Tag Archives: 20th- and 21st-century music

John Corigliano on new-music audiences

In a 2004 interview, John Corigliano noted that while audiences for most genres are always interested in new works, “new music is seen as a threat. It’s considered something that is above them and beyond them and in which they cannot be participants.”

“We have to take a little bit of the blame…at a certain point when you’re not talking to people and they know you’re not talking to them, they go away.”

“I trace this back to the birth of romanticism…all of a sudden, this virtue of incomprehensibility sprung up. I am incomprehensible because my message is so much more complex and morally stronger than the message of those people who were just speaking to you that you can understand. Therefore, you shouldn’t understand me. But you should worship me and come to these concerts. Well, OK, but composers are not gods, they’re people. And this has been the most destructive thing to art I have ever seen, art ruining art.”

“Romanticism ruined the 20th century as far as I’m concerned, and we have to get rid of it in the 21st. What it did was it gave us the egocentric idea of the artist-god and the audience-worshipper—the non-communication that that means—and bathed us in this until finally the audience was alienated by this and left like they leave churches. Now we want to win them back.”

“I think all composers should strive, if possible, to stand on a stage and to speak to an audience. I have found that the minute you say three words, whatever they are, and you’re friendly and warm to them, they’re so on your side…all of a sudden, they’re thinking of you as a human being in their society who is writing music that could speak to them.”

Quoted in “The gospel according to John Corigliano” by Frank J. Oteri (NewMusicBox 1 February 2005.

Today is Corigliano’s 80th birthday! Below, Teresa Stratas as Marie Antoinette in Corigliano’s The ghosts of Versailles.

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Filed under 20th- and 21st-century music, Reception

Èjzenštejn, sound, and time

Sergej Mihailovič Èjzenštejn’s collaborations with Prokof’ev, along with his essays from the same period, illuminate the director’s reconceptualization of his editing practices in relation to the possibilities offered by synchronized sound.

Throughout his career, Èjzenštejn sought to understand rhythm and tempo in their psychological dimension: How fast do things seem to be going? What formal parameters or systems affect our sense of rhythm and of pace? These questions continued to inform his sound films, and shaped his work with Prokof’ev in fundamental ways.

This according to “A lesson with Eisenstein: Rhythm and pacing in Ivan the Terrible, part I” by Lea Jacobs (Music and the moving image V/1 [spring 2012] pp. 24–46). This journal, along with many others, is covered in our new RILM Abstracts of Music Literature with Full Text collection.

Today is Èjzenštejn’s 120th birthday! Above and below, his Ivan Groznyj I, the film discussed in the article.

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Filed under 20th- and 21st-century music, Film music

Opera theoriae artis

In 2016 Prešovská Univerzita launched the series Opera theoriae artis with Súčasné hudobnoestetické myslenie na Slovensku v kontexte metodologických problémov estetiky a muzikológie, edited by Slávka Kopčáková.

Slovak music is a living river of new problems for theoretical thinking and the search for methodological innovations whose divergent solutions enrich the quality of the reception of musical art in the time of globalization and changing listening habits. This volume is an essential contribution to the field of musical aesthetics, applying historical and contemporary theoretical music-aesthetic concepts to the study of Slovak music in the 20th and 21st centuries.

The second volume of the series, 25 rokov študijného odboru estetika v Prešoveedited by  Slávka Kopčáková and Lukáš Makky, presents the history and current activities of the aesthetics program at the Prešovská Univerzita in both Slovak and broader European contexts.

Below, a work by Ladislav Kupkovič, one of the composers discussed in the book.

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Filed under 20th- and 21st-century music, New series

Alice Coltrane’s legacy

Critics, historians, musicians, and jazz enthusiasts still debate the identity of the heir to John Coltrane’s musical throne; but his widow, Alice Coltrane, who performed with him from 1966 until his death in 1967, was the one artist who continued his experiments in marrying spirituality with jazz and furthered his explorations of new compositional approaches by introducing African, Indian, and Middle Eastern influences into the genre.

She was the first to develop a jazz harp sound into something more than a curiosity, and her use of non-Western instruments predated similar trends in other genres. The albums that she recorded after her husband’s death serve as documentation of her development as an innovator, and offer an alternative reading of the history and evolution of the free jazz or avant-garde movement.

This according to “Freedom is a constant struggle: Alice Coltrane and the redefining of the jazz avant-garde” by Tammy L. Kernodle, an essay included in John Coltrane and black America’s quest for freedom: Spirituality and the music (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010, pp. 73–98).

Today would have been Alice Coltrane’s 80th birthday! Above, performing in 2006; below, the title track from her last album, Translinear light.

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Filed under 20th- and 21st-century music, Jazz and blues, Performers

Afrocubanismo and art music

Afrocubanismo was an early 20th-century Cuban aesthetic movement that focused on the recognition, assimilation, and validation of the African cultural features present in Cuban society.

The new ethos found musical expression in a seminal group of composers whose works reflected neonationalistic musical concerns that emphasized the manipulation of timbral and rhythmic elements in a modern harmonic vocabulary. These experiments marked a significant juncture in the evolution of the Cuban concert repertoire, forging the representation of race and class at the intersection of art/popular and rural/urban music dichotomies and establishing a discursive site for the negotiation of national identities.

Ultimately, afrocubanismo provided a transition from nationalism to cosmopolitanism in Cuban concert music, and mediated between ethnicity and social class to articulate a Cuban national musical identity founded on the hybridity of African and Iberian-derived cultures.

