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Rapuns

Book on writing contemporary music for university preparation

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I have just started composing a short time and it is pretty late because next year i will have to audition for music universities. But when i checked the requirements of many schools they require you to write for ensembles in contemporary/ 20th styles, and i just feel very frustrated and confused. So if anyone can recommend me books on contemporary music and how to write it i would be appreciate.

Thanks in advance.

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I haven't read it yet, but my teacher has mentioned "Boulez on Music Today" on occasion - I think that is highly relevant to your question and probably a good place to start or at the very least a must-read. I would guess it were more philosophical than technical but if you feel frustrated and confused then I would not start with technical references. If you are interested in such I recommend Messiaen's book "The Technique of My Musical Language" and Xenakis' "Formalized Music". The latter is very intimidating and I didn't make it very far before giving up. It contains a lot of university-level mathematics, which I wanted to fully absorb instead of skimming - but it turns out that a non-mathematician is not the best person to be explaining cutting-edge mathematics to other non-mathematicians. If you do manage to get through it with complete understanding, I'm sure you will learn quite a few things. I think it's probably worth going through it even if you ignore all of the mathematics, as the book is also highly philosophical and goes into themes which are important to understanding the motivation behind some of the compositional techniques of post-war music up until now. But just like you can't really learn to speak a language from reading grammatical references or historical documents, you need to listen to contemporary music in order to be able to practice it. It takes a lot of exposure and careful consideration and then diligent application - as with anything else. Good luck!

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KOSTKA, S:  materials and techniques ot twentieth-century music

COWELL, H: new musical resources

PERSICHETTI, V: armonía del siglo XX  (I have this one in Spanish, but the original is in English)

DUNWELL, W: the evolution of 20th century harmony

HANSON, H: Hermonic materials of modern music

DAVIS, C:  techniques of the comtemporary composer

 

And, of course: Messiaen's book.

 

 

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Just to be "that guy" ... are books from the '20s, '30s, '60s actually useful for learning about "contemporary" music?

In the recommendations above, not one of them was less than 30 years old!

 

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Yes they are.

No one explains Messiaen's modes better than Messiaen.

No one explains secondal and clusters better than Cowell.

Anyway, you can make your recommendations too.

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9 hours ago, Luis Hernández said:

Yes they are.

...

Anyway, you can make your recommendations too.

 

 

9 hours ago, Luis Hernández said:

Contemporary Composition by Maxine Hairston was released in the 80's, but this one I haven't read.

 

This isn't really my arena so I have no recommendations. ... it's just funny to me that  >30-year-old texts are ideal for studying "contemporary" music ... Why not look towards actual contemporary music...like, from this decade?

 

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On 4/17/2017 at 3:31 PM, robinjessome said:

This isn't really my arena so I have no recommendations. ... it's just funny to me that  >30-year-old texts are ideal for studying "contemporary" music ... Why not look towards actual contemporary music...like, from this decade?

Well, it isn't that simple. If by contemporary music you mean cutting-edge, then it's still going on and hasn't been documented yet. There are articles on certain specialized ideas being released all the time but a beginner has no business reading them if they want to be less confused about the scene as a whole. That's why books written by influential figures whose ideas served as an inspiration to newer generations, and historical overviews by people who are in tune with what's going on and has been going on, and can give a wide perspective, are much more valuable. Then you can get all of the most essential ideas neatly packed into a convenient narrative, which you can use as a foundation on which to build your knowledge. I think if one wants to understand what's been happening for the past 20 years one should be familiar with what people were dealing with after the war. It even helps you to understand the music which has seemingly nothing to do with those ideas.

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I know that.... I'm just pointing out that "contemporary" music has nothing to do with style or form or genre.

Yes, to study 20th-Century Classical music, you would need to dig heavily into post-war innovators and explore music and texts from the 50s, 60s etc.  Just don't call it "contemporary" 

 

Semantics, I know - so I'm going to drop it for now ;)

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Rapuns, particularly because you have limited time to put together a portfolio, I wouldn't suggest you try to learn everything about contemporary theory in the next few months.  Try to think like the people who are reviewing your application.  Why have they included this requirement?  I suspect it's so that you can show your ability to write in more than one musical style, so they know you are in control of your compositions and thinking about theory, instead of just splatting some notes on a page and saying, "I'm a genius, if you don't understand my brilliance it's because you are stupid."  (A surprisingly common way of thinking.)  :P  

So, don't be overwhelmed by this assignment.  Pick one specific aspect of contemporary theory that you find personally interesting.  Write a composition that lets you try out the things you read about it in a few different ways.  Don't try to mash 50 years of techniques by 100 different composers in there.  Think of this as an exercise.  Because, I expect that's what the people who asked for this are looking for.  They want to know, if they let you into their program, and you are given an exercise to develop a piece using a technique that is new to you, can you do that in an organized manner.  (Because you'll be doing that all the time as a composition student.)  

There are always lots of students popping up on these and other forums who complain that their professors asked them to (gasp!) learn about a musical style that was new to them instead of letting them write whatever they felt like in the style they were already comfortable with.  That's the point of going to school to study.  To learn new musical styles.  To add them to your tool kit so you can pull them out confidently later in life, whenever you feel like it.  So let your application show that you are open to exploring new ideas and can be organized about it when you do so.  

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51 minutes ago, robinjessome said:

I know that.... I'm just pointing out that "contemporary" music has nothing to do with style or form or genre.

For instance, you could as well pick an orchestration treatise by Berlioz or Rimsky-Korsakov, the book on harmony by Tchaikovsky, and a few clues from some other guys, and claim you're going Neo-Romantic, which is actually more "contemporary" than atonality nowadays.

