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What are the most annoying things about modern composers?


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Author Topic: What are the most annoying things about modern composers?  (Read 1555 times)
ahinton
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« Reply #90 on: August 18, 2017, 12:32:53 pm »

There is no symbiosis/chemistry between music and picture, in my opinion. Donít know. Maybe those modern composers are just lazy.
Huh
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Gerard
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« Reply #91 on: August 19, 2017, 07:34:03 am »

The single most annoying thing about modern composers is their giving silly names to their works of music, instead of simply identifying the form. Hundreds of examples of this can be found on the B.B.C.'s modern music programme. Some one once said something about the "land without music" did not he, and this business of the silly names is part of what he meant.
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Appreciative, or investigatory, that is the question . . .
ahinton
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« Reply #92 on: August 19, 2017, 07:49:23 am »

The single most annoying thing about modern composers is their giving silly names to their works of music, instead of simply identifying the form. Hundreds of examples of this can be found on the B.B.C.'s modern music programme. Some one once said something about the "land without music" did not he, and this business of the silly names is part of what he meant.
"Identifying the form" is something that can only be done if there is a term for it and, even then, it doesn't tell the listener much in advance; "Piano Sonata", for example, can cover the work of Scarlatti (no slouch when it came to writing them), Beethoven, Liszt and Szymanowski and can also embrace a work such as Sorabji's Opus Archimagicum, the "silly" title that you might consider him to have given to his fifth and last one.

Would you prefer Liszt to have entitled his symphonic poems "Symphonic Poem No. ◊" or Elgar to have called a work "Oratorio No. 1" rather than The Dream of Gerontius? Who in any case is to decide - and on what grounds - whether or not a title is "silly"? Should I re-entitle my Sequentia Claviensis "Piano Piece in Six Movements"? (that's a rhetorical question, incidentally, since I intend to do no such thing). And how would "String Quintet" be expected to denote that the piece includes a double bass (still less than a solo soprano in its finale) in cases when it does so?

Whoever it was that coined the phrase "land without music" did so long before some of what you might think to be the "sillier" of titles were penned in any case.
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Neil McGowan
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« Reply #93 on: August 19, 2017, 01:06:39 pm »

"Piano Sonata", for example, can cover the work of Scarlatti

Indeed it cannot. Scarlatti wrote no works for the piano whatsoever.

The majority of his output was written for the harpsichord - a plucked-string instrument which in Scarlatti's time would usually have had two manuals, and most often a number of different 'stops', such as a buff, or options to use either four-foot pitch, or (lawks-a-mercy) a sixteen-foot sound alongside the conventional eight-foot. No dynamic effects are possible "by touch" on the harpsichord - yet no-one berates this same feature on the organ, which is set up in similar fashion.  Scarlatti specified the organ in four of his keyboard sonatas.

Some have suggested that Scarlatti might have himself played the new-fangled fortepiano on occasion. However, his works do not make use of dynamic markings that suggest so. Where he does suggest possible 'echo' effects, these could probably be feasibly (or even perhaps better) played on a different manual of the harpsichord. It would probably not be wrong to play his later keyboard sonatas on a fortepiano, although even the composer could not have hoped that one would always be available.

The modern joanna is an 88-key instrument which features one manual only - along with pedals for partly silencing its din when thought appropriate, or prolonging its clatter when the performer hasn't learnt the music very well.  Instead of plucking the strings, it bashes them from below with hammers, and thus is a percussion instrument, and no relative of the harpsichord's at all.

Similarly, JS Bach wrote no "piano sonatas", and certainly no "piano concertos"  Roll Eyes  Suggesting that he did perfectly illustrates the paucity of thinking behind retrospectively slapping genre labels onto works, in defiance of all respect for their composers' intentions. It also suggests a bogus equivalence between compositional approaches of, say, Scarlatti and Tchaikovsky from which neither of these two gentlemen stands to gain.





