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(#19) America and Modernism, plus Strauss and Bartok

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Lori Roy

on 21 April 2015

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Transcript of (#19) America and Modernism, plus Strauss and Bartok

Alternatives to Modernism
Remember how we said there was going to be a schism within classical music? Here it is....
Bela Bartok (1881-1945)
Bartok had an extremely varied career. He was a pianist and a composer at a young age, and he worked together with Zoltan Kodaly, another important Hungarian composer to direct the Budapest Academy of Music.
Twentieth Century Traditionalism
Richard Strauss (1864-1949) is a perfect example of a composer who tried to experiment with modernism in his 1905 opera
Salome
, but returned to a more traditional style with his opera
Der Rosenkavalier
(The Knight of the Rose, 1911).
Salome (1905) vs Der Rosenkavalier (1911)
America and Modernism
Paris and Vienna were the epicenters of modernism. Echoes of the movement, however, were heard around the globe.

Even in America? Yes. American musical tradition at this time was incredibly conservative, despite the fact that, as a relatively new country, we had no rich musical tradition of our own.

Charles Ives is our representative for the modern era. It is remarkable that he even composed at all, because there was no one like him in the US at his time.

Charles Ives, whose music emerged around 1900, was our first important nationalist composer. What's more, he anticipated many of the innovations that composers would use over the next century.

Charles Ives (1874-1954) was the son of a Civil war bandmaster and music teacher from Danbury, Connecticut. He was a church organist when he was a teenager, then went to Yale, where he was popular (with a D+ average).

Ives composition teacher at Yale was a man named Horatio Parker. Parker composed in a very tame traditional style, which to Ives seemed not only boring, but somehow unmasculine. Ives' style was more dissonant and edgier.

After Yale, Ives went into insurance sales. He did not work hard to get his music published, did not really spend too much time with musicians, and saved his composition entirely for his free time.

All the while, he was developing interesting ideas about music and mysticism. (This is linked to the
transcendentalist
movement that occurred mostly in New England.)
To Ives, all forms of music were valid, as long as there was communal joy in their making. The sound of the music didn't matter to him- what mattered was the idea of music as a human activity. This mentality allowed him to launch into visionary projects no other composer of the time would have dared.

Who were the transcendentalists?
They were a segment of the romantic
movement that existed mostly in
New England- people like Ralph Waldo
Emerson
, Henry David
Thoreau
, John
Muir
,
etc . They believed that people are ultimately
born good and society corrupts them. As
such, many of your influential, unique leaders
are going to need to be apart from society.
They believed in the power of the individual and
grounded their philosophy not in physical experience, but in the spiritual.
So what were Ives' innovations?
extreme dissonance
using two keys at once (basically atonal)
instruments tuned to quarter tones
the performer sometimes decides what to play and what not to play
extended techniques (for instance, one of his pieces requires the pianist to have a special block that holds down 16 keys at once.
Ives also used American folksongs and hymns in his works.
Charles' Ives Second Orchestral Set, Mvt II:
"The Rockstrewn Hills Join in the People's
Outdoor Meeting (1909)
The subject is very transcendentalist: some sort of Biblical revival meeting, very festive, and nature is joining with the people to celebrate.
features false starts and sound bites
irregular rhythms that remind us of Rite of Spring (which Stravinsky wrote four years later)
we catch a fragment of a cakewalk (a ragtime dance of the 1890s).
incorporates an American hymn, "I Hear Thy Welcome Voice."
Uses whole tone scales (a hallmark of Debussy, but Ives probably heard it from his father before Debussy ever used it)
Charles Ives "The Unanswered Question" (1906)
This is one of Ives' most famous works. Ives wrote of it "The strings play
ppp
throughout, with no change in tempo. They represent "The Silences of the Druids," who know, see, and hear nothing. The trumpet intones "The Unanswered Question of Existence" and states it in the same tone of voice each time. But the hunt for "The Invisible Answer" undertaken by the flutes gradually becomes more active and louder. The "Fighting Answerers" seem to realize a futility, and begin to mock "The Question" -- the strife is over...After they disappear, "The Question" is asked for the last time, and the "Silences" are heard beyond in Undisturbed Solitude."
What is so novel here is the concept of three distinct, independent levels of music: the smooth strings, the woodwinds, and the trumpet each representing different elements. Their unusual dialogue is still poignant today.
While modernism was certainly a primary source of creative energy in the period before WWI until after WWII, most modernist music was played to a small, esoteric audience.
Other composers took a more ambivalent view of modernism. The force of the Romantic tradition was still strong, and many composers continued in the traditions we saw last unit.
One area in which Romanticism was
still very strong was early film music.

An important thing to remember here is that music is no longer clear-cut, the way it was in Mozart's time. We talked about modernists and have just mentioned that there were still traditionalists, but many composers were in the middle, adopting different techniques they liked and leaving others.
Presentation of the Rose from "Der Rosenkavalier"
"Ah du wolltest mich nicht"
from Salome
Also sprach Zarathustra
(1896) is an example of
a tone poem.
A tone poem (or symphonic poem
is a single movement orchestral
work in which a poem, painting, novel,
or other nonmusical work is depicted.
Zarathustra depicts Nietzsche's philosophical
treatise of the same name.

Tone poems by Strauss also include
Don Juan, Ein Heldenleben, Till Eulenspiegel,
Don Quioxte, Macbeth, Death and Transfiguration,
and others.
Bartok was extremely interested in education and turned out
Mikrokosmos,
a series of 153 graded piano pieces that started out very easy and increased in difficulty.
Bartok also recorded and preserved Hungarian folk songs and published books of folk music. Many claim that Bartok was more successful at integrating folk music into classical music than any other composer. This is true of works even in his most modernist period.
Music for Strings, Percussion, and Celeste
(1936)
Mvt III.
This is a very interesting composition that can be thought of as an informal symphony. It is one of Bartok's most well-known works and is also featured as part of the soundtrack to
The Shining
.
Mvt III featured extended techniques for the timpani and the rhythm featured in the xylophone in the beginning occurs in a ratio that represents a symmetrical Fibonacci sequence: 1:2:3:5:8:5:3:2:1.
Mvt IV
Mvt IV is based on Hungarian folk song
Horatio Parker
"A Northern Ballad"
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