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Music thread cont.

I've continued my exploration of classical music of the 20th and 21st centuries. It almost begins to feel as though I waited too long in life to start this exploration! There's so much to listen to.

Anyway, I've been listening to a lot of Schoenberg -- lots of the atonal stuff, but moreso the early tonal works, Transfigured Night and Pelleas and Melisande. Likewise with Webern, I've been most recently focused on the tonal works, Im Sommerwind (a very early work that he didn't publish in his lifetime) and Passacaglia. All of these pieces are described as highly (or hyper) chromatic and highly influenced by Richard Strauss and Gustav Mahler. The highly chromatic late romantic music (which is also a description applied to Debussy) is one of the things that seem to have led to atonality, as it uses all the notes in the chromatic scale and is more tolerant of dissonance than earlier classical styles. In any event, I really like these four pieces by Schoenberg and Webern a lot. In that same vein I've listened to Mahler's Second Symphony a few times and am still chewing on it. There's a lot of music there, no doubt, and Schoenberg and Webern may help me get into it.

On a less epic (but perhaps no less chromatic) scale I've also been listening to an album of music by the contemporary Australian composer Peter Sculthorpe. My favorite piece by him so far is Memento Mori, although the pieces off this album that he seems best known for are Kakadu and Earth Cry. He reminds me a little of the contemporary Finnish composer Aulis Salinen in the eclectic range of styles he embraces, which seems to be a hallmark of modern composers. I finally got a round to watching the DVD of Salinen's opera, The Palace, which is a political satire on dictatorship that has jazzy, Broadway-musical elements as well as traditional arias. Not something you can digest in one viewing, but intriguing enough that I picked up a DVD of an earlier Salinen opera, The Red Line.

I picked up an album called Copland the Modernist by Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony. This is Copland reacting to various modernist trends fairly early in his career. For example the Concerto for Piano and Orchestra is full of the jazz influences that Gershwin put to such good use in Rhapsody in Blue. Likewise Orchestral Variations, which bristles with dissonance and heavy sonority and slips effortless in and out of jazz stylings. The influence of jazz is a much bigger part of the 20th Century Classical story than I had realized, and it seems to have gone in both directions. I think it was David Toop who wrote about how Charlie Parker had indicated an interest in studying under Edgard Varese shortly before Parker died.

My most recent acquisition is an album that includes Britten's Four Sea Interludes from Peter Grimes and also the Passacaglia based on music from Grimes. I watched a DVD of the opera last weekend and had mixed feelings about it, although I loved those interludes. This album also includes Frank Bridge's The Sea, which was influenced by Debussy's La Mer, and Arnold Bax's tone poem On the Sea-Shore, which I haven't listened to yet. Bridge and Bax are composers I knew nothing about, and it's being exposed to lesser-known composers like them that makes me feel as though this sea of music is endless.

Speaking of Toop (which brings to mind his infatuation with Brian Eno), another interesting album I picked up recently was Bang on a Can's recording of Eno's Music for Airports. Music for Airports was Eno's manifesto for ambient music, and of course his version of it is composed using tape loops. Bang on a Can, which is a new music ensemble centered on three composers, Julia Wolfe, David Lang, and Michael Gordon, has also recorded things like Terry Riley's In C. They've taken Eno's tape-loop-generated music and performed it live without loops, at least in the recording I have. (It looks like they may have made a studio recording of this music earlier.) It's a pretty amazing performance of these four very familiar pieces, which I've been listening to since I discovered Eno back in 1979 or 1980. (His recording of Music for Airports came out in 1978.)

I've also been trying to check out music on YouTube to save my credit card some amount of abuse. There I've finally listened to In C for the first time, for example, although so far I'm more struck by Riley's 1969 album, A Rainbow in Curved Air, particularly the piece "Poppy Nogood and the Phantom Band". I've listened to at least one piece by La Monte Young on YouTube as well, but I don't remember which. It didn't make much of an impression, but all of this stuff needs multiple listenings. YouTube seems like a good place to check out Edgard Varese, who I'm not sure I'll like, but I haven't gotten there yet.

Oh, and speaking of composers I'm not sure I like, I discovered that I have a recording of John Cage's Sonatas and Interludes for Prepared Piano, probably courtesy of carl. I'd earlier discovered that I have Cage's album In a Landscape, and that I quite like the title piece of that one. Some of Cage's other prepared piano music has struck me as mostly irritating, but I'll keep listening, because Cage's name pops up all over the place. His use of chance and the unintentional in composition influenced Eno, for example.

And on and on. The list of music I want to check out just keeps getting longer and longer. I'm listening to the Bax piece right now. He apparently was heavily influenced by Scandinavian music, as well as Celtic music. This one sounds like Sibelius to some extent. He wrote another tone poem called "On Faery Hill" that sounds like something I should hear as a devotee of Elfland. And on and on.

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( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
kalimac
Apr. 21st, 2013 03:37 pm (UTC)
If you're going in that direction, don't miss Schoenberg's Gurrelieder.

Varese varies. You might most like Ameriques. My favorite Varese is his percussion ensemble work, Ionisation, which I once discussed on LJ with a YouTube link. But at least at that time, my choice there was between seriously inadequate performances and abysmally crappy sound quality.

Frank Bridge gets associated with Britten a lot because he was Britten's teacher. You're on my own firmest home ground in that area, so allow me also to sugest Granville Bantock (rather like Bax, but also quite different), Havergal Brian (you mustn't miss an experience with his Gothic Symphony, the largest ever written; rather Straussian), and - above all, if you don't know him - Frederick Delius (the English Debussy, if he must be potted). I'm sticking to that generation because there would be too many names if I added later ones.
randy_byers
Apr. 21st, 2013 04:33 pm (UTC)
You're not making my list any shorter! Delius I've heard of, although I had no idea he was British. Also, Bruce Gillespie wrote about the Havergal Brian Gothic Symphony recently.

Reading about all this sea music, I also see many references to Vaughn Williams' Sea Symphony. I do like the Vaughn Williams music I've heard so far.
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )

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