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The Unanswered Question of the 20th and 21st Centuries: A Discussion of Music


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So, I've been binge watching a lot on music history and the development of compositional styles from pretonal to modern day. I came across these interesting lectures by Leonard Bernstein -yes, the great conductor and composer from the latter half of the 20th century. To add some context of my interest in this stuff.... these lectures were done in 1973 -just 7 years before my birth! So, they are still quite current within the musical discussion.

To sum it up: most composers see a dichotomy of crisis within the 20th century that has continued into the 21st century. As Bernstein states within these lectures, this led to a split in aesthetics with Stravinsky on one side and Schoenberg on the other. We see this split today (despite Stravinsky's later adoption of serial technique late in his life). Bernstein also, rightly, predicts an 'age of eclecticism' in music. His prediction -which does appear to have come true- isn't coupled with any discussion of whether it is a positive or negative addition to our high art form. 

Here's the link

Let the discussion begin!

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Actually I find the split great. Whether it's the split of stile antico or secondo, light or strict style, Brahmsian or Wagnerian..... This will provide more chances for composers in different aspects to develop on their own and find their own voice. This kind of aesthetic conflict actually can stimulate development of each school, and I find it better than one uniform style! And if some giants can absorb both approaches his/her music would be real great.

Henry

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6 hours ago, AngelCityOutlaw said:

I'm not entirely sure what the question is, and I don't really want to watch 2 hours of video to find out. I know you have a summary but I'm still not sure entirely what is being asked.

Are we talking about tonal vs atonal stuff?

 

Not exactly tonal vs atonal. It's more a deeper look at the history of the demise of tonality and the crisis that ensued after Schoenberg's emancipation of the dissonance. I figured it'd be a good discussion for the forum -as many of you are most likely going to encounter the effects of this topic once you enter college, conservatory, or university (particularly if you're going to a modern leaning institution). 

I know from my own experience at conservatory that the modern aesthetic is highly encouraged by most composition departments here in the United States. The result of this is a lack of students who compose fully tonal works. Those that come in with tonal works under their belt are generally discouraged from composing these works as they often lack any semblance of a modern harmonic language. I've seen this first hand over the years. 

Then we come to the prophecy of Bernstein: the prediction of greater eclecticism in contemporary music. My question -which ended the OP- was whether this eclecticism is a good thing for our art form? Do we still distinguish between folk musical styles and high art music? Is the idea of musical eclecticism even something that is possible given the long standing influence of folk music on that art form? Or is there something more profound going on within contemporary music that transcends the idea of eclecticism? These are deep questions that we -as composers- have to ask ourselves. Questions, that I feel, move way above the crisis of the 20th century discussed in Bernsteins 12 hour long lecture. In a way, this may be a crisis of the 21st century as composers strive to maintain the status of our work as high art.

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This is not the problem of music alone, it's about the whole trend of 21st century. Cultural, political, social, racial, philosophical diversity will push the musical diversity and electicity, more than in 20th century. For me, writing music is to reflect what I feel and think after all, and how express it through the means of music. If you yourself know what to do, you will do it. The problem is with this diversity of styles we don't know what to do. Which musical style do I adhere to? What elements should I use? It really depends on what your thinking is. I myself never write music for music's sake, but only as means to something else, whether it's my emotion or thought. I think I won't right good music if I force myself to adopt certain style, even there are many of them to choose. Just as the usage of Internet, we think human will extinguish stupidity with the free and enormous data and resources on Internet. But of course this is a delusion. This is the same for music composition. It's not the problem of the outward musical trend and diversity, it's the divetsity of thoughts and culture. I can only choose what I want best and I try to absorb as many styles as I can and choose from them, and not beguiled by them.

Henry

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8 hours ago, jawoodruff said:

I know from my own experience at conservatory that the modern aesthetic is highly encouraged by most composition departments here in the United States. The result of this is a lack of students who compose fully tonal works. Those that come in with tonal works under their belt are generally discouraged from composing these works as they often lack any semblance of a modern harmonic language. I've seen this first hand over the years. 

Yes indeed, academia is thoroughly anti-music now, and encourage further incompetence of their students. A veritable crime.

It's one of the main reasons I turned down college music study years ago when they offered it to me.

8 hours ago, jawoodruff said:

the prediction of greater eclecticism in contemporary music. My question -which ended the OP- was whether this eclecticism is a good thing for our art form?

If we are talking about eclecticism in regards to tonal vs atonal/modernism, then it has definitely been a bad thing.

If we just mean eclecticism of styles and genres in general, then it has not been a bad thing, but also not wholly-good either. I would make the comparison to video games, which now tend to feature aspects of every genre to the point they have no genre; no clear identity, and don't particularly excel in any given area.

I would also use myself as an example. Years ago, I had met Tommy Tallarico on a few occasions. Back then, when I was getting into video game music, his advice was not to send out demos with a lot of different styles on them. At the time, I thought it was the dumbest thing I'd ever heard. Surely, I'd be more employable in the business if I could do everything? I also liked so many different kinds of music and that's what I wound up doing.

But in time, I've come to realize he was right. There is a lot of esoteric knowledge in doing a particular genre, or writing for a particular ensemble very well, and if you dedicate yourself to one, or just a couple things, and you get really good at it, you will become an expert and also develop a unique style within that. It's like AC/DC. Ultimately, only they authentically offer their now-timeless style, and it's what made them rock legends.

8 hours ago, jawoodruff said:

Do we still distinguish between folk musical styles and high art music?

Probably, I think the better question is whether or not such distinction is meaningful, though.

8 hours ago, jawoodruff said:

Is the idea of musical eclecticism even something that is possible given the long standing influence of folk music on that art form?

Of course. Even in heavy metal they will apply classical melodic tropes alongside the usual metal style. So that's kind of the inverse: "High art" influence the pop stuff.

Also, a lot of the low chuggy-chuggy strings that have become popular rip from rock music

8 hours ago, jawoodruff said:

Or is there something more profound going on within contemporary music that transcends the idea of eclecticism?

That question is potentially a powder keg

 

Edited by AngelCityOutlaw
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31 minutes ago, AngelCityOutlaw said:

Yes indeed, academia is thoroughly anti-music now, and encourage further incompetence of their students. A veritable crime.

