Friday, January 12, 2007

20th Century Music or Ooh, That Modern Music Really Drives Them Wild

Dear Arnold Schoernberg and Claude Debussy and Igor Stravinsky,

I was blown away recently! I never got it before and now I really, really get it. It is so incredibly interesting.

OK, I have to credit Robert Greenberg from the San Francisco Conservatory, because he is the one who explained it to me in his course on Understanding Great Music. I have been a fan of what I call 20th century music for a long time, but I never understood what you three composers were pulling off exactly, until now.

Arnold, you were conducting a Freedom Ride or a rescue, a liberation effort. It is so clear now. Robert says your were freeing melody from the enslavement of harmony. Yes. It’s amazing. I am enamoured by Pierrot Lunaire and it's sprechstimme. (See cool pix of manuscript.) You said, away with traditional harmonies, we have twelve tones, let's use them. We will no longer be shackled to traditional harmonic expression. (As Greenberg says, you freed "melody from the predetermined control of harmony by ignoring Pythagorean definitions of fifths and embracing an ignorance of dissonance." Wow.)

And Claude, you were doing a similar thing, approaching harmonies in new ways and allowing them to speak freely, apart from the rigid command of a melodic line. You said, "I have tried to obey a law of beauty which appears to be singularly ignored in dealing with dramatic music. The characters of the drama endeavor to sing like real persons, and not in an arbitrary language on antiquated traditions. Hence, the reproach leveled at my alleged partiality for monotone declamation, in which there is no melody… To begin with this is not true. Besides, the feeling of character cannot be continually expressed in melody. Also, dramatic melody should be totally different from the melody in general… I do not pretend to have discovered anything. . . but I have tried to trace a path that others may follow, broadening it with individual discoveries which will, perhaps, free dramatic music from the heavy yoke under which existed for so long."

And Igor, you are the champion of rhythms and the force of the beat. There are people who might say that the father of rock and roll is Chuck Berry, or Little Richard, or Elvis Presley, or even Johnnie Johnson. I, though, look to you, the wild innovator who cut the cords that bound rhythm to music as merely accentuation, and called upon it to speak on it's own, with a voice as primitive as a rite to dispel winter and cultivated enough to set the tempo for all the music of the 20th century.

The thing I love about classical music is that it is, like great literature and great art, so deep that you can spend your life trying to understand it. These moments of great revelation in understanding are wonderful.

Thanks Robert Greenberg. And thanks Arnold, Claude, and Igor for your vision and the gift of music so different from anything anyone had ever heard before.


No comments: