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That's a good question and there are plenty of different answers.  If we liberate our minds from the ideal of beauty and ugliness--

Thus, Western musical history can be seen as starting with a quite limited definition of consonance and progressing towards an ever wider definition of consonance. Early in history, only intervals low in the overtone series were considered consonant. As time progressed, intervals ever higher on the overtone series were considered consonant. The final result of this was the so-called "emancipation of the dissonance" (the words of Arnold Schoenberg) by some 20th-century composers. Early 20th-century American composer Henry Cowell viewed tone clusters as the use of higher and higher overtones.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Consonance_and_dissonance

(Debussy & Stravinsky are about as liberated as I get...)

So--the most naturally dissonant intervals--where the frequencies are all clashing (and this can be effected by pitch, too--so that two notes played far apart on the keyboard have different vibrational relationships, and if you swap notes over you get different effects (e.g. play a low A and a high C, then play a low C and a high A)--would not be called ugly--(but I might hear them as ugly because the lack of resolution would disturb my ears, say)--it would be called "sound"--and "organised sound" is one way of starting to think about defining music (etc!)

Schoenberg is famous for developing the twelve tone series, where each of the twelve semitones in a standard western octave are played in succession, no repetitions of notes until the series (all twelve notes) has been played.

Schoenberg is okay (I'm at work so I can't go searching); Webern is the name I would most associate with "most or all intervals pretty ugly".  

I'll tell you my theory; but have a listen, it's certainly music that is attempting to do specific things--maybe post up what you found?

So: serialism, twelve tone, Schoenberg, Webern, Cage...

Atonality in its broadest sense describes music that lacks a tonal center, or key. Atonality in this sense usually describes compositions written from about 1907 to the present day where a hierarchy of pitches focusing on a single, central tone is not used as a primary foundation for the work. More narrowly, the term describes music that does not conform to the system of tonal hierarchies that characterized classical European music between the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries.

More narrowly still, the term is used to describe music that is neither tonal nor serial, especially the pre-twelve-tone music of the Second Viennese School, principally Alban Berg, Arnold Schoenberg, and Anton Webern.

Composers such as Alexander Scriabin, Béla Bartók, Paul Hindemith, Sergei Prokofiev, Igor Stravinsky, Edgard Varèse, however, have written music that has been described, in full or in part, as atonal.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atonal_music

(As I wrote, for me Stravinsky and Debussy are both everything tonal and most things beyond, whereas some of the other names never did anything tonal--or very little.)

Right, my theory:  you see, the a-tonal serialism was (let's say) developed before, during, and after WWI--so there was a technical element (developing Debussy et al's developments, natural movements in the western musical tradition); but I think there was also a moral element--

--well, my theory is that with serialism etc they (in their own words) wished to pare music back to its bare bones, lose all the superfluous sounds--

--but as you wrote above, the harmonics are already creating definite patterns within a single note--specific resonances, so (for me) music that refuses to enter tonality (there are rules about how many major intervals you can have together etc...so it's not just "choose, mix and match"--there's an element of "you must not be tuneful")--

Anyways, Webern--and Berg; I have a friend who enjoys Berg, can't tell you which pieces--a piano concerto?  I'll find out this evening, let you know.

Don't fight forces, use them R. Buckminster Fuller.

by rg (leopold dot lepster at google mail dot com) on Wed May 14th, 2008 at 05:11:30 AM EST
[ Parent ]
whereas some of the other names never did anything tonal--or very little

That's sloppy--I'll take it back.  Really I'd like to find a few examples, but I can't until late tonight.  It's a whole musical period and I don't want to prejudice ideas--of course, they all understood tonality, so in at least one way (by not being tonal) there is tonality (the lack of something--the shape its absence creates)--ach!  I mean, I'm very happy to be corrected by those who know more about these composers and this period.

(btw, Pierre Boulez is the composer/conductor to search for--there are plenty of pieces on youtube--also interviews.)

Don't fight forces, use them R. Buckminster Fuller.

by rg (leopold dot lepster at google mail dot com) on Wed May 14th, 2008 at 05:17:52 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Thanks for describing that much already. Just curious, how crazy people can be ;-)
 
by das monde on Wed May 14th, 2008 at 05:32:20 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Here's an explanation of Schoenberg's twelve tone method--note at 01:37 what is written on the front sheet of his Composition with Twelve Tones:

To understand the very nature of creation, one must acknowledge that there was no light before the Lord said "Let there be light".

