The achievement of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries remains the great sun of the Western musical solar system: the repertory that dominates performance and recording. Composers who approach it must either maintain their ironic distance, as Stravinsky did, and later Ligeti, or be content to turn into its orbit, adopt its premises and its modes of thought. The further past offers less gravitational pull–partly just because it is further off, but also partly because its forces seem to be complimented by, rather than at war with, those of our own age.

–Paul Griffiths, in Modern Music and After (3rd Ed), Oxford University Press 2010, pg 168.

Beautiful imagery! I couldn’t agree more!

2 Comments

  1. A very interesting thought! Certainly this is the repertoire that I know best and perhaps still love most. Just to play devil’s advocate, though: must it be so? I remember attending a piano conference while still in high school, with a professor who argued that contemporary music offers the greatest chance of meaningful connection with audiences and performers, because of the composers’ shared cultural and historical context. He said that in all in his years listening to piano auditions, competitions, and juries, he had heard many successful performances of contemporary repertoire, whereas he could count on one hand the number of times he had heard a “really great performance of a Bach Prelude and Fugue”. Food for thought anyway!

    1. What Paul Griffiths is pointing out is the observation (one I’ve long held) that modern music seems to be coming full circle to the principles (if you will) of ancient music… In other words, the Common Practice Era has such a strong pull on our Western music tradition, that to be a modern composer one may either be strongly sucked into the CPE’s pull, or avoid it and begin to find links with music pre-CPE… 🙂 I’ve found it true in my experience, and in those of my students….
      The audience reception of modern music is a whole ‘nother level of the web of modern music, too. It ought to be that audiences have a shared context with the composer and therefore embrace what they hear. However, a) if the audience is familiar with CPE writing, if they hear something other than that they will often struggle with it, and b) a modern composer has various impulses guiding their writing, including perhaps revolt to the norm or expansion of philosophical ideas, all of which may be difficult for an audience to grasp, especially if not educated in the path modern music has taken, and, like mentioned previously, if they are rooted in CPE music….

      I’ve been told **my** music (think “Anima Mechanicae” http://youtu.be/a1Lugd9Lo8E ) is “avant-garde” and difficult to hear… LOLZ!!! -__-

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