This according to “The rhythmic component of afrocubanismo in the art music of Cuba” by Mario Rey (Black music research journal XXVI/2 [fall 2006] pp. 181–212).

Above, Wilfredo Lam’s La jungla, a celebrated example of afrocubanismo in painting; below, excerpts from Almadeo Roldán’s Ritmicas, one of the works discussed in the article.

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Filed under 20th- and 21st-century music, Black studies, Visual art

Schriftenreihe des Archivs der Zeitgenossen

In 2016 Studien-Verlag launched the series Schriftenreihe des Archivs der Zeitgenossen with Mechanismen der Macht: Friedrich Cerha und sein musikdramatisches Werk.

Founded in 2009, the Archiv der Zeitgenossen (archive of contemporaries) is a collection of artists’ estates donated both during their lifetimes and posthumously. Established by the state of Lower Austria, it is housed at the Donau-Universität Krems, which curates it.

The inaugural volume of the series draws on the archive’s Friedrich Cerha collection, which documents Cerha’s life, primarily as composer and conductor, but also as musician, musicologist, scholar of German literature, teacher, private person, and public figure. The archival holdings provide scholars with a unique source for studying Cerha’s musical work, and also contain a wealth of materials on questions regarding cultural politics, reception history, media studies, and musicology.

Below, excerpts from Cerha’s Onkel Präsident, one of the works discussed in the book.

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Filed under 20th- and 21st-century music, New series, Opera

MusMat: Brazilian journal of music and mathematics

In 2016 the Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro launched MusMat: Brazilian journal of music and mathematics, which brings together articles, interviews, and news on the interactions between music and mathematics in applications in analysis and composition. The journal is peer-reviewed and open-access.

Below, a work by Rodolfo Coelho de Souza, who discusses his compositional methods in the inaugural issue.

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Filed under 20th- and 21st-century music, Analysis, New periodicals, Science

Lou Harrison’s unheard complexities

Central among Lou Harrison’s pioneering East-West fusions, his works for gamelan and Western instruments are frequently cited either as exemplars of the composer’s Californian, postmodern musical sensibility, or as noteworthy instances of cultural hybridity. However, close examination of Main bersama-sama (1978) and Bubaran Robert (1976/1981) shows that these pieces can and should be understood for what they tell us about Harrison’s deep engagement with melody.

Harrison has mistakenly been regarded as a West Coast musical dabbler, writing tuneful pieces that lack the complexity that characterizes the work of his East Coast contemporaries. Yet analysis of the pitch structure of these pieces reveals intricate compositional games similar to the pre-compositional strategies of composers more typically associated with algorithmic compositional methods. Because these intricacies lie beneath the melodic surface of the music they have largely been unheard and unappreciated in Harrison’s work.

The melodic nature of these games challenges the widely accepted depiction of Harrison as a mere tunesmith, showing how he explored the ability of melody—as opposed to large-scale tonal or harmonic schemes—to create form and serve a central generative function in his music.

This according to “Unheard complexities in Lou Harrison’s Main bersama-sama and Bubaran Robert” by Rachel Chacko (Journal of the Society for American Music VII/3 [August 2013] pp. 265–94).

Today is Harrison’s 100th birthday! Below, the two pieces in question.

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Villa-Lobos’s choro no. 10


Heitor Villa-Lobos’s choro no. 10 (Rasga o coração) is a choral-symphonic tour de force that expresses the composer’s ardent nationalism through some of the most progressive compositional techniques of the mid-1920s.

The work’s opening imparts impressions of Brazil’s sonorous natural riches with indigenous melodies and birdsongs, providing an extended prelude to the choral section. The mixed chorus functions at the same level of value and distinction as that of the orchestral architecture, singing vocables meant to evoke aboriginal languages. With the appearance of the Rasga o coração melody, according to the composer, “the Brazilian heart becomes one with the Brazilian land.”

This according to Heitor Villa-Lobos: The search for Brazil’s musical soul by Gerard Béhague (Austin: University of Texas, 1994, pp. 87–96).

Today is Villa-Lobos’s 130th birthday! Above, the composer ca. 1922; below, a performance by Orquestra Sinfônica Municipal de Campinas.

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Jobim’s legacy


No other Brazilian musician has had as profound an impact on popular music as Antônio Carlos Jobim. He was at the vanguard of the Música Popular Brasileira movement, a cultural and sociological revolution of artists who shared a proclivity for flouting musical convention, and his 1959 Chega de saudade was fundamental in establishing the genre that became known as bossa nova.

While Jobim’s compositions contained elements of traditional Brazilian samba as well as classical and traditional music, his sophisticated harmonic sensibilities, adventurous approach to voice leading, and passion for tinkering with the traditional syntax and imagery of pop lyrics made him one of the most original and innovative musicians of his time.

This according to “Jobim, Antonio Carlos” by Jim Allen (Encyclopedia of music in the 20th century [New York: Routledge, 2013] p. 489); this resource is one of many included in RILM music encyclopedias, an ever-expanding full-text compilation of reference works.

Today would have been Jobim’s 90th birthday! Below, singing his celebrated Águas de Março with Elis Regina, perhaps his greatest interpreter.

BONUS: Gal Costa sings Jobim’s Chega de saudade, often cited as the first bossa nova song.

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Filed under 20th- and 21st-century music, Popular music