An Introduction to Twentieth Century Music

By Peter S. Hansen | Go to book overview

CHAPTER VI
EXPERIMENTS IN MUSIC

Kill the nineteenth century dead! GERTRUDE STEIN

Each of the composers already discussed believed, to some extent, that the musical resources of the past were exhausted and that the twentieth century must find a new vocabulary and syntax. The compositions of Debussy and Stravinsky, and of Ives and Schoenberg, suggested some of the directions in which music might progress.

These recommendations were modest, however, compared to the plan of some composers who had a simple and drastic suggestion--to scrap all of the music of the past and start again with a new medium for sound-- noise. This truly radical group argued that the time had come when the familiar and traditional material of music-- "musical" tones produced by the human voice and instruments-was no longer capable of expressing man's feelings and emotions. "We are living in a new world," they said, "Let us develop a musical style that is equally new." Their contemporaries dismissed them as being publicity-seeking lunatics, but curiously enough, time has proved that there was merit in some of their ideas. Avant-garde music of the second half of the century is once again exploring these areas. These experiments will be discussed under noise music or microtonal music. While the latter developed mainly after 1914, germinal ideas appeared before then.

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