So....religious ideas, light and dark, moral confusions...I see it growing out of that (the way I see Heidegger's philosophy caught in religious ideas put against world events--Heidegger was german, Schoenberg was austrian--there's a tortuousness I find in both--not party people; committed to ideals that were going strangely wrong--heh...that's my reading!)  

Anyways, here's the film (5:23):



Don't fight forces, use them R. Buckminster Fuller.

by rg (leopold dot lepster at google mail dot com) on Wed May 14th, 2008 at 01:10:52 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Schoenberg had this weird political idea that serial music was 'more democratic' than tonal music because instead of having a centre and a key note, all of the notes were equally important.

But instead of having a key note there's an equally rigid tone row, which gives the notes very little freedom of movement. The row is fixed and although you can do all of things to it - play it backwards, forwards, upside down, and so on - it's the one element that you're not allowed to change directly.

So it's not really free at all, and it doesn't sound democratic. Hardly anyone enjoys listening to it, because it usually sounds angular, ugly and sterile. It's more of a mechanised collectivisation of music - shifting blocks around for the sake of a process which most people can't hear directly.

I don't understand why composers didn't just cut loose and compose completely in freeform, where the notes could go wherever they wanted to go without that kind of arbitrary structure. But apparently composing without a predefined structure and method was too frightening, too much of a challenge and not nearly serious enough.

Which is odd, because it would have been much more 'democratic' than the tone row idea.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Wed May 14th, 2008 at 05:20:54 AM EST
[ Parent ]
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.  

Especially, I think Stravinsky's use of horns is very free--I think of brass and woodwind as being less needy of exact tonal relationships (I don't know--because in themselves their sound worlds are fairly variegated--)

Then (in my theory) came WWI and tonality was frivolity was not understanding the depth of resonance--tonality was a pretending that there could be consonance in a world where--etc....

The next move was to use synthesised sounds (Messiaen's use of the Martenot)--and then...well...but yeah!  I think there is a wide space for compositions that experiment with the full range of tibral expressions available through whatever instruments can be brought together:

To get people to repeat the music at other moments and in other locations, it has to be created in a medium where re-production is possible--so there's a technical apsect--but anyways, I think the freedom to work without predefined structure and method arrived with (or just before) Beethoven.  For my ears, the serialist exercises sound much better played on a classical guitar--so timbre has a lot to do with it--

Don't fight forces, use them R. Buckminster Fuller.

by rg (leopold dot lepster at google mail dot com) on Wed May 14th, 2008 at 05:56:42 AM EST
[ Parent ]
rg:
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
[ Parent ]
Debussy was famously fond of non-harmonic scales like the whole-tone, and his music is often constrained by that.

heh....I suppose each piece is constrained in some way if it has structure (even 4'33--which is time constrained)...I don't think of Debussy as constrained simply because he acted completely freely within the possibilities of (mainly that I've heard) the piano, but yeah, with his own constraint that he loved certain timbres, certain elegant effects--which I like too!  And I'm sure there are pieces of his that demonstrate the opposite of whatever another piece demonstrates.

it was about structure which only existed on paper and had no acoustic justification

That describes my feeling exactly, and yeah about the jazz break-off, in classical it's there with Ravel (and others of course, but I remember it specifically with Ravel's piano concerto)--

later on I'll post a piece of serialism written for the classical guitar, I do think timbre comes into it, and I suppose a composer could write dynamic markings onto their twelve tone series inversions etc. such that the notes are random (at least in the originating order) but the attack, forte piano, slurs etc. are set by the composer--

Still, it's not a natural sound world for my ears--I can maybe admire a piece and maybe find interesting dynamics, but my ears need some tonality--or maybe the one atonal piece, just to show it can be done, but not a series of them....

...I have friends, though (musicians) who very much appreciate, for example, Webern and Berg--so there's also a playability aspect--for some musicians there's an enjoyment in playing musical inversions, pallindromes etc.

Don't fight forces, use them R. Buckminster Fuller.

by rg (leopold dot lepster at google mail dot com) on Wed May 14th, 2008 at 08:24:15 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Here's the classical guitar piece:

The Atonal Space composition, I had composed back in 1988, when 25 years old, a time when I was studying music at the University of Nevada Las Vegas. Atonality, music having no tonal center or key, brought forth by an ordered musical system, was fascinating to me. Just following the guidelines to achieve this "absence of gravity" in music will result in Atonality. This system was uncovered by Arnold Schoenberg, a composer from the early 1900's.