It's one of the main reasons I turned down college music study years ago when they offered it to me.

If we are talking about eclecticism in regards to tonal vs atonal/modernism, then it has definitely been a bad thing.

If we just mean eclecticism of styles and genres in general, then it has not been a bad thing, but also not wholly-good either. I would make the comparison to video games, which now tend to feature aspects of every genre to the point they have no genre; no clear identity, and don't particularly excel in any given area.

I would also use myself as an example. Years ago, I had met Tommy Tallarico on a few occasions. Back then, when I was getting into video game music, his advice was not to send out demos with a lot of different styles on them. At the time, I thought it was the dumbest thing I'd ever heard. Surely, I'd be more employable in the business if I could do everything? I also liked so many different kinds of music and that's what I wound up doing.

But in time, I've come to realize he was right. There is a lot of esoteric knowledge in doing a particular genre, or writing for a particular ensemble very well, and if you dedicate yourself to one, or just a couple things, and you get really good at it, you will become an expert and also develop a unique style within that. It's like AC/DC. Ultimately, only they authentically offer their now-timeless style, and it's what made them rock legends.

Probably, I think the better question is whether or not such distinction is meaningful, though.

Of course. Even in heavy metal they will apply classical melodic tropes alongside the usual metal style. So that's kind of the inverse: "High art" influence the pop stuff.

Also, a lot of the low chuggy-chuggy strings that have become popular rip from rock music

That question is potentially a powder keg

 

 

I wouldn't say that academia is anti-music now. Classical music has always -since at least the time of Haydn- been a mostly upper class form of art. We have to remember that in the classical and romantic eras, the upper middle class and upper class were considered equal to the intelligentsia of society. There's always been a sort of intellectualism and -I totally can't think of the word- snobbiness (?) within the genre itself. For instance, Le Six encountered staunch resistance at first -despite their music being tied distinctly with the tonalist tradition. I digress though.

I don't view atonal and tonal eclecticism as being all that bad. If we take the concept of lack of tonal center as the definition of atonal (which includes a wide swath of composers from Debussy to Liszt to early pre-serial Schoenberg). We have to remember, after all, that atonal composers use the same language as tonal composers.... the same twelve notes. Thus, if you want to be technical, one is a direct offshoot and reliant upon the other. There's only so many ways you can arrange twelve tones. Mind you, this isn't going to touch upon microtonal music that uses temperaments outside the tradtional, tempered twelve tone system used since the baroque era. 

Personally, I tend to subscribe to the idea of a composer's personal voice. Music, not surprisingly, activates the same areas in the brain (if not a few more) that are also activated with speech. Thus, we can safely say that music is a language in and of itself. Musical phrases are equal to sentences. Musical gestures are equal to spoken phrases and words. It is thru the act of composing that we tend dictates ideas that -to us- words themselves can't relay. Different musical genres may influence a composer's voice -but, safe to say- we can definitely still see the composer's language shine through. Stravinsky, Ravel, Brahms, Schubert, Mozart, and many other composers are good examples of this. So, yes, he was right.

I think the profundity of the last question is that what we are seeing is the mass commercialization of music lies at the center of the entire discussion. This wasn't so evident when Bernstein gave these lectures back in 1973 -which was only 23 years after the release of LP technology. There's no need for widespread eclecticism to help make classical music more marketable to the masses. For an art form that's lasted since at least the 1300s (and honestly, we could probably go much further back), I think the longevity of the music stands for itself. Music is something that's been with us since at least 70,000 BCE (yes, we have musical instruments from this far remote time in history). It will always have an audience. 

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24 minutes ago, jawoodruff said:

I wouldn't say that academia is anti-music now.

Well, the thing is, it now discourages all the concepts that made music resemble "music" for thousands of years and what was the source of much scientific study and innovation.

It does the same in visual art. A stack of pennies or a bunch of random, painted squares would never have been considered art by the elite reaching back into antiquity, and for good reason.

25 minutes ago, jawoodruff said:

Classical music has always -since at least the time of Haydn- been a mostly upper class form of art

It was a type of music that was performed and enjoyed by the elite, but in previous times, the elite strove to create beauty and a society worth living in.

The current elite do the opposite. Especially the academic elite.

26 minutes ago, jawoodruff said:

We have to remember, after all, that atonal composers use the same language as tonal composers.... the same twelve notes. Thus, if you want to be technical, one is a direct offshoot and reliant upon the other

That's not the same language. It's the same materials, but what they do with it is dramatically different.

Atonalism and serialism were about rejecting the hierarchies (which gave way to the craft of composition) that are necessary in tonal music. If you were to sit down someone at a piano who knows nothing about music, who has no knowledge of these hierachies and how to use them, only that there are 12 different notes to play with, the results the musically-ignorant man will produce are indistinguishable from the self-described "atonal composer"'s work.

Thus, to teach atonalism is to teach musical ignorance, and I would say that qualifies such teachings as being anti-music.

54 minutes ago, jawoodruff said:

There's no need for widespread eclecticism to help make classical music more marketable to the masses

True.

If something is great, it always will be.

80s rock music similarly doesn't require eclecticism to remain marketable. It endures on its own, where other eras of rock have mostly faded away.

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2 hours ago, AngelCityOutlaw said:

Well, the thing is, it now discourages all the concepts that made music resemble "music" for thousands of years and what was the source of much scientific study and innovation.

It does the same in visual art. A stack of pennies or a bunch of random, painted squares would never have been considered art by the elite reaching back into antiquity, and for good reason.

1st point I disagree with. If you listen to some of the earliest surviving works from the middle east (we have a few Hurrian melodies that exist from that time contained on cuneiform tablets) and compare it to Mozart (or Bach or Haydn or Mendellsohn) you'd first notice a starkly modern language used by the ancient Mesopotamian kingdom. We also know from the bone flute assemblages found alongside early hominins that the flutes produced music that was chromatic but what would be considered today dissonant -largely due to a different tuning system used on the flutes themselves. 

We can also take just the music from the renaissance to 1900 and point out that the music changed drastically several times within that period. Some of the contrapuntal music from the 15th and 16th century, for instance, was rife with dissonances and tonal ambiguities that would've been completely rejected just 200 years later. But this type of argument is spurious at best. Culture, after all, determines what makes music 'music' for any given person. Certainly, the anthropological understanding of music creation and perception explored and studied throughout most of the 20th century illustrates this. Different cultures held different ideas of what music can and can't be. The only real constant between differing cultures is rhythm -but even then rhythmic concepts are quite distinct in and of themselves.

2 hours ago, AngelCityOutlaw said:

It was a type of music that was performed and enjoyed by the elite, but in previous times, the elite strove to create beauty and a society worth living in.

The current elite do the opposite. Especially the academic elite.

That's not the same language. It's the same materials, but what they do with it is dramatically different.

I think it's a bit fallacious to say that the elite wanted to create a society worth living in. We definitely wouldn't have had the turmoil of the past few centuries if that were the case. Most that the elite wanted was to create a world and society that benefited themselves -often at the neglect of those that didn't have the power to govern themselves. Unrelated to music, but connected to this is the founding of America -and the irony that would later follow after. America began as a nation that rejected the concept of monarchy, unrepresentative governmental systems, and the plagues of European feudal concepts. Americans wouldn't be here today if the elite of the 18th century (the Classical period of music) were striving to create beauty and a society worth living in. Yet, thru the woes and birth pangs of empires and nations rejecting imperial ambitions thru independence, composers were busy working away in courts creating music for the elite. 

When we look at linguistics, we also see this doesn't quite work either. Take the alphabet. Each of our letters from A to Z doesn't even originate in any European country. Yet, every European language uses the alphabet (with the exception of Russian and perhaps Armenian or Georgian). Italian and German, for instance, both use this alphabet -yet neither sound similar. Same with English and Spanish. Greek and Swedish. Further, even when we look at families of languages within Europe -that hold clear connections (Italian and Spanish). These two would be a good comparison musically. Both come from Roman Latin -hence their designation as Romance Languages. They are comprised of the same materials and yet, sound so different. 

I can make a different comparison that's a little more direct. Wood, nails, panels, and concrete (harmony, melody, rhythm, and timbre) are all used to create a house (a musical work). Yet, each house (musical work) looks different and has different features. At the end, they are all houses. I feel the same is true of music. 

2 hours ago, AngelCityOutlaw said:

Atonalism and serialism were about rejecting the hierarchies (which gave way to the craft of composition) that are necessary in tonal music. If you were to sit down someone at a piano who knows nothing about music, who has no knowledge of these hierachies and how to use them, only that there are 12 different notes to play with, the results the musically-ignorant man will produce are indistinguishable from the self-described "atonal composer"'s work.

Thus, to teach atonalism is to teach musical ignorance, and I would say that qualifies such teachings as being anti-music.

Harmonic hierarchies are not what gave way to the craft of composition. For the vast majority of the western tradition harmony and harmonic hierarchy wasn't even focused on at all -with the exception of intervals that were considered to be avoided. It really wasn't until the mid to late baroque period that harmony was even looked at in depth and the early theoretical underpinnings of harmony were elaborated. Prior to this, music was considered solely on the terms of horizontal construction. This is why Bach was so important to later composers because he held onto the contrapuntal origins of music. Everyone else had moved away from this type of musical construction by the time Bach had reached his later years of life. Yet, he still toiled away writing his fugues! 

Finally, is teaching atonalism the same as teaching musical ignorance? If we do this, then the music of Satie, Debussy, Ravel, Milhaud, A few great pieces by Liszt, Scriabin, Stravinsky, and many other composers would never be taught or even acknowledged. Ironically, we can also state that such great songs and albums by many punk, heavy metal, alternative, emo, techno, and -yes- even pop genres would also be removed from those musical educations. I'm not sure about you -but I'd rather not lose some of my favorite artists over the last few decades. 

I think these types of arguments that you present here are definitely tied into this topic -and really hint at something much deeper. They speak to the whole reason I'm questioning whether eclecticism is a good move for contemporary classical music. Providing education to newer composers is important -the content of that education is even more important. Should they know about atonal music more than the tonal tradition present over the last 250 years of our art? Do we teach them about the pre-tonal period leading up to 1700? Do we only teach them the tonal tradition from 1700 to 1920? Do we teach them about musical traditions from other cultures? How do we hope to teach a composer with the eclectic arguments still occurring some 100 years later?

And this is why I posted this thread! It definitely is more than just atonal vs tonal, pop vs classical, native music vs european art music, or x vs y. 

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2 minutes ago, jawoodruff said:

I think it's a bit fallacious to say that the elite wanted to create a society worth living in.

They did. Kings and such and their families were to inherit the same realm as their subjects. It was in their interest that said realm be a good one.

All of those brilliant statues, renaissance paintings, compositions, much architecture etc. were not created by the common people, who still lived among it the same as much of the elite did.

In Sweden, there are tons of Oak tress that were planted by the Swedish monarchy. They did so with the idea that once they were grown, long after the monarchs were dead, Sweden's navy would have plenty of materials for building ships. However, by the time the trees were grown, ships were no longer made of wood.

The elite used to be, on the whole, not hostile toward the population despite what movies want us to believe. Today, they are extremely hostile.

5 minutes ago, jawoodruff said:

Americans wouldn't be here today if the elite of the 18th century (the Classical period of music) were striving to create beauty and a society worth living in.

Most people didn't support the revolution and the other thing is: America and Canada were created to be extensions of Europe; they were to bring that civilization and its aesthetics, laws, people to a new world. They did not leave England because England sucked; quite the opposite. Most everyone was of the opinion that England was a glorious, supreme empire upon which the "sun would never set".

You can still see this on the east coasts, and see as the people became gradually more rootless (and society uglier) as they went west, and most of the old guard stayed behind.

6 minutes ago, jawoodruff said:

When we look at linguistics, we also see this doesn't quite work either. Take the alphabet. Each of our letters from A to Z doesn't even originate in any European country. Yet, every European language uses the alphabet (with the exception of Russian and perhaps Armenian or Georgian). Italian and German, for instance, both use this alphabet -yet neither sound similar.

What? Our letters are Latin. That's European. Anyway, I don't think linguistics is a 1:1 comparison.

But on that note, an alphabet doesn't make the language and how it sounds. Phonetics and linguistics do.

However, it's worth pointing out that the Roman alphabet is not equally effective at conveying these different languages. The roman alphabet is awful at conveying English, for example. I feel that in that, there are musical analogies.

18 minutes ago, jawoodruff said:

Finally, is teaching atonalism the same as teaching musical ignorance?

Ja

18 minutes ago, jawoodruff said:

Ironically, we can also state that such great songs and albums by many punk, heavy metal, alternative, emo, techno, and -yes- even pop genres would also be removed from those musical educations

I don't think that follows.

Since those genres are typically not atonal

19 minutes ago, jawoodruff said:

Harmonic hierarchies are not what gave way to the craft of composition.

You cannot create what the overwhelming majority of people will refer to as music without clear hierarchy. Where there is no hierarchy, there is no coherence. Where there is no coherence, there is only noise.

Scales and modes are hierarchy, variation and repetition are hierarchies, structure/form is a hierarchy, background and foreground are hierarchies, interval scale degrees form hierarchies, chords are hierarchies, call and response is hierarchy — quite literally everything in music is a hierarchy, and in order to compose it effectively, one must understand how these work and relate to each other at a bare minimum.

The entire motivation behind modernism, which is explicitly stated, be it Schoenberg or in the visual arts, is to rid music of these hierarchies and in doing so — coherence.

This is why just about no one outside of academia will claim to like Schoenberg's noise. Because it just that: Noise. The entire philosophy behind the twelve-tone technique was to establish "equality" between all the twelve notes. Why these notes require equal attention in a piece is never elaborated upon, they just do, apparently. There is no "equality" in music.

The result is incoherence no different than if a layman had no idea what to do with the 12 notes on a keyboard. Thus I maintain: It is anti-music; it doesn't sound musical.

28 minutes ago, jawoodruff said:

Do we teach them about the pre-tonal period leading up to 1700? Do we only teach them the tonal tradition from 1700 to 1920? Do we teach them about musical traditions from other cultures? How do we hope to teach a composer with the eclectic arguments still occurring some 100 years later?

I propose:

Teach them the ideas and techniques that have proven their validity through the centuries and across cultures and genres. Teach them to write melodies, as a bare minimum.

The problem right now, is that they insist on teaching ideas basically no one likes and would not endure without the stranglehold on academics and pop culture, and dismiss all the things people do like (and like for good reasons) as "kitsch"; a fairly meaningless term that just serves as a slur for tradition.

Anyway, that's basically my thoughts on the subject.

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1 hour ago, AngelCityOutlaw said:

They did. Kings and such and their families were to inherit the same realm as their subjects. It was in their interest that said realm be a good one.

All of those brilliant statues, renaissance paintings, compositions, much architecture etc. were not created by the common people, who still lived among it the same as much of the elite did.

In Sweden, there are tons of Oak tress that were planted by the Swedish monarchy. They did so with the idea that once they were grown, long after the monarchs were dead, Sweden's navy would have plenty of materials for building ships. However, by the time the trees were grown, ships were no longer made of wood.

The elite used to be, on the whole, not hostile toward the population despite what movies want us to believe. Today, they are extremely hostile.

Most people didn't support the revolution and the other thing is: America and Canada were created to be extensions of Europe; they were to bring that civilization and its aesthetics, laws, people to a new world. They did not leave England because England sucked; quite the opposite. Most everyone was of the opinion that England was a glorious, supreme empire upon which the "sun would never set".

You can still see this on the east coasts, and see as the people became gradually more rootless (and society uglier) as they went west, and most of the old guard stayed behind.

What? Our letters are Latin. That's European. Anyway, I don't think linguistics is a 1:1 comparison.

But on that note, an alphabet doesn't make the language and how it sounds. Phonetics and linguistics do.

However, it's worth pointing out that the Roman alphabet is not equally effective at conveying these different languages. The roman alphabet is awful at conveying English, for example. I feel that in that, there are musical analogies.

Ja

I don't think that follows.

Since those genres are typically not atonal

You cannot create what the overwhelming majority of people will refer to as music without clear hierarchy. Where there is no hierarchy, there is no coherence. Where there is no coherence, there is only noise.

Scales and modes are hierarchy, variation and repetition are hierarchies, structure/form is a hierarchy, background and foreground are hierarchies, interval scale degrees form hierarchies, chords are hierarchies, call and response is hierarchy — quite literally everything in music is a hierarchy, and in order to compose it effectively, one must understand how these work and relate to each other at a bare minimum.

The entire motivation behind modernism, which is explicitly stated, be it Schoenberg or in the visual arts, is to rid music of these hierarchies and in doing so — coherence.

This is why just about no one outside of academia will claim to like Schoenberg's noise. Because it just that: Noise. The entire philosophy behind the twelve-tone technique was to establish "equality" between all the twelve notes. Why these notes require equal attention in a piece is never elaborated upon, they just do, apparently. There is no "equality" in music.

The result is incoherence no different than if a layman had no idea what to do with the 12 notes on a keyboard. Thus I maintain: It is anti-music; it doesn't sound musical.

I propose:

Teach them the ideas and techniques that have proven their validity through the centuries and across cultures and genres. Teach them to write melodies, as a bare minimum.

The problem right now, is that they insist on teaching ideas basically no one likes and would not endure without the stranglehold on academics and pop culture, and dismiss all the things people do like (and like for good reasons) as "kitsch"; a fairly meaningless term that just serves as a slur for tradition.

Anyway, that's basically my thoughts on the subject.

 

Rome didn't invent the alphabet -nor did they revolutionize or add anything new to it. The alphabet they received came from the Greeks. The Greeks got the alphabet from the Pheonicians -a semitic people from the land of Canaan (who ironically founded the very Carthage the Romans fought the Punic wars against). An alphabet very much has a lot to do with a spoken language and how it's transcribed into writing. Just like with music. Very few musicologists and linguists would argue that music and linguistics are far removed from each other. The two are nearly identical in how they register in the brain -thus, for the sakes of anything else, music is a type of language and one that has been with our species for hundreds of thousands of years.

