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Monarcheon

The limits of musical analysis.

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This is sort of an extension of the conversation @Ken320 and I were having on the chat. 
I was basically saying that, in my experiences reading/discussing Allen Forte:
1. Forte wanting to have it both ways (saying that it doesn't matter what the composer did, since we can never fully know anyway, and also claiming that Schoenberg/Webern/etc. strongly cared about PC sets in his music), essentially begging the question
2. There is no evidence of Schoenberg using PC sets in his music, despite us having ample evidence that he thought very deeply about how to formulate tone rows
3. the interlocutor theorists being unable to hear any of the relationships that Forte describes with PC sets
4. claiming Forte is attempting to take over the composer's authority with Forte's own as a theorist.
I can definitely see where they come from, especially with No. 3.

Quick rundown on PC sets:
1. convert pitch classes to numbers [C G A] -> [0 7 9]
2. transpose to 0 [0 7 9]
3. find the shortest distance between any consecutive ascending form of the set [7 9 0]
4. transpose to 0 (025). The set class is (025). Any transposition of (025), forwards or backwards is part of set (025). 
Forte would use these set classes in millions of ways; inverting them, finding every instance of it and its 12-tone aggregate complement in any atonal piece (segmentation), finding interval class vectors, using those vectors to construct genera of potential subsets and supersets, the list goes on. Many Forte followers have introduced many additional concepts to his theories like set multiplicationmaximally related sets, etc.

These arguments don't stop with atonal analysis; Schenkerian analysis for tonal music gets a lot of heat for being so reductionist that the music isn't really even being analyzed anymore. Some people even think the way we analyze chords with Roman numerals is reductionist.

Even though I think analysis is inherently reductionist, I'm curious as to what anyone thinks about this kind of stuff and would be willing to go through any strange concepts (though I'm not an expert in any way). I feel like as composers we have a different take on this kind of thing. 

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Thanks for that explanation. Such analysis of alternates reminds me of two men discussing whether or not man is selfish by nature or generous by nature, and why each one is preferable to the other. And after revealing layer after layer and each side being forced to distill its own logic we come up with the idea that it is actually selfish to be generous and generous to be selfish, and that both of these coexist as necessarily so. And maybe the joke is that after all the machinations, it really doesn't matter. 

Aside from the analysis, I understand that the musical goal is to avoid the ego and substituting various systems in its place. And that the result will be, if nothing else, fresh and without precedent. And I am reminded (again) of the film maker David Lynch, an intuitive artist in process, who is often imitated, but never duplicated. Because his films are so puzzling, people are always asking him, "Why did you do this or that is your film?" And it could be anything. A frenetic scene, or something frightening and filled with anguish and mystery. And he just says, I thought it was beautiful.

Edited by Ken320
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12 hours ago, Ken320 said:

Thanks for that explanation. Such analysis of alternates reminds me of two men discussing whether or not man is selfish by nature or generous by nature, and why each one is preferable to the other. And after revealing layer after layer and each side being forced to distill its own logic we come up with the idea that it is actually selfish to be generous and generous to be selfish, and that both of these coexist as necessarily so. And maybe the joke is that after all the machinations, it really doesn't matter. 

Aside from the analysis, I understand that the musical goal is to avoid the ego and substituting various systems in its place. And that the result will be, if nothing else, fresh and without precedent. And I am reminded (again) of the film maker David Lynch, an intuitive artist in process, who is often imitated, but never duplicated. Because his films are so puzzling, people are always asking him, "Why did you do this or that is your film?" And it could be anything. A frenetic scene, or something frightening and filled with anguish and mystery. And he just says, I thought it was beautiful.