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ahinton
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« Reply #94 on: August 19, 2017, 10:18:52 pm »

"Piano Sonata", for example, can cover the work of Scarlatti

Indeed it cannot. Scarlatti wrote no works for the piano whatsoever.

The majority of his output was written for the harpsichord - a plucked-string instrument which in Scarlatti's time would usually have had two manuals, and most often a number of different 'stops', such as a buff, or options to use either four-foot pitch, or (lawks-a-mercy) a sixteen-foot sound alongside the conventional eight-foot. No dynamic effects are possible "by touch" on the harpsichord - yet no-one berates this same feature on the organ, which is set up in similar fashion.  Scarlatti specified the organ in four of his keyboard sonatas.

Some have suggested that Scarlatti might have himself played the new-fangled fortepiano on occasion. However, his works do not make use of dynamic markings that suggest so. Where he does suggest possible 'echo' effects, these could probably be feasibly (or even perhaps better) played on a different manual of the harpsichord. It would probably not be wrong to play his later keyboard sonatas on a fortepiano, although even the composer could not have hoped that one would always be available.

The modern joanna is an 88-key instrument which features one manual only - along with pedals for partly silencing its din when thought appropriate, or prolonging its clatter when the performer hasn't learnt the music very well.  Instead of plucking the strings, it bashes them from below with hammers, and thus is a percussion instrument, and no relative of the harpsichord's at all.

Similarly, JS Bach wrote no "piano sonatas", and certainly no "piano concertos"  Roll Eyes  Suggesting that he did perfectly illustrates the paucity of thinking behind retrospectively slapping genre labels onto works, in defiance of all respect for their composers' intentions. It also suggests a bogus equivalence between compositional approaches of, say, Scarlatti and Tchaikovsky from which neither of these two gentlemen stands to gain.

Whilst of course I take your point in principle re Scarlatti (and indeed expected someone to make it), the term "piano sonata" still covers a multitude of sins and the opposite of sins and cannot reasonably be used as some kind of artificial portmanteau term in the way that member Gerard appears to suggest that it can - and of course I didn't mention J. S. Bach in this context. The point that I sought to make was in specific response to Gerard's rather odd assertion about absurd work titles and I admit to being unsure exactly what it is to which he objects and what he'd like to see/have seen in its place where such titles are concerned.

But let's try again - perhaps more effectively this time. We'll take "symphony" and, for the sake of argument, specifically those that were not given subtitles by their composers or by others; what does that word, as a work title, tell the listener in advance about its "form" (as Gerard puts it), when it could refer to a work in any number of movements from one upwards and be as short and for relatively small forces as Milhaud's 4th or as vast as Mahler 3, Brian's Gothic or the larger symphonies for piano solo and organ solo by Sorabji?

I note that Gerard has yet to respond to any of this...
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Neil McGowan
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« Reply #95 on: August 20, 2017, 10:28:43 pm »

Ooo-errr, this Sinfonia doesn't even specify the instruments which are to play it?



Yet Sinfonia it is, in the composer's own hand.

Were we on a quite different forum, Pedant's Paradise would note that if you'd asked for a symphonia during the 12th and 13th centuries, this is what you would have received:



It was the instrument's latin name.
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ahinton
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« Reply #96 on: August 20, 2017, 10:31:36 pm »

Ooo-errr, this Sinfonia doesn't even specify the instruments which are to play it?



Yet Sinfonia it is, in the composer's own hand.

Were we on a quite different forum, Pedant's Paradise would note that if you'd asked for a symphonia during the 12th and 13th centuries, this is what you would have received:

Quite! You make the point that I sought to make. We'll simply have to await further explanatory data from Gerard should he be prepared to follow up his assertion about "silly" titles with such.
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Neil McGowan
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« Reply #97 on: August 20, 2017, 10:52:42 pm »

to follow up his assertion about "silly" titles with such.

