Why we badly need new music

From the Lebrecht Album of the Week:

You’ll often hear me telling people a couple of generations down the line that they should listen to new music of our time rather than Beethoven and Mahler, which they will enjoy better once they are in their 50s. Can’t say I’ve made many converts. All the usual excuses: get home from work, make supper, put the kids to bed, veg out on the sofa, no concentration left for the squeaks and squawks of contemporary composers.

Yeah, been there, done that. But I’m not giving up trying to persuade younger people to listen to the new. Wrap your ears, for instance, around …..

 

Read on here in Ludwig Van Toronto.

And in The Critic.

In French on scena.org.

In Spanish.

And in Czech.

The Lebrecht Album of the Week appears every week in four major languages.

 

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    • No, thanks. All it is is playing over and drowning out.

      I have never heard a version of The Beatles as good as the original. They were of their time, and the freshness of the early work — the innocent “Please, Please Me” and “I Saw Her Standing There” and the like — or the greater sophistication of things like “A Day in the Life” and “Eleanor Rigby,” let alone the original humour/satire/sheer anarchy of the likes of “Quinn the Eskimo” or “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” cannot be replicated. Or improved upon.

      I wish these people would Let it Be.

        • McBreen, O Dear, how can you listen to such music, then diminish John in such an horrible way? “You are not Beethoven” That name faded out in America. No, he is a Bortslap! “Hobbit Stuff” Somewhat innocuos, though rather dismissive. Maybe he is teasing? If you do not behave, I shall have to Bortslap you! Remedy? Perhaps you should sit at a piano together and play songs from the shows…………..

          • Don’t bother, hobbits do as hobbits are. Calling them a hobbit gives them grave identity problems.

  • I’m not surprised you haven’t made any converts. I think people who like music should be free to judge for themselves what they do or don’t like. If it is new or old is an irrelevance.

  • We badly, badly need young composers who can create new music that can happily replace the current “new” music with something better!

    • What is presented in concert life is, most of the time, a minor snippet of fashionable attempts, quickly forgotten because programmers think they have to look at the ‘modern music establishment’, not realizing how conventional and empty its ideas are. The better composers work in the margins, and a number of them – very gifted people – work quietly and stubbornly on a renaissance of true music:

      https://www.amazon.co.uk/Classical-Revolution-John-Borstlap/dp/0486814483

      • “The better composers work in the margins, and a number of them – very gifted people – work quietly and stubbornly on a renaissance of true music”

        John you are just sounding pompous. No one likes your stuff at all.

        Remember John you are not Bach, Beethoven or Brahms!

      • “A renaissance of true music” Without the label new or old! Which is bound to be emotive and political. I wonder if Ockeghem or de Prez, or Tallis thought they were writing ‘new music’ ?Only “very gifted people – work quietly and stubbornly on a renaissance of true music” I believe this is so. Are composers so self-conscious as to be concerned with whether it is old, or new? I ask in all innocence as someone quite detached from new music.I wish you well in it. Irish music is not Hobbit music, nor is the music for Titanic, Irish. I am not sure if people fully grasp your Dutch humour. I am not sure.

        • This is not ‘Dutch humor’ at all…. since there is no such thing in the Netherlands.

          If people knew that there exists something like a ‘new music establishment’, they would think very differently about ‘new music’, or ‘old music’ for that matter. These categories are an invention from the last century…. and a political instrument to get audiences believing that there is something like ‘progress’ in music, which is nonsense. Writing ‘new music’ is entirely nonsensical, indeed, and any normal composer just writes the best music he can. There have been enough of such composers after WW II but access to their work has been hindered and suppressed by a politization of music life, with the result that not the music itself, but the ideology behind it became the focus of attention. Suddenly some music became ‘oldfashioned’, and other music ‘progressive’ – taboos raised everywhere, and this has nothing to do with the music itself or its qualities. That is why something as absurd as a ‘punk composer’, wallowing in juvenile ‘protest’, is happily supported by this new music establishment, while music audiences merely remain nonplussed or – if they have ears – disgusted:

          https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XhLqMKGZloQ

          This ‘composer’ is hailed as ‘the new Mahler’, no less.

      • You are only jealous John. You could not compose anything worth hearing in a million years! It is not “Hobbit music”, it is Irish.

        Shaun Davey is a famous Irish composer. Try to have an open mind.

