IN the second and third decades of our century, the trend of music has been very definitely in the direction of modernism. The old harmonies do not seem to suffice. Debussy's whole-tone scale, which appealed to him, led other composers to adopt whatever effects they pleased in using harmony or melody. The result has been in some ways a broadening of the limits of musical expression; but there is now room for so many individual styles that the results are sometimes a little chaotic.
For piano, the modernist works are extremely interesting and effective. They are mostly programme pieces, but the composers treat these with skill and expressive power. Perhaps this is because the piano is a monochrome instrument, and the composers devote the time saved from orchestration to thinking up interesting ideas.
In the orchestral field, however, one may not give such unstinted praise, despite many beautiful works. The variety of instrumental color and the almost infinite possibilities of combination have led some of the modernists to overemphasize tone-color, without giving enough thought to the musical material. The simple expedient of arranging such works for piano will usually show whether the contents are interesting or not. Another action would also indicate how little the musical content matters in the more radical works; for if one could privately erase certain notes of the score and write others in at random, the public, and perhaps even the composer himself, would not realize that any alteration had been made. The more radical of the modern works may therefore be regarded as studies in orchestration, or in new harmonic or melodic effects; but they are not always studies in producing beautiful or well-balanced music. Those that do satisfy the hearer's ideas of musical beauty are the works that are least radical, that depart least from the melodic and harmonic ideas of previous schools.
Certain of the more advanced modernist works seem to show
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Publication information: Book title: The Book of Musical Knowledge:The History, Technique, and Appreciation of Music, Together with Lives of the Great Composers, for Music-Lovers, Students and Teachers. Edition: Enlarged. Contributors: Arthur Elson - Author. Publisher: Houghton Mifflin. Place of publication: New York. Publication year: 1927. Page number: 538.
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