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3 hours ago, Austenite said:

For instance, you could as well pick an orchestration treatise by Berlioz or Rimsky-Korsakov, the book on harmony by Tchaikovsky, and a few clues from some other guys, and claim you're going Neo-Romantic, which is actually more "contemporary" than atonality nowadays.

 

Exactly.  The genre / style you're exploring has nothing to do with it being contemporary or not ...   ;)  

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38 minutes ago, robinjessome said:

Exactly.  The genre / style you're exploring has nothing to do with it being contemporary or not ...   ;) 

But it does. To take an example from postwar times: minimalism, which is like the antithesis of dense "academic" music, is not what you get when you put your fingers in your ears and say: "I've had enough of this nonsense, I am going to do what I want to do". It's a direct comment on the times, it couldn't possibly exist without the thing it is contradicting. I don't think one can really appreciate what minimalism stands for without thoroughly understanding the idea of "maximalism". As for music that does come out of putting your fingers in your ears - what's the point? It is irrelevant. Style is not just a cosmetic feature, it is a philosophy.

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If you have only a  year's time before your audition, which goes by like that, don't waste your time reading books. If you want to be a composer you must write, often. And your only goal is to write something compelling. You cannot second guess profs and administrators. They may have their own reasons for specifying  20th century music. Who knows, maybe they themselves don't know how to write a decent fugue, and so discount fugues in favor of tone rows, etc. which are easier to grade because no one can discern relative quality! (unless you get out the slide rule!) Welcome to politics, sotto voce.

In any case, here's a tip. Write something with a "contemporary ensemble," and make it the best content it can be in your own style.

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14 hours ago, Gylfi said:

But it does. To take an example from postwar times: minimalism, which is like the antithesis of dense "academic" music, is not what you get when you put your fingers in your ears and say: "I've had enough of this nonsense, I am going to do what I want to do". It's a direct comment on the times, it couldn't possibly exist without the thing it is contradicting. I don't think one can really appreciate what minimalism stands for without thoroughly understanding the idea of "maximalism". As for music that does come out of putting your fingers in your ears - what's the point? It is irrelevant. Style is not just a cosmetic feature, it is a philosophy.

 

What are you talking about? 

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4 hours ago, robinjessome said:

What are you talking about?

The world is shaped by events. Xenakis happened, Ligeti happened, Boulez happened, Grisey happened, Steve Reich happened, Lachenmann happened, Arvo Pärt happened, Eric Whitacre happened. Anyway, even if you hate what these composers have done and what they stand for, they have left a mark on the musical community and their ideas bear engaging with - even if that means doing the exact opposite from them. There is no unhearing spectralism - the idea that you can use timbre and the ideas related to timbre as musical material has directly challenged the concept of timbre and even the concept of "musical material" in the first place. Likewise, the complete dissolution of traditional instrumental roles by people like Lachenmann, Sciarrino and Berio has changed the way people think about writing for instruments. That doesn't mean that every piece from now on must only use extended techniques, but the playing field has been changed forever and in order to be relevant one must acknowledge these events. 

22 hours ago, Austenite said:

For instance, you could as well pick an orchestration treatise by Berlioz or Rimsky-Korsakov, the book on harmony by Tchaikovsky, and a few clues from some other guys, and claim you're going Neo-Romantic, which is actually more "contemporary" than atonality nowadays.

But this isn't really neo-romanticism by itself. If the intent is only to write music in a purebred Romantic style, then by all means - but not if you want to comment on the new, through the old (and vice versa). Then you need to synthesize old ideas and new ideas in a self-consistent manner and weave them into a homogenous tapestry, like what Berg did (unlike Schönberg). That gives you an interesting and probably non-obvious perspective on both which could change your perception. But if you use old ideas in an old context, there is nothing "neo" about it.

EDIT: No reason to keep it purely classical either. Free jazz happened, rock 'n' roll happened, heavy metal happened (with all its variations), EDM happened. What does it mean to write music in a world where all of these things exist? I mean, take these things by themselves. Free jazz was a response to a jazz community oversaturated with the same ideas which became decreasingly relevant. Rock 'n' roll (and metal after that) is what happened when somebody figured out that by turning the amp volume way up you distort the amplified guitar signal. EDM, which is probably the most interesting thing that has ever happened to popular music, is the result of somebody discovering the crazy experiments of the early proponents of electronic instruments and crafting an entirely new sound out of it. The style of these genres is directly informed by the central ideas of the music, in other words the philosophy of the musicians making it.

Edited by Gylfi
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19 hours ago, Gylfi said:

[a whole lot of stuff]

Yes, obviously, the stuff you say is well and good. You're just WAY overthinking the point I'm trying to make... and none of it really has anything to do with addressing my initial comment that "the genre / style you're exploring has nothing to do with it being contemporary or not".

 

19 hours ago, Gylfi said:

The world is shaped by events. ... [History] has changed the way people think about writing for instruments. That doesn't mean that every piece from now on must only use extended techniques, but the playing field has been changed forever and in order to be relevant one must acknowledge these events.

That's fine. But acknowledging progression in music has literally nothing to do with a work or performance being "contemporary". 

 

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I think that even if we consider contemporary what was done in the last 20 years, this music cannot be explained by itself. We'll have to look at the las 120 years to understand it. And even more, if we don't know about the classic tonal period, we can't go into non tonal or non functional music. 

How can I learn about extended techniques in the piano or in the strings, whatever, ignoring the "normal" techniques?

Nowadays, most composers are more or less eclectic and they have a big palette of techniques.

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