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Thread: Evolution or revolt?

  1. #1
    Recruit, Pianissimo
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    Evolution or revolt?

    Hi all,

    Backstage at a recent gig, my desk partner, her friend and I were having a bit of a debate over the evolution of music from the Baroque period through to the 20th Century.

    Desk Partner:
    She's got a very singleminded view that tonality as it was established by composers including Handel and Bach in the Baroque period (certain chord structures and progressions, strong tonality, etc) was completely ripped apart in the 20th Century by composers such as Schoenberg, Cage and Stravinsky.

    Deskie's friend:
    Complete opposite. She believes that many 20th century harmonic styles were brought on by an evolution of harmony since the Baroque period. Simplistically, she felt that composers needed more notes and extended from typical triads and 7th chords into evolutions from these such as 9ths, 11ths etc.

    Me:
    Well I've got spinters in my backside from sitting on the fence...I am caught in the middle! Dissonance, so commonly used in 20th century music is definitely the breakdown of Baroque harmonic tradition. Yet the extension of chords and the usage of "non-conventional" harmonies is part of an evolutionary process. The composers of the Romantic period didn't so much follow tradition and convention but instead attempted to convey feelings and emotions. Some rules had to be broken or at least stretched in the process.

    Ok, well now I've written heaps, thanks for reading.
    Your opinions would be greatly appreciated! It would be great to have more ammo for the next backstage debate

  2. #2
    Ensign, Principal Oneiros's Avatar
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    There's truth in both views. Tonality certainly changed during its long history, but in the 20th century perhaps it was pushed beyond its limits, or it changed much faster.

    It's an interesting case, the western classical tradition. The longer it went on, the more pressure composers felt in having to live up to this profound history. It's like a conflict between innovation and emulation, or creating something that stands out against this tradition whilst still being recognised as part of it. And it still continues...

    Anyway, I'm suspicious of the idea of any development / regression in art. Of course tastes and styles change, but development implies a goal or improvement, which I cannot find. Maybe the harmonic language became more complex following the Baroque, but I can't see how the music as an artform got any better or worse, when considered from a broader perspective.

    Btw, if you're interested in this stuff, check out Nicholas Cook's Music - A very short Introduction, though you'll eventually come across it at the Conservatorium for sure, if you end up there. It's a great overview of these ideas.

  3. #3
    Captain of Water Music some guy's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Oneiros View Post
    I'm suspicious of the idea of any development / regression in art. Of course tastes and styles change, but development implies a goal or improvement, which I cannot find. Maybe the harmonic language became more complex following the Baroque, but I can't see how the music as an artform got any better or worse, when considered from a broader perspective.
    Excellent!

    It's like Northrop Frye said about literature, Hamlet is the greatest play ever, but then so is Oedipus Rex and A Streetcar Named Desire and....

  4. #4
    Captain of Water Music pnoom's Avatar
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    Yes. That just about answers the question.
    "Did anybody see this snowman
    Stand there with the lord
    With proper get up, hang his hat
    Only you're feeling sleepy-eyed"

    -Damo Suzuki

  5. #5
    Vice Admiral Virtuoso methodistgirl's Avatar
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    Man that shows how dumb I was! I thought you guys were talking
    about evolution.
    judy tooley

  6. #6
    Midshipman, Forte
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    You have an obvious preference for the second girl's opinions. It can be seen from how you described the first girl, apparently, she was "very singleminded".

    Perhaps, the second girl is right, it is evolution, or maybe not. Aesthetic changes, and whether "ripping apart" tonality is "bad" or "Good" is subjective.

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