Roots of the Classical: The Popular Origins of Western Music

By Peter Van Der Merwe | Go to book overview

16 The Popular Style

Extraordinary how potent cheap music is.

Noel Coward, Private Lives1


I. THE LATE VERNACULAR

Throughout the alarms and excursions of early Modernism, Western popular music continued undisturbed on its way. Though already a separate world from 'serious' or 'classical' music—terms then coming into common use—it was still, in essentials, a late version of the nineteenth-century vernacular. This point needs emphasizing. So stunning has the impact of jazz, blues, and other Afro-American genres been that they have almost obscured the native European strain, which in fact continued to dominate Western popular music till the early 1950s, developing all the time but never quite cutting itself off from its Italian and central European roots. With a light Afro-American tinge, it is the musical language of Cole Porter, George Gershwin, Richard Rodgers, Harry Warren, and the other great songwriters of the 1920s and 1930s. Without even that admixture, it survived in continental Europe well into the second half of the century, attaining perhaps its greatest heights in French chansons such as 'J'attendrais', 'La Vie en rose', or 'Non, je ne regrette rien', none of which owe anything obvious to the United States.2

In any case, 'Afro-American' music was itself extremely hybrid, ranging all the way from the near-African to the near-European; and it was inevitably the European end that had most impact on middle-class taste. If this last chapter concentrates on American developments, it should never be forgotten that they took place in a European setting.


The European background

In essence, the musical vernacular of the early twentieth century is that of the late nineteenth century intensified. Melody grows yet more independent of the Bass,

1 Act I, original version. The first word was later altered to the less Cowardly 'Strange'.

2 'J'attandrai' was composed by Dino Olivieri in 1938, to words by Louis Poterat; 'La Vie en rose' by
Louiguy (pseudonym of Louis Guillaume, originally Luis Guglielmi) in 1946, to words by Edith Piaf;
'Non, je ne regrette rien', by Charles Dumont in 1960, to words by Michel Vaucaire.

-426-

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Roots of the Classical: The Popular Origins of Western Music
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Preface v
  • Acknowledgements vii
  • Contents ix
  • List of Figures xi
  • A Note on Terminology and Notation xii
  • A Note on the Musical Examples xvi
  • Abbreviations xviii
  • Introduction 1
  • Part One - The Melodic Foundations 5
  • 1: The Subtle Mathematics of Music 7
  • 2: The Ramellian Paradigm 19
  • 3: The Children's Chant 27
  • 4: The Pentatonic Scale 38
  • Part Two - The Harmonic Revolution 51
  • 5: Primitive Harmony 53
  • 6: The Discovery of Tonality 66
  • 7: Rivals to Tonality 86
  • 8: Dissonance and Discord 106
  • 9: The Evolution of Tonality 116
  • Part Three - The Melodic Counter-Revolution 129
  • 10: The Rude, the Vulgar, and the Polite 131
  • 11: The Debt to the East 144
  • 12: The Dances of Central Europe 231
  • 13: The Nineteenth–century Vernacular 271
  • 14: Romanticism 339
  • 15: Modernism 376
  • 16: The Popular Style 426
  • Epilogue 461
  • List of Musical Examples 467
  • Glossary 485
  • Bibliography 502
  • Index 515
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