mm277: 20th Century classical music is 100 years old – and we haven’t learned to listen to it!

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On MUDGE’s recent, grotesquely obnoxiously huge birthday (let us suggest that no candles were placed on the figurative birthday cake, since nobody could figure out how to find a cake large enough to accommodate the grotesquely obnoxiously huge number of candles required), my lovely children gifted me with a book that seems intriguing. The Rest is Noise: Listening to the 20th Century by Alex Ross is next up, kids, I promise.

They know (and you might, faithful reader from posts like this one and especially here) of my general interest in serious (classical) music, and my mature years dismay (as a youngster I toyed with appreciating it as kids toy with lots of stuff they ultimately outgrow) with what has happened to it in the past 100 years or so.

Well now I feel especially guilty that I haven’t hit the Ross book yet. The late David Halberstam’s Korean War epic, The Coldest Winter, is currently nibbled at [confound it, this newfangled blogging thing has bitten voraciously into book reading time!], and as it is borrowed from a coworker, has priority.

All this angst because I was reminded of the waiting tome when I encountered the following article courtesy of the (always reliable in an idea drought) Arts and Letters, blogroll2 pulling from a publication new to this nanocorner of the ‘Sphere©, the National Post of Canada.

Turns out this year is the 100th anniversary of the revolution in serious music instigated by the Viennese master, Arnold Schoenberg.


The atonal century

1n 1908, after being lambasted in the press and cuckolded by his wife, Arnold Schoenberg reinvented classical music. We’re still trying to figure out what comes next
John Keillor, National Post  Published: Monday, January 14, 2008

This year marks the centenary of monosodium glutamate, drip coffee makers, the FBI and — most importantly — atonality as we know it.

In 1908, Viennese composer Arnold Schoenberg led the classical tradition away from its audience, changing the world with music not in any key and of no commercial value. He put music before audiences, both literally and figuratively, and in doing so created some of Western culture’s best music while gutting classical’s contemporary significance.

Schoenberg started writing compositions as a child in the 1880s, studying Bach and Mozart passionately. And though none of his family was artistic, his music began demonstrating genius, soon blending the sounds of those romantic antipodes, Brahms and Wagner.

Schoenberg was influential beyond all imagining; he was a deadly serious artist, and in 1908, under some artistic and marital stress, apparently forgot how to use tonality.

The intellectual world was ready; people who loved classical music were decidedly not.

A century of avant-garde music was thus born. Academics and connoisseurs really appreciated the results, though the general public assumed a thousand years of music just stopped being made.

[Please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

The atonal century

If you linked back to those previous posts referenced up top, you know where yr (justifiably) humble svt stands on this issue. Color me firmly with the general public.

Anyway, after I soldier through Korea, I’ll hit the Ross book, and be able to speak on the subject of what happened to the classical music I love from a position of detailed, precise and intellectually comprehensive knowledge, rather than instinct.

Hmmm, kind of like what happened to composers after Schoenberg’s chromatic disturbance of 1908.


It’s it for now. Thanks,


Note!: the links to used above are for the convenience of faithful reader and represents no commercial relationship whatsoever. Left-Handed Complement should be so fortunate as to ever collect remuneration of any kind for this endeavor, and in any event it’s against’s rules. I can link, so I link. It’s technology. It’s cool. It’s an artifact of Sequitur Service©. Deal with it.

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One Response to mm277: 20th Century classical music is 100 years old – and we haven’t learned to listen to it!

  1. […] And, performing his music of 1959 presents challenges to amateur musicians. Lawrence Eckerling is a professional musician; Dr. Donald Chen, long-time (and soon to retire) director of the North Shore Choral Society teaches conducting and choral music at a local university for his day job. They’re the pros. The amateurs are the plucky volunteer members of the Evanston Symphony and the North Shore Choral Society, and for them, and, let’s face it, their audience, the music of true 20th century composers presents issues. We’ve touched on this before in this nanocorner of the ‘Sphere©, most recently here. […]

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