Most colonial Americans wanted a separation from England due to taxation. It wasn't a separation that was spearheaded by a small group of individuals who didn't have any sort of local backing from other colonists. Quite the contrary. The American colonies were very much eager to separate from England. There weren't as many loyalists as Hollywood would have you believe. 

In terms of hierarchy.....

A form -in and of itself- has no hierarchical structure inherent outside what the composer deems necessary. You don't HAVE to do a transition. You don't HAVE to move the music into a harmonic area. The fascinating thing about Sonata form, for instance, is that no composer directly followed the supposed formula for it... ever! One form or structure isn't better than any other. Background and foreground aren't hierarchical either. These are audible phenom that can be created through a multitude of different means. 

Mind you, I don't compose serial music. I'm not a big fan of it myself. I think it's cold mathematical music myself -with some artistic touchups from a few composers. I'm more of a realist. I'm just going to write music that I think sounds good and fits what I hear. I think from an educational standpoint, that's what we need to teach young composers more than anything. There's no formula to composing -nor should we try to stick to or create an aesthetical style across the board. That's just as bad as throwing the sink at a young student. The tradition that those on one side of the split really, if you look at the music repertoire, really doesn't exist for more than a century and a half out of the last 500 years of our recorded knowledge of it. That kind of speaks for itself. The worst thing musicians and composers did was to let mathematical theorists come in and try to 'organize' the constructs we work with. 

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1 hour ago, jawoodruff said:

Harmonic hierarchies are not what gave way to the craft of composition.

Actually that is the development throughout history. It's basically a history throughout out the overtone series: First octaves, then parallel organum in fifths, then use of imperfect consonance and functional harmony, dissonance and atonality. It's not the only way of the craft but it's a very important way since overtone series is inside every one of us. A really don't think it's a coincidence with the development of tonal music together with that of humanism , science and enlightenment. Just like post tonal music with modernism and nowadays with post modernism.

Culture is what the elite shaped most. Folk elements do enter to it, but in history it's mostly adapted by the elite, but not brought by the folk themselves. 

2 hours ago, jawoodruff said:

I can make a different comparison that's a little more direct. Wood, nails, panels, and concrete (harmony, melody, rhythm, and timbre) are all used to create a house (a musical work). Yet, each house (musical work) looks different and has different features. At the end, they are all houses. I feel the same is true of music. 

The musical instinct is common among all peoples, just like the language instinct by Chomsky and Pinker. But how to fulfill that instinct is different thing. That's there's cultural difference: each culture sees within its telescope of truth even it's the same truth. 

2 hours ago, jawoodruff said:

Finally, is teaching atonalism the same as teaching musical ignorance? If we do this, then the music of Satie, Debussy, Ravel, Milhaud, A few great pieces by Liszt, Scriabin, Stravinsky, and many other composers would never be taught or even acknowledged. Ironically, we can also state that such great songs and albums by many punk, heavy metal, alternative, emo, techno, and -yes- even pop genres would also be removed from those musical educations. I'm not sure about you -but I'd rather not lose some of my favorite artists over the last few decades. 

I think this goes too far. I honestly don't like serialism only, since it puts intellect as the utmost criteria of good music when no one can hear about the tone rows that only theorists are passionate about. I don't like those false principles which can be only analyzed, not heard and felt.

2 hours ago, jawoodruff said:

Providing education to newer composers is important -the content of that education is even more important. Should they know about atonal music more than the tonal tradition present over the last 250 years of our art? Do we teach them about the pre-tonal period leading up to 1700? Do we only teach them the tonal tradition from 1700 to 1920? Do we teach them about musical traditions from other cultures? How do we hope to teach a composer with the eclectic arguments still occurring some 100 years later?

We should all know about the music history. I think counterpoint and harmony are the basics. Others, let the students explore themselves.

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14 minutes ago, jawoodruff said:

A form -in and of itself- has no hierarchical structure inherent outside what the composer deems necessary. You don't HAVE to do a transition. You don't HAVE to move the music into a harmonic area. The fascinating thing about Sonata form, for instance, is that no composer directly followed the supposed formula for it... ever! One form or structure isn't better than any other. Background and foreground aren't hierarchical either. These are audible phenom that can be created through a multitude of different means. 

But you have to do these if you want to make your music more reasonable or affective. Sonata form or any other form is only paradigm to be learnt but has to be executed by the Composer himself. You can see how different Beethoven and Schubert use it, despite they lived in the same period. But certain things have to be followed to achieve creativity. Freedom without rules is useless and meaningless. Composers try to create hierarchy as much as possible. Why not also include them in formal element?

 

21 minutes ago, jawoodruff said:

The worst thing musicians and composers did was to let mathematical theorists come in and try to 'organize' the constructs we work with.

Definitely, but you also need them to organize and analyze for us. That cannot be ignored. Fux's treatise can be considered as mathematical theorist of his time but it's crucial to the development of counterpoint. It also helps us learn counterpoint easier. How to use it in our works, that's a different thing. Just don't treat the treatises dogmatically would be fine.

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9 minutes ago, Henry Ng Tsz Kiu said:

Actually that is the development throughout history. It's basically a history throughout out the overtone series: First octaves, then parallel organum in fifths, then use of imperfect consonance and functional harmony, dissonance and atonality. It's not the only way of the craft but it's a very important way since overtone series is inside every one of us. A really don't think it's a coincidence with the development of tonal music together with that of humanism , science and enlightenment. Just like post tonal music with modernism and nowadays with post modernism.

Ironically, yes. And that's what Bernstein points out in this lecture series. That each step of development in the western world mirrors this exact progression. It'd be interesting to see what would have happened if music stuck with the contrapuntal nature prevalent prior to the early Baroque period. Those develops certainly would have occurred naturally. Imagine what the music would've been like!

11 minutes ago, Henry Ng Tsz Kiu said:

I think this goes too far. I honestly don't like serialism only, since it puts intellect as the utmost criteria of good music when no one can hear about the tone rows that only theorists are passionate about. I don't like those false principles which can be only analyzed, not heard and felt.

We should all know about the music history. I think counterpoint and harmony are the basics. Others, let the students explore themselves.

My point in removing so much music is that, surprisingly, there are quite a few well loved pieces of music (both classical and pop) that do not rely on Common Practice Harmonic Theory. And it does go to far. 

