Postmodernity and Cultural Stagnation


It is possible to chart a strong historical narrative through the history of Western classical music from the Renaissance through the mid-20th century. To conceive of such a narrative is to indulge in historicism which may not always match historical reality on the more local scale. But the forming of such a historical narrative does allow one to view vast swathes of musical and cultural development and thus formulate a philosophy of Western classical music, which can explain why it is that things are as they are now. Such a narrative, which advances and regresses at turns, follows a line of development from the gradual formalization of the tonal system to the emancipation of dissonance and the later formalizations of music into forms such as serialism, in the early 20th century. This master narrative followed developments in other art-forms, philosophy, and socio-political movements, from the breaking down of European feudal societies, the forging of republics, industrialisation, the growth of the middle-class, fascism, and the rise of neo-liberalism in the 20th century. The constituent parts of music were essentially the same throughout this period and I wish to explore this in depth in this paper. But in the 1960s certain composers turned their gaze from the high Modernism of the classical tradition and looked to jazz and Indian music as their models. Composers such as Terry Reilly and La Monte Young forged a musical language which valued repetition and consonance, simplicity and directness above mathematical constructs. John Cage also brought the experimentalism of artists such as Andy Warhol into music: the Brillo Box of Warhol would see an analogy in the conceptual music and sound objects of Cage.

These developments stand outside the great narrative of western art music; they created a language which was capable of probing deeply into the philosophy of music and art, while also blurring the lines between music and noise further even than figures such as Varese had done. This radical revaluation of music was also achieved by the use of chance processes, such as the I-Ching, and improvisation and graphical notation. The concept of a composer was now far beyond what it had been in the rigorous days of the second Viennese school, so steeped in tradition.

This opening up of music made it possible for any artist, with little or no musical background to be a composer; anything became possible and the only limits were those of one’s own creative thought. Newness, boldness, and novelty seemed to be valued above all else. As the century came to a close the division between the high moderns of the Darmstadt set and the experimentalists – the interdisciplinary artist/composers – had created a plethora of styles which the young composer could ally oneself with. This freedom, in which anything is acceptable and everything is equal, has created a period of stagnation in music. With such a glut of styles and schools these styles inevitably became institutionalised and, in isolation, can offer little to the composer. The brief dialectic that was created between the formalism of Darmstadt and the freedom, chance, and intuition of experimentalism had imploded and made everything possible. What is left is a flux of styles which are cul-de-sacs: they are pigeon-holes which are restrictive and which envy their neighbour.

The purpose of this research project is to make sense of the crucible of musical history, to understand how I fit into this history myself; to consider how I, as a composer of the 21st century, can forge a path out of the all too pervasive stagnation. It seems to me that to continue I must review the past with a broad historical perspective, to perceive the patterns in musical history, to understand how the stasis may be shaken into life. Perhaps this can be done by forcing the solidified schools of thought, and styles, into collision, by allowing a process of entropy to find points of convergence and creating a meta-music which does not yet exist. Or, perhaps, by making these styles redundant and revealing all to be dead-ends, by radically revising the science and mathematics of music, the very core of sound. I propose to explore these matters with the aim of considering the effect that this historical narrative, and its shattering, have for the composer of today. And to consider the stasis which predominates in music today and how one may move beyond this stasis into a rich and varied world of musical composition.


The Master Narrative of Western Art Music: circa 1400-1950

The beginnings of the historical period of Western art music came out of the explosion of complexity that was the Ars Nova, of the 14th century. The shift that then took place at the beginning of the musical Renaissance period, somewhere around the beginning of the 15th century, was the move toward a greater degree of secularization of music, as music became a commodity desired by the wealthy aristocracy of Europe. The complexity of the Ars Nova period – detailed in Phillipe de Vitry’s book Ars Nova, from the early 1300s – was replaced by simpler forms of imitation and more rational rhythmic constructs. Unlike the Ars Nova, the Renaissance was to serve an audience of the upper classes who believed that they could better themselves and their courts with the arts.

Of course it is not possible to date precisely when the Renaissance period began in music, nor when it was succeeded by the Baroque, but rather one must view the post-Ars Nova period as the gradual synthesis of musical theory and technique which would eventually, and gradually, culminate in the erosion of the modes and the ascent of the tonal system, which would dominate Western music right up to end of the 19th century, and arguably, in an abstracted form, up to the popular music of the present day. This synthesis took place in an artistic and cultural environment in which artists and musicians moved from court to church, around vast portions of Western Europe, as “the aristocracy of both church and state vied with one another in maintaining resident musicians who could serve both the chapel and banqueting hall.”[1]

Arthur C. Danto, philosopher and art critic, charted the master narrative of the visual arts in his 1997 book After the End of Art[2] as beginning sometime around 13th or 14th century[3] and finishing around the 1980s. He finds the philosophy and narrative of Western art in this period in the writing of the 16th century artist and cultural historian Giorgio Vasari (1511 – 1574), whose 1550 book The Lives of the Most Eminent Italian Architects, Painters and Sculptors “accepts the Renaissance view of medieval art as the incompetent products of the Dark Ages”[4] and views art as “the progressive conquest of visual appearances, of mastering strategies through which the effect of the visual surfaces of the world on the visual system of human beings could be replicated by means of painting surfaces that affect the visual system in just the way the world’s visual surfaces affect it.”[5] Vasari was concerned with creating a greater likeness to reality than his predecessors had achieved, which became, in Danto’s view, the driving force of the visual arts up the 20th century and forms the master narrative of the visual arts in Europe and defines the historical period of painting. “[It] is important to take account of the fact that perception itself undergoes relatively little change over the period in question – let’s say about 1300 to 1900 – otherwise there would be no possibility of progress: the progress has to be in the representations that look more and more like visual reality.”[6]

The historical period of art ran in tandem with a historical period in music, which was concerned not with “making art… governed by perceptual truth”[7] – this is obviously not within the realm of music – but with the elements of harmony, melody, and rhythm. It is true that these elements were also the preserve of medieval music to a degree, but what is markedly different in the historical period is the emergence of harmony as a vertical facet of music rather than as an incident of horizontal, or linear, composition. This led to the need for a greater degree of harmonic variation, which was achieved by the formalisation of the tonal system.