 

I mean, I get it. The music of Schoenberg, Webern, Berg, Boulez, Babbit, Coltrane, etc. can't be easily formed into what we'd used to analyze music up to that point. So we came up with a another system; Bach certainly didn't think about chord symbols/roman numerals when he wrote his music.
But when you look at the screenshots I've posted below (what I'm studying right now), does anyone really think they're describing the music they're hearing anymore? Like I said before, analysis is necessarily reductive, but my Schenkerian teachers always told me that relationships that are reduced need to be heard for them to be legitimate graphing points. We're studying contour relationships in atonal music now and while not all the theories are obviously heard, it's more audible than constant segmentation of PC sets.

Screen Shot 2019-09-25 at 9.30.16 AM.png

Screen Shot 2019-09-25 at 9.30.19 AM.png

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By reductive do you mean simplistic? Lacking pertinent information?

Looking at the illustrations, no, they don't immediately invoke some aspect of music. But I'm guessing there are relationships, proximity, intersections and such. Why aren't basic  analyses like ABA, ABBA, which could be used a conversation starters now considered inadequate? Is there an aspect of deconstruction in this approach, sort of like Derrida, who I think would say that you shouldn't read anything into a narrative. Everything must be contained on the page,

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Not necessarily. Have you explored Schenkerian analysis at all? It can be quite detailed, but it necessarily removes particular elements of tonal music that would be audibly interpreted as important. PC set class and vector analysis, while surface, can be super in depth with a lot of information, but reduces music almost exclusively to pitch class. All analysis does this, even the form analyses you were talking about, but to me the question is can it be used in a way that explains rather than projects. 

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No, I don't know Schenkerian, nor Forte. It might be fun to sit in in this class. But I wonder if it would broaden my ability to talk about music or enhance my appreciation of it.

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By the way, I encourage anyone who's seeing this weigh in if they want. I think it's interesting discussing the differences in compositional and analytical mindsets.

It would definitely help to an extent. I think Forte has a good way of classifying related pitches, but just goes too far with it. Similarly, Schenkerian terms like "prolongation" have already seeped into our musical consciousness already and his concepts of unfolding, etc. are pretty relevant. He also, in my opinion, tries too hard to make some things work in his favor though.

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On 9/26/2019 at 1:18 AM, Ken320 said:

No, I don't know Schenkerian, nor Forte. It might be fun to sit in in this class. But I wonder if it would broaden my ability to talk about music or enhance my appreciation of it.

 

I'm always cautious about analysing anything about a work that has an emotional/sensual impact on me because I've learned that it'll break the spell. (Not that most of this "analytically written" music has any impact. But then I presume it wasn't primarily written to be listened to.). I might try to deduce what's happening by ear but that's about it.

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On 9/30/2019 at 7:04 AM, Quinn said:

I'm always cautious about analysing anything about a work that has an emotional/sensual impact on me because I've learned that it'll break the spell. (Not that most of this "analytically written" music has any impact. But then I presume it wasn't primarily written to be listened to.). I might try to deduce what's happening by ear but that's about it.

 

I suppose newer musical syntax requires a different approach to analysis. That is what I understand from what Monarcheon is saying. She's obliged to learn it if not to teach it, just to know it. You and I won't be saddled with such a chore. 😳 Personally, I don't find that analysis robs me of anything in the music. I love to analyze songs to learn the chords so that I can play it. As a practitioner I'm happy to let the spell morph into a skill.  And I could listen for hours to Leonard Bernstein talk about music. But I'm dubious of music (and analysis) that cannot be explained in simple English.

(As an aside, I just stumbled upon the term that perfectly describes what I was saying earlier here about opposites in philosophical debate. It's called "Coincidentia Opositorum" or coincidence of opposites, or unity of opposites. )

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Yes, analysis at the level of working out the harmonic progression of a song is fine. I can usually do that by listening to the bass to see where that goes then getting the feel of the harmony it supports. I suppose that came quite early for an occasional "lounge" player as one needs a good few numbers to be hire-worthy, so to speak! Not much use if you can't support a couple of hours of playing. 