Yet having brought Praetorius into this (for it was he who gave such detail about hurdy-gurdies being called 'symphonies'), it seems only fair to mention some of his egregious silly-naming of pieces. "Hahnentanz" (Chicken Dance) is one of his hits from 'Terpsichore' (1612) which did the rounds of the Early Music movement in the 1980s...   scored-up for almost every possible crumhornish line-up. Yet the most peculiar title (presumably as a part of a balletic intermezzo, with some kind of guild obligations being fulfilled for a regional monarch?) among his dances is the "Danse of the apprentice alchemists who must perform before the King". It's not only modern composers who name their pieces in potty ways Wink

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ahinton
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« Reply #98 on: August 21, 2017, 09:08:57 am »

to follow up his assertion about "silly" titles with such.

Yet having brought Praetorius into this (for it was he who gave such detail about hurdy-gurdies being called 'symphonies'), it seems only fair to mention some of his egregious silly-naming of pieces. "Hahnentanz" (Chicken Dance) is one of his hits from 'Terpsichore' (1612) which did the rounds of the Early Music movement in the 1980s...   scored-up for almost every possible crumhornish line-up. Yet the most peculiar title (presumably as a part of a balletic intermezzo, with some kind of guild obligations being fulfilled for a regional monarch?) among his dances is the "Danse of the apprentice alchemists who must perform before the King". It's not only modern composers who name their pieces in potty ways Wink

Quite - but we still await the wit and wisdom of Gerard in alerting us to what he thinks of as "silly" titles and what he doesn't...
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« Reply #99 on: August 22, 2017, 09:27:28 pm »

Well, I will speak up for Gerard, since I have some sympathy with his views here. It's hardly fair to point out that Elgar did not use "Oratorio No. 1" as a title. No-one I ever heard of numbered oratorios like that, largely because oratorios are not abstract pieces, so a title describing what they are about is appropriate. On the other hand, a composer writing an entirely abstract violin sonata, used to title it "Violin Sonata No. 2" or whatever. Now it would be called "Seven States of Rain" or somesuch.

"Danse of the apprentice alchemists who must perform before the King" is amusing, but not silly. The piece is a dance, and described as such. I have no problem whatever with "Sequentia Claviensis" as a descriptive title. But "Seven States of Rain" (and there are many worse) tells the listener nothing except that the composer is rather pretentious.

I once had to compose a piece for a class, and when it came to a title, I opened my copy of Herodotus at random and picked the first name I saw. The composer taking the class asked about the title, and I told him. He said, "Well, I know a lot of modern titles are pretty arbitrary, but I never heard one done quite so cynically!" (No, I don't remember what it was.)
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Neil McGowan
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« Reply #100 on: August 22, 2017, 10:23:41 pm »

But "Seven States of Rain" (and there are many worse) tells the listener nothing except that the composer is rather pretentious.

I'm largely with you up to that point...  but then the iceberg starts to melt for me.

What is that makes "Seven States Of Rain" pretentious (if, let us say, the composer seriously intended to portray different kinds of precipitation as music), but "Four Sea Interludes" is perfectly fine? Or indeed, Awakening of cheerful feelings upon arrival in the countryside ?

I can't help feeling that the criteria here are not being used in a fair and comparable way. Works we know (and, perhaps, love) are allowed to have 'programmatic' titles - but works (or composers) we sneer at are denied the same right. The example of Herodotus is very telling, since appeals to classical antiquity (no matter how tenuous in reality) have long been a handy get-out. Stravinsky, for example, could be accused of getting away with blue murder in this area Wink  Yet had the composer of "Seven States Of Rain" only named their piece La Tempestata di Mare, they would already be on the A-Level Set Works list.

This, however, may reflect our ingrained tendency to adore the old, and deride the new - regardless of actual merits, and it might well be a societal prejudice. There's even a website which officially (!) derides music written after 1918, for example.
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ahinton
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« Reply #101 on: August 22, 2017, 11:57:12 pm »

But "Seven States of Rain" (and there are many worse) tells the listener nothing except that the composer is rather pretentious.

I'm largely with you up to that point...  but then the iceberg starts to melt for me.