The social restructuring which took place in the Renaissance period – the erosion of the Church’s dominance of society and the rise of many small aristocrats – heralded an age in which the composer was a cosmopolitan artist and craftsman. Knowledge of styles and techniques of composition and performance spread across Europe in an unprecedented manner, enriching the music of each court and church to which an experienced composer arrived. The most significant developments in the early Renaissance were made in in the Burgundian school, at which “Dufay and his contemporaries added free forms divorced from the ordered patterns of the Ars Antiqua and Ars Nova periods.”[8] Giant strides were also made in instrumental music during the 16th century, with “the continually developing idiomatically instrumental techniques, such as strongly accented rhythms, rapid repeated tones and figures, angular melodic lines involving wide intervallic skips, wide ranges, long, sustained tones and phrases, and much melodic ornamentation.”[9] All of these developments are very familiar to the music of the Baroque period. As well as these developments, new forms of music were created as a result of the Reformation: “the German Lutheran chorale, the chorale motet, English anthems and services, and psalm tunes in Calvinist areas.”[10]

The narrative of the Renaissance was one of the gradual synthesising of a large variety of compositional and performance techniques and styles, which developed both through the interaction between composers who travelled from one court to another as their services were sought by an aristocracy which was increasing interested in art. This art was different from the art of the Medieval period, which was almost exclusively created for the veneration of God – as Danto puts it the art’s “being art did not figure in their production, since the concept of art had not as yet really emerged in general consciousness”[11] – it was art which strove to capture the nature of reality, of what the human eye could see. An innumerable number of religious paintings were of course made during the Renaissance, but they sought to create a naturalistic image of, for example, a scene from scripture, rather than the abstract and allegorical perplexities of non-naturalistic medieval painting. In a sense music became more “natural” too, insofar as it was something to be listened to for its own sake, and for purposes of entertainment in the courts.

Music was also heading towards a formal and essentially pan-European language in the form of tonality, which developed rapidly in the Baroque period and reached it’s more concrete form in the Classical period, only to begin a slow disintegration throughout the succeeding century. It was through the extended and expansive harmonies of late Renaissance composers and through the textural rationalisation of both sacred and secular music that “the death knell of the modal system”[12] came about, to be replaced by tonality. This was the first major stage in the historical period of music, the first watershed in the master narrative of European composition. The progress was slow, but by 1600 the development of Italian opera, and indeed opera in France and England, had propelled a music which focused for the most part on a melodic line in the upper voice accompanied by simple, and largely homophonic, harmonic progressions within a small number of tonal centres. But the tonal system did not really reach its point of culmination until the work of Handel and Bach, at the end of the Baroque period.

The development – and eventually the widespread adoption of – equal temperament opened up huge opportunities for a tonal system which could modulate and use passing chromaticism in a manner which was inherently dynamic and dramatic. The adoption of the tonal system also led to the development of formal structures. In the Baroque period, ternary forms were used, the different sections being marked by different keys, as well as textural and tempo differences. The inherent dynamism of the tonal system – the shifts from a “home” key to something more remote with an eventual return is necessarily dramatic, in the sense of narrative – opened up the possibility of a formal language of structure which was utilised in the Classical period by virtually all composers. Symphonic forms became heavily developmental and focused on recurring motifs, a technique which, of course, dominated music at least up to Schoenberg.


The formalisation of the tonal system, reaching fruition in the Classical period, had entirely usurped the old church modes, which were now a relic of near antiquity, having eroded during the gradual gestation of the Classical tonal system throughout the later Renaissance and Baroque periods. The old modal systems had lost their meaning in the Enlightenment period, which sought a more immediate, direct, and dramatic musical language. The development of instruments and the emergence of equal temperament as the predominant tuning system propagated the new tonal system, which would exist in its true, Classical form for only a brief time – until around the early 19th century – and would slowly shift towards a greater degree of dissonance and tonal variety, moving away from the strong functionality of Classical harmony.

In his Philosophy of Modern Music[13] Theodor Adorno views Beethoven as the truly revolutionary figure whose later music initiated the slow decline of tonality which would eventually result in the atonality and then dodecaphonic system of Arnold Schoenberg, a process which Adorno views as the integral narrative of post-Classical period in music. What the late music of Beethoven did, in Adorno’s view, was liberate a sense of individualism from the strictures of Classical forms[14], through procedures of “developmental variation” – a technique espoused by Schoenberg – which allowed thematic material to explore itself and dictate the form and structure of the music. As Rose Rosengard Subotnik wrote, “Schoenberg’s music represents merely the inevitable last stages of a process which first became manifest in Beethoven’s late style, the serving of subjective freedom from objective reality.”[15] This liberation of the musical material – which Adorno correlates to the most dramatic political movements of Beethoven’s lifetime, the French Revolution and crowning of Napoleon as Emperor – eventually is fulfilled in the emancipation of dissonance and the formalising of the twelve-note method of Schoenberg, which brought the narrative of the individuation of musical material, begun in late period Beethoven, to a close.

It may seem that this kind of historicism, which singles Beethoven and Schoenberg out as the great monoliths of Western musical history to the exclusion of almost all others, and bounds musical history up with Adorno’s Marxist views of social progress, is removed from historical reality, but his theory is compelling. Certainly it is the case that Beethoven is the composer who begins the disintegration of tonality – even if he didn’t conceive of such a historical movement which he was instigating – through the disassembling of the Classical period models in his later works. For Beethoven “the only remaining way for the musical subject to preserve its own integrity was to flee-away from, behind, or even straight through the formal arrangements that now constituted the characteristic physical appearance of music,” Subotnik states, and that “Thus, in the music of Beethoven’s third-period style, according to Adorno, the musical subject seldom showed or expressed itself directly.”[16] Adorno sees the violence inherent in Beethoven’s music to exist in the abrupt turns and changes into new sections without the reassuring transitions of Classical music, a violence which could leap from one tonal area to another, without the traditional need for formulaic modulatory passages. The violence of these interruptions “illuminates the contradiction involved in labelling Beethoven in his late works as being both subjective and objective. The fragmented landscape of the work is objective; the light which alone causes it to radiate is subjective.”[17] Adorno doesn’t view these disparate elements as having been married together harmoniously, but rather that “he tears them apart as the force of dissociating in time – in order, perhaps, to preserve them for eternity.”[18]

Adorno believed that Beethoven’s second period “corresponds to an external reality which appeared exceptionally favourable to the possibility of dialectical synthesis,”[19] in that, in Adorno’s view, there was a perfect balance between the unique qualities and individuality of the material and its exposition and treatment within the Classical forms. This dialectic presumably exists between the work of art itself and the position of man in the contemporary social structures of Europe at that time, as well as the relationship between form and content in the works themselves. “Beethoven’s music, which works within the forms transmitted by society and is aesthetic towards the expression of private feeling, resounds with the guided echo of social conflict, drawing precisely from this aestheticism the whole fullness and power of individuality.”[20] Later, as already discussed, this relationship would become antagonistic, even violent, but the themes and motives of the later works would eventually overcome the strict Classical forms when Beethoven distorted sonata form by suffusing it with highly contrapuntal textures and formal variation. If this connection existed between the arts and society in Beethoven’s middle period, then it was all but absent from his third period, and the dialectic between his music and his society made such synthesis impossible, which, Adorno would argue, it has irrevocably remained: “It may be felt that the history of music after Beethoven – Romantic music as well as that which is actually modern – indicated a decline parallel to that of the bourgeois class; it does this in a more meaningful sense than in mere idealistic phrases regarding beauty. If this is in any way true, then this decline is conditioned by the impossibility or resolving the conflict between the defined categories.”[21]


The seeds sown in Beethoven’s late period had a tremendous influence on music of the Romantic period, which saw a structural explosion in the Classically rooted sonata forms and an increased use of dissonance, often not prepared or resolved in the Classical and pre-Classical manner. Richard Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde is, of course, widely accepted as having been one of the most influential works of the 19th century, expanding the harmonic palate and negating the concept of resolution as a means of heightening the expressive and emotional power of dramatic music. The use of the so-called “Tristan chord” and its harmonic implications and capacities have been extensively documented, as have the liberalising effect it had on certain progressive composers. To a large degree it is most likely correct to say that the harmonic progressiveness of Wagner and his use of violent cuts from one musical idea to another – such as the famous Act 2 scene of Tristan in which the embrace of the protagonists is interrupted by King Marke and his men – are principally explained by the fact that he was composing music dramas, but the influence which the music had on composers of non-dramatic music has been wide reaching.

