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I wanted to challenge myself today and listen to some contemporary works so I put on Repons [sorry I'm missing the French e) by Boulez. Here's an interesting quote from Boulez referring to his approach to total serialism:
"I had taken the experience to absurd lengths . . . this sort of absurdity, of chaos . . . was completey intentional and has probably been one of my most fundamental experiments as a composer. At that point disorder is equivalent to an axcess of order and an excess or arder reverts to disorder." (from Twentieth-Century Music by Elliot Antokoletz, Chapter 15 Total serialization in Europe, pgs. 373, 374).
I have to admit than in comparison to the late Renaissance/early Baroque music I have been listening to (a Christmas tradition) that Repons lacks the change of character, change of mood, reflective moments without compexity in the forfront. The sonorous qualities seem to be obliterated by the unrelentless complexity. The rhythm of the piece lacks the same sense of clarity, metric modulation, change of character due to the complexity and dense field. I longed for a movement in the piece that emphasized space, the compliment to mass. How much complexity can one take without desiring it's compliment - simplicity?
While the aim of the total serialists was to innovate and avoid past models of form and heirarchy, I wonder if the things they were trying to avoid are indeed the things we enjoy about music? Change of character, change of mood, simplicity as compliment to complexity, lyricism, sonority, melody, expression of a phrase, identification of thematic material, personal expession, etc.
Stockhausen said "Schoenberg is dead." I think not. What moves us in Schoenbeg's music is not that he used older forms or structures, but the intensity of his ideas, their innovation, and the unique way in which Schoenberg was able to define his compositional method systematically into his own language. Even in Webern, the composer of choice for expansion of serialism by the total serialists there is a great deal of change of character, change of mood, lyricism, dare one even say "hooks!", sonority that allows one to breath, a wide range of dynamics and space/mass compliments.
Unrelentless complexity and musical activity for that purpose tend to wear me out as a listener; everything becomes a static stream of intensive sound. Is it possible that the next generation of composers need to affirm and not avoid? Webern's music is not only relevent for it's technical means, it is also the inseperable personal expression of the composer that affects us - Webern was a composer living in the midst of the 20th century's most brutal fascist regime. Webern's music reminds us of our human condition and that is beyond the scope of serialism technique.