I also totally agree with you regarding total serialism. I've tried composing pieces like this -and I have good ears that I use regularly to evaluate my compositions- I don't have the patience when the result is something to be desired. The gestalt understanding of music and human perception definitely does have a big point when it comes to this type of topic: we were evolved to follow patterns and the like. That's what most serialists don't understand sadly. 

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18 minutes ago, jawoodruff said:

Rome didn't invent the alphabet -nor did they revolutionize or add anything new to it. The alphabet they received came from the Greeks

Greece is still Europe. Just because you can theoretically say that "X has it's possible progenitors somewhere else" doesn't mean you didn't invent anything. The Greeks invented basically everything noteworthy in antiquity.

Also my people, had their own alphabet before we had the Roman alphabet.

25 minutes ago, jawoodruff said:

An alphabet very much has a lot to do with a spoken language

Most people were illiterate for centuries. You can speak just fine and have an advanced vocabulary without knowing how to spell.

The English language is garbage in the Roman alphabet we're using, but it suits German much better. In English, you have to know how every word is spelled ahead of time, and there is minimal logic or relation to phonetics. "Money" and "Funny" are pronounced the same, but spelled entirely different. "Money" and "Phoney" are spelled nearly the same, but pronounced totally differently. Did I say "reed" or "red"? You have no idea what "read" is supposed to sound like on its own.

22 minutes ago, jawoodruff said:

Most colonial Americans wanted a separation from England due to taxation. It wasn't a separation that was spearheaded by a small group of individuals who didn't have any sort of local backing from other colonists. Quite the contrary. The American colonies were very much eager to separate from England. There weren't as many loyalists as Hollywood would have you believe. 

No more than 45% of colonists supported the war.

https://www.rochester.edu/newscenter/three-things-you-didnt-know-about-the-american-revolution/

29 minutes ago, jawoodruff said:

A form -in and of itself- has no hierarchical structure inherent outside what the composer deems necessary. You don't HAVE to do a transition. You don't HAVE to move the music into a harmonic area.

You don't "have" to do anything.

There are things that you should do, though. You don't have to have any melody. You could just have a drone if you want.

But you probably shouldn't do that if you want anyone to listen to, and be engaged and inspired by your music.

15 minutes ago, jawoodruff said:

The gestalt understanding of music and human perception definitely does have a big point when it comes to this type of topic: we were evolved to follow patterns and the like. That's what most serialists don't understand sadly. 

 

16 minutes ago, Henry Ng Tsz Kiu said:

Freedom without rules is useless and meaningless

It goes back to what I said earlier, I think.

The fundamental difference between serialists/modernists and tonal/traditionalists is that the latter is concerned with selecting for things that are directly related to how music sounds and creating something satisfying to listen to: Which is the point of music as much as visual beauty is the point of art.

The former school rejects that this is the point at all, and instead argues that abstract concepts that are not related to the actual experience of listening to music are more important — all philosophies like this are ultimately a dead-end.

That is why I say: Teach them the traditionalist and tonal schools of thought; there is a wide, eclectic blend there. The classical era different from the romantic eras, which differed from the baroque and renaissance period, which differ still from mid-late 20th century tonal styles.

Whereas modernism and its atonal offspring in music have remained indistinguishable in 2023 as they did from their earliest days in 1903.

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6 minutes ago, AngelCityOutlaw said:

 

Most people were illiterate for centuries. You can speak just fine and have an advanced vocabulary without knowing how to spell.

The English language is garbage in the Roman alphabet we're using, but it suits German much better. In English, you have to know how every word is spelled ahead of time, and there is minimal logic or relation to phonetics. "Money" and "Funny" are pronounced the same, but spelled entirely different. "Money" and "Phoney" are spelled nearly the same, but pronounced totally differently. Did I say "reed" or "red"? You have no idea what "read" is supposed to sound like on its own.

That's because the English language isn't a romance language... it's a germanic language. We also have all these other words because England was invaded by the Normans in 1066 and it has many borrowed words from this event. We also have borrowed words from the many colonies England held over it's imperial period. And again, the Greeks didn't invent the alphabet. They adapted it from the Pheonicians. 

9 minutes ago, AngelCityOutlaw said:

The fundamental difference between serialists/modernists and tonal/traditionalists is that the latter is concerned with selecting for things that are directly related to how music sounds and creating something satisfying to listen to: Which is the point of music as much as visual beauty is the point of art.

The former school rejects that this is the point at all, and instead argues that abstract concepts that are not related to the actual experience of listening to music are more important — all philosophies like this are ultimately a dead-end.

That is why I say: Teach them the traditionalist and tonal schools of thought; there is a wide, eclectic blend there. The classical era different from the romantic eras, which differed from the baroque and renaissance period, which differ still from mid-late 20th century tonal styles.

Whereas modernism and its atonal offspring in music have remained indistinguishable in 2023 as they did from their earliest days in 1903.

Strange. I agree with some of what you say here -but it's hard to follow you totally with your extremely narrow. negative view of music. For instance, both camps are concerned with selecting for things directly related to how music sounds and create what they consider satisfying music to listen to. Honestly. This argument doesn't make any sense at all really. For instance, look at the many... many composers from the classical and romantic eras whose music is considered atrocious and not included in the performed repertoire. There's certainly hundreds if not thousands. Same is true of those modern composers who wrote accessible music that still totally sucked. It's all a matter of personal preference and perception. Hence why this argument wasn't about atonal vs tonal in the beginning. But instead on whether increased eclecticism is positive or not.

What abstract concepts? What the serialists failed to realize is that there has to be a recognizable pattern and a means to encourage excitement and anticipation in music. This can be achieved without reliance on common practice harmony -as countless musical traditions across the world can attest to. Many modernists outside the influence of Schoenberg realized this -hence why we do have modern aesthetics that have achieved a great deal of popularity (Stravinsky being one of the most well known examples). 

==================

That said, I'm not sure why the negative view of modern music. Serial music today isn't as big as it was in the latter half of the 20th century. Most composers moved on from it into new avenues of expression. It has still left an indelible mark on music -whether that mark is positive or negative is still to be ascertained. I suppose I can't say anything though, I'm not a big fan of many extended performance techniques. 