The kind of analysis that I felt implied by the opening post was reducing sound to its atomic level and coming up with ways to arrange it or dissect a set of musical events, reductionist-style. There will always be people who love this kind of thing - they do it with (verbal) language, parsing sentences, classifying words and clauses; art and so on. An academic pursuit to me. Whether it helps the ordinary person trying to communicate something, I doubt, once linguistic conventions have been established. (That takes it into the realm of semiotics.) Likewise with music. Is its aim to communicate? If not - why is it there? Why do (most) composers want their works to be received (heard)? If the aim is communication then certain criteria between the transmitter and receiver have to be satisfied.

It could be a big discussion!

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EDIT: It got me wondering what purpose music serves. A listener is concerned with the final product and matters of taste and preference come into its reception. However, for composers using algorithmic means or aleatoric (hoping you get what I mean - some formulaic system of their invention), they derive satisfaction from the process of composing (presumably in the knowledge that any communication commonality between composer and listener would be coincidental). A big problem I had with systems like serialism was that too much of a composition was predetermined at the point of setting up the basic thematic material, the row, whatever you want to call it.

@Quinn I want to address this edit from another post because it's not really true. The beginning I agree with, at least philosophically. 
From there on I'm not so sure: firstly on a purely philosophical level, those composers don't write music because anything... especially not for audiences, generally.
Secondly, your assertion that serialist compositions are pre-determined in some way... articles by theorists like Hyde and Babbit will definitely say this is not the case, delving into the concept of secondary dimensions as well as multi-linear segmentation of the row. Yes, perhaps you can't hear it, but if the piece truly is serialist, you'll notice that simply following the line in standard voice leading won't produce the row. Look at someone like Berg, who incorporated many related triads in his serialist music.
An analysis by someone like Webern is unlike analyzing Katy Perry or something because despite knowing what a "IV" chord is, most of those performers aren't going to know it has "predominant function" or know that it's often a prolongation of the tonic in second inversion, yet we still apply that knowledge to it because it means something to us. Webern's 12 tone structures are dissimilarly conscious, and even beyond that, finding those dimensional connections can only add an element of connectedness otherwise unavailable in such radical (at the time) music.

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13 hours ago, Monarcheon said:

@Quinn I want to address this edit from another post because it's not really true. The beginning I agree with, at least philosophically. 
From there on I'm not so sure: firstly on a purely philosophical level, those composers don't write music because anything... especially not for audiences, generally.

 

Firstly I have to say that I've no idea how to split up a quote on this site to address different points so I'll go along with this bit. 

Well, it's not really true but it's not really false either. 

The next bit: "From there on I'm not so sure: firstly on a purely philosophical level, those composers don't write music because anything... especially not for audiences, generally." I'm not sure what you're saying here. If you're saying "those composers don't write music not for audiences generally (double negative but the syntax doesn't work. "Because" is usually followed by the reason), I have a case to answer. 

If you mean those composers don't write for audiences generally I agree. I believe I said why.

 

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2 hours ago, Quinn said:

The next bit: "From there on I'm not so sure: firstly on a purely philosophical level, those composers don't write music because anything... especially not for audiences, generally." I'm not sure what you're saying here. If you're saying "those composers don't write music not for audiences generally (double negative but the syntax doesn't work. "Because" is usually followed by the reason), I have a case to answer. 

Sorry, my writing was slightly confusing. It wasn't double negative syntactical error as much as it was two clauses that contradicted. The first "not" agrees with you. The second "not" agrees with the first statement syntactically (double clausal intent) but expands upon its point. Again, my bad.

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Posted (edited)

Now I'm even more confused. 

"It wasn't double negative syntactical error as much as it was two clauses that contradicted." The first "not" agrees with you. The second "not" agrees with the first statement syntactically but expands upon its point."

For my part, apologies. No matter. I'm not familiar enough with Allen Forte to comment in detail so perhaps best I sit out. It does seem one of a group of practices that seeks to fracture the evolutionary line of convention, presumably (hoping it doesn't sound too cynical) because it's good for ongoing business!

