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Aftermath - Post-Serialism

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Paul Thomas

on 21 April 2016

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Transcript of Aftermath - Post-Serialism



Still Tonal?
Any new music that encompasses even fleeting or superficial features of traditional tonality may be considered tonal simply by association.
Such features include:
Persistent and discernible pulse
Clear rhythmic patterns
Consonant sonorities
Lyrical melodic phrasing
Diatonic scale relationships
"Rights have to be gained by the acquiring of appropriate abilities. Because of the decline in music education, we're producing not only illiterate musical audiences but arrogant ones. They have no idea what music has been, so how can they have any idea of what music is or could be?'' Babbitt
"'Every musician who has not felt -- we do not say understood, but indeed felt -- the necessity of the Serial language is USELESS.'' Boulez (1952)
''Serialism's most publicly aggressive proponents, early and late, presented and still present it as the only true faith. As such, they have proclaimed an orthodox cultural church, with its hierarchy, gospels, beliefs and anathemas. After the end of World War II it very quickly captured and dominated American academic circles, which it monstrously and bluntly politicized.'' Rochberg
''The story goes around that there was a period during which this terrible Serial music was supposed to be dominant, some composers were forced to do it when they really didn't want to, and then they revolted and produced lovely melodies in C major. This is all nonsense. When I was a young composer at Columbia, the reigning orthodoxy was, on one hand, a kind of Coplandesque Americana and, on the other hand, the symphonism of Howard Hanson and Roy Harris. That was true everywhere. And in my entire life I have never seen anybody make someone write any particular kind of music. It's not that a bunch of beady-eyed theoreticians are forcing innocent students to do terrible, nameless things. So the whole story is a big fake.' Charles Wourinen
"While the tonal system, in an atrophied or vestigial form, is still used today in popular and commercial music, and even occasionally in the works of backward-looking serious composers, it is no longer employed by serious composers of the mainstream. It has been replaced or succeeded by the 12-tone system." Wuorinen's textbook "Simple Composition" from 1979
"To be a tonal composer in the 60's and 70's was a deeply dispiriting experience. One was shunned as the last teen-aged virgin." William Mayer
''If you want to approach music on the level of scientific research, then you can only expect another scientist to understand it. But then don't be bitter that the public is not sitting and listening to it. And don't say to them: 'You may not understand this, but it's great art. It's good for you, so you must be suitably impressed.'" Corigliano
His peers "were all comfortably settled into Serialism as The Way, so it was an affront. Tonality was perceived as a threat, and the more tonal the composer, the more threatening." David Del Tredici, following his tonal "Final Alice" in 1976
"What it (serialism) left composers of my generation was the idea that there is virtue in a well-made piece. All of my pieces are mathematical, they are built from controlled patterns, and intellectual rigor is very important. The idea that you get to a higher level musically by controlling the structure -- that there is something about the architecture of the piece that is really important -- is a direct descendant of my Serial training.'' David Lang
"Not long ago Serialism was the common currency, and with that came tremendous arrogance. The religious metaphor was great: 'If only you understood Serialism, then you, too, would be a convert.' It's too bad that in its waning years the polemic gained this desperate, pathetic flavor: 'Oh please, please, if only you knew Jesus, you'd like him."
''It was incredible discipline, it was ear-training, and I'm sure that must continue to affect me. But now it's back there with parallel fifths and imitative counterpoint and other relics of the past." Steve Mackey, Princeton
The post-World War II modernists, believing that they had discovered the music of the future, championed a deliberately atonal, highly systematized method of composition called Serialism.
By the 1960's, the Serialists commanded intellectual prestige and held influential academic posts. All they lacked was a public.
Mainstream audiences disliked their work, preferring the music of traditionalists who retained links with tonality: Copland, Barber, Prokofiev, Shostakovich and Britten. In academic circles, those composers were sneered at, viewed as expendable fossils from a bygone age.
A backlash against Serialism arose in the 1970's, and there was soon a profusion of Minimalists and neo-Romantics. Amid this new post-modernist diversity, Serialism faded in power and prestige. What was supposed to be the music of the future had become the music of the past.
"By the time I got to Columbia, this was already the case. It wasn't that I was prohibited from writing the way I felt. But the general mode of thought was certainly not in my direction." John Corigliano, attended Columbia between 1955-59.
"Those (tonal compsers) are the people who got the performances. The idea that Copland and Barber suffered because of what Serial composers said or wrote about them is preposterous. But there was, and still is, the prevailing notion among us that it's pretty damn difficult to write tonal music in the 20th century and think it compares favorably with Beethoven and Brahms." Donald Martino
Syzygy (1968)
Through astronomy, zoology and mathematics, the word is used, and the common point of definition can perhaps be summed up as the strong union or opposition of elements that had hitherto been in no such juxtaposition. In my musical extension of the definition, I had in mind the varying contrasts made between the solo group (soprano, French horn and chimes) and the chamber orchestra.
The first movement is a palindrome.

Final Alice (1976)
The final work in a series of pieces inspired by the writings of Lewis Carroll.
What Del Tredici calls an "opera, written in Concert Form", "Final Alice" is a series of elaborate arias, interspersed and separated by dramatic episodes from the last two chapters of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.
Gunther Schuller
Prolific composer, conductor, and educator.
Attempted to meld together classical and jazz styles into something he called "Third Stream".
John Adams
Harmonium (1981)
Nixon in China "This is Propetic" (1987)
Arvo Pärt
Estonian composer who employs his self-invented minimalist style called "tintinnabuli".
Symphony no. 2 (Christmas Symphony) (1980)
Unabashedly tonal work, preceded by tonally inflected works such as the the St. Luke Passion and Violin Concerto no. 1.
Numerous quotations of "Silent Night" found in the work.
Silent Night quote at 3'49"
David Del Tredici
One of the earliest "Neo-romantic" composers
Luciano Berio
Sinfonia (1969) for vocalists and orchestra
Third movement is an early example of musical collage or pastiche in which textual quotes by Beckett, Joyce, and others and musical quotes including Stravinsky, Debussy are layered on top of the scherzo from Mahler's Symphony no. 2.
Henryk Gorecki
Symphony No. 3, Op. 36 "Symphony of Sorrowful Songs" (1977)
Yet another Polish composer who began as a serialist but developed a unique minimalist style that often draws from sacred themes.
What to call it??
New Simplicity
Confusing term since there is no agreed upon definition.
In general, postmodernism is any view that challenges, critiques, or deconstructs modernist structures, binaries, or rational thought.
Ellen Taaffe Zwilich
First female composer to win the Pulitzer Prize (1983) with her Symphony no. 1.
Compositions often focus on the organic development of a single idea.
Symphony no. 1
Symphony no. 3
15' mark
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