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19 minutes ago, jawoodruff said:

But instead on whether increased eclecticism is positive or not.

The only legitimate argument I can think of to say that increased eclecticism, in a general sense, is bad would be that jack of all trades are typically masters of none. As I said in my first post.

Other than that, I don't really know what else there is to say about it.

22 minutes ago, jawoodruff said:

For instance, both camps are concerned with selecting for things directly related to how music sounds and create what they consider satisfying music to listen to

The mistake that you are making, is the assumption that the modernists were actually acting in good faith and were at all concerned with making good music and art rather than tearing down centuries of western music tradition and standards because they hated it and sought to pervert and devalue it.

24 minutes ago, jawoodruff said:

What abstract concepts?

Whenever you hear someone talking about what it "means", you are dealing in abstract concepts that have no relevance to music.

Until recently, if you consider 100 years recent, it was understood that music is about creating something that is aesthetic with sound and taps into what people love about music on a primal level. The melody, form, rhythm, harmony. The science and craft of tonal music, and its various styles and development are all directed at achieving that goal and tapping into these instincts. How well a piece achieve this goal and beauty is the criteria for which it is good.

The Schoenberg school and its descendants and adjacent philosophy argue that this is not important; what the music "means" and other abstract concepts and descriptions they apply to it, usually within an ultra-liberal political framework and which have nothing to do with actually listening to the music, is the criteria for which it is said to be good or bad.

You are right in your OP when you said "We see this split today", because music that is being created today, ultimately shares the blood of one school of thought or the other.

What I am saying, in regard to eclecticism and Bernstein's idea that the two schools of the time would lead to a greater amount of eclecticism, is that the school of thought descended from atonality and abstract conceptualism are a BAD thing, and should be disregarded, especially in any serious academic study of music that is drawing inspiration from a multitude of sources. They will teach you how to propagandize the orchestra and have political opinions, but teach you precious little about composing anything anyone will care about and find aesthetic.

There is, outside of academia, an eclectic blend of styles both in the pop world and classically-inspired world. But this was inevitable anyway due to technology and the myriad of new genres that came to exist in the 20th century.

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5 hours ago, AngelCityOutlaw said:

Until recently, if you consider 100 years recent, it was understood that music is about creating something that is aesthetic with sound and taps into what people love about music on a primal level. The melody, form, rhythm, harmony. The science and craft of tonal music, and its various styles and development are all directed at achieving that goal and tapping into these instincts. How well a piece achieve this goal and beauty is the criteria for which it is good.

I think this linkage of ideas with music comes from the trend of programmatic music: Liszt's tone poems and Wagner's leitmotif all put ideas with music. Or in the religious music and word painting. But the composers cared for the aesthetic aspect of music, the modernist, on the other hand, put more time on the idea. I do think it's the drawback of contemporary art: The aesthetic content of the art is more and more replaced by the idea and interpretation. I always think that, if I want idea, why don't I read poems, novels and essays?! The crucial thing of art is to create high standards of aesthetics, then is to use that beauty to bring out the idealistic truth, but not the other way round. Those music which promotes propaganda is bullshit, forgive my language.

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On 1/23/2023 at 10:42 PM, jawoodruff said:

We have to remember, after all, that atonal composers use the same language as tonal composers.... the same twelve notes.

Yes, important to recognise the linguistic properties of music - well, any sound really, linguistic being more appropriately applied to music than the many aural stimuli that assail us day and sometimes night, which nonetheless usually have some meaning. (It's about meaning which places it in the realm of semiotics.) But I can't agree that because atonal composers use the same 12 notes - in some ways the 'letters' of the alphabet, that they conform to a language - and certainly not the same language as the tonalists. Rather more comes into the tonal language - phrasing, the syntax, progression, intervals, rhythmic construction, dynamics, harmonic rhythm, selective repetition, all of which have been wired into our "minds" for a long time... which doesn't mean every event has to conform. Surprises - events outside the expected - are sometimes delightful, sometimes not.

But it comes down to familiarity and expectation. Which comes down to communication and information theory. When I listen to a "verbal" programme I'd tune into one in English. I may not understand all the words, I may not agree with the presenter's viewpoint or have difficulty with concepts at the outset. But I can get the gist. I know enough of the language and am familiar with its delivery. Not so if it was transmitted in a language I can't speak - or an unfamiliar topic about which my vocabulary is non-existent. I might like the sound of it, sense musical outlines in the undulations of the voice but I wouldn't understand much of what was being said.

Same with music that deviates too far from traditional tonality that the listener can no longer get the gist. It's where Schönberg fell flat. Thinking that he could create a new language which magically would be understood by a universal audience. Only Alban Berg who used the system at the time seemed to appreciate that music was the transmitter and the audience, the receiver. To me, Berg did the 'thinking through' at which Schönberg failed. Perhaps if Schönberg's ideas had been introduced more gently  reception might have been different. And so with pure atonality (that which avoids key centres at all cost). It conforms to no musically linguistic patterns. It can have rules but in the absence of familiar linguistics it so far remains the province of individual composers. 

The listener basics are that one learns to listen without expectations. That isn't always easy. What the composer must do is provide means so that listeners have events on which to anchor, so they can reference what's happening at one moment to the next. Unlike serial music, atonal can be approached more gently - more tonal centres - tempi that allow acclimatisation - and gradually build on that.

The acceptance of recent, chromatic music suggests that it is starting to enter listeners' repertoire so it's important not to shock them which will simply lead to dismissal. 

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On 1/22/2023 at 7:10 PM, jawoodruff said:

To sum it up: most composers see a dichotomy of crisis within the 20th century that has continued into the 21st century. As Bernstein states within these lectures, this led to a split in aesthetics with Stravinsky on one side and Schoenberg on the other. We see this split today (despite Stravinsky's later adoption of serial technique late in his life). Bernstein also, rightly, predicts an 'age of eclecticism' in music. His prediction -which does appear to have come true- isn't coupled with any discussion of whether it is a positive or negative addition to our high art form. 

Here's the link

Let the discussion begin!