5:27



Don't fight forces, use them R. Buckminster Fuller.

by rg (leopold dot lepster at google mail dot com) on Wed May 14th, 2008 at 01:02:11 PM EST
[ Parent ]
But apparently composing without a predefined structure and method was too frightening, too much of a challenge and not nearly serious enough.

i think it was more the desire to encode a protocol that all could centre around and then elaborate, like the difference between tossing a ball around and playing cricket.

an agreement that all use a point of reference to jam off of.

self-organising?

before we made these agreements, we probably did a much more random kind of thing, not serious maybe, and as for frightening...lol!

i guess you had to be there...

i get that you're probably referring to the illusion of safety one opts for by 'following the rules', rather than some kind of rawer anarchic approach.

but one is free to do that, the benefit of having rules is that they create some form to the culture, which then bathes children as they grow, and can draw its power to be so very evocative, resonating with ancient memories, maybe back to the dna level.

this helps explain why foreign music takes much longer to get the average head around.

i love the dalai lama's dictum ' learn the rules, so that you learn how to break them correctly', and i think music shows it to be true, tho' it goes even further.

of course the notion of what's correct sets off a whole other relativism, lol.. where do these agreements come from? how long do they last historically?

my guess is music and its rules are a self-emerging process, embedded within us, but dependent on synergy between local materials and regional sounds of flora and fauna to imitate, to flower.

i also think that western music is attracting more new listeners in asia than vice versa, but i could be wrong. same with s. america, or russia.

same with wine and sake or tequila or vodka...

it would be droll if aliens arrived and played music that was actually earthier than what most people have on their ipods here.

cause a lot of what people enjoy on earth sounds pretty alien to me!

except jimi, natch...

the blues and jazz habit of smudging notes, messing with the microtones, makes music come full circle for me, it knows the rules, there is a tonal 'homepage', but you can sally off where it gets lawless.

how far you go, and how long you stay, is the challenge presented by minds and hearts and nervous systems who haven't heard the rules broken so intelligently (or charmingly, another Great Indefinite!) before, and can only stand so much of what tilts over into chaos for them, and the fruit starts to fly, or beer bottles if you're in tornado country.

took me a long time to get coltrane for that reason...

fascinating series, rg!

when i get broadband, i'm gonna take a whole weekend and play all those youtubes, man what a treat, like waiting for xmas!

'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Wed May 14th, 2008 at 06:54:25 AM EST
[ Parent ]
before we made these agreements, we probably did a much more random kind of thing, not serious maybe, and as for frightening...lol!

Back in the day, composers would write "Cadenza", which means "Make the next bit up as you like"--an improvisation section, found in a piano concerto, say.  So the beginning of Beethoven's 5th Piano concerto starts with cadenzas--that Beethoven wrote out!  "Hey, that's the solo--now play it."

I was told that Bach was in the habit of writing out ornaments (trills and such) in full, whereas most composers left it to the musicians how to embellish--the sign was an idea not a list of specific notes.

So, piano concertos as rock gigs, with built in solo moments--and then the solo parts slowly get filled in (the composer might write in a few bars with the idea that the player can improvise around that structure etc.)

And--hey--listening to the whole series--!  I think most diaries take about an hour (or so) to listen to.  I really do think they make a lot less sense without the music--a lot of the comments following videos are coming out of the various sound worlds presented by the preceding video (well, that's my idea, whether it works...heh!)--in this diary, I felt the Sor piece played by Segovia said everything--once the context had been set for minor-major with the intro and the Radiohead piece--

So--let's hope you get broadband soon!

Don't fight forces, use them R. Buckminster Fuller.

by rg (leopold dot lepster at google mail dot com) on Wed May 14th, 2008 at 07:16:15 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I was told that Bach was in the habit of writing out ornaments (trills and such) in full, whereas most composers left it to the musicians how to embellish--the sign was an idea not a list of specific notes.

