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Greetings to all fellow composers!

For some bizarre and peculiar reason, we are living in an age where people are becoming obsessed with thinking that we have to label every single compositional style that composers write in. I was reading a book by the australian composer Andrew Ford (it was called "Illegal Harmonies") about modern music since 1900 and I was amazed to see that the glossary of musical styles (Impressionism, futurism etc.) went on for about 50 pages! I don't really see the need to label music in this way as the words hardly help anyone just listen to the music and the sounds created.In my opinion, all of these words that we apply to different styles of modern classical music are absolutely meaningless. To show you what I mean I'll use the labels "Impressionism" and "minimalism" as examples.

Impressionism is a word used when describing the style of painting that was around in France in the late 1800s and early 1900s. This style was influenced by the effect that light had on certain objects and places; often artists would paint the same object/landscape with different lightings to create very different images (Monet has done some good examples of this). Now, what musicologists and whatever have done with this word is this: they have used it to describe the music by the French composers Debussy, Ravel, Satie and several others. The thing that doesn't make sense is that in order to make the music go with this label means that he music has to take the features of impressionist painting (the effect of light on objects and places) and apply them to the music (which would therefore sound completely different). Even thought Debussy has written music that happens to have titles that you would imagine you'd find on a painting by Monet (e.g 'The Sunken Cathedral') it techincally is NOT genuine impressionism. In the long run, Debussy hated the term anyway.

Minimalism is a term that is used to describe the fine arts that has very little or no diversity when it comes to the art elements (colour, shape, form, tone, line, space and texture). Musicologists have taken this word and stupidly applied it to the music of composers such as Philip Glass and John Adams. A lot of the works by these so called "minimalist" composers are bursting with colour and harmonies that you would not expect from an artist like Carl Andre. The only thing that someone would say that is "minimal" about their music is the lack of motific development. If I let a six-year-old listen to the first movement of Glass' first violin concerto or Adams' "A Short Ride In A Fast Machine" and asked them to describe the music they just heard, the word "minimal" would pretty much definitely not occur. In the long run, Glass and Adams (just like Debussy with "impressionism") they hated the term anyway.

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First off: any word is a label for a thing. So it is not just an obsession, it is a necessity to communicate.

I think the phenomenon you describe does not only apply to the current age. Any age has its descriptions, from renaissance styles like ars antiqua and ars nova, or baroque refinement like rococo. Maybe there are more differences to describe in our current day, which resulst in a larger amount of labels. Note cause and effect: when there are more styles in need of a name, it does not signify a current tendency to label things...

The last example isn't particular strong. since "minimal" isn't the same as "minimalism". This play of words isn't helping your argument.

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Are you seriously saying that the word "impressionistic" should not be used to describe music because it must mean that the music literally has the qualities of an impressionistic painting? We use those words to describe styles of music that have things in common. That is what we're going to use unless you can come up with new words and convince the music world to immediately adopt them. The two examples you brought up are perfectly okay words. I have no problem with using them.

And yeah, the second example was not good. A six year old would not use the word "minimal" to describe Glass? Really? I'm not even sure how to counter that argument.

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please elaborate :D

Pretty much every composer I have read, heard or seen interviews of hate the way people label their music. I think it was Steve Reich who, on the subject of composers labeling their own music, said "Don't do it. You're only hurting yourselves."

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Well, I don't have to convince you. Everybody else everywhere uses these terms. You have to convince us if you want us to take you seriously.

Just for you, Ian, how about calling Debussy's music "music by Debussy?"

Good idea. How about we also get rid of kingdoms, phylums, classes, species, etc. and start calling all organisms by their name only. So there are no such things as "plants" or "vertebrates".

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Pretty much every composer I have read, heard or seen interviews of hate the way people label their music. I think it was Steve Reich who, on the subject of composers labeling their own music, said "Don't do it. You're only hurting yourselves."

Ok, that is true, but no reason not to use words to describe their music, right? Only be able to call Debussy's music "music by Debussy" is not only tautologic but makes no sense, at all...

The latter quote is not really about the topic of labels in general, but is about labeling yourself. That is hurting, because you prevent others to interpret your music in their own way.

I'll grant you that the labels are often misused. You possibly can find things of comparison in the music of Ravel and Debussy that are not impressionistic per se. But it facilitates the communication.

I think why this whole issue bothers you is that a label is a sort of limitation as well. Generalizations do no justice. But that again applies to all words in general.