Edited by Quinn
tidying up

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Still, it all has an application.

For those who have never been to Ferneyhough's a go-go

 

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I mentioned Bernstein's analyses of music as being exemplary because of his comprehensive, language-based approach. He uses a tiered series of  lessons, each building on the last, to get to the final lesson in his Harvard Lecture Series, which is The Future Of Music. And if you listen to this three hour Final Lecture (and I hope that you do) you will see why he concluded with Stravinsky and his methods as more adaptable to future composers than Schoenberg.

He talks about Stravinsky's "masking" technique, which is an abstraction that allowed him to re-assess and re-imagine music in a way that Schoenberg's restrictive formalism could not do. It's about the concept of "indirection." Stravinsky is always one step removed from the music. It's complex, but it's the best, most accurate description of Stravinsky's music that I know of. It's unclear whether this masking was Stravinsky's intention or studied intuition. Maybe it doesn't matter, because the composer is the composer and the analyst is the analyst. I bring it up here because this level of comprehensive insight would be absent from diagrams and whatnot, and would render them nonessential.

 

Edited by Ken320

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I am unsure how well I am contributing towards this discussion, as I have minimal experience/knowledge in 20th century analysis. However, I can offer some points on how such analysis can be applied to music produced by common practice composers of the 18th century.

The vast majority of composers of this period are thought to have been trained in a manner closely aligned with the pedagogy of the Italian school, in particular the Neapolitan School. To provide some context, 'Conservatories', as they were called, were once established in Naples during the 16th century to address the high orphan rate, and was a joint initiative between the Spanish State and the Roman Catholic Church. These schools helped to 'converse' the young and vulnerable and, in conjunction with meeting their basic needs, provided some form of education . Over time, many such schools became specialized and renowned centers of learning (for instance music conservatories) and to a considerable extent during the 17th and 18th centuries, served to provide the church and aristocracy (the two principle employers of musicians at the time) with professional and highly skilled musicians & composers. Of course, many of the widely known composers of that era were neither orphans nor educated at such places; however, often wealthier students who could be afforded private instruction would be apprenticed under a master, well versed in the prevailing practice.

There is much renewed interest in these music conservatoires, for the reason that it was their transmission of knowledge, spanning centuries, which underpinned the greatest works of that era. The study, however, such such institutions, is rather hampered by the fact that most knowledge was aurally transmitted. Whilst there are surviving documents which provide instruction to students (such as those by Fenaroli and Giovanni Martini) the vast majority of publications are merely exercises. Those exercises are what we call 'Partimenti'. The importance of Partimenti cannot be understated. They contained conventional patterns which were standard of common practice, and the success of the student largely depended on their means to recognize those patterns (for instance, ascending 5-6 suspensions) and recalling their associated realization between the other voices. At beginner to intermediate level, typically only either the bass or treble clef would be populated. The relationship between improvisation and partimenti, therefore cannot be understated.

It is difficult to do this subject justice with only a couple of paragraph's, however I have hoped to illustrate why it is probably a bad approach to assess music from this period with modern theoretical principles. Students of the common practice period largely learned by rote, at least in the beginning, which of course was very practice orientated and less theoretical. When I analyze music from this period, I typically listen to patterns; And it is patterns you learn to hear and recognize. Have you ever wondered how Mozart managed to compose grand works within a matter of days? Well, he was a master at improvisation and his extensive mental library of ideas were without question deeply rooted in the preceding chapters of music history. And he was not alone in his means to compose quickly; This was a skill expected of the professional composer and I suppose further illustrates the importance of understanding how to apply and manipulate 'patterns, so to speak. Of course, as we move more towards the 19th century and beyond, those patterns are still applied however without the intensity of some of the earlier 'galant' composers. 

My post below talks about these patterns in a little more detail

https://www.youngcomposers.com/t38646/largo-for-winds/

 

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I have a pretty jaundiced view of degree courses in music theory and composition. So I'd best stay out of this....

