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Well, I would say there's only so much freeform you can do with a piano--fixed notes--and Debussy, Prokofiev, and Stravinsky did what you describe--cutting loose and composing freeform--but composing rather than a live improvisation (a la Keith Jarret)--so I suggest they were completely free (or became free) to use sounds as they preferred.  

Debussy was famously fond of non-harmonic scales like the whole-tone, and his music is often constrained by that. Prokofiev and Stravinsky are closer to what I had in mind, and I think they were more successful because they're both listened to more than Webern is now.

But I think the problem with serialism was that it wasn't about structure, it was about structure which only existed on paper and had no acoustic justification. All of the other development until then had been about the sound, and about using tonality as a language for metaphors.

Serialism was about an idea which was divorced from the sound. It was a single method which didn't allow any freedom to include metaphor, but it was a metaphor, and if you used it there was only one thing you were allowed to say - which was mostly a tortured and angtsy squeak-bang-thud.

So music went elsewhere, to jazz, which was much more free harmonically while still having enough structure to be non-trivial.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Wed May 14th, 2008 at 07:48:24 AM EST
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