Roots of the Classical: The Popular Origins of Western Music

By Peter Van Der Merwe | Go to book overview

Epilogue

It is said that all systems contain the seeds of their own destruction. As I write these words, peering into the vast, empty abyss of the twentieth-first century, Western classical music would seem to be a case in point. One way of grasping the full measure of its decline is to make a list of those twentieth-century works that are both genuinely modern and genuinely popular. This excludes two important classes of composition: on the one hand, those that make use of old or folk music, such as Vaughan Williams's Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis, Respighi's Ancient Airs and Dances, Copland's Appalachian Spring, or Britten's Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra; on the other, the dubious category of the 'modern but not too modern', the kind of thing that gets put on between, say, the 'Hebrides' Overture and Beethoven's Fifth Symphony, in the hope of not frightening the public away. Bartók's Concerto for Orchestra is perhaps an example.

Setting aside these two categories, what is left? In Chapter 15, I mentioned some of the works composed in or just before 1900: Puccini's Tosca, Mahler's Fourth Symphony, Sibelius's Finlandia, Rimsky-Korsakov's 'Flight of the Bumble Bee', and so on. Clearly, there is little here to frighten the concert-goer, and during the next two decades music of a similar broad appeal continued to be composed. The following list, though far from complete, is probably a fair sample:

1901–1910:

Elgar, 'Cockaigne' Overture (1901)

Rachmaninov, Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor (1901)

Ravel, String Quartet in F (1902)

Sibelius, Symphony No. 2 in D (1902)

Mahler, Symphony No. 5 (1902)

Sibelius, Violin Concerto (1903)

Puccini, Madam Butterfly (1904)

Debussy, La Mer (1905)

Elgar, Introduction and Allegro for Strings (1905)

Strauss, Salome (1905)

Sibelius, Symphony No. 3 in C (1907)

-461-

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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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