Sunday, September 02, 2007

'Spling! Pang! Flimb!'

Because I loved the Modernism exhibition at the V&A recently, and my knowledge of classical music is slim to non-existent, I bought the specially-compiled Modernism in Music CD.

And because I know a couple of readers of this blog actually know something about classical music, I now wonder if they could answer for me the question 'is there any classic music which follows the strictures and tenets of modernism, but doesn't actually sound like three bags of hammers exploding in a windchime factory/that bit in Roger Rabbit where Daffy and Donald have a big piano fight?'

So far, this is six quid I won't be getting back.

Wait, some lad's come in with an oboe.

No, he's gone again.

UPDATE: none of it is anywhere near as utterly great as Hey, I really like Little Miss Cypher from the first second Pepe Deluxe album as made freely downloadable here and sent to me as part of a compilation yesterday by Patchy McGirlfriend, god bless her.

Now that's what I call "expanding sonic palettes, breaking tonal conventions and experimenting readily with a new found freedom of expression", in your face Bartok.


Jocelyn Lavin said...

Depends on your definition of modernism in music, I think :-)

But, some pieces I like (whether you will or not, I have no idea!) that could be considered "modern"...

Bartok - Concerto for Orchestra

Philip Glass - Koyaanisqatsi

Walton - Belshazzar's Feast

Debussy - most of his stuff, e.g. Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune; Syrinx; Clair de Lune; Golliwog's Cakewalk

Ravel - again, most of it, especially La Valse; Daphnis et Chloé; even Bolero would probably count as modernist

Stravinsky - Symphony of Psalms

Prokofiev - Classical Symphony (no. 1 in D) (modernist, despite the name); Lieutenant Kijé (mainly Troika); Cantata for the 20th Anniversary of the October Revolution; Romeo and Juliet (Montagues and Capulets is the well-known bit)

Eric Whitacre - Lux Aurumque

Kodaly - Psalmus Hungaricus

Poulenc - Flute Sonata; Oboe Sonata

John Adams - Short Ride in a Fast Machine

Michael Torke - Bright Blue Music

Erik Satie - Gymnopédies; Gnossienes

Honegger - Pacific 231

Not all of the above are particularly tuneful, but they're easier on the ear than the stuff on the V&A CD. Which I must admit isn't my cup of tea either :-)

Let me know if this is what you had in mind!

Anonymous said...

Shostakovic - The Jazz Album.

Makes me happy.


James Henry said...

Aw thanks both of you - and jocelyn, I'd forgotten about Philip Glass, I genuinely like a lot of his stuff, will seek out more. I do like Clair de Lune (or as I know it 'that bit from Ocean's 11 where they're standing around a fountain). Actually, I seem to remember Art of Noise doing a Debussy-themed album, which should have been marriage made in heaven, but was, in fact, rather dull.

*wanders off to find some classical music blogs*

patroclus said...

In the interests of needless pedantry, it's actually Pepe Deluxe's second album, the one prior to the current one (which is also great).

Tim F said...

I second Stravinsky and Shostakovich (esp Symph 7).

But Philip Glass always sounds to me like an infinite number of elderly Jewish ladies repeating the word 'biddly' in randomly selected keys.

kaiki said...

shame that lad with the oboe chipped off, he may well have saved that piece.
perhaps he didn't like it either ?

James Henry said...

He made his protests most audible, I'll say that much.

Jocelyn Lavin said...

I forgot Shostakovich! Am so ashamed. I second the recommendation of the 7th symphony and would add the 5th and 10th to that list. And I love the Festive Overture (although that's not particularly modernist). And the Piano & Trumpet Concerto (aka Piano Concerto no. 1).

Also, I want to add Mahler to my list. I'm even more ashamed that I forgot him. Particularly symphonies 2, 3 and 8 because they're the ones with choral bits so I know them best, but the others are great too.

Koyaanisqatsi does feature the Jewish lady effect, but helpfully their biddly bits tend to be in sensibly-chosen keys :-)

Anonymous said...

If you can lay your hands on it watch Simon Rattle's "Leaving Home:Orchestral Music in the 20th Century" (it's available on DVD but is jolly expensive) which gave a great overview of modern classical music and actually tells you WHY the good stuff is good.

Glass' "Akhnaten" REALLY rocks and has no biddly bits!

James Henry said...

