Are Electro-Acoustics and the Vernacular the Largets Developments in 20th Century Music?

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  • Topic: Serialism, Karlheinz Stockhausen, Electronic music
  • Pages : 8 (2634 words )
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  • Published : March 30, 2013
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  Contextual studies (MU314) Convenor: Tim Howle Essay 1

Denis Smalley has suggested that the two most important musical developments in the 20th Century are the domains of the 'electro-acoustic' and the 'vernacular'. To what extent is his assumption correct?

This piece will demonstrate an understanding of the developments in 20th century music, with a detailed view on the path and expansion of electro-acoustic technology and of the vernacular. This will also be highlighting the theoretical ideas that made these large developments possible and the technological innovations that created the foundations for both these areas.

Total serialism

After composers, Wagner and Brahms, who stretched the boundaries of tonality to breaking point (Wagner notably in, Tristan & Isolde, 1857), composers wanted to experiment with new ideas. Schoenberg was the first composer to approach composition with a completely new approach, not with typical tonality but with a ‘serial method’; this was later known as ‘12 tone’ music (all 12 tones of the chromatic scale are arranged in a fixed sequence know as a ‘tone row’, all 12 tones must be used in order for the piece to progress). Webern was soon to follow Schoenberg and became a pupil of his; he soon adopted his 12-tone method and found his own individuality within the domain. For Webern this meant a focused contrapuntal style in which every element formed complex connections, with every tone having an equal importance. Although Schoenberg consciously created the method, his connection with the tonal world was never cut. On the contrary, Webern gazed openly into the future. Early Webern pieces (prior 12-tone) it is clearly apparent the influence of Schoenberg, notably Op10 (1911-1913), where he exploited his mentors use of klangfarbenmelodie (tone-colour melody), which involved splitting a melody between multiple instruments, rather than allocating it to just one instrument, as a result, adding colour (timbre) and texture to the melodic line; the use of this method can also be seen in, Five piece string quartet (1909), The four pieces for violin & piano (1910) and The six bagatelles for string quartet (1911-1913). Schoenberg created ‘12 tone’ to control pitch, Webern extended the method to determine, dynamics, tone colour and rhythm; this was later entitled ‘total serialism’. As an alternative of using notes to generate a melody, he used them to create a colour. Webern’s melodic lines are atomized into two or three note fragments which are presented in frequently changing tone colour and register, this idea is used in modern vernacular music, many modern jazz musicians use his ideas on tone colouration as well as many electronic composers to this day. The mathematical similarities in Webern’s ‘total serialism’ helped the progression of electronic music and synthesized music. Many of Webern’s followers tried to extend the idea of ‘tone colour’ and the 12-tone technique to electronic music, notably Stockhausen who was greatly influenced by Webern’s serial technique.

How Stockhausen’s influenced an electronic generation.

Stockhausen began studying under Messaian with the influence of serialism, early pieces the influence can be seen from both, his mentor and Webern, notably in Kreuzspiel (1951), and Spiel (1952); the opening of Klavierstucke (1952) also began with firm serial principles. Stockhausen’s progression into electronic music began with his examination of acoustical sound, always committed to reconstructing sound synthetically by means of electro-acoustic equipment. Schaeffer allowed Stockhausen to work within the music concrete group in Paris, where he mainly recorded acoustical sounds then analysed them. After this analysis he discovered the relations of vibrations within sound, this innovation lead him to the idea of synthesized sound. After working with Schaefer his idea was not to emulate acoustic sound, but to realize the new potential of...
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