An observation about "Modern" classical music.

As I sat in my car, waiting for my wife as usual, I listened to a local classical music station which happened to be playing some "modern" music. I don't like it, being an old fart who likes Mozart and his ilk. But, as I had nothing else to do, I tried to appreciate what I heard. No luck, but I did notice something I have experienced before but never thought about. At the end, there was a dead silence of 3 to 5 seconds before audience applause. This never happens with, for example, Mozart where the final notes never get a chance to decay before the applause and Bravos. Obviously (IMHO) the music was so hard to "follow" that the audience were not sure it was over until nothing happened for a while.

I know that some guys like this music, but haven't you noticed this dead time? How do you explain it?
Much modern classicial doesn't resort to the standard and obvious endings of the older classics. So what? Besides which, people are less familiar with it.
All this silence signifies to me is a possible choice made by the recording engineer. Frankly I can't even think of a good reason for including audience applause on recordings. I'm certainly not impressed by the applause and bravos at live performances except in noting how indiscriminate it is.

I'm not sure what you are referring to as 'modern classical'. I could probably share with you your lack of appreciation for a lot of stuff composed between the 30's and the 80's which is atonal and achedemic, but if your appreciation actually does stop with 'Mozart and his ilk' because of a lack of thorough exploration of music composed between Mozarts times and, lets say Stravinski's, your missing some of classical music's greatest offerings. There are also some neo-romantics who composed after the 30's who recieved no recognition until recent years whose music is very assessible and tonal.

But, since you're an admitted old fart you probably already know that...I'm just offering this to others who might assume too much from your implied judgment of modern classical music. :-)
At the end, there was a dead silence of 3 to 5 seconds before audience applause.

3-5 seconds?! You call that a "pause"?! Check out the seldom performed (especially on the radio) piece by John Cage titled 4:22. In it an entire orchestra takes the stage and for 4 minutes and 22 seconds does not make a sound, then they leave the stage. I'd bet the applause on that one can be delayed too. Never had the pleasure of attending a performance though.

Actually there are some modern composers I really do like. Arvo Part comes to mind. Some pieces by Phillip Glass are quite lovely. Gavin Bryars stuff is out there and yet somehow moves me. The Rachel's are another group who use their backgrounds in classical music to compose and perform music that defies conventional classification. I do like Motzart too! Beethoven, even!

Do you recall what it was you were listening to on the radio Eldartford?

I had a hard time with modern classical, but without even trying, I started feeling the music of Bartok and company....

Its all due to familiarity and patience,,,you cant sit and try to get it...slowly, even heard as background music is more helpful...
Good one, Aceto.

I wonder, Eldartford, whether that was an appreciative silence, or a stunned, Is that it? silence. Isn't it funny that much music composed seventy, eighty ago is still called modern. I love the idea of an orchestral piece causing a riot among listeners in the hall. Now, there you have citizens who know what it's important to fight about. At about 4:23 I'd probably be laying about with my bumbershoot as well.
Another possibility is that the audience does not like it,but once several start to applaud,others do,to compliment the players.

I like 20th century harmony(Bartok,Stavinsky,Hindemith,etc) but atonality is beyond me. I'm a creature of tonic,dominant,tonic harmonic structures.
I've noticed that audiences in different countries have different customs when it comes to applause. In some places it seems to be customary to allow a few seconds' respectful silence before beginning to applaud. I even remember one concert in Berlin where members of the audience who applauded prematurely were shamed into silence. And it wasn't that the rest of the audience didn't like the performance -- in fact, when the silence finally broke it was followed by a prolonged standing ovation.

It's possible that the difference you noticed has more to do with the habits of a particular audience than with their feelings about the music itself.

Not to trying to be a know it all, but the John Cage piece discussed is actually 4:33 and I find it quite lovely
Ejlif, I not only agree with you I would suggest that it may be his best composition. :-)
Jax2...No I haven't heard that one, but I guess noone else has either. And, believe it or not I do know who Philip Glass is, and his tonal wanderings are quite nice. Now, if he could just think of a melody, and get some rhythm we might have something!