        • I took a tin opener and opened my mind so wide that I had to open doors and windows. I ordered my PA to strap me on my chair and listened again. This is not serious art music, but nice hobbit music. Nothing against it but it does not offer anything intrinstically interesting in musical terms, it is easy listening stuff, remaining on the surface. This is not a narrowminded subjective reaction to a physically unpleasant situation, but an aesthetic judgement: you can compare this stuff with music that has something to say. Like this:

          https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eM8owJUOIao

          It does not have to be complex, good new music can also be quite ‘easy’ on the ear:

          http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rq4DZEd_S94

  • I’m in my twenties & love all forms of music – life simply wouldn’t be the same without Bach but I also adore the avant-garde & New Music – the Second Viennese School (Schoenberg, Webern, Berg), Boulez, Stockhausen, Messiaen, Takemitsu, Ligeti, Kurtag, Adès, Benjamin, Knussen, Turnage, Abrahamsen, Widmann to name a few. (Of course you can have endless debates about how “new” some of these composers are!). I’m also curious about discovering lots of other voices in new music & would much rather hear exciting performances of new music than another half-baked performance of Beethoven 5 or Mahler 2.
    May be I’m one of the exceptions but I’ve even managed to convince my mother in her 50’s, who used to think all forms of new music are “weird” & unpalatable, to at least stay curious & see the virtues of some of the works out there.
    I think to most people my age, classical music itself is considered as something only for “old people” & new music (if they know it exists) seen as something niche & almost untouchable.
    May be if you expose children to new works from an early age, say little snippets of Turangalila or something rather than just playing odd pieces by Mozart in school music classes (assuming they have them – sigh…) then I think they might enjoy new music & be a lot more receptive to it when they’re older.

    • 1000% in agreement with you, Schoenberglover, and I couldn’t have put it better myself!
      I’m still amazed that many people think of Bartok as “too modern”.
      (I’m in my late 60s, BTW)

      • Greg Bottini, My mother, of blessed memory, was enduring the menopause, believed the same of Prokofiev,. after an hour or two of my practising one of the ‘War Sonatas’ (I forget which) The door flung off its hinges, the frame split. She was a big woman, looked like Breznev. “Why can’t you play some effing Schumann, the house was so lovely then” “This is NOT Leningrad” I still feel guilty……
        Greg, we are contemporaries.

    • The family of my poor nephew Henry suffers terribly from having their 5 kids grown up with Turangulila: they are destructive, aggressive, dropped out of school after molesting the teacher, roaming the streets of Manchester with their headphones on (Messiaen no doubt), taking drugs and robbing the elderly. As Henry complains bitterly: I wished we’d listened to the vicar who recommended Mozart.

      Sally

      • “The family of my poor nephew Henry suffers terribly from having their 5 kids grown up with Turangulila: they are destructive, aggressive, dropped out of school after molesting the teacher, roaming the streets of Manchester with their headphones on (Messiaen no doubt), taking drugs and robbing the elderly. As Henry complains bitterly: I wished we’d listened to the vicar who recommended Mozart”.

        I just don’t believe it Sally, no one listens to Messiaen on headphones!

    • I give the “Tuneless wonders of the 20th century” a wide berth. The human brain can only follow clear patterns. I would rather have Weber than Webern any day. Turnage is a real Turn off.

      • Melody is in the ear of the beholder.

        Re “tuneless”:

        “The first of these movements [Beethoven Quartet #13] is remarkable…for a sort of systematic hatred of ending a fragment of a melodic phrase by a perfect cadence, all of which is evidence of worn-out creative ability no longer capable of finding melodies.”

        –H. Blanchard, “Revue et Gazette Musicale de Paris,” April 15, 1849

        “You know Verdi’s musical system: there has not yet been an Italian composer more incapable of producing what is commonly called a melody.”

        –Gazette Musicale de Paris, August 1, 1847

        “The unfortunate man [Verdi] is incapable of real melody–his airs are such as a man born deaf would compose by calculation of the distances of musical notes and the intervals between them.”

        –George Tempelton Strong’s diary, April 28, 1850

        “Wagner is Berlioz minus the melody….The listener suffocates.”

        –Auber, quoted in Le Ménestrel, September 27, 1863

        (All sourced from the “Lexicon of Musical Invective” by Nicolas Slonimsky)

    • I beg to differ. I’m also in my 20’s and only listen to ‘old people music’. I hate the late 20th Century new music nonsense. Total garbage.
      I can listen to Mozart, Haydn and Handel/Rossini’s opera seria all day long and not get bored.

      • When one gets used to ‘old people’s’ music, one’s ears recognize the absence of certain aesthetic qualities in other music. It is the same with the visual arts: if you’ve only seen the late Picasso with noses on the wrong place and ears upside down etc., you don’t know better. But after you’ve explored much older painting, you find a wealth of aesthetic refinement and emotional depth that reduces wrong noses to juvenile experiments that lead to nowhere. We develop our aesthetic sense by hearing and seeing as much as possible and making comparisons.