The age of tonality seemed to have developed in a new era of “extended tonality” in which the old key systems had lost substantial meaning. Writing about his later development of 12-tone serialism, Schoenberg considered that “very soon it became doubtful whether such a root still remained the center to which every harmony and harmonic succession must be referred. Furthermore, it became doubtful whether a tonic appearing at the beginning, at the end, or at any other point really had a constructive meaning. Richard Wagner’s harmony had promoted a change in the logic and constructive power of harmony.”[22] Schoenberg sees this as leading onto the non-functional use of harmony by composers who were perhaps reacting to Impressionist painters of the late 19th century, most famously Claude Debussy. The “floating” harmonies of Debussy and expansive lines which meander through rich orchestral palates and piano figurations bear little relation to the formal structures of the Classical and early Romantic period. The music creates comprehensibility through the “coloristic purpose of expressing moods and pictures,”[23] colour becoming a fundamental element in the musical language of the composer and taking precedence over textural clarity and even harmony to achieve a highly subjective music, akin to the Impressionist paintings which presented a scene as viewed through the eyes of the individual painter.

The harmonic quality of each chord in Debussy, although it may not be “tonal” in a functional sense, is nevertheless predominantly consonant. But the extensive use of chromaticism in the linear writing of his music and the juxtaposition of “unrelated” – in the formal tonal sense – chords, fostered a capacity in listeners to listen to music without the traditional harmonic relationships, structural properties, or melodic phrase structures of Classical and Romantic music. This is what Schoenberg referred to as the “emancipation of the dissonance,” by which audiences – and indeed composers too – became inured to harmonic dissonances: “The ear had gradually become acquainted with a great number of dissonances, and so had lost the fear of their ‘sense-interrupting’ effect. One no longer expected preparations of Wagner’s dissonances or resolutions of Strauss discords; one was not disturbed by Debussy’s non-functional harmonies, or by the harsh counterpoint of later composers.”[24] The extended use of dissonance in works such as Schoenberg’s Erwartung (1909) have been equated with the Expressionist movement in painting, not without good reason[25], but this extraordinarily subjective compositional practice – surely more subjective and “freer” than any previous compositional language or technique – made the logical and comprehensible creation of form and structure almost impossible. Of course Erwartung was a dramatic piece and thus had a text around which Schoenberg could graft his music, but the Fünf Orchesterstücke (Op. 16), also from 1909, provide an example of the brevity which was necessitated by the completely liberated language which Schoenberg was composing in. Schoenberg regarded the erosion of the traditional harmonic relationships to negate the property of musical punctuation which harmony had in tonal music, “hence, it seemed at first impossible to compose pieces of complicated organization or of great length.”[26]

It became necessary, in Schoenberg’s view, to formalise a new musical language which consisted of a stricter control of pitch material than the free a-tonality of his music from 1909 onwards. In no way was he inventing a dogmatic and systematic superstructure which would result in formulaic music in which the only creative decisions were in the pre-compositional stages of writing music. Nor is it correct to assume that Schoenberg’s “school” of twelve-tone composition formed new and concrete relationships between pitches, in a manner that harked back to the era of tonal harmonic structures, quite the opposite, because within his twelve-tone system[27], Schoenberg was creating singular, microscopic relationships on the simplest level, that of one particular pitch related to only its preceding and succeeding pitches, not to the work as a whole. Adorno saw this clearly and did not make the mistake – as some, later, seemed to – to confuse twelve-tone technique as being a style: “Twelve-tone technique literally realizes the desideratum to place note against note. The heteronomy of the harmonic principle regarding the horizontal was withdrawn from this wish. Now that the external pressure of prescribed harmonies is broken, the unity of voices can be developed strictly out of their differentiation, without the connecting link of ‘relationship.’”[28]

Surely it is the case that many reacted with revulsion to the serial music of Schoenberg and his students, as many heaped opprobrium upon the a-tonal compositions of these composers, and one can assume that the reasons for this have something to do with the density of the harmonic languages these composers often employed, and the difficulty of following the development of material and ideas. In Adorno’s view the difficulty which audiences had in listening to and understanding such music was because the long process of individuation and subjectivity which began in the late period of Beethoven’s music, which had now reached its point of fruition in the dodecaphonic music of Schoenberg: “Twelve-tone technique, as the mere preformation of material, is wisely on guard against manifestation as a system of relationships; although such reservation excludes the concept of nuance. In so doing, however, it thereby carries out the sentence passed upon it by liberated unchained subjectivity.”[29] Adorno felt that “Schoenberg’s music represents merely the inevitable last stages of a process which first became manifest in Beethoven’s late style, the serving of subjective freedom from objective reality,”[30] and thus alienating an unreceptive audience which was incapable of listening to “dissonances which horrify them [and] testify to their own conditions; for that reason alone do they find them unbearable.”[31] The “conditions” which Adorno is referring to are those which relate to the alienation endemically felt by people living in late-capitalist society.

So, for Adorno, this was the end of music in the historical period, the last period in master narrative of Western music history. Certainly there is justification to view the burgeoning subjective element in music, instigated by Beethoven, to have reached its summation in the music of Schoenberg, but was this really the final act of the narrative? Adorno believed that it was because the world he knew, that of the bourgeoisie of Western Europe had ended with the two world wars. As Subotnik suggests, “Consequently, Schoenberg’s music marks for Adorno the end of dynamic human development, that is, human history; and the whole history of music from Beethoven’s late period to Schoenberg’s represents at once the winding down of human history and a prolegomenon to the music of a post-historical world, which since it continues to exist physically, Adorno considers to have entered into a meaningless ahistorical stasis. Such post-historical music, the music of our own time, must be considered essentially the art of a post-human species. There is no other way of interpreting such a remark as, “To write poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric”.”[32]

Yet it seems that historical period in music does not end with the music of Schoenberg when one considers that there is still a strong central narrative extending into the 1950s, during which time serialism of one kind or another was still the predominant “methodology” – for want of a more appropriate term – in practice by the mainstream of “serious” composers in Europe and America. The liberation that existed in the “note-to-note” relationships in Schoenberg’s serial theory, which still allowed for the decisiveness of the composer in other parameters, was perhaps threatened in the furthering of serialisation to include rhythmic units, dynamics, orchestration, and virtually every element within written music.[33] This integral serialism developed into a meaningful form in the early 1950s, in the works of composers who were working at the Darmstadt summer school, which dominated European composition in the 1950s and 1960s. 1951 was arguably a watershed year, as it saw the emergence of Pierre Boulez’s Structures and Karlheinz Stockhausen’s Kreuzspiel. The rigour of various compositional systems which were being espoused at the time seemed to many to negate any possibility of liberty or subjectivity in music, but one might also argue that although it sometimes seemed as if the system was autonomous and the music “wrote itself”, the composer still had a tremendous input in the pre-compositional stages – which occupied a more substantial period of time and creativeness in such music. The rigours of integral, or total serialism, were a logical continuation of the work of Schoenberg and Webern in many respect, but the material was no longer self-determining, rather the superstructures of the system determined the development of material, if indeed development, in a traditional sense, is even an applicable term.