Hmm, boxed set of "Leaving Home:Orchestral Music in the 20th Century available for £48.99, that's sort of doable - maybe I'll write a Shaun the Sheep about classical music, then I can claim it to tax...

Valerie said...

Personally, I love Steve Reich (e.g. Violin Phase, Music for Mallet Instruments), and he is very tuneful, but I just found out he counts as post-modern, not modern. Sort of "when modern got its groove back," or something like that. [I suspect Philip Glass (who I love to abuse) is in the same category, but I hate to admit this.]

cello said...

Not nearly enough time/space to do justice to this. But isn't it hilarious that we're recommending some things that are over 100 years old as being modern. Puccini was writing way later than many of these people.

But Stravinsky, Bartok, Shostakovich, yes,yes,yes. Add to that Berg, Janacek, Tippett, Britten, Berio and even some Schoenberg.

But if you want something gorgeous and absolutely bang up to date try Thomas Ades. His opera The Tempest was on at the ROH last year and this, and is a corker. If it comes back you must try and go.

I'm not that keen on all the Glass/Adams/Reich/Nyman school of minimalism. It's OK. But seems just a bit easy and cheap, like watered down Baroque with the odd bit of polytonality and polyrhythm to flatter the audience they're listening to something modern.

I think you are probably struggling with atonality, which we all find a challenge, but it does reward repeated listening. But only if the piece is good of course. It's depressing how far behind artistic developments our public taste is with contemporary music. No other art form suffers this gap. All the fault of the music industry itself of course, and not yours in any way.

Jocelyn Lavin said...

Eek! I am definitely losing my mind. I can't believe I forgot Britten! (I didn't forget Tippett, but the only things I actually like of his are the spirituals from "A Child of Our Time", and they're not modernist at all. (The rest of ACOOT is, but I hate it!))

Favourite bits of Britten: War Requiem; Billy Budd (all of it); Four Sea Interludes from Peter Grimes; Missa Brevis; Ceremony of Carols; Six Metamorphoses after Ovid; A Charm of Lullabies; Spring Symphony; A Hymn to the Virgin... and my very favourite, A Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra. The bit at the very end, when the brass all come in with the slow tune while everyone else is going mad on the fugue, is one of the few bits of music which has moved me to tears every single time I've ever heard it.

I'll stop now. What do you mean, I'm getting a bit obsessive about this?

Paul Pennyfeather said...

James, we are disappointed in you. Please report to Pennyfeather Towers for re-education bringing your laptop, whence I will fill it with modern music. Starting with Tristan and ending with some John Adams (but I might miss out the serialists because I just don't get them)
Please get yourself:
Berg: Violin Concerto
Reich: Drumming
Shostavovich: Piano Trios
Adams: Nixon in China
In the meantime and perform self-flagellation until you realise what is good for you

patroclus said...

Do I have to participate in this corrective régime too, or am I still allowed to listen to loungey trip-hop?

Piers said...

Glass isn't a one-trick pony y'know.

Don't forget the do-do-do do-do-do bits in between the biddly-biddly-biddly.

Paul Pennyfeather said...

John Adam's isn't that far away from loungey trip hop, try Dharma at Big Sur, so you'll be fine.

cello said...

There's always Copland if you want something jolly...

Jennifer said...

What r said.

Shostakovich's Jazz Album is freaking amazing.

Anonymous said...

Aw, I love Eric Satie. He used to ponce about in a velvet suit and at one point would only eat food that was white, which is always amusing. He thought it terribly important that music should not be boring, so most of it doesn't last more than a few minutes which is a plus point.
Actually most of my favourite classical composers are early 20th century. I really should expand my musical education. I rather like Schoenberg though.

Paul Pennyfeather said...

Satie was too embarrassed to ask where the toilet was at a dinner party, so he use the garden instead...

No 32 in a series of little known facts about composers from PP

Anonymous said...

I'd agree about Steve Reich. I saw the London Sinfonietta do the malletty one not so long ago and it was very ace.

Ech, with technical explanations like that I could be a reviewer.

Does Holst count? (I should say so, sometimes all the way up to 17 in a single bar... whoo whoo, comedy train a-coming etc.)

I would say there are great chunks of the first Boards of Canada that sound very modernist and classical to me, but what with them having drum machines and samplers and other such frippery they tend to end up in the less-classical bits of HMV.