Pragmatist...Of course the applause is deserved by the musicians. I note only the hesitation, and guess that it is because they don't know if it's over or not.

Hodie...An appreciative or stunned silence is another possibility. But superb performances of older pieces don't exhibit the hesitant applause, so I doubt that explanation.
Not to trying to be a know it all, but the John Cage piece discussed is actually 4:33 and I find it quite lovely

....And what a difference those eleven extra seconds must make!

Ever since I thought to mention that tune this morning I can't get it out of my just keeps repeating itself over and over. I can't stop it! Doesn't it just drive you nuts when that happens. I can't recall how those last 11 seconds go though!

I agree with previous posts that modern classical music needs deeper understanding and "gettin' used to".

For those who wants to get a starting point of modern classics I'd recommend Michael Nyman.
Hey,I can understand your point,but when you hear a new song,or melody for the first time,you have to wait a moment at end,to realize it's over.Quite normal IMO!The problem with "classic" classical music(which I love)is that everyone coming down the pike has to take a crack at it.Do I really need every "New" artist recording the same repertoire,over and over again.How many Beetoven Symphonies do I need,recorded by every orchestra in existence?Could you imagine ALL new rock artists starting out recording the Beatles,or Stones,over and over again.

There are some absolutely great(and total fun)new music experiences(some call it Avante Garde).Try the "Bang on A Can" series cd's.Try some of the newer John Zorn stuff(particularly his film series.Rouse/Bazelon/Lou Harrison/George Crumb/Jenny Scheinman/Elliot Carter/Ernst Toch(very approachable)/even some of the later Frank Zappa(Yellow Shark is a good starting point.There is SO much great and fun(demo quality sound,as well)new "classical" music out there,many new artists are incorporating newer types of instruments(electronic and unusual),that what I love to do,and it is FREE,is to go to a Barnes and Noble,source one of the newer Fanfare or American Record guides(even one of the British music mags,like Grammaphone)and go to the "computerized"listening stations.Dial up the desired music,and you can spend hours,having a ball,discovering the wealth of stuff available to us all!!

Best of luck! the kind of classical music that I like the ending is easy to recognize even it I am not familiar with the piece, because certain rules of composition are observed. Some might say this makes it boring. But it allows you to better "follow" the music throughout- not just at the end. As to multiple recordings of the same piece, I find this one of the most interesting things about classical music. Different conductors and soloists bring different interpretations, providing insight into the music. I will sometimes play, for example, one movement of a violin concerto played by several soloists, and it is surprising how different they can be. (Is this the dreaded A/B test method!!) Of course in popular music recording other people's stuff is SOP, called a "cover".

I have been trying to appreciate "modern" music for several decades, with little success. This is in contrast to "modern" art, where my initial disgust has been tempered over the years.

If you really like it, that's great. Enjoy. (And try to clap sooner :-)
Eldatford,Great post!Though I,also like to dissect my numerous performances of similar music,I have foud that my approach to music is like my approach to food.I love the new experiences,awaiting me if I'm daring.Maybe that's why I have to watch my waistline!Best regards!
I think what modern classical music is missing is what Mozart did best. He composed the music which on the surface seems simple, but under the surface was complex. In other words, he met the listener where the listener was at (other composers did that as well, I'm just using Mozart as an example). Modern composers seem to expect that you meet them where they are at IMHO. Which explains why people are still listening to Mozart and Bethoveen 200 years later.

Why work hard understanding modern classical music when you could spend your whole life listening to baroque through to romantic (and some understandable modern music like Cage, etc.) and never run out of stuff to listen to?

Rob, your post makes no sense...are you saying that then all modern composers should just take another job?
Modern classical music should be considered as a result of let's say derivative or even evolution of so known to us Mozart, Bethoven, Lizst, Chopin etc...

In many works of Pat Metheny very often you can hear instead of improvisation the strict musical order that is more belong to a classical music than jazz. Hence some of his pieces you can also relate to a modern classics. Check his "Secret Story" album where you won't ever miss Mozart...

