Twentieth Century Music: How it Developed, How to Listen to It

By Marion Bauer | Go to book overview

CHAPTER I
THE ART OF LISTENING: YESTERDAY AND TODAY

THE person whose listening experience is bounded on the south by Bach and Händel and on the north by Wagner and Brahms, will have to cover considerable ground to reach present-day frontiers. To thrust the contemporary, dissonant, apparently chaotic music upon such an auditor would probably create disagreeable impressions and rebellious reactions. The road must be taken gradually and the new country crossed by easy stages. Then it will be discovered that we are not in a musical No Man's Land, but have passed through rapidly changing scenery which, however, forms a continuous trail blazed by twentieth century pioneers. "No one can promise that the scenery will be appreciated along the way. Traveling is neither in a stage-coach, a victoria, nor by bicycle, but by automobile or airplane. An airplane consciousness is an indispensable adjunct for the appreciation and understanding of twentieth century art." ( Music Through the Ages by Marion Bauer and Ethel Peyser.)

What do you hear when you listen to music? Are you a heart- listener, a head-listener, or merely a foot-listener? In other words, does music appeal to your emotions, your intellect, or does it arouse in you only a response to rhythm?

Those who have not been trained to concentrate actually hear a very small proportion of the music to which they listen. They get the outer crust of the rhythmic and melodic outlines, with a harmonic background unconsciously included. Many of them "know nothing about music but know what they like." No problem is presented in compositions to which the listener is accustomed, nor in unfamiliar works written in familiar idioms. But what happens when the music steps out of this sphere? He hears something intangible, incomprehensible, unpleasant. He grasps in vain for some familiar bit of rhythm, harmony or melody. He is disturbed

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