The astute reader may suspect that I have a preference for new music that is essentially tonal. And it’s true. I’m inclined believe that modernism is a candle that has pretty much burnt itself out. Generally speaking, the new music that interests me most is by composers who are taking a fresh look at tonality. (I’m less fond of composers who are taking a stale look at tonality – but that’s a subject for another blog.)
This is gnarly stuff: there’s nothing “pretty” about it. But at the same time, the music’s raw, visceral energy is effectively used to construct a sophisticated yet emotionally direct drama. The result is a work that’s intense and compelling from the first note to the last.
However, I also find Imprint a frustrating work. For all its virtues, my feelings about it are ambivalent, and my enthusiasm is blunted by what I see as a fundamental problem.
I can’t imagine how Imprint will ever be assimilated within the culture of Western music. Sure, it’s had a few performances, and it may yet receive a few more. (By contemporary music’s desperately low standards for “success,” this is a successful piece.) But what cause is there to hope that this harsh, dissonant, angular work will not fall into the same pit of oblivion that so many other harsh, dissonant, angular works have?
Over the last century, too many gifted composers have devoted their energies to banging their heads against the cultural wall, by writing music that confounds and defies the deeply ingrained musical values of Western societies. Their efforts have had very little effect on the wall – except to give “modern classical music” a bad rap.
What we need today, I believe, are composers who can write music that sticks to the wall. The living composers I most admire are the ones trying to do this: those who are trying to win back distrustful audiences by writing works that are culturally engaging rather than alienating.
I’ve noticed that the new music world contains more than a few people who don’t especially share my concerns. Some composers are suspicious, or even hostile, to “popularity,” as if writing music that Western culture might embrace is incompatible with their artistic ideals. (And perhaps it is.)
But I have a different view – and because I believe in cultural validation, I find my encounters with contemporary works are often bittersweet experiences. I can’t listen to a composition that is good but also doomed with unalloyed pleasure.
Below, I’ve attached a link to a YouTube video of Imprint. Again, there are many things I like about the piece – and I take no great pleasure in foretelling its demise.
© Colin Eatock 2013