernism' and audiences and why in the 20C unlike the 18th and 19th the oprea houses and concert halls are filled with performances of works from centuries past. But that's a whole other debate.

    As for what make good music?

    Good composers make good music.

    Good pop songwriters make good pop songs.

    Good dance producers make good dance tracks.

     

    I think Simon's formula is over simplistic and fails to illuminate. Sorry!


    Per-Erik Rosqvist said:

    I think the people that become appreciated (sooner or later) have a simple qualification. That is, they transform into something new - the older language of those before.In music it means shaping something new - usually in a way that becomes an "idea" in itself - out of earlier  "ideas". In a non-conflicting way. This can be seen throughout 
    history. It can almost be called "law" of evolution of art/culture, it seems Avant gardes who don't get this or use it in their attempts to be different, won't get people's attention. (Please correct me if I'm wrong.) Of course, not all wants to be "famous", but that's something else.

     

    I like to think of this as "self-referencing" because it takes the old and generates 
    something new, by some individual's new idea. 

    Like in this painting by Picasso (think it is kinda early?). The golden section (probably the 
    oldest "selfreferencing idea" in Western art) is all over it. People didn't like it at first, but as a composition it is probably among the best in the 20th century..


    http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/4/4c/Les_Demoiselles_d%27A...

    Kristofer Emerig said:

    The crucial flaw in the concept of the "traditional" or "Avant Guard" ascriptions is the failure to recognize them as two heads of the same serpent, ie, conformity. Either to conform to conventions and dogmas invariably or to refuse to duplicate any part of them, even when fitting, is to be ruled by the same tyranny of ideas. In both instances, one's vision is governed by a paradigm of conventional usage. In short, one who does everthing he's told is no more easily manipulated than one who endeavors to do the complete opposite.

     

    When the traditional occurs through the limbic process of creating original art, it is good. It is good when the unconventional happens, as well. The important objective, for me at least, is to write to one's aesthetic taste within the confines of meaningful and edifying structural relationships (and hopefully more subtle and intricate as we mature as composers).

     

    It seems far too many have adopted an unfortunate method of evaluation based simplisticly upon apparent and often superficial "proximity to" or "distance from" X.

    Nowehere is this more demonstrable than in the ironic ascent of "alternative rock", quickly becoming the mainstream, trendy rock-pop genre of its day.
    Simon Godden said:

    The word 'cliche' is a very 'throwaround' word to use when in argument, much like the word 'pretentious'. How DOES one avoid 'cliche'. Are you talking about music that has a certain form that has been used for centuries? Are you talking about using the normal orchestral ensemble that is generally favoured amongst composers? If you were to explain YOUR meaning of the word 'cliche', you may get a sufficient reply to what is a very vague question.

    Salvin Cransby said:
    What about doing something that's never been done before?

    What about avoiding cliche?
  • John, I've just read the first chapter of your book and I look forward to reading the rest. It looks very interesting and hope it does indeed provide me ammunition with which to counter the relativist standpoint.

    I am sceptical whether the argument is winnable as far as the musical establishment or even the general public goes.

    This scepticism is the result of sitting through many concerts of the most barren, artless, pointless and unoriginal junk which none the less is being performed and listened to and what's worse, commissioned!  

    I will get back to you when I've finished the book.

    Your comrade in the pursuit of excellence.

     



    John Winsor said:

    It's called "Breaking the Sound Barrier.  It was published in 2003, but it's now available for free on my website's "Read My Book" page at http://www.john-winsor.com.

    Per-Erik Rosqvist said:

    I didn't fully grasp what that book was about, but will read the discussion from start as soon as possible ;) Maybe I missed something..

    But there were plenty of J. Winsors on www.amazon.co ;)

  • I'm in full agreement with you Josef, although the 'dying' bit was a bit depressing.

    Josef Körnik said:

    No offense to everybody, but there is nothing you can do to make your music good. It is neither good nor bad - it will only come closer to what is recognizable to some as having more good qualities than bad, and even that will change over time (depending on what happens after you die).

     

    Understanding the psychology of people is like unlocking every talent you could possibly possess - there is no art that lies within yourself, because it wasn't from within yourself that you learned what it was. Your experiences are the only thing you can put into music to make it different, and yet this is everything that matters... whatever you learn from others concerning art is good, as long as you put it all into the art and don't hold back.

  • I wish you'd help me out Ray.  You know I'm having a godawful time with my software at the moment.  I dunno, I guess you think it's funny.

    Ray Kemp said:
    Remind us all who started this discussion??????

    Simon Godden said:
    I'm in full agreement with you Josef, although the 'dying' bit was a bit depressing.

    Josef Körnik said:

    No offense to everybody, but there is nothing you can do to make your music good. It is neither good nor bad - it will only come closer to what is recognizable to some as having more good qualities than bad, and even that will change over time (depending on what happens after you die).

     

    Understanding the psychology of people is like unlocking every talent you could possibly possess - there is no art that lies within yourself, because it wasn't from within yourself that you learned what it was. Your experiences are the only thing you can put into music to make it different, and yet this is everything that matters... whatever you learn from others concerning art is good, as long as you put it all into the art and don't hold back.

  • Ah yes, great music plus nostalgia brings the greatest listening experiences for me.

    If I had to isolate the factors that if used in a certain fashion make a song or piece good for me, the ones I can think of would be: 

    1.  At least some use of counterpoint

    2.  At least some sense of progression - this could be accomplished through a time signature change, a key change, or simply starting out with a single or two instruments and gradually increasing the amount of instruments to build up the intensity.

    3.  Not generic sounding - I've tried to identify this in another composer's thread who was told his piece sounded a tad generic.  Common factors that contribute to this include chord changes frequently happening on the first beat of each measure, a predictable song structure, such as ababaa, which seems to be the main structure in radio pop, or just "cliche" chord progressions like I - I - ii - ii

    Not every song that meets my listed criteria is a song I like, but chances are it will at least be song I don't dislike listening to.  My guess is that attempting to add more criteria would make my points even more subjective than they are already.  I like at least a few songs from most genres of music, and all the songs I do like definitely meet my 3 criteria. 



    Simon Godden said:

    Also, there is the element of nostalgia that can play the biggest part in the emotion a piece can evoke. If one meets a beautiful girl/boy during a time when a song is being over-played on the radio, the chances are, you will like that song for ever (as long as you don't play it to yourself too much).
    What makes music good?
    I put this up for discussion two years ago, and the way the threads are going at the moment (plus the fact that we a lot of very new and colourful ch…
  • Insofar as art is a form of expression and communication, qualifying it as "good" or "bad" seems irrelevant. Classifying something as "good" or "bad" implies an agenda or an outcome that is desired for a specific purpose, and that purpose will always be a subjective one.

    The brief interludes discussing Cage's 4'33" take us into the more philosophical discussion of "what is music (or art)" which is also quite subjective. I'm not sure that people paying admission to an event provides an objective measure of "goodness" or "badness" (e.g. plenty of people pay money to go to Celine Dion concerts). Besides, I'm convinced that 4'33" is not music at all, it's really a movie without a screen...

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