The parameters of the music of the Darmstadt School were essentially the same as those of the Second Viennese School, and indeed of music from the Renaissance period, as tonality and a clear delineation between melody and harmony began to develop and take hold. The philosophical concerns of the music from the Renaissance up to the Darmstadt School seem to be fairly comparable and the function of music not dissimilar. Even as Darmstadt composers were alienating audiences beyond the wildest dreams of Adorno, the fundamental concern of music as existing in a concert hall, and drawing a listener into a quasi-narrative form, still existed; variation and development were still, even in the highly organised and strictly controlled music of the Darmstadt school, the principal interests of composers. Thus it would seem that the music of the Darmstadt school still existed within master narrative of Western art music. But in the 1950s a radical altering of musical philosophy took place which would shatter that narrative and herald the definitive end to the historical period of music by creating an irrevocable rift in composition and performance which challenged and defeated the prior dominance of institutions such as Darmstadt, opening up entirely new possibilities for a vibrant cross-fertilisation of the arts which, for many, would rejuvenate music and make anything possible in a totally free and liberated art-world.


‘New Music’ and the period of flux

The restrictions and rules imposed upon composers working with concepts of integral serialism were not unprecedented in music history – one thinks of the immediate precedent of Schoenbergian serialism and works such as Bach’s The Art of Fugue – but perhaps the seemingly institutional nature of such procedures created an atmosphere in which it was perceived by some that something had to give in the landscape of post-Second World War composition. “The electronic music and total serialism of the late forties and early fifties had come as a post-war recall to order, reaching its apogee in 1951, the year of Boulez’s Structures and Stockhausen’s Kreuzspiel.” [34] This “call to order” was, perhaps, a last and fatal grasp at the integrity of the historical tradition of music since the Renaissance; an epilogue to the central narrative of the previous 550 years. Total serialism was the last breath of the historical period, which ended with an almost complete alienation of audiences, widening the gulf between audiences of new music and the Classical and Romantic repertoire. Composers such as Boulez were concerned with destroying dangerous and trite preconceptions of music, such as the “message” which a work allegedly was attempting to convey: “Only too often we hear or read that the quality of a work depends first on ‘what the composer has to say’, regardless of the means he may choose. What are we to understand by this phrase? And how in fact can a composer conceive his ‘message’ without a morphology – a formal scheme – capable of communicating it to the listener?”[35]

The “intellectualism” of the Darmstadt composers was surely nothing to be ashamed of – and certainly they were not ashamed of it – but many audiences and composers of neo-Romantic works confused the necessities of the entertainment industry and post-war capitalism with the traditions of art and the development of music. The “intellectualism” was really a heightened modernity which was concerned with the science of music and not at all with the commercial applications of the art-form. This interest in the intellectual construction of music was by no means novel or without precedents, “the music of such avant-garde composers as Boulez, Kagel, Xenakis, Birtwistle, Berio, Stockhausen, Bussoti, [was] conceived and executed along the well-trodden but sanctified path of the post-Rennaissance tradition.”[36] There was, however, an imbalance in the relationship between the form and the content, the objectivity and subjectivity. Paul Griffiths saw the problem in composers finding a “middle way between, on the one hand, a serial organization so fully predetermined that the composer’s choice was gone, and on the other, the free play of imagination which so easily could lead to incoherence.”[37] Boulez did partly achieve this in Le marteau sans maître, by creating different sets of rules which were not those of integral serialism, as did Cage, Griffiths argues, in his seminal work, 4’33’’, in so far as he created a strict time-frame within which chance occurrences could occur.

What certainly did occur in music in the 1950s was a tremendous divide which was only briefly bridged in the correspondence, friendship, and mutual professional respect of Boulez and Cage, which, almost inevitably, did not last. Griffiths perceptively points out that 1951, the year of Boulez’s Structures, “also saw the entrance of chance as a powerful force in Cage’s music, in the Music of Changes and Imaginary Landscape no. 4, and it was through acceptance of this force that new fields were to be opened to composers in Europe.”[38] The music which developed from the innovations of Cage and the early minimalists was in every sense a ‘new music’, which challenged the ‘old guard’ of Darmstadt and defied the philosophical history of music, transgressing the “well-trodden lines” of historical music.  It is a music of an entirely different philosophy from all preceding music, a music which concerned music itself, in the sense that it concerned sound, noise, the concept of performance, indeed the concept of listening itself; it sought to radically revise every understanding of music which had hitherto existed – no small ambition. One notable aspect of the experimental movement of Cage and the minimalists is that they occurred due to a cross-fertilisation of the arts; this is of course most apparent in the Fluxus movement, at the heart of which was a pluralism of the arts.

Of course, experimental music is very general term which does not directly concern the form or content of a piece, but rather the philosophical principles of a work. Minimalism, a much more specific term, is a part of experimental music, and is concerned with stripping away the complexity of music of the historical period. The main constituent elements of much minimalist music is really the same as music of the historical period – harmony, line, rhythm, etc. – but what is deliberately absent is any sense of formal development, indeed often any form whatsoever. Figures such as La Monte Young came from an entirely different place from the post-war Modernists, Young having been a notable jazz saxophonist. It was this experience of music which was not written down and which achieved a balance of form and content in that chord structures, or drones, were followed by a group of musicians, around which musicians improvised freely and in a highly chromatic manner. Terry Riley’s seminal work In C seems to directly challenge Modernism and is in many ways an extremely revolutionary work, focusing on short ostinatos performed in a partly aleatoric manner all of which are in C major. Such music has been interpreted variously over the years, but there is certainly both a strong element of reaction against the hermetic world of European Modernism and Darmstadt, as well as a positive encounter with other art forms. Through collectives such as Fluxus –  the avant-garde multi arts group with members such as Korean video artist, pianist and composer Nam June Paik, and Yoko Ono – composers as diverse as Young and Gyorgy Ligeti – who, by the 1960s, had become disillusioned with the Darmstadt School – had entirely new means of expression opened up to them. Alongside the growth of this new, largely New York driven, avant-garde, there was a decline in the influence which Darmstadt and the European Modernist movement, with important figures moving on to other things, such as Henze in the 1950s and, as said, Ligeti. The influence of Cage was huge on many European composers and this also hastened the disintegration of Darmstadt: “With the increasing impact of America and growth of international travel, the authority of the Darmstadt-Cologne avant-garde diminished, undermined by its own fragmentation.”[39]