....except to say I fail to understand why Bernstein and other scholars would want to dissect Stravinsky. If you dissect anything you make it dead. I recall Stravinsky's own words on Le Sacre:

“I was guided by no system whatever in Le Sacre du Printemps,” wrote Igor Stravinsky in 1961. “I had only my ear to help me; I heard and I wrote what I heard. I am the vessel through which Le Sacre passed.” – So much for all the jargon. And yet he also said in his talk, he could play it but didn’t know how to write it.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1elMpqharNQ

Le Sacre was an outright success, partly because of the scandal which, some say, Stravinsky helped to engineer. So I’m unsure what benefit Bernstein brings to music "pointing out" this and that.

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23 hours ago, Markus Boyd said:

 

It is difficult to do this subject justice with only a couple of paragraph's, however I have hoped to illustrate why it is probably a bad approach to assess music from this period with modern theoretical principles. Students of the common practice period largely learned by rote, at least in the beginning, which of course was very practice orientated and less theoretical. When I analyze music from this period, I typically listen to patterns; And it is patterns you learn to hear and recognize. Have you ever wondered how Mozart managed to compose grand works within a matter of days? Well, he was a master at improvisation and his extensive mental library of ideas were without question deeply rooted in the preceding chapters of music history. And he was not alone in his means to compose quickly; This was a skill expected of the professional composer and I suppose further illustrates the importance of understanding how to apply and manipulate 'patterns, so to speak. Of course, as we move more towards the 19th century and beyond, those patterns are still applied however without the intensity of some of the earlier 'galant' composers. 

I agree with this but it depends on what we think the purpose of music should be. (I've said this before.) Is it for entertainment (which can include incidental music - film / TV / Ads) or in isolation for a select set of people who listen while expecting nothing to be communicated or for academics to "analyse" and enter technical discussion about? 

I look on it as entertainment in liking public exposure of my music - nice for a live performance but even recordings used by art shows or amateur film groups is something. When I attend a performance I expect it to say something to me even if it's a profanity!

That takes us into the realm of communication. It's a subject that IIRC was first touched on in an article by Eimert in Die Riehe Volume 6 - on speech and music (published also in English). It also touches on semiotics which has never made much progress in music - understandably because the field is huge and includes neurophysiological issues, quite aside from cultural context. But it's there all the same. I could ask why a perfect cadence sounds final or why an imperfect one doesn't, or why an interrupted cadence works like it does, why a diminished 7th chord invokes a certain tension. Of course, these have now been renamed and expounded upon by a few musicologists and theoretical folk (usually, the cynic in me says, to get their names on the roll of honour plaque in the college foyer or justify a new usually high-priced book - or to spin it out to a four year undergraduate course). Invent new fashionable jargon, new buzzwords - that's the way forward.

But the issue is what in the communication process leads to some music being enjoyed, even dare I say spiritually fulfilling, and others not? Why is the ultra-conservative popular music popular? Why do most people avoid serial music a la Schoenberg and Webern? Etcetera.  We could hypothesise for ages, I suppose. 

All that aside, they and many other questions are avoided by modern academia. I've recently pondered why some atonal or "sound organised" pieces are acceptable and others not. They apparently communicates something. As I kind-of "write music" I'm interested. I tend to rely on intuition which must subsume whatever I've learned - and suffer getting it wrong. at times; most times? I don't know.

An interesting topic.

Edited by Quinn
thank God for an edit button.

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3 hours ago, Quinn said:

But the issue is what in the communication process leads to some music being enjoyed, even dare I say spiritually fulfilling, and others not? Why is the ultra-conservative popular music popular? Why do most people avoid serial music a la Schoenberg and Webern?

 

This is a good question. Most music that was composed during the common practice period served the tastes of audiences to whom it was commissioned. This was particularly true of court composers, whose employment largely depended on their means to deliver music akin to the expectations of their wealthy patron. Certainly up until the 1770s, music composed for noble courts of Europe for the most part reflected and appealed to the sensibilities and customs of that society. In such a context, artistic self-expression would have been a risky enterprise, unless that expression did not dominate the purpose of the music. 