      • That is your opinion John, it sold like hot cakes and still does. Essentially it is not that distant from Arvo Part or even Pachelbel’s canon, try to open your eyes man. Who ever listens to your stuff?

        • well, I think some of his views are rubbish (I love Messiaen) but some of his own stuff is lovely. The Sonate is a wonderful little piece.

          • Thank you….. But I have to admit I am a great lover of Messiaen. His organ works from the interbellum are works of a genius, as is his Quartet for the End of Time. But his Turangulila and his Chronochromie, his absurdist opera St Franciscus, and all of his bird stuff are spectacular flops. And he was so [redacted] to give the youngsters in his class shortly after WW II the idea of total serialism in his one-off experiment Quatre Etudes, something he did not further develop himself. But it gave the much-needed teeth to the toothless philistines.

        • Maybe it is a good idea to open your ears….. Part or Pachelbel are infinitely better. Infinitely…. infinitely…..

          And, as for popularity, I have no reasons for complaining.

          For anything on earth, popularity is a category separate from importance or content or meaning. This is lesson one in aesthetics and morality.

          ‘If it is art, it is not for all, and if it is for all, it is not art.’ Schoenberg, ‘Style and Idea’ (1946)

  • I agree.

    Many people forget, or do not care, that all music was once new.

    Just as our predecessors listened to the new music that is now the music that we enjoy from the past, so too we should listen to new music, some of which will become old music of the future.

    Not everything that was new in previous years and centuries was great, or even good. There’s a reason why we listen to music by the likes of Beethoven far more often than by, say, his friend and contemporary Reicha: Reicha’s music is generally good, whereas Beethoven’s is often great. (That said, we should perform Reicha’s music a bit more often.) The play and movie “Amadeus” present a fictionalized portrayal of Mozart and Salieri, but there’s a reason why we routinely hear Mozart’s music and rarely Salieri’s. Etc.

    We don’t listen to music that isn’t good enough to be remembered at all today, or music that just hasn’t aged well, or that was for a specific purpose that is now obsolete. (How many of us have listened to a live performance of a Haydn baryon trio? I haven’t.)

    Our predecessors sorted the wheat from the chaff. Their sorting is imperfect; gems can be neglected, as can be good workmanlike music, and mediocre music sometimes slips through. But a great deal of what has been handed down to us is truly worth it.

    We should do the same. Music by living composers should be given a chance. Some of it may not be very good, or at least not to one’s taste; some of it may have a fleeting moment, then fade into the background; but some of it may be worthy of repeated listening and performance.

    At one time, benefactors and the public clamored for new operas, new symphonies, new other works; today, it’s mostly the same-old, same-old.

    I listen to a fair amount of new music. I get to play some new music and music of living composers from time to time. Several works have been written for me.

    I have heard (but not yet performed) music by several of the named composers, including Kurtag and Michael Gordon. Others are unfamiliar to me, but I’ll keep an eye out for them.

    We should pay more attention to new music.

    • Entirely agreed with all of this.

      The characteristic of good music is that it is multi-layered and quasi-interactive: dependent upon the inner constitution of the listener, the music offers many layers of understanding, and thus many different ways of relating to the inner world of the listener. This is the richness of good music and the difference between Reicha and Beethoven, between Salieri and Mozart. But no musicologist has ever been able to put his finger on the X factor, in spite of spotting various subcategories like: there is surprise in deviation from set-up patterns, there is personal treatment of convention, etc. etc. It is the personality of the author that shines through.

  • “New music”.

    That’s the problem. In order to feed the “new” people have been and continue to dip into nonsensical garbage.

    It’s not about “NEW”.

    It’s about… what it was always about! But that we’ve forgotten with all the emphasis on “new”.
    It’s about musical communication.
    About human emotion.
    And that’s not new, but timeless.
    But most people cannot even grasp that simple, yet profound fact… but talk about the typical modern abstractions of “new”, “original”, … and end up in that dead end of needing to bolster their “work” with pretentiousness and smartly worded lies.

    • Indeed.

      But this bolstering has become an ‘art’ in itself after WW II.

      Music – good, real music – is timeless because it has never aged. It has to be performed again and again, and is in this way born all the time. All the more striking when we listen to, say, a Monteverdi opera which is as gripping as any opera composed ages afterwards:

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JbQUZemAbpA

  • Yes we badly need ‘new’ forgotten works by the great composers: Cherubini’s Requiem, Haydn’s Harp/Harpsichord Double Concerto, Verdi’s newly discovered original Act 3 of Aida, Mahler’s Bluminen, Schubert’s “Die Zwillingsbruder”, Etc. Etc.