The advent of Experimentalism and the fragmentation of Modernism opened up the whole concept of music, and indeed the arts, in a way which had never existed; everything was possible and the very idea of a composer was radically revised, as was the concept of a performing musician. Works such as Cage’s 4’33” shook the bedrock of music and instigated a period of freedom which had not before been known by composers. This movement was happening in all other art-forms and was simultaneously blurring the lines between art-forms. Speaking about his experiences in New York with Warhol’s seminal work, Arthur C. Danto realised the radical movements which were taking place: “[If] everything was possible, there really was no specific future; if everything was possible, nothing was necessary or inevitable including my own vision of an artistic future… My great experience… was my encounter with Warhol’s Brillo Box at the Stable Gallery, in April of 1964, the year of Hopper’s Whitney retrospective. It was a most exciting moment, not least of all because the entire structure of debate which had defined the New York art scene up to that point had ceased having application. A whole new theory was called for other than the theories of realism, abstraction, and modernism which had defined the argument for Hopper and his allies and his opponents.”[40] The idea of a “found object” and the questions which it raised about what art was, and who made it, came to the fore; the object itself was perhaps not particularly interesting in and of itself, but the fact that someone was placing it in a gallery raised huge and fundamental questions and sent reverberations through the monoliths of the past. In this respect art history really had come to an end, which Danto saw very clearly: “To say that history is over is to say that there is no longer a pale of history for works of art to fall outside of. Everything is possible. Anything can be art. And, because the present situation is essentially unstructured, one can no longer fit a master narrative to it… [It] inaugurates the greatest era of freedom ever known.”[41]

Postmodernity and Cultural Stagnation

The fact that anything was possible meant that art was sent into a period of flux, which is precisely what figures such as Warhol and Cage were trying to achieve. But with such liberty, with the absence of “the pale of history”, could there really be any more progress? Was progress even what artists and composers desired? Certainly there could not be any progress in the Marxian sense of the word, in the understanding which Adorno utilised in his study of the developmental narrative of Beethoven through to Schoenberg. Certainly many composers felt that they need to escape the “conservative modernists” at Darmstadt, many composers felt too restrained by the control which figures such as Boulez and Stockhausen wielded, to many Darmstadt as an institution and as a symbol of European Modernism left them cold. It was a Modernism with little connection to a Marxists understanding of Modernity. This conflict between artistic Modernism and social modernity, in the view of political scientist Marshall Berman, resulted in stale and stagnant art-forms, because “an art without personal feelings or social relationships is bound to feel arid and lifeless after a little while. The freedom it confers is the freedom of a beautifully formed, perfectly sealed tomb.”[42]

The vast constellations of styles which co-exist are special interest groups which tend not to have a lot to do with one another. During the historical period change was the driving force of the arts and it was possible due to the master narrative which was being carried through history. Change is not endemic in all cultures and societies, or during all periods of time. Now, in the West, it seems as if we are in a period of artistic stasis, as indeed was the case before the development of art proper, that is, in medieval times.

Change is a variable force and is difficult to explain in terms of causes and results. Leonard B Meyer, in his analysis of cultural change and development, felt that, “The history of the arts in our time has been characterized by change. New styles and techniques, schools and movements, programs and philosophies, have succeeded one another with bewildering rapidity. And the old has not, as a rule, been displaced by the new. Earlier movements have persisted side by side with later ones, producing a profusion of alternative styles and schools – each with its attendant aesthetic outlook and theory.”[43] Although it is true that new styles and ideas did not negate all previous styles, during the historical period there was a sense of direction and progress which no longer exists. The kind of change which occurred during the historical period of music was developmental, or evolutionary change, which followed the trajectory of a single idea, or rather two separate ideas: the development of a rationalised harmonic system, that is the tonal system; and the disintegration of this system as the subjectivity of music broke from the objective bonds of that system. “In Western culture, where innovation and novelty have tended to be positive values, change has been rapid and extensive, taking the forms of dynamic trends or of marked mutation.”[44] Meyer views the change which Schoenberg instigated as being different, because, although it sought the same end, a liberation of pitch relationships and heightened subjectivity, the technical means of achieving this broke with the continuing historical means in a radical manner: “In the arts, mutational change takes place when some aspect of the material, formal, syntactic, or other preconditions of a style are altered. Examples would be the discovery of linear perspective, the invention of serial techniques, or the creation of a new set of basic aesthetic goals.”[45] And so the change instigated by Cage is also a form of mutational change, as he sought new conceptual and aesthetic goals.

Meyer sees the other forms which change can take, as well as “developmental” and “mutational”, as “varied transformation” and “fluctuating change”.[46] He sees “varied transformation” as the variance “of an essentially stable set of relationships or the interpretive realization of a constant, enduring tradition”[47], and on “fluctuating change” Meyer states that “the oscillating among species in a balanced ecological environment or the non-relational, yet persistent, undulation of ocean waves, may be best described as fluctuating.”[48]  There may well have been points, on the micro-level, within the historical period to which these terms could apply, but they do not seem to fit with the cultural and artistic landscape in which we have sat since the 1960s, less so “developmental” or “mutational”. Meyer predicted in 1967[49], arguably with great foresight and acumen, that due to the rapidity of stylistic change in the 1960s, “that the coming epoch (if, indeed, we are not already in it) will be a period of stylistic stasis, a period characterized not by linear, cumulative development of a single fundamental style, but by the coexistence of a multiplicity of quite different styles in a fluctuating and dynamic steady-state.”[50] Indeed such a prediction would appear to have become so. For many this is no bad thing at all, as the composer is now at total liberty to write music of any kind and to constantly strive to create new styles, but it cannot truly be denied that the plethora of styles are essentially cul-de-sacs which exist so independently from most others that they are essentially static. Historically we are in a seemingly unique situation; the cultural stasis which is so pervasive is due in part to the relative economic and political stability which has been predominant in the West since the 1960s. This requires some justification: the political stability which I am referring to is the stability of neo-liberalism within Western Europe and the United States. This was challenged in many respects during the Cold War, but it was largely accepted by the inhabitants of these countries. The economies of these countries were not stable during this time, but the general trends certainly left people in a better position than many in other parts of the world. There was a more general cultural stability as a result of this, which, I believe, tends towards stasis and eventual stagnation in the arts.

The compositional landscape is diverse even in small countries and regions, music being truly global these days due to the wide dissemination of recordings on CD and on the internet. One has not fingers to count the different “schools” and styles which exist: the New Complexity of figures such as James Dillon, Brian Ferneyhough, and others; its antithesis, the New Simplicity of composers such as Howard Skempton; the so-called “Faber music”[51]; Spectralism, one major proponent being Tristan Murail; the new minimalism, so dominant in Ireland today, in many respects instigated by Kevin Volans and continued by figures such as Donnacha Dennehy; the “post-Lachenmann” aesthetic of composers who have accepted the music of Helmut Lachenmann, so often a mere cul-de-sac when the original is imitated. One could go on almost indefinitely. Such variety would be logical in some sort of free-market sense – although I should hardly like to suggest the acceptance of economic systems as cultural and creative driving forces – in so far as there being a choice of musical styles for a potential audience.