Towards the end of the century, however, composers were increasingly hosting subscription concerts with the public. Johann Christian Bach and his associate Carl Abel, for example, held regular concerts at premier concert rooms at London, for which they composed fashionable music for around 15 years. Bach was also of course employed by Queen Charlotte as music director, and his music was very much influenced by his servitude in this capacity. Indeed, if you examine some of his dedications to his patron, he assumes the role of "loyal" and "humble" "servant".

I think it is reasonable to suggest that as dependency lessened on traditional patronage, and with more composers working for themselves on a freelance basis, attention gradually shifted onto the composer, for what they had to say, and how. The trajectory had then been set for the following century, into the romantic era, during which the concept of 'artist' emerged, and that an artist should find their individual voice and offer something new and different. For the record I do not proclaim myself to be an expert of romantic music, and especially not 20th century music. However, it is clear to me that artists continued to push the boundaries towards the 20th century and it was not long before the concept of atonal music entered the frame. 

The music of the 18th century was either composed for a private audience, or a mass audience. Either way, successful composers had to ensure their music was accessible to their paying audiences. Into the 19th and 20th centuries, I think it is safe to say music became more intellectually demanding, particularly of composers who had a tendency to disregard common practice entirely. The consequence of this evolution is that modern classical music obscured itself to the realms of those who not only have the patience to listen, but also the aptitude to understand. In it's place, other genres of music emerged to fill popular demand, like Jazz, blues or rock. Popular music is popular because it is accessible to mass audiences, and which does not require a great deal of mental taxation.

Edited by Markus Boyd

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In the context of this thread I am saying that there are different types of analysis. I am making the case that a comprehensive analysis - of anything - is of value to us. Why did Bernstein bother himself with such efforts? Because he was good at it, and because he was a generous man who wanted to share his knowledge and passion with others. Did he talk in minutiae? Of course. When you deliver the capstone lecture of an eighteen hour series you necessarily have to first get in the weeds, right?

Stravinsky had come a long way since the days of Le Sacre over the course of his life, and he had to deal with the same musical problems as other composers of his time. I'm just saying that this particular lecture transcends the minutiae. By analyzing Stravinsky's music through the mask analogy, he offers a salient vision for future composers who may be troubled that there's nothing new under the sun anymore except for serialism and the self inflicted death of deconstruction. Was this of value to Stravinsky? No. Why should it? It's beside the point. It is for us, and at this point the minutiae becomes rather interesting. So, to me, anything done well in the field of music is interesting.

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Agreed about ‘types of analysis’. We’d get nowhere creatively by learning by rote so there’s a tendency to analyse inter alia to find out how things work/are done. There are various ways like one can adopt systems thinking or one can dissect – perhaps sometimes both. It doesn’t have to be formal.

Not the time and place to talk methodology here but... If I want to find out how a composer got a particular sound I’d look at the score which means looking at the context as well as the instrument(s). It’ll almost certainly involve past (rote) learning of theory – the rules and such nomenclature as is useful. But it’ll be informal. 

Analysis as in dissecting music serves little purpose to me other than an interesting sideline. Does it help “understanding” the music as an experience? Perhaps for some. For me, the music loses its experiential magic. Berg’s Lulu is a great example. People have analysed it to death and now for me it’s no longer a flow, a beautifully surreal emergence. It’s a collection of highly organised progression of pitches/durations/dynamics. I balk at the notion of “understanding” music. What does that mean? To me one assimilates a piece of music; enjoys it or otherwise. One understands music no more than one understands a piece of cake.

So I think that the limits of musical analysis are the limits of the analyst - what the analyst needs to make sense of musical events. I dare say about 95% of music (including popular) arise from instinct and intuition and are devoid of analytical thought. The Beatles proved that excellent music could be made with no academic background whatever.

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