You should also check the solo works of Roger Eno who I think took a lot from post-classical pianist Skryabin.

I'm sorry you didn't understand my post; I thought it was pretty straight forward. I didn't see anything in my post suggesting any career changes. And frankly, that's up to them what they do.

Classical music from the past used typical form that everyone knew and the innovations and changes came on top of that. How do you listen to modern music and know what to expect? If you don't know what to expect then how can you be surprised? Even jazz has some basic structure to be improvised on. If there is structure there it should be understood just by listening to it; you shouldn’t have to take an appreciation course on modern classical music just to enjoy it.

That’s my uneducated theory on why modern classical music is so unpopular compared to the previous 300 years. I’m not saying it’s any individual composers fault.

They could always put a low steady beet under the music and play the twelve bar blues and sing about some lost love and they might end up with a hit, but I would suggest they do what they feel they need to artistically whether people are listening or not; and maybe start an eBay business on the side to supplement their income if need be. But I don’t feel obligated to listen out of charity.


Marakentz- There are some who say that music, as well as most art forms, has entered a period of post-modernism. That is to say, it is 'beyond history', not a step in some 'natural progression' from the 18th century to now and beyond. I think I agree with that interpretation, but I do acknowledge the fact that it's exceedingly difficult to define your own place in history while you're in the midst of a movement. It worries me a little sometimes. The avante-garde used to be a response to neo-classicism and 'normalcy', but now it's almost all there is...

Eldartford: Why do you value being able to 'follow' the music? Personally, I like a little surprise once in awhile. Sometimes I like my hand to be held by the music, and sometimes I don't. Concerning clapping: I think if you listen to any piece of music that ends softly, you will here delayed clapping. The idea is to let the last notes peter out into nothingness. What would you think if the audience started clapping in the middle of the last note of Barber's Adagio for Strings? And that's as tonal and mainstream as it gets.

You seem intrigued by modern music. There are some great books and essays out there you might enjoy, many of which would be available at a library. You might find the answers you're lookiong for in one of those!
Lousyreeds1..."Follow the music". What do I mean is a fair question.

At any point in the music, at the end of a phrase, there are a great number of "answering" phrases that will "sound right" according to classical rules of composition. The composer keeps my interest by weaving his way through all the possibilities in an innovative way, but never veering off into the weeds. I don't want one musical phrase to be followed by a random assortment of notes, having little or no relationship to what went before.

I am not "intrigued by modern music" but I am curious about it and why people like/dislike it. One professional violist I know plays it because it is a job, and nothing more.
Good discussion by the way.

It's nice to see a thread about actual "music" and not equipment on Audiogon.

Rob your point is easy to understand:

A classical music as well as modern classical music and also many sophisticated types of rock, jazz is harder to understand and digest than a simple mambo or Beatles or another words pop. Hence the popularity could be waged accordingly.

Centuries ago there also were ministrels and street musicians that had been fare less complicated than Pastoral symphony.
Take in consideration Strauss who's music was simple compared to the composers of his time...
Can you compare Strauss to Kronos Quartet?

If you start researching Russian post-classical composers you will definitely feel an evolution i.e. progressive development and even to say enterprenurial movements that hadn't been thought of in the era of the classical music...
Eldartford: Even if you're not interested in the music itself, I think reading one of the great many books written on the subject might be useful if you're curious (intrigued, curious, whatever you want to call it).

You're talking about random assortments of notes. I think most composers would take exception to that. Most of the time, it's not random. Even in the occasions when the notes are random, there's almost always some organizational method to the music. Sometimes it can be fun to figure out what that is.

Also, what do you think of the applause thing? Does my explanation convince? There are all sorts of variables that can cause people to clap earlier/later: familiarity with the piece, dynamic level, etc.
Lousyreeds1...Agreed that a piece which ends quietly, (which is not that common) might have applause delayed slightly, but not 3-5 seconds. Also, "modern" music often ends just as loud as any other kind.