This proliferation of styles and the end of Modernism has led to a pointed loss of focus in music, development being only on a very local level, within styles. Marshall Berman viewed the situation thus: “The eclipse of the problem of modernity in the 1970s has meant the destruction of a vital form of public space. It has hastened the disintegration of our world into an aggregation of private material and spiritual interest groups, living in windowless monads, far more isolated than we need to be.”[52] It is the unnecessary isolation which Berman refers to that causes the stasis which is being experienced in the arts. Berman views the situation of postmodernity in the arts as essentially dangerous, because of the endemic creative lethargy which can occur, believing that complacence would endanger the arts: “Criticism, as [Marx] understood it, was part of an on-going dialectical process. It was meant to be dynamic, to drive and inspire the person criticized to overcome both his critics and himself, to propel both parties toward a new synthesis. Thus, to unmask phony claims of transcendence is to demand and fight for real transcendence. To give up the quest for transcendence is to erect a halo around one’s own stagnation and resignation, and to betray not only Marx but ourselves. We need to strive for the precarious, dynamic balance that Antonio Gramsci, one of the great communist writers and leaders of our century, described as “pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will”.”[53] The different schools and styles mentioned above have essentially “erected haloes” atop their heads and accepted only the most limited of developments, while jealously guarding the old musico-economic models of commissioning and concert hall performance. The question the composer should be asking now is not “how will I continue and adapt to there being less funding and commissions going around?”, but rather “how do I break the old moulds of state and private patronage, and concert hall environments, and progress my music forwards?”

Earlier Periods of Heightened Modernity

It is worth a brief digression to consider the legacy of earlier periods of highly developed and experimental music, which have occurred at various times in the history of Western music. The first I will consider is the Ars Nova period, mention earlier, a period of tremendous technical complexity which, in some respects, prefigured some of the rhythmic and metric complexities of the mid-20th century. The Ars Nova came from the increasingly sophisticated sacred music of the 14th century, which was the great crucible of Western music history, which brought forth the seeds of the Renaissance and the struggle for a rational and universal harmonic language, which eventually appeared in the form of Classical tonality. Within the bracket of Ars Nova the term Ars Subtilior, or ‘subtle art’, is often used to refer to a more specific musical style, which went far beyond the rhythmic complexities of Machaut and the Notre Dame School. This level of rhythmic complexity was, one is only to assume, not known in any music previously. Indeed such a level of contrapuntal complexity was not to be known again for six or seven centuries. The main source of Ars Subtilior music is the Chantilly Codex, compiled at some point around 1350-1400, mainly in Southern France.[54] Writing about the Chantilly codex – the other main manuscripts are those of Modena and Turin – Rudolf von Ficker writes that, “The individual parts have different time signatures, which are often interchanged, so that the bar-lines in a modern transcription do not coincide. The rhythmic proportions also differ frequently; while one part is in duple time, another may be in triple.”[55]

Ficker also goes on to allude to later music to which, in his mind, the Ars Subtilior relates in a conceptual manner: “In fact, these compositions exhibit a rhythmic obscurity which is only comparable with that found in some modern works… At the same time it must not be forgotten that the original framework of these works was comparatively simple. Its later transformation was the result of artistic licence on the part of the performers, which gave it, like modern jazz, the maximum rhythmic freedom and diversity.”[56] He furthers this argument neatly by seeming to refer to a certain social necessity of the musical language, which is similar to how one may consider the necessity of the High Modernism of Darmstadt, and its eventual demise, even self-destruction: “Music and society alike showed a positive aversion to all that was simple, natural, and reasonable. All this encouraged an exaggeration which led to the final exhaustion of the old traditions.”[57]

The so-called Mannerist composers – a term derived from the visual arts to describe the virtuosity and heightened expression of painters such as Caravaggio – of the late 16th century, are in some ways analogous to poets such as John Donne and Andrew Marvell, the so-called Meta-physical poets. The music of Carlo Gesualdo is frequently cited as being of Mannerist tendencies, as is his English colleague Thomas Weelkes. In music “[Mannerism] is reckoned to account for certain stylistic traits distinguishable from the High Renaissance and the Baroque. It is quite apt when used to describe the works of late 16th-century ‘avant-garde’ madrigal composers such as Gesualdo, who in their attempts to depict words vividly used unusual harmonies and intervals, chromaticism, and so on.”[58] In a sense the “avant-garde” qualities are present because of the text, rather than a purely musical necessity, as a mean of heightening expressiveness. The level of chromaticism is certainly unique in the music of the time, with extensive expressive exploitation of false relationships and vivid harmonic contrasts, the music seeming to be in flux much of the time. Such music certainly sits outside of the master narrative, which was in its infancy at that time, outside of what Arthur C. Danto calls “the pale of history”.[59]  Mannerism seemed to largely disappear though and did not make a huge impact upon Western music history. Other pockets of resistance to the master narrative existed from time to time during the historical period, whether the eccentricities of Jan Dismas Zelenka (a Czech contemporary of J.S. Bach), or those of Erik Satie, inspired by the Dadaist artists of the post-World War I generation. Such movements, all relatively short lived did not make a lasting impression upon their successors, but what the Ars Nova and Ars Subtilior can perhaps suggest to us is that after a period of such heightened modernity and complexity there was a gradual movement towards a formalisation of a common musical language, namely tonality. But what bearing does this have on the 21st century, and can such historicism, the inventing of patterns in history and a perception of historical necessity, really exist at all? The movement towards a new common language seems fairly remote now with the global nature of music. Recordings and the internet have made one open to so many different schools of thought that surely the idea of a school of composition – whether that of Darmstadt, Notre Dame, Viennese Classicism, or any of the countless others – will be difficult to maintain in the years to come.


Pluralism and Progress

In All That is Solid Melts into Air, Marshall Berman examined the relationship between Modernism in art and socio-economic modernity. He argues that the relationship has been almost entirely absent for too long, that “The modernists of the 1950s drew no energy or inspiration from the modern environment around them. From the triumphs of the abstract expressionists to the radical initiatives of Davis, Mingus and Monk in jazz, to Camus’ The Fall, Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, Malamud’s The Magic Barrel, Laing’s The Divided Self, the most exciting work of this era is marked by radical distance from any shared environment. The environment is not attacked, as it was in so many previous modernisms: it is simply not there.”[60] For Berman a “modernist” is an artist striving to create something new, not simply an artist within a period of time, say from the inter-war years up to the 1960s, as I have been considering modernists for the most part. Considering artists two decades later, he writes “Many modernisms of the past have found themselves by forgetting; the modernists of the 1970s were forced to find themselves by remembering. This project was not new; but it took on a new urgency in a decade when the dynamism of the modern economy and technology seemed to collapse.”[61] Today, in the globalised society in which we live – arguably a one-way globalised society, in that we in the West enjoy the delights of foreign lands, but developing countries only enjoy some of those from the West, and always at a price – composers are finding their way in the culture of other places and other periods of time, as well as imaginings of the future.