That was allegedly Glenn Gould's excuse for improvising when playing Mozart. If that's true, then it explains why I find Mozart's piano concerto solos rather bland :-)

When the capital development of a country becomes a by-product of the activities of a casino, the job is likely to be ill-done. — John M. Keynes

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed May 14th, 2008 at 07:25:42 AM EST
[ Parent ]
yes, exactly!  Mozart was a riff monster; his gigs were just that: one off gigs.  The orchestra could play the piece, then at the certain moment he would play his solo--a solo by Mozart!

Most musicians now would play pre-written notes, so no improvisation.  I found this with a quick google, though:

The orchestra's favorite part of a concerto, someone once joked, is the cadenza - the section at the end of a movement when the orchestra stops playing and the soloist is on his own for a minute or two. But some listeners in the audience can't wait for the "real" music to start again, when the orchestra gets back to work.

Why do these listeners get impatient? Perhaps because the cadenza rarely lives up to what it's supposed to be - a fantasy that sounds improvised, with enough of the unexpected to keep you on the edge of your seat. Nowadays, in a Mozart concerto, most pianists play a cadenza that was composed well ahead of time (sometimes by Mozart for a student, sometimes by someone more recent). Too often, it's obvious that everything was planned in advance.

But not when the pianist is Robert Levin. Like Mozart himself in concerts, Levin makes up his own cadenzas on the spot. Hearing him plunge in after the orchestra stops is like watching someone walk a tightrope without a net. In a Levin cadenza, anything can happen.

http://www.bsherman.org/levinstagebill.htm



Don't fight forces, use them R. Buckminster Fuller.
by rg (leopold dot lepster at google mail dot com) on Wed May 14th, 2008 at 08:30:13 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Moazrt literally grew up improvising. He was taken on a tour of Europe when he was ten, and he'd improvise fugues and arrangements with a blindfold on, or the keyboard covered with felt so he couldn't see the keys.

The tour was a double act with his sister who was only a few years older - rated a much better performer, but not such a creative improviser.

He'd have been horrified by the modern idea of 'Here's the piece, these are the notes, play it exactly as it's written or we shoot you.'

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Wed May 14th, 2008 at 08:49:31 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The tour was a double act with his sister who was only a few years older - rated a much better performer, but not such a creative improviser.

I try to think of famous women composers - aren't they more rare than women mathematicians? What are the most famous names in this list?

by das monde on Wed May 14th, 2008 at 10:27:13 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Note that the list includes Fanny Mendelssohn (maiden name) and Clara Schumann (married name). This inconsistency gives away the fact that the compiler of the list regards them as famous because they were related to a famous male composer, rather than in their own right.

The Deutsche Bahn does better than Wikipedia. They have (had? Anyone know where you can find a list of named trains?) a train named after Fanny Hensel.

One of the most famous names in the list is probably Annette von Droste-Hülshoff, but not as a composer. A few years ago (probably 1998), Münster had a festival dedicated to her, which included some compositions by her father, who taught her music. A rare instance of a male composer being remembered only because of his relation to a female one.

by gk (gk (gk quattro due due sette @gmail.com)) on Thu May 15th, 2008 at 04:30:40 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The Deutsche Bahn does better than Wikipedia. They have (had? Anyone know where you can find a list of named trains?) a train named after Fanny Hensel.

Here is the current list. But DB, and others, are reducing the number of named trains (why, I don't get it - how is it a problem to regular interval timeplan?...). However, I don't find any trace of an EC/IC/ICE Fanny Hensel in the past, either.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Mon May 19th, 2008 at 08:37:43 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Strange. I have a clear memory of riding in this train. It might have been another country, but that seems unlikely.

I wonder whether they could be reducing the number of named trains to prepare the ground for Austrian-style sponsorship of trains? They have awful things like "Hollywood Filmkomplex" and the like. The most annoying is the "WIFI-express". With a name like that you expect to have WiFi on board, only to discover that WIFI is Austrian for Wirtschaftsförderungsinstitut - and that they don't regard installing WiFi as an appropriate form of Wirtschaftsförderung...

by gk (gk (gk quattro due due sette @gmail.com)) on Tue May 20th, 2008 at 05:41:51 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Strange. I have a clear memory of riding in this train.

Could you narrow it down to train type (e.g. EC/IC/ICE/etc.), and roughly which year?

Austrian-style sponsorship of trains

Heh... last week in Vienna, I too saw that "Hollywood Megaplex" train, and also "EZA Fairer Handel" and some expresses named for web addresses...