"Random" probably was the wrong word. As one who has some familiarity with statistics, I ought to have said "pseudorandom". Pseudorandom is a sequence which appears to be random, but which actually is generated by an underlying algorithm.

Give me the title of one recommended book.
I understand the arguments of the people who do not care for modern classicl music.One can never dictate a specific taste towards others.That being said,if you feel you can't warm up to modern stuff,you obviously won't try to give yourself any additional exposure to it.Human nature!Well,sadly for those who can't/won't delve further into the realm,you are really losing out on some fun,and wonderful stuff!Not all modern compositions fall into the "delerious" sounding category.Also,as much as I like Crumb(I also love all early classical forms,but NEED to keep moving on in my quest for new musical experiences),he is not the starting point for someone wanting to add some new exposure to their musical life(though there is nothing wrong with that).Why not begin with some,a bit more recognizable music,like Copland or Stravinsky.Even some Shostokovich.I,actually "think" I got the bug,after seeing the movie "Close Encounters of The Third Kind",and bought the soundtrack.Now,whenever I go to a movie,I make a conscious effort to listen to the soundtrack,though most really suck,and I'm not a soundtrack collector!It's a good way to get some exposure to certain new composers.Bernard Hermann was a fabulous,and accessable composer.Anyone liking the "Twilight Zone" tv series has heard his stuff before.Like I said,if you cut off your exposure based on some bad experiences,you will ultimately lose out!!Best of luck to all!

Why work hard understanding modern classical music when you could spend your whole life listening to baroque through to romantic (and some understandable modern music like Cage, etc.) and never run out of stuff to listen to?


Rob, that is the statement i was getting at....

But that could be a circular argument, and applied to many art forms. But I think its a bit of a musical isolationist point of view...

I think you can learn to appreciate the modern classical stuff without trying so hard.. Sometimes just occassional revisits thru some time does the trick...I started appreciating lots of it from buying LP's from a collector friend who has a classical radio show in Atlanta,,,as we listened to some of it, he gave me context for the music,,,although there is some music that even I cant get into (at least for now), especially some of the modern music put forth by the Nonesuch label..
As far as modern classical music, I am referring to the new stuff - not the early to mid 20th century stuff. I enjoy and can relate to Copland - I enjoy John William's compositions for different movies and other composers. I even like some of the new stuff that sounds like it came from outer space (unfortunately, I can't relate since I'm living here on earth), and therein lies the rub. I could / can relate to Beethoven's pain, darkness, and triumph.

I know there is value in modern music, and I have no doubt that they each have structure for their music. I might give it a better effort. I really have not given it a fair shot since I don't listen enough to really see if I can connect.

But am I the only one who feels that everything has been exhausted by the previous composers, and that's why the modern composers have to make weird patterns and harmonies and keys just to do something different? They can't just use the circle of 5th's and relative minor/major. They have to venture way out there to come up with something original, but do they go so far out that they lose their audience? What other choice do they have?

As a piano player once told me, we need a renaissance of the arts.

Of course, in his day Beethoven was considered dissonant and unlistenable. Maybe in a few hundred years I can learn to like modern music.
Eldartford: Check out "Twentieth Century Music" by Eric Salzman. Perhaps a good place to start... Tell us what you think, I'm very interested to know. It might bore you to tears, but give it a shot if you have some spare time.

It's true that dissonance used to be defined far more broadly. Back in the middle ages, a perfect 4th was considered really out there. It's standard now. Who knows what will happen in the future?
Rob,,,i actually felt the same way about Woody Allen movies...I felt they were too much intellect and not enough emotion or candor.
LOL Jsujo.

I guess it's worth venturing out of what is familiar. Classical music always takes an effort to listen to in order to appreciate. Active listening and understanding just makes the emotions stronger. So, because of this thread I'm going to make an effort. I feel with all of the posts, I realize that my approach towards the new stuff is what caused me to be critical. When I heard Beethoven's 9th Symphony for the first time, I remember thinking why if everyone so thrilled about this. It wasn't until several years later when I better understood what was going on that I realized what was great. And it has it's flaws no doubt.