  • The term “Classical music” seems to be used erroneously by many folk these days. It really only applies to music composed within the timeframe of Haydn. Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert. To lump it all together as “Classical” is a mistake.
    After this period the quality dropped off, by the end of the 19th Century the art form had run its course.

    All the best and greatest music was composed well before 1900, after that it effectively died out. The tuneless wonders of the 20th century did not compose classical music in the conventional sense, they just composed either random notes noise or silence.

    Ireland has produced several famous composers Turlough O’Carolan, Kane O’Hara, Richard Woodward, Philip Cogan, Thomas Roseingrave John Field, Charles Villiers Stanford, Michael Balfe, William Wallace, Robert Prescott Stewart, Charles Wood, Hamilton Harty, Joan Trimble, Herbert Hughes, Howard Ferguson, Brian Boydell, Sean O Riada, Havelock Nelson, and more recently, Shaun Davey, John Buckley, Ina Boyle, Jerome de Bromhead, John Kinsella, Grainne Mulvey, Sean Clancy and Siobhan Cleary.

    The term “Hobbit music” which John Borstlap calls Irish music is both erroneous and offensive. The film music for the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings was composed by the Canadian composer Howard Shore. It has nothing to do with Irish music, classical or folk. It is mere pastiche. Shore apparently uses Wagnerian leitmotifs for his film scores for both the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings.

    • Yes Doc you are spot on as usual. JB is some academic fellow living in a dusty Dutch attic. I heard some of his stuff a while ago it resembles paint drying! As GBS once said, those who can do, those can’t teach.

      • How wrong you are… I would not know where to begin… so I leave it at that, and take another glass of pernod, looking out over the gardens of my Dorset estate.

    • Doc here is Mise Éire by Seán Ó Riada

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QkojIJG9nqo

      Performed by the Radio Éireann Symphony Orchestra Conducted by Seán Ó Riada
      Recorded at the Phoenix Hall, Dublin on the 19th May 1959.

      1. Mise Éire: Múscailt
      2. Cogadh Na MBórach
      3. An Asgard Agus Sochraid Bachelor’s Walk
      4. Cois Uaigh Dhiarmuid Uí Dhonnabháin Rosa
      5. Óglaigh Na HÉireann 6. Luan Cásca 1916
      7. Cathair Bhriste
      8. Tomás Ághas: Sochraid
      9. Mise Éire: Caithréim

    • Your viewpoint is very limited and limiting.

      There are two legitimate usages of the word “classical.”

      One is the one that you presented: music generally associated with Haydn, Mozart, etc. Beethoven is on the cusp of Classical and Romantic. Schubert is generally considered to be early Romantic.

      This is a simplification. Early Mozart and Haydn is more in the Galant style, handed down from the likes of J.C. Bach, than in what we think of as the Classical style–unless, of course, you want to use the term “Classical” more broadly.

      But I digress.

      The other legitimate usage is “classical” as a catchphrase for what we consider the tradition of Western art music. In this broad category, Monteverdi and Boulez legitimately belong together, whereas, say, the Rolling Stones do not (despite the influences of classical music on popular music).

      As for your comment about 20th century music, you erroneously deprecate vast amounts of excellent music. Music by composers such as Stravinsky, Schoenberg, and Philip Glass do not have to be to your taste, for you to be able to analyze them to learn in their structures who their influences from the 18th and 19th centuries are. There is a continuum. Even when composers reject the influences of certain predecessors, the act of rejection leaves its own marks.

      This is without mentioning the very active composers who remain rooted in the 18th and 19th century traditions, from Poulenc to Del Tredici.

      Not only has the art form not run its course, but it is moving ahead in the 21st century. New music is everywhere, if you know where to look for it. For example, look to the university wind ensembles, which regularly perform world premieres and works of living composers. If anything, this is the Golden Age of composition for ensembles such as wind ensemble and wind quintet. Innovation is happening for many other ensembles, such as string quartet.

      I know next to nothing about Irish composers, so I leave that to others to discuss.

      There is so much more out there. Why limit yourself!

      • No I am right, the vast output of 20th century music is utter garbage, Schoenberg, Bartok, Glass et al dire!
        I never listen to anything after 1900 mate.

        • Open your ears, “mate”.
          You don’t have to personally like Bartok’s music, but he has since his untimely death been recognized as one of the great composers of western art music. For you to refer to him as garbage simply displays your own willful ignorance.
          Perhaps you should listen to more music and spend less time digging around old autopsy reports.