With such a profusion of styles and fetishes it is almost impossible to find one’s way. Berman suggests that “To be a modernist is to make oneself somehow at home in the maelstrom, to make its rhythms one’s own, to move within its currents in search of the forms of reality, of beauty, of freedom, of justice, that its fervid and perilous flow allows.”[62] But Berman is not referring to the maelstrom of styles and the musical landscape and culture, but rather to social culture more broadly, and it is questionable whether music is really approaching any questions regarding society and broader culture at all. For Berman, “A fusion of Marx with modernism should melt the too-solid body of Marxism – or at least warm it up and thaw it out – and, at the same time, give modernist art and thought a new solidity and invest its creations with an unsuspected resonance and depth. It would reveal modernism as the realism of our time.”[63] But how closely can music, which cannot directly approach social critique, which is not literal in any sense, really reflect the society of the composer? Adorno believed that music really did criticise society,[64] or at least that it could, so long as the composer did not shy away from the ugliness of life and deliberating confronted commercialism with aggressive and difficult music which would reflect powerfully the alienation of mankind in capitalist society.[65]

W.H. Auden wrote of a world of “ruined languages” in his A Hymn to St Cecelia, which Benjamin Britten set to music:

O dear white children casual as birds,
Playing among the ruined languages,
So small beside their large confusing words,
So gay against the greater silences
Of dreadful things you did.[66]

Auden is alluding to the ruination of tonality, it seems, and wistfully looking back with great nostalgia for a time that was, before the two world wars and the coming of Modernism. He seems to view European Modernism as being cold and alien to the human heart:

O law drummed out by hearts against the still
Long winter of our intellectual will.[67]

Certainly these are the opinions of Britten too, whose harmonic language harked back to the days in which tonality still had a genuine relevance. Britten tried to find his way by looking back naively to an idealised past which he never really knew, affecting a sense of innocence, but really achieving only a degree of infantilism. His language is, in some respects, Modernist, in so far as it is a continuation of the master narrative, but he makes what Adorno would consider “conciliation”[68] to the listener, that is using the remnants of tonality, major and minor chords and scales, as the basis of his harmonic language. But in such a context they have no meaning anymore. Maybe that was his point, but that is a difficult hypothesis to accept.

Auden is surely making reference to the shattering of the single universal language in the Old Testament, affected by God, due to the arrogance of man at building a huge tower in the city of Babel, an act of hubris to show how they could reach the heavens without the aid of God:

1 And the whole earth was of one language, and of one speech. 2 And it came to pass, as they journeyed from the east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar; and they dwelt there. 3 And they said one to another, Go to, let us make brick, and burn them thoroughly. And they had brick for stone, and slime had they for mortar. 4 And they said, Go to, let us build us a city and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven; and let us make us a name, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth. 5 And the Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which the children built. 6 And the Lord said, Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language; and this they begin to do; and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do. 7 Go to, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech.[69]

Allusions could be drawn to the disintegration of the historical narrative of music and the profusion of styles and schools of composition after the demise of Modernism. The shattering of the ‘common language’ – not a single language of course, but rather a situation in which one language, whether Classical tonality, or serialism, etc., was in common usage  at a given time – led to this plethora of languages which have now become solidified, acting almost as institutions. Naturally a great deal more music is being written – and not just being written, but being recorded by other means and improvised – but it seems to me that there are still certain kinds of music which are considered part of the Western art music tradition – perhaps simply by virtue of the instruments on which they are performed, because they are performed generally by musicians reading sheet music, and because of the fact that such music is generally performed within the hallowed walls of the concert hall – and others which are, for no real reason, not considered as such. Ideas about what a composer is and what ‘classical’, or ‘art’ music is ought to be scrutinised; surely such terms are losing all meaning now.

Perhaps it is the institutions of classical music – the conservatoires, the opera houses, concert halls, and orchestras – which are keeping music in the stagnated state in which it appears to exist now, finding the static and reliable easier to capitalise on more often than the progressive and ever shifting. But to throw blame on the institutions which have supported composers achieves no positive direction for the composer; one must rather seek to alter the landscape of composition and seek out the innovators of the day. One way in which to stir progress from the stagnation of music would be to shake the styles and schools somehow from their stasis into motion, creating an opportunity for positive entropy, and perhaps forging a new common language out of the fragmented constellation which exists today. That is, if a common language even need be sought. Perhaps the future of composition will lie in the reformulations of temperament, something which is gaining a lot of ground these days. Leonard B Meyer wrote about this too: “Since the equal-tempered scale is already uniform, however, change, if it is to come at all, must be invented and imposed from outside the tonal system. In view of the fact that a real change in the structure of a tonal system would necessarily involve major changes in every aspect of musical life – the construction of instruments, the printing of scores and educational materials, not to mention the techniques of performers and perceptual responses of listeners – it is difficult to believe that anything but a compelling internal need can change tonal systems… [The] equal-tempered scale, far from encouraging change, tends to promote stasis.”[70]

In the past, music and composition were propelled forwards not just by innovative composers and fiendishly gifted musicians, but by progressive developments in the science of music: Greek discoveries of natural harmonic systems; the development of equal temperament; the production of more sophisticated and versatile instruments; harmonic analyses of bell overtones, etc. Surely it is in this field that the composer can forge a new path, rather than the hermetically sealed styles which so dominant composition in the current day. The world of composition, as defined by these styles and schools, will evaporate to a large degree in Britain and elsewhere in the coming years, as arts funding slows down and universities lose funding for music departments. There is still progress to be made in the development of serious music which questions and criticises society in a positive manner and exists for artistic and non-commercial reasons – which should surely be the real meaning of the term ‘art music’ – and the creation of musical languages which escape the hermeticism which pervades today and can be continually revised and refreshed in future generations.

(Copyright 2011 Christopher McAteer)

[1] Ralph Thomas Daniel, “Western Music”, Encyclopaedia Britannica, vol. 12 (Macropaedia), 15th edition (Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc., Chicago, 1980), p. 706.

[2] Arthur C. Danto, After the End of Art: Contemporary Art and the Pale of History (University of Princeton Press, New Jersey, 1997.)

[3] The Renaissance as a cultural period did not necessarily begin at the same time for the various arts.

[4] “Giorgio Vasari”, Encyclopaedia Britannica, vol. X (Micropaedia), 15th edition (Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc., Chicago, 1980), p. 363.