Thanks All.


A basics of a music grammar for all music lovers could make a large improvement on understanding and appreciating classical music and modern classical music as well.
Good deal Rob, and I will try to like Annie Hall...;-)
I like my odds better Jsujo LOL
Lousyreeds1...Thanks. I will look for that book.

Our local newspaper, The Berkshire Eagle, has a big story today about how James Levine, the new conductor of the Boston Symphony is planning to redirect the BSO, and the Tanglewood music festival program so as to put emphasis on "new music". I predict that this will be a financial mistake. Actual experience with years of Tanglewood attendance indicates that Mozart concerts are invariably very well attended, while "modern music" plays to empty seats. (James Taylor just was sold out completely for two consecutive nights - no space even on the grass - but that is another whole world).

When I first moved to this area, about 40 years ago, the BSO played a short series of "Bach/Mozart" concerts, using only about half the orchestra. These concerts were really beloved by the local people, and it was a sad day when the program was eliminated.
Of course it'll be a financial disaster. We know it. They know it. But Levine realizes that he, as someone in a position of great power in the classical music world, has to be an advocate of new music. Orchestras need to make enough money to stay alive, but that's not their real purpose. They're civic organizations that are there for the public good, and their responsibilities include assisting the community of composers. The fact that it plays to empty seats doesn't mean it's not worthwile to perform.

Most orchestras mix the new in with the old in a single concert. Sometimes, people think the new piece sucks. Sometimes, the new piece gets a standing ovation and people go out and buy the CD. And for the most part, these are people who are not 'new music lovers'. They came for the Beethoven symphony or what have you, and left having had a completely new, exciting, unexpected experience.
Lousyreeds1...I hate to sound so negative, but I do see the nature of "modern" and "new" music to be a problem. MOST modern music I should add. There is some new work that is OK. I agree that people like Levine should support current composers. My complaint is what the composers do with that support. Why can't they compose in an idiom that is more widely appreciated?

You mention that it is customary to mix old and new music in a program. Let me point out another fact for consideration...when some new composition appears along with the Beethoven symphony, which one goes first? The new piece, always. People will sit through it so as to hear Beethoven, but if Beethoven went first the hall would be half empty after intermission.

Music seems to be the only venture where the customer is not always right.
Indeed, the new piece always comes first, usually for exactly the reason you specify. The idea is that people generally aren't open to new things, and sometimes you have to give them a bit of incentive to stay. Sometimes the audience is glad they sat through it. Sometimes the discussions during intermission are full of eye rolls and sighs. It just depends.

Think of all the composers who refused to write in a manner that would be 'pleasing' to their intended audiences or patrons. Mozart, Beethoven, Debussy, Satie, Stravinsky, Schoenberg, and there are many more. If they had always been forced to pander to someone else's expectations, we would be stuck with a bunch of Salieris and Atwoods. No fun at all.

"Music seems to be the only venture where the customer is not always right," you say.

Your treatment of music as a commodity to be purchased rather than as an art to be experienced scares me. Just give the new work a chance. Worst case, you left feeling nothing, but you've seen a little bit of someone else's creative soul. Go up and ask the composer what he was thinking when he wrote his piece, and why it was so weird. If it's new enough, he's probably sitting in the audience.

You're going to tell me that whether we like it or not, music as it is in the 21st century is a commodity, and it had better realize that or die. I think we had better realize that music is not a commodity. Otherwise, it will die whether or not it incorporates new music. Playing nothing but the classics won't save classical music. Incorporating them with the dynamism of new music and getting the audiences excited about it might help.

