Tuesday, May 23, 2006


I apologise if recent posts seem to be fixated on classical music but I've been rediscovering it and naturally my thoughts are much on the subject.

Not only rediscovering however; also discovering. In this case a composer I'd heard of 30 years ago but had never investigated. Sounds a bit like FBI security clearances but it ain't. It just happens that Arnold Shoenberg wasn't much pushed by the World Record Club. Or if he was I didn't notice!

I recently discovered a long forgotten 2 CD purchase, a recording of Gurrelieder[^]. I must have given it at least one listen the night I brought it home but if I did it passed me by. How is it possible that I could have listened to this music and not remember it?

According to who you read on the net or in scholarly treatises this is either the start of the 'new music' or the last gasp of the 'old music'. Composed in 1900 in sketch but not completed in orchestration until 1911 it certainly occurs at about the right time for such hyperbole.

You're scratching your head about now; what the heck is he raving on about this time? New music in 1900? Uh huh. I'm sure you've heard of so and so's symphony in C major. Or a symphony in D Minor. All of which means that the music was written in a particular 'framework'[^] for lack of a better word.

Almost all rock and pop music can be said to be in a 'key' and you can tell if it is because you can almost always predict 'in your head' where a new and unfamiliar work is going to go.

Which isn't to say that such music is predictable; it needn't be. You just know that this particular chord is going to follow that one because it 'feels' right.

I remember when I was about 7 years old watching a movie whose name is long since forgotten, where people sat around listening to someone playing on the piano. It was the typical po faced representation of people listening to classical music; I think it was something by Chopin. I remember asking my grandmother if the people in the movie had memorised the music; they seemed so sure that each note played was the 'right' note.

Listening to the odd live performance since then where a clarinetists reed gives up the ghost at exactly the wrong time has taught me better. One just knows when the 'wrong' note has been played.

About 1900 the world of 'serious' music was turned on its head by many of my favourite composers because they stopped taking the obvious chord progressions; they started using tonal combinations that were against 'the rules'. I imagine bearded and bespectactled professors disapproving and marking down accordingly.

The really interesting thing about the 'new' music, that of Schoenberg, Berg, Webern et al, is that once you've listened to it a while it's pretty easy to predict 'in your head' where an unfamiliar piece in that style is going to go.

Which, I imagine, proves that even if one eschews the idea of 'key' it's still not easy to come up with something totally new.

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