Friday, July 29, 2005


We've stepped half a decade into the twenty-first century and it seems that, unlike the visual arts, the classical music world still have a lot of trouble trying to understand music from the last century. In performances of modern works, the moods and meanings of the pieces eludes even the most seasoned of performers. If the performers themselves couldn't connect to their pieces emotionally, how do we expect them to communicate with the audiences what those music are about? Schoenberg was probably right when he commented that his "music is not really modern, just badly played".

Twentieth century music consists of several styles of music composition techniques - serialism, aleatoric music, impressionism, minimalism, jazz-influenced classical music (please correct me if there is a specific term for such music) etc. It seems that the most problematic styles which the classical music world have trouble appreciating are that former two, but I'll going to post some of my opinions on minimalist music for I've been listening to a few of such pieces recently.

For those who are unsure of what's minimal music, they're simply music stripped of all the its complexity and exploits the use of repetition. And don't worry about the excessive dissonance that is so characteristic of twentieth century pieces, for minimal music consist of mostly, if not entirely, tonal harmonies. I've not listened to the whole range of such music, but I'll recommend Arvo Pärt's Sarah Was Ninety Years Old, Philip Glass's Closing (Listen out for the subtle changing rhythms and tone colours), Terry Riley's In C. Such a minimalist movement is also pretty much alive in popular music - trance music.

Now we have the definition of minimal music, the problem comes. Do we consider such minimalism as modernism or anti-modernism? Considering just the contents of the music, it consists of the simplest musical material and that'll mean the minimalist movement is a big step back in time. But the main factor is such music isn't so much of the seemingly minimal content as its experimental attitude and thus composers of minimalist works still have to struggle all the same to bring their music into the concert stage and recordings.

Minimalist compositions may sound meaningless, for they project audible changes gradually over prolonged periods of time and thus induces a trance-like state in its listeners. Yes, not much of the traditional passionate emotions involved, but I personally feel that such works allow the ear to delve deep into the resonance of the individual sounds. And it really emphasises on the purity of the sound. Within the extended length of one simple interval, the tone, timbre and intensity can change, bringing about a rich assortment of harmonics. It's like a violin increasing its volume over the span of one note and intensifying the mood. And in minimal music, I've realised that the focus isn't on the music or harmony, it's on the sound. The rich sounds draw the listeners into the pure and fascinating world of sounds. And that's the very beauty of minimal music to me.

Alright, that's all from me today, though there's so much more about minimalism to be commented, like its history and the progression into postminimalism. I'll write more when I've acquired more knowledge into modern music.

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