Friday, August 29, 2014

On Modern Art and Modern Music

I know what I'm going to say will be embarrassing to most of my musician friends who will think I'm just an unsophisticated non-musician but you should by now know that I don't care for public opinion. I was just looking through some clarinet pieces for my own personal entertainment and I came across some modern pieces.

I sometimes find modern music (just like modern art) quite a letdown.  The music can be downright horrid and even cacophonous. Do people really appreciate such music or are they just being pretentious as many people do when they want to appear cultivated and refined?

Here's an excerpt from a modern piece of music composed no more than 50 years ago: 

Let's examine this bit and let's be rational. Do you really enjoy this music? I honestly don't and here's my reason.

Do you see in the first line the glis from D-natural to Db? Call me unsophisticated if you like but that's awful. When I first heard it without looking at the score, I really thought the musician hit the wrong note and tried to glis to the right note. It was incredibly revolting. What excuse can a composer have for writing that? He probably just wanted to stand out and be different but writing awful music is not the way to stand out.

Next, do you see the "scrawling" over the third and fourth notes (the two Ds just above middle-C) in the second line? Non-clarinet players may not know what that means but it's really nothing more than a direct instruction from the composer to play those notes so that they grate on the ear. Can you imagine that? When a clarinettist sees that notation, he is required to play the note as if he is throwing up what he's eaten into the clarinet.

I've only picked two examples out of the many ways modern composers have to ruin music for their listeners. All the great composers of different nationalities who composed beautiful music for the clarinet including Beethoven, Mozart, Schumann, Mendelssohn, Spohr, Crusell, Weber and even modern composers such as Poulenc, Saint-Saƫns and Lutoslawski do not ruin the music with such horrid devices.

Perhaps I'm just lacking in that musical sophistication that people with a finer ear can appreciate and I can't. But I don't think so. My guess is modern composers try too hard to be different. There are only so many musical variations that one can have and after a while they really feel they ought to do something radically different. True, it may be outrageously and shockingly different and it may even require a great deal of virtuosic skill for a performer to get some of these notes right but musicians are not circus clowns performing tricks that are hard to accomplish but that are of negative musical value.

Anyway, this is just my rant after having gone through a stack of music scores on a Friday evening and you don't have to agree with me. The sound of fingernails scratching a blackboard has the effect of making me feel weak with revulsion but if you enjoy that kind of sound, go ahead and listen to it. You might want to comment below why you like the sound of fingernails scratching the blackboard.

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