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Thread: (Program vs. Absolute)

  1. #1
    Seaman, Mezzoforte Wunderhorn's Avatar
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    (Program vs. Absolute)

    I have a interesting point to make, at least I think I do. Many greatly skilled composers have thought of music as expressing what was too beautiful to put into words or anything earthly, that it was simply of the beyond. You can also make the point that whether it is program music or not doesn't make a work a masterpeice, but rather the musical ideas in the composition are of marit. Therefore it always comes down to whether or not the music is of worth. Most people listening to program music are not trying to hear it as describing something anyways. Bruckner's 8th or Tchaikovsky's 6th are the among the most devine examples of what absolute music is capable of. Sense even works such as Vivaldi's 'Four Seasons', Beethoven's 'Pastoral', and Berlioz's 'Symphonie Fantastique' are remembered for the music itself, and that most people are far more concerned with the music than its depiction, 'Absolute' is the victor over 'Program'.

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    Commodore con Forza Sybarite's Avatar
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    I certainly do not think that one is inherently better than the other.

    One might suggest that Debussy, as an Impressionist, is the apotheosis of the programme composer, but one could also ask whether people listening to a musical work create their own pictures and scenarios (programmes), even if the object is an example of absolute music that was conceived with no such idea in mind. Indeed, if listeners 'see' pictures when listening to piece of programme music, do they see the pictures that a composer of a programme piece wished to evoke or do they ' see' different ones?

    Music, like any other performance art, remains a 'living' and subjective process. No two performances are ever the same. Even performances that have been recorded, while they may remain the same, the response of the listener/viewer will never be exactly identical, no matter how many times they watch or listen to the work in question.

    I would suggest, however, that perhaps the greatest 'value' of specifically programme music is an educational one; the stories behind Symphonie Fantastique or Night on a Bare Mountain or Lieutenant Kijé or The Sourcerer's Apprentice are great ways in which to engage children and youngsters, since they offer an additional way to grasp the work.

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    Seaman, Mezzoforte Wunderhorn's Avatar
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    You are correct in that it provides fine historic value, particularly in the Russian operas and tone poems of 'the five'. But can it not better be footnotes on the score or in the title yet remain numbered like the great symphonies and other such things forms of 'concrete' music. Their is an import Liszt collection of Budget CD's conducted by Masur? Maazel? on the EMI label, where Liszt's tone poems are numbered in the order as written, it serves as a ground work for the composers evolution and is far more digestable to a person trying to get an idea as to how his music became as profound as in 'Faust' and 'Dante'. The same can be said for Strauss and Sibelius.

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    Commodore con Forza Sybarite's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Wunderhorn View Post
    You are correct in that it provides fine historic value, particularly in the Russian operas and tone poems of 'the five'. But can it not better be footnotes on the score or in the title yet remain numbered like the great symphonies and other such things forms of 'concrete' music...
    Does it matter?

    Some music was written with the aim of presenting the listener with a 'picture'. Some was not.

    I do not think that it makes any difference to the value of the music – or as to the listeners' response (which is necessarily unique).

    In a way, the best anology that I can think of is religious music: mostly written not with a picture, but with the glorification (or appeasement) of God in mind; how many people now listen to Handel's Messiah or Bach's St Matthew Passion or Mozart's Requiem with a religious perspective upmost in their mind? The shift in social and cultural attitudes toward religion (generally and in the West) does not diminish the music concerned.

    As a slight aside, scientist and athiest campaigner Richard Dawkins records that, when he was on the British BBC programme Desert Island Discs (where you select eight records to take to a desert island) he picked part of Bach's St Matthew Passion, only to be quizzed as to how an avowed athiest could pick a piece of religious music; I doubt that all those who love Fauré's Requiem do so for religious reasons.

    The same could be said of visual arts from certain periods when religious subjects were the visual arts. Whether you or I genuinely believe that Jesus was born of a virgin and was the son of God is irrelevant; it doesn't (or shouldn't) stop our appreciation of a whole body of visual art that was inspired by religious themes and funded by religious money.

  5. #5
    Seaman, Mezzoforte Wunderhorn's Avatar
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    Sybarite, of course it doesn't really matter, I'm simply fond of an orderly world, "where everything was in its place, under the last dust" - Samuel Beckett. Music will never reach a perfect description of anything except emotion and interest personified. If you wish for an accurate description of traffic, go stand on the freeway, and even if you tried to explain it musically it becomes trapped in 'concrete' music, or 'absolute music' the moment it has taken shape into a composition, no amount of honking horns can change that.

    Christ in many ways is quite mysterious as to what exactly his crucifixion means, as he himself admited that he had spoken figurativaly with his parables. Examples of Religious music such as the ones you mentioned, and the greats of the church modes show excellent examples of a type of prefection coming from things of the beyond. Religious music is divine, fortunately it becomes just as 'concrete' once put on paper.