When I call my bonsai tree a tree it is a generalisation, and you, hearing the word "tree" would possibly not have thought about a 25cm thing, but it still is a tree. So when applying a label to a piece (or even to a composer in general) it is not precisely fitting. There are typical Debussian elements that are not necessarily Impressionistic. But people get the meaning. And that is what matters

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Labels are imprecise generalizations used to organize music. They've been that way for a loooong time. What was Beethoven? A Classicist? A Romantic? Well, that would depend on what period of his life you were speaking of. Same with Adams: Most of his earlier stuff was minimalist, but who knows what it is today!

I have no problem with labeling composers and I get annoyed when some PC guy thinks all of them should be done away with because one or two examples don't fix the boxes that have been around for over a century.

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(I prefer to call music by Debussy Debussy).

How does that describe it, though, if you don't know about Debussy's music by name? Yes, labels glom things together that might not always mesh. Genres are imperfect, and subject to having a solid argument to keeping them together that may or may not be true. Histories aren't perfect, interpretations are worse. I think of the concept of "blue notes" in ignorance of similar things in Appalachian folk in the standard history of blues/jazz is a bit bunk; that doesn't mean that it's not a solid history to start from. Same thing with any general term.

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How does that describe it, though, if you don't know about Debussy's music by name? Yes, labels glom things together that might not always mesh. Genres are imperfect, and subject to having a solid argument to keeping them together that may or may not be true. Histories aren't perfect, interpretations are worse. I think of the concept of "blue notes" in ignorance of similar things in Appalachian folk in the standard history of blues/jazz is a bit bunk; that doesn't mean that it's not a solid history to start from. Same thing with any general term.

The beauty of language is that you have seemingly infinite ways of expressing descriptions of Debussy's music without having to say it is part of any genre as such. I think that all modern composers' music are completely individual and unique in sound, so there is not much point in grouping them under any labels.

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Chances are, if you've studied a bit about music, you know what impressionism is. What you don't know is every piece of music by every composer that sounds impressionistic.

Maybe I wrote an impressionistic prelude. If the word didn't exist, I would have to say "I wrote a prelude that sounds like my music."

Even worse, if the piece is not in my usual style; "I wrote a prelude that sounds like... itself."

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Saying that a composer's music sounds like the composer's music gives absolutely no additional information.

X sounds like X.

Tell me what exactly you gain from this? If you know what X's music sounds like, then you gain no knowledge because you already know. If you don't know, then you still don't know.

If you say: X sounds like Y/ X sounds Y, (Debussy sounds impressionistic or whatever combination of English words you want to use) that would be a meaningful statement. Even if you don't know what either sounds like, can see that a connection is being made between the two. If you know what one sounds like, you know also the other. If you know both, then you see a comparison being made.

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Yup, I was clearly talking about absolutely wrong statements. You are not distorting the intention of my post at all.

"Debussy sounds impressionistic" gives new information. "Debussy sounds like Debussy" does not. With the ability to give new information, you also get the ability to give false information. That is how language works. True or false, it is still more meaningful than "X = X". If you don't agree, I would like to point out the subjects and predicates in the sentences you type all around this forum. You will notice their contents are different, creating potential for false statements. This is generally how people communicate.

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You are, then, being very silly. If I said your music reminds me of Debussy, that is certainly much more precise and informative than, 'IMPRESSIONISM! ME LIKEY!'. And I only said I prefer to call music by Debussy Debussy. It simply means I disagree with the label 'impressionism'. I can choose to call it 'a self-denying farce of neoromanticism', or the 'greatest thing like since EVER', or even 'catwalkingoverthepiano-ism', if I wished to.

Saying a person's music sounds like Debussy and that it sounds impressionistic are both meaningful. Saying Debussy's music sounds like Debussy is not. If you really don't like the term, you can use something else. But the word serves its purpose; generalizing music so that you don't have to give detailed descriptions all the time. There is a certain similarity between a lot of the music of Debussy, Ravel, Griffes, and others. I am not aware of any contenders that describe this similarity, so I'll use "impressionism".

We still call the square root of -1 "imaginary", despite the fact that it was originally meant to be derogatory, and the fact that mathematicians will tell you that it is just as real as any other number. It serves its purpose.

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You are very wrong. It could mean that the author wishes to emphasise that Debussy's music is unique. That is information gained about the author and Debussy.

Can you form such a sentence? Don't add any words that change the literal meaning of the sentence from "Debussy's music sounds like Debussy."

So? That was never the point.

Isn't this thread about using labels to describe music? Such as "impressionism"? If there are no contenders, I will use the word. It is directly related to the topic.

Thank you for conceding my point. Took you 4 posts which did nothing but highlight your uncanny 'talent' with pseudo-logic and in delivering dogmatic but hardly relevant harangues.

I don't see how that is your point at all. Explain?

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