For ease of reference, I thought I would paste what Wikipedia says about musical eclecticism here: 

In music theory and music criticism, eclecticism refers to the use of diverse styles, either distinct from the background of an artist using them, or from culturally bygone eras and movements. The term can be used to describe the music of composers who combine multiple styles of composition; an example would be a composer using a whole tone scale variant of a folk song in a pentatonic scale over a chromatic counterpoint, or a tertian arpeggiating melody over quartal or secundal harmonies. Eclecticism can also occur through quotations, whether of a style, direct quotations of folk songs/variations of them—for example, in Mahler's Symphony No. 1—or direct quotations of other composers, for example in Berio's Sinfonia.

Unfortunately, I can't speak much to the issue personally, as my involvement in the academic music setting is auxiliary at best. From my limited experience, it does seem that care is taken to expose students to various schools of musical thought. I've been to several local concerts featuring the music of university students... some of them are heavily influenced by popular music, some are largely experimental (all that extended technique stuff), none of them are serialist, and very few of them are good. But this is a public university, not a conservatory, and I'm sure its mindset of "anyone can make music" waters down the end product.

I don't think it's worthwhile to describe modern "classical" music as inherently good or bad... it simply is. And what it has become is staggeringly complex; this eclecticism has produced a vast array of styles and expression, and there is surely something for everyone out there. For example, I love the sound of quartal harmonies. I'm quite hard-pressed to find any such music before the early 20th century. On the contrary, admirers of tertian harmony might find the music of the 20th century much to their disliking. However, nowadays classical music has become a glove that fits most. I can find modern composers who use exclusively quartal harmonies, as well as those who use tertian harmonies (perhaps even in a Neoclassical or Neobaroque style).

Time will tell whether this eclecticism is to our craft's benefit or detriment. 

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11 hours ago, Quinn said:

Yes, important to recognise the linguistic properties of music - well, any sound really, linguistic being more appropriately applied to music than the many aural stimuli that assail us day and sometimes night, which nonetheless usually have some meaning. (It's about meaning which places it in the realm of semiotics.) But I can't agree that because atonal composers use the same 12 notes - in some ways the 'letters' of the alphabet, that they conform to a language - and certainly not the same language as the tonalists. Rather more comes into the tonal language - phrasing, the syntax, progression, intervals, rhythmic construction, dynamics, harmonic rhythm, selective repetition, all of which have been wired into our "minds" for a long time... which doesn't mean every event has to conform. Surprises - events outside the expected - are sometimes delightful, sometimes not.

.........

Same with music that deviates too far from traditional tonality that the listener can no longer get the gist. It's where Schönberg fell flat. Thinking that he could create a new language which magically would be understood by a universal audience. Only Alban Berg who used the system at the time seemed to appreciate that music was the transmitter and the audience, the receiver. To me, Berg did the 'thinking through' at which Schönberg failed. Perhaps if Schönberg's ideas had been introduced more gently  reception might have been different. And so with pure atonality (that which avoids key centres at all cost). It conforms to no musically linguistic patterns. It can have rules but in the absence of familiar linguistics it so far remains the province of individual composers. 

Quinn,

I think you nailed the argument right here and really brought out what I was getting at with the linguistic comparisons. Those twelve notes are the same language -just with the rules for compiling that language into grammatically understood structures was removed totally and replaced with an artificial reconstruction. Ironically, that reconstruction failed to take the organic evolution of that alphabet into account -as well as human perception of that account. I totally agree with you on the idea that Schoenberg failed when putting his system together. I suppose that's why that system feels cold and mathematical when I attempt to compose in it. 

-----

That said, I think this is why I can't also get behind the bandwagon of eclecticism. I feel that perhaps going in the other direction -without first correcting the mistakes of our forebears- puts all of the events of the 20th and early 21st centuries into a sort of twilight zone that we can't escape. Whether we like it or not... we still have the music of Stockhausen, Xenakis, Berio, Boulez, Carter, and many other composers who have contributed to the evolution of our art. Instead of incorporating more into it -I feel that music should be reconsolidated to account for all of this. To me, eclecticism seems to do no more than what the recording industry did- making music solely for market sales. 

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52 minutes ago, jawoodruff said:

That said, I think this is why I can't also get behind the bandwagon of eclecticism. I feel that perhaps going in the other direction -without first correcting the mistakes of our forebears- puts all of the events of the 20th and early 21st centuries into a sort of twilight zone that we can't escape. Whether we like it or not... we still have the music of Stockhausen, Xenakis, Berio, Boulez, Carter, and many other composers who have contributed to the evolution of our art. Instead of incorporating more into it -I feel that music should be reconsolidated to account for all of this. To me, eclecticism seems to do no more than what the recording industry did- making music solely for market sales. 

But do you think the emergence of eclecticism is due to the increase of the number of people who can compose? Before 20th century the number of composers are way fewer than now, and the occupation of composer doesn't even appear in many cultures. Being a composers is a conscious and culture one. With the globalization and more advanced education throughout the world, more composers emerged from different cultures and that's why more styles appear. 

Eclecticism also occurs with the increasing diversity and complexity of human mind in these two centuries. For example in the medieval period everyone just has one official idea which is predominant Christian, that's why medieval music tends to be much less diversified than music now with wide diversity of national, philosophical and cultural value.

I think to reconsolidate the music is to go to back to the core of our heart and soul, if it sounds stupid to say so. Your music can be as diversified as it can, but it must tell what the heart feels. I think it's a great thing for composers to get to know as many styles as he can, if this doesn't prevent what he wants to express.

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1 hour ago, jawoodruff said:

I think you nailed the argument right here and really brought out what I was getting at with the linguistic comparisons. Those twelve notes are the same language -just with the rules for compiling that language into grammatically understood structures was removed totally and replaced with an artificial reconstruction. Ironically, that reconstruction failed to take the organic evolution of that alphabet into account -as well as human perception of that account. I totally agree with you on the idea that Schoenberg failed when putting his system together. I suppose that's why that system feels cold and mathematical when I attempt to compose in it. 

For the comparison of language with music, it may be right within the western music tradition. But what about different languages? Within the 26 alphabets you can use it with different syntax, grammar e.t.c to represent the difference of tonal of atonal music. But if there are different languages like Chinese which is not Indo-European but Sino-Tibetan? Despite the difference in the language and linguistic content, what's expressed behind it should be the same, which is the musical instinct, just as language instinct in the case of language.

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