    • “After this period the quality dropped off, by the end of the 19th Century the art form had run its course.”

      Better to first take some advice or do some reading before revealing one’s abyssmal ignorance.

      The term ‘classical’ is used in many different ways and contexts. In music, it is used for all serious art music from the 9th century onwards till 20C atonal modernism, as to distinguish it from entertainment music. It is also used in this sense for art music of non-Western cultures. Next to this usance, the term is also specifically for the serious art music in Europe ca. 1760 – 1827.

      It is like the term ‘culture’ which can be used, depending upon context, for a very general way for how people live, their customs, habits etc., and for specifically their art, so: culture in a narrower sense.

      The ‘classical period’ in serious European art music only got its term in the course of the 19th century when the repertoire of Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven was increasingly being felt as setting quality standards, classical in the sense of a quality code of musical behavior. A master piece could only be written if it followed the rules of the classical composers. Which is nonsense, of course – they did not follow any rules themselves.

      The end of the 19th century was not a low-ebb but in contrary, produced an explosion of rich musical development and invention: Fauré, Debussy, Ravel, Mahler, Strauss, Stravinsky, Bartok, Scriabine, Szymanowski, and a diversity of styles as seen never before. Two world wars and the pressures of progress put an end to it – as something from outside the art form and not as a result from forces within.

  • “All the best and greatest music was composed well before 1900, after that it effectively died out. The tuneless wonders of the 20th century did not compose classical music in the conventional sense, they just composed either random notes noise or silence.” This is a gag, right? Are you really such an idiot?

  • Audiences for classical music are mostly middle aged and elderly with money to burn. They do not come to hear any post modern stuff at all. Composers today need to come down off their crosses and write stuff these folk can actually listen to, that is they need to learn how to write a something inspiring with a tune, something they seemed to have forgotten how to do since the last century.

    • I do that. No one will publish it, or play it. But the interesting thing is, it is even harder to make such music good. It takes years of revision and perfecting. Most composers who try to write tonal music simply demonstrate their lack of talent. The fault lies in the teaching of composition, and the model of writing to commissions. Composers should receive stipends so they can write as they want, not as they need, so they have time to perfect their music, rather than crank out product.

      • When composers write so-called ‘tonal music’ (the term can be contested), they reveal their musical talent or the lack thereof. The misunderstanding in education is that to write traditionally / tonally, it’s easy, because the language is already there. But that makes it very hard, not easy.

        And the barriers in music life for new tonal music are caused by two things: the lack of understanding of programmers, and the existence of a ‘new music establishment’ which is a network of interests by people who cover-up their lack of musical talent with ideology and power games – they have to, since audiences don’t appreciate that stuff.

    • Oh, you mean like the 19th century tunesmiths such as Verdi?

      I’m reposting an excerpt from an earlier comment of mine:

      “You know Verdi’s musical system: there has not yet been an Italian composer more incapable of producing what is commonly called a melody.”

      –Gazette Musicale de Paris, August 1, 1847

      “The unfortunate man [Verdi] is incapable of real melody–his airs are such as a man born deaf would compose by calculation of the distances of musical notes and the intervals between them.”

      –George Tempelton Strong’s diary, April 28, 1850

      (All sourced from the “Lexicon of Musical Invective” by Nicolas Slonimsky)

      How much does your opinion about current music, compare to their opinions about Verdi’s music? Do you agree with their assessments of the melodies of Verdi’s operas?

      There are plenty of “mostly middle aged and elderly with money to burn” audiences who attend concerts with new and recent music, alongside young and dynamic members of the audience. I’ve been in the audience. I’ve been on stage. I see them.

      And if an old fuddy-duddy doesn’t like the program, then he or she can give his tickets to someone who will appreciate hearing new and fresh music.

  • Most of the new music that gets played is, sadly, bad music, and hurts the audience. So the audience for new music has to be separated from the general audience. But composers who write mainstream music won’t be considered “new” music, and won’t get played or supported at all. The Modernist stream destroyed too much.

  • The Albany Symphony, in upstate New York, is an example of an orchestra that routinely commissions and performs world premieres and performs music by living composers, and also performs obscure music by well known and less-well-known composers, as well as the standards.

    http://www.albanysymphony.com

    It has struck a good balance among all these elements, so that its audience is sizable for a local orchestra and supportive of its innovative programming.

    Fun piece of trivia, to connect this to the recent discussion of Malcolm Arnold’s music: the ASO presented the world premiere of Arnold’s eighth symphony, back in the 1970s. According to Wikipedia, it is the only one of the Arnold symphonies to have been commissioned and had its world premiere outside of the UK.

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