[5] After the End of Art, p. 48

[6] Ibid. p. 49

[7] Ibid. p. 49

[8] “Western Music”, p. 706

[9] Ibid. p. 707

[10] Ibid. p. 708

[11] After the End of Art, p. 3

[12] “Western Music, p. 708

[13] Theodor W. Adorno, Philosophy of Modern Music, Trans. Anne G. Mithcell and Wesley V. Blomster, 3rd edition (Continuum, London and New York, 2007)

[14] This is a complex term for Adorno. The Classical ‘forms’ are not simply structural forms within the music itself, but also the social models of music – liturgical music, music for state ceremony, music for the court, etc. – and the manner in which music fitted into the more general culture of the Enlightenment.

[15] Rose Rosengard Subotnik, “Adorno’s Diagnosis of Beethoven Late Style: Early Symptom of a Fatal Condition”, Journal of the American Musicological Society, Vol. 29, No. 2 (Summer, 1976), p. 245

[16] Ibid. p. 256

[17] Theodor W. Adorno, “Spätsil Beethovens”, Auftakt (Prague, 1937) , 5/6:67; cited in Philosophy of Modern Music, p. 89

[18] Ibid. p. 89

[19] “Adorno’s Diagnosis of Beethoven’s Late Style”, p. 248

[20] Theodor W. Adorno, Minima Moralia: Reflections on a Damaged Life, translated by E. F. N. Jephcott (Verso, London and New York, 2005), p. 149

[21] Philosophy of Modern Music, p. 143

[22] Arnold Schoenberg, “Composition with Twelve Tones”, Style and Idea (Philosophical Library, New York, 1950), pp. 103-04

[23] Ibid. p. 104

[24] Ibid. p. 104

[25] It seems appropriate to align Erwartung with the Expressionist movement in painting not only because of the brilliant and garish harmonic and orchestral colours, and sudden and violent contrasts, but also because it was strongly influenced by the work of Sigmund Freud, and others, in the field of psycho-analysis, and it is a dark and penetrating work about madness. Alban Berg’s later opera Wozzeck is another fine example for largely the same reasons.

[26] Ibid. p. 106

[27] “System” is likely too strong a word, for twelve-note “composition”, in the early days, involved the composing of music which utilised predetermined pitch formulations. It was in this organisation of pitches where there was a level of “technique”, and there was not necessarily in the later stages of composition. In the Schoenberg “school” other musical parameters, such as rhythm, dynamics, etc., were not processed through a system generally; it wasn’t until the early 1950s before such practices were fully investigated.

[28] Philosophy of Modern Music, p. 67

[29] Ibid. p. 58

[30] “Adorno’s Diagnosis of Beethoven’s Late Style”, p. 245

[31] Philosophy of Modern Music, p.6

[32] “Adorno’s Diagnosis of Beethoven’s Late Style”, p. 245-46. Also citing Theodor W. Adorno, “Cultural Criticism and Society”, Prisms, translated by Samuel and Shierry Weber (MIT Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1981), p. 34

[33] It is worth considering the relative simplicity of the rhythmic as well as, often, structural language of the music of Schoenberg and his pupils, which is striking when compared with the complexity and density of the melodic and harmonic writing. The principal reason for this, it seems likely, is that it was found to be necessary to use a more traditional rhythmic language so as to achieve a degree of clarity. Of course, later, composers – although generally not audiences – had become so acquainted with such a level of complexity that it seemed appropriate, even necessary, to increase rhythmic variety.

[34] Paul Griffiths, Modern Music: A concise history from Debussy to Boulez (Thames and Hudson, London, 1978) p. 171

[35] Pierre Boulez, “Aesthetics and Fetishists”, Orientations, translated by Martin Cooper from the second edition (Faber and Faber, 1986), pp. 34-5

[36] Michael Nyman, Experimental Music, (Studio Vista, 1974, London), p.2

[37] Modern Music, p. 171

[38] Ibid. p. 171

[39] Richard Steinitz, Gyorgy Ligeti: Music of the Imagination (Faber and Faber, London, 2003), p. 112

[40] After the End of Art, pp. 124-25

[41] Ibid. p. 114

[42] Marshall Berman, All That is Solid Melts into Air: The Experience of Modernity, New Edition (Verso, London and New York, 2010), p. 30

[43] Leonard B. Meyer, Music, the Arts and Ideas: Patterns and Predictions in Twentieth-Century Culture, (University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1994), p. 87

[44] Ibid. p. 101

[45] Ibid. p. 100

[46] See Ibid. p. 101

[47] Ibid. p. 101

[48] Ibid. p. 101

[49] Music, the Arts and Ideas was originally published in 1967, a new edition – from which I have derived my citations – in 1994.

[50] Ibid. p. 98

[51] Naturally it is well-nigh impossible to produce an adequate description of any style. So-called “Faber music”, a reasonably recognised term in musical circles in the UK, is associated with composers such as Thomas Ades, George Benjamin , Oliver Knussen, Julian Anderson, and others, and refers to the perception of a “house style” within the composers of Faber Music publishing house. The style, if it truly is a style, is generally quite simple beneath the surface, but highly orchestrated and ornamented – in a broad sense – to create the impression of a complex aesthetic and a certain surface gloss. Such music is popular with many concert organisers in Europe and the States as it appears to continue a tradition from the historical period in that it is not experimental in the Cagian sense and harks back to Modernism, albeit of a harmonically more consonant variety with much less aggression than many post-war modernists.

[52] All That is Solid Melts into Air, p.34

[53] Ibid. p. 120; Antonio Gramsci, “The Modern Prince”, in Prison Notebooks, selected, edited and translated by Quintin Hoare and Geoffrey Nowell Smith (International Publishers, 1971), p. 173

[54] See Nors S. Josephson. “Ars Subtilior.” Grove Music OnlineOxford Music Online, <>.

[55] Rudolf von Ficker, “The Transition on the Continent”, in New Oxford History of Music, Volume III: Ars Nova and the Renaissance, 1300-1540, ed. Dom Anselm Hughes and Gerald Abraham, (Oxford University Press, London, Oxford, Toronto, 1960), p. 141

[56]Ibid. p.142

[57] Ibid. p. 142

[58] Denis Arnold and Tim Carter . “Mannerism.” The Oxford Companion to Music. Ed. Alison Latham.Oxford Music Online. 1 May. 2011<>.

[59] See After the End of Art, in which he continually uses this term.

[60] All That is Solid Melts into Air, p. 309

[61] Ibid. p. 332

[62] Ibid. pp. 345-46

[63] Ibid. p. 122

[64] For Adorno on music as a reflection of society see Philosophy of Modern Music, p. 6; for the connections between the death of art and baseness of society see ibid. p. 11

[65] For Adorno on the use of common chords and tonal elements in modern music as “conciliation to the listener”, see Philosophy of Modern Music, p.4

[66] W.H. Auden, A Hymn to St Cecelia, cited on <>

[67] Ibid.

[68] See citation at note 58

[69] Genesis 11:1-7, from The Bible: Authorized King James Version, Ed. Robert Carroll and Stephen Prickett (Oxford World Classics, Oxford and New York, 1997), p. 11 (Old Testament)

[70] Music, the Arts and Ideas, pp. 124-25