  6. #6
    Commodore con Forza Sybarite's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Wunderhorn View Post
    Sybarite, of course it doesn't really matter, I'm simply fond of an orderly world, "where everything was in its place, under the last dust" - Samuel Beckett. Music will never reach a perfect description of anything except emotion and interest personified. If you wish for an accurate description of traffic, go stand on the freeway, and even if you tried to explain it musically it becomes trapped in 'concrete' music, or 'absolute music' the moment it has taken shape into a composition, no amount of honking horns can change that.
    Unless I'm misunderstanding you, I'd have to disagree. As I said earlier, no two live performances of any piece are ever the same. And even when cast in the 'concrete' of a recording, a listener will hear different things every time that they approach a work. I would also suggest that even those pieces of music that are accorded common aclaim rely on a subjective response – particularly from the new listener and particularly if that new listener has not been told that this is A Great Work.

    If a work was cast in concrete from the moment that it was committed to paper, then it would be nonsensical for any of us to own more than one recording of a work, since they would all be identical. But interpretation (only one aspect of the fluidity of music) ensures that many of us have more than one version of some works.

    Quote Originally Posted by Wunderhorn View Post
    Christ in many ways is quite mysterious as to what exactly his crucifixion means, as he himself admited that he had spoken figurativaly with his parables. Examples of Religious music such as the ones you mentioned, and the greats of the church modes show excellent examples of a type of prefection coming from things of the beyond. Religious music is divine, fortunately it becomes just as 'concrete' once put on paper.
    Religious music was often the only way that a composer could compose – via patronage. It was the same with the visual arts.

    I'm sure that you're not suggesting that a piece of music, if of a religious nature, is automatically superior to a piece of secular work or that, for instance, Beethoven was 'divinely inspired' for some works but less so for others – particularly ones that could be viewed as rather more the product of rational thought and politics, such as the third and ninth symphonies. And if a mass was inspired then what brought into being, say, a secular sympony of piano concerto?

    I would also suggest that any music is only "divine" (in a religious sense) in the mind of the listener.

    As I noted on another thread yesterday, I was listening to Also Sprach Zarathustra and, in the second movement, had an intensely emotional response to the music. I could describe it as 'divine' (not religiously), but if we allow religious music some sort of special inspiration, then it leaves us foundering to explain secular music and the response of listeners to that.

    And finally, I would disagree again with your assertion about any work (religious or otherwise) becoming "concrete". Every new performance will reinvent it. No two performances will ever be identical and no two listeners will ever hear the same thing.

  7. #7
    Seaman, Mezzoforte Wunderhorn's Avatar
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    Will just have to agree, to disagree. Enough said.

  8. #8
    Ensign, Principal Oneiros's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Wunderhorn View Post
    I have a interesting point to make, at least I think I do. Many greatly skilled composers have thought of music as expressing what was too beautiful to put into words or anything earthly, that it was simply of the beyond. You can also make the point that whether it is program music or not doesn't make a work a masterpeice, but rather the musical ideas in the composition are of marit. Therefore it always comes down to whether or not the music is of worth.
    Quote Originally Posted by Wunderhorn View Post
    Music will never reach a perfect description of anything except emotion and interest personified. If you wish for an accurate description of traffic, go stand on the freeway, and even if you tried to explain it musically it becomes trapped in 'concrete' music, or 'absolute music' the moment it has taken shape into a composition, no amount of honking horns can change that.
    This is very true. In my view, the strength of music (as opposed to the other arts like painting and poetry) lies not in its ability to depict nature or reality, but rather to express emotion (etc.) in a more abstract and pure form. From the composer's point of view this is particularly relevant - a composition must go beyond mere representation, because it would be extremely difficult to create good music solely out of the sounds of everyday life, or nature, etc. Music needs some sort of form or abstract principle which binds it together, otherwise it becomes very difficult to follow/understand.

    The point of religious art is an interesting one. Some time ago I visited many of the beautiful art galleries in Italy, and while being agnostic I was deeply affected by the religious paintings by Caravaggio and Tintoretto, among others. Since these artworks, like music, transcend what is being depicted and express something universally human, which appeals directly to the heart and soul, one needn't be religious in order to appreciate them.

    Of course everyone sees things differently, but there is some continuity in what we experience collectively. If there wasn't, no-one could say with any validity that Beethoven was a great master of composition. That we all experience a similar sort of reaction to certain music is significant enough, even if there are slight differences between each person.

  9. #9
    Midshipman, Forte
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    Satie produced some fantastic program music,

    such as the piece Dried up Embryos, the music really transcends the title.

  10. #10
    Seaman, Mezzoforte Wunderhorn's Avatar
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    I love Eric Satie, unfortunately I'm not firmiliar with his music except 'Jack-in-the-Box', and of course, that famous piano piece everyone knows. His complete solo piano compositions are availabe at BMG for a steal. Prehaps I'll check him out.

  11. #11
    Vice Admiral Virtuoso rojo's Avatar
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    Didn`t Brahms 'shun' program music?
    ''Music, I feel, should be emotional first and intellectual second.'' - Maurice Ravel
    ''The greatest education in the world is watching the masters at work.'' - Michael Jackson


  12. #12
    Seaman, Mezzoforte Wunderhorn's Avatar
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    He must not of liked it, probably because of Liszt. Can you think of one piece by Brahms which didn't have 'formal' structure besides possibly piano works and songs?

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