But, seriously, ÖBB still kept nice names like "Mozart" and "Allegro Don Giovanni" and has room for sillyness like "Willkommen im Parlament", so I don't get what rides DB. (And DB has effects beyond borders - say, why drop the decades-old "Hungária" name for EC 170/171 Budapest-Hamburg and "Ján Jesenius"->"Alois Negrelli" for EC 170/171 Budapest-Berlin?)

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Tue May 20th, 2008 at 08:22:37 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I think around 10-15 years ago. Maybe ICE, but I'm really uncertain about this.
by gk (gk (gk quattro due due sette @gmail.com)) on Tue May 20th, 2008 at 08:32:20 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Then quite likely ICE. The names of ICE runs were culled in 2002 (some came back later; while naming of the trains themselves for cities started), so there were lots of short-lived names.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Tue May 20th, 2008 at 10:06:18 AM EST
[ Parent ]
There's a joke in music circles that classical musicians ain't got no soul and jazz musicians ain't got no technique.  Like all snark there is more than a bit of truth there.

She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre
by ATinNM on Sat May 17th, 2008 at 12:03:56 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Creativity requires constraints to be effective? Some people need more constraints than others?
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Wed May 14th, 2008 at 07:27:27 AM EST
[ Parent ]
bingo...freedom is meaningless unless there's something to be free from.

its exactly this tension and release that makes art art, i reckon.

the tension as someone pushes at the rules, and the release when they fold back into the groove, whether rhythmic, melodic or harmonic.

coming home! the further and riskier the journey, the sweeter the return...

but if you try to lead people too far from what they recognise, they'll fall away, so if you want the support of your listeners you have to gauge how far out they can handle it. or you could die, as that always raises the 'appreciability', a la nick drake.

if you don't invite them to savour some new 'way round the block', you're muzak!

elevator music, where if you shut your eyes you can see the musicians sneaking looks at their watches to see how long before they can knock off and go get drunk....to wash off the memories of the pallid melodies, charmless arrangements, flaccid orchestration, trite piled on shite...

sure makes you appreciate 'silence', (if there is such a thing!)

'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Thu May 15th, 2008 at 02:15:48 AM EST
[ Parent ]
It's one of those mornings--I didn't finish my theory.  So, whereas the rigorous astringency of a-tonality is considered by some to be "nothing but the essentials", my theory is that, in fact, it is "nothing but the ornaments"--because it refuses to engage with the basic harmonic overtone patterns--so all the bones (that's my theory--that the octave is the basis and then the fifth, through harmonic resonance experiments--e.g. listening to octaves and notes played with the fifth above them) become ornamented with ever more elaborate movements--so for me, if you remove the entire tonal skeleton you are left with ornament and rhythm--I'm thinking of Stravinsky again, how he enjoyed that, seep away the tonal base, bang bang!  Rush, sweep, now play two major thirds against a minor seventh, bang!  In and out and round about...heh...

Anyways, that's the end of my theory!

Don't fight forces, use them R. Buckminster Fuller.

by rg (leopold dot lepster at google mail dot com) on Wed May 14th, 2008 at 05:33:38 AM EST
[ Parent ]
What are the most famous pieces that do not use (in a weaker or stronger sense) the few most basic intervals?
by das monde on Wed May 14th, 2008 at 05:46:40 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The Rite of Spring is the most famous piece that comes to mind (I keep mentioning that piece)--check out any clips of it, see how long you can hear basic intervals before you hear other basic intervals playing in sync and with no preference one against the other--well, that's my first example.

Don't fight forces, use them R. Buckminster Fuller.
by rg (leopold dot lepster at google mail dot com) on Wed May 14th, 2008 at 05:59:09 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Here you go, right from the start--using all kinds of intervals (7:46).



Don't fight forces, use them R. Buckminster Fuller.

by rg (leopold dot lepster at google mail dot com) on Wed May 14th, 2008 at 12:59:23 PM EST
[ Parent ]
In Copland's Appalachian Spring the doppio movimento based on the Shaker hymn 'Simple Gifts' starts with the oboe and bassoon in 9ths - an interval normally avoided.  Play it on the piano and it sounds like crap.  In the concert hall ... it works.

She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre
by ATinNM on Sat May 17th, 2008 at 12:12:04 PM EST
[ Parent ]

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