"To listen can be an effort, and just to hear is no merit. A duck hears also."-Igor Stravinsky.
Eldartford, I'm very sympathetic to your feelings about 'modern' music, which you may have gathered from my previous post. They was a lot of crap purveyed in the last 50 years that shouldn't have seen the light of day, and perhaps a better screening process should have been effected by the conductors. I would even suggest that the prolifferation of that stuff did more to empty concert calls than to fill them. HOWEVER, we do risk never hearing music that is new and worthwhile, as for example, The Rites of Spring, absolutely hated at its premier more because it was new, not understood, not traditional, not melodic, ad infinitum, but has now taken its place as one of our century's important works. Who is to judge?
Let me be very clear that I agree with the sentiment that there's a whole lot of crap floating around out there that, as Newbee says, shouldn't have seen the light of day. But let's also keep in mind that every period of classical music, of any music for that matter, has produced its fair share of crap. The ratio of great composers to mediocre ones is no higher or lower now than it ever has been. History will eventually separate the wheat from the chaff. In the mean time, I enjoy hearing everything I can and making that decision for myself on my own terms.
Stravinski was right, being a duck is the norm. The new stuff doesn't come to you, you have to go to it. There's always something to learn in order to get it when an artform pushes into a new area. Varese probably won't be on anyone's top 40 after a first listen. A little humility and attentivness often pays off when you feel blindsided... Who was that dumb ass who gave Miles Davis/On The Corner, or Zappa's Bongo Fury 2.5 stars in Downbeat?
Imagine an encore for 4:33.
Gabbro: Would The Minute Waltz be a proper encoure?
You've got to try some of Webern's early works (his lieders for instance) and then move slowly up in time. 20th century music will probably never be your favorite but I can promise you'll do some wonderfull discoveries. When you're in that mood, nothing comes close to it.
Sorry I did not see this post until now. Great modern music is still being made and much of it is ascetic and atonal. Much of it, and just like all music 90%, is not very good, but that 10%....!

Technically playing modern classical is extremely demanding on both the listener and the players. For most people these days classical music is an acquired taste and modern classical music is even more of an acquired taste for both the players and the listner. But in the end it is highly subjective whether the ends justifies the means. I happened to believe it is well worth the effort. And most players do too, at least the ones I have talked with. Because in these cases, the composer and the musicians can talk about the performance together, and actually change things around if need be. It was quite informative talking with Gidon Kremer after his performance of Schnitke's 2nd Violin Sonata, and how the two made a few changes that would enhance the performance and enhance the piece aestetically. He showed me his score, with all the changes marked that the two had made. You cannot say that about a Beethoven or Schubert piece at all. Beethoven who was a great pianist never played his sonatas the same way twice, he did not follow his own markings! OK so who is say which way is correct, good question.

My moniker says I love Schubert, and I do! But I would rank some of the moderns as my favorites too, but after Schubert, Beethoven and Brahms, I would go see a Schnitke, Gorecki, Bartok or Penderecki piece before I would see something like Mozart or Bruckner. These guys are inventive, imaginative and just plain aestetically involving.

BTW, what radio station plays Modern classical music, I would love to know that one!!!
I think the atonal only stuff is not interesting to me. I don't mind if it's part of a song, but you need balance. And music should not be a test of your will. It should have pleasing qualities. Atonal works in songs that also have points of resolution throughout the song such as jazz and some modern music are enjoyable to me.

I enjoy modern classical music when done right. I guess it has just been a lack of effort on my part to seek it out. I would assume musical development will happen whether there is a big audience or not.
Robm321: hmmm....done right.....hmmm, what does that mean?An audience has nothing to do with it. Either music as art stands or falls on being autonomous. If it is a slave of fashion then it is not autonomous and therefore not art. In fact, there has been only one time in history that musical art and popularity coincided, the early 19th century. This also coincided with the rise of the middle class and its attitudes towards all art, the period of Beethoven(and only Beethoven)the first of the autonomous composers. And once the middle class made classical music...well... middle class, Classical music as art music had to become even more autonomous from the crudeness of the middle class. But it is more than alienation from the middle class, it had to do with what art itself sees, a metaphor for the human condition. If Beethoven was the voice of the rise of the middle class, then someone like Schnittke has to show the alienation of man in light of his conquering of nature itself through the processes developed in the Enlightenment. And boy can Schnittke show the aesthetics of alienation through his music.