Thursday, June 30, 2016

Aleatoric Music and John Cage

There are different types of contemporary classical music that fall under the heading “postmodern.” Minimalism, for instance, can be considered postmodern. Or what about aleatoric music? Aleatoric is a term used to describe the use of chance to create something—a quality of postmodernism. Today, let’s focus our attention on how John Cage experimented with this type of music.

Influenced by Zen Buddhism, composer John Cage often used aleatoric methods in his work, believing music with structure that creates