What is that makes "Seven States Of Rain" pretentious (if, let us say, the composer seriously intended to portray different kinds of precipitation as music), but "Four Sea Interludes" is perfectly fine? Or indeed, Awakening of cheerful feelings upon arrival in the countryside ?

I can't help feeling that the criteria here are not being used in a fair and comparable way. Works we know (and, perhaps, love) are allowed to have 'programmatic' titles - but works (or composers) we sneer at are denied the same right. The example of Herodotus is very telling, since appeals to classical antiquity (no matter how tenuous in reality) have long been a handy get-out. Stravinsky, for example, could be accused of getting away with blue murder in this area Wink  Yet had the composer of "Seven States Of Rain" only named their piece La Tempestata di Mare, they would already be on the A-Level Set Works list.

This, however, may reflect our ingrained tendency to adore the old, and deride the new - regardless of actual merits, and it might well be a societal prejudice. There's even a website which officially (!) derides music written after 1918, for example.
All very valid points, for which many thanks. Until Gerard comes clean about his specific concerns on this, we'll simply have to wait for him to do so and consider what he has to say but, in the meantime, I cannot help but suspect that his allegiances ally with one Johannes Brahms, although even he wrote Ein Deutsches Requiem, Schicksalslied and other works not called "piano trio no. ◊" or "sonata no. ◊"; maybe Gerard is prepared to make exceptions for vocal works but, until he tells us, we can't reasonably be expecgted to know...
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Neil McGowan
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« Reply #102 on: August 23, 2017, 06:27:47 am »

. Until Gerard comes clean about his specific concerns on this,

I'm not sure Gerald has a casting vote on the matter :-)  Nor does it matter if we reach concensus or not - since it's most likely composers will continue to reserve the right to name their works however they please :-)

As we have seen from the (many) examples quoted during this discussion, there is an established history of composers both adopting generic form-titles (with numeration), as well as adopting descriptive titles of their own choosing and format.  Sometimes both have been combined... a numbered piano sonata or symphony which also, in parallel, has some name of the composer's choosing, for example.           

The imagination of the listening public can often be more effectively captured by a descriptive title...  'Eroica' is a more winning name than 'Symphony No 3'.  In the case of today's exceptionally prolific symphonists, some kind of name serves as a reminder as to exactly which one 'Number 87' actually was. Probably the same is true of other genres - despite liking what I hear, I really can't remember the numbers of all John White's piano sonatas.
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« Reply #103 on: August 23, 2017, 06:54:01 pm »

But "Seven States of Rain" (and there are many worse) tells the listener nothing except that the composer is rather pretentious.

I'm largely with you up to that point...  but then the iceberg starts to melt for me.

What is that makes "Seven States Of Rain" pretentious (if, let us say, the composer seriously intended to portray different kinds of precipitation as music), but "Four Sea Interludes" is perfectly fine? Or indeed, Awakening of cheerful feelings upon arrival in the countryside ?


There are many worse examples, but I was short of time and looking fro something specifically for violin and piano. The work is not seven states of rain. Four Sea Interludes ARE interludes. If it had been entitled "Rain: Seven sketches for violin and piano" there would be no criticism of it at all. And when did you ever hear anyone talk about a "state of rain", anyway?

Let's go back to Alastair's point that modern works often don't follow classical forms, and you can't call a piece a violin sonata if it's not a sonata. Whet irks me is that when a piece evidently DOES fit a classical title, it's not used. Let's take a recent example: Julian Anderson's recent Proms commission. This is a piano concerto, and was introduced as a piano concerto, but is it called "Piano Concerto No 1"? No, it's called "The Imaginary Museum". Not even "Piano Concerto 'The Imaginary Museum'". Note that definitive article, as though there is one imaginary museum somewhere in the world and we ought to know about it. If it had been called "An Imaginary Museum", even, that would have struck a less pretentious note.

In contrast, take James Dillon. A work like Helle Nacht doesn't call out for any formal title, and the title it has is fine. But when Dillon writes a string quartet, he calls it "String Quartet No 8" (or whatever), and not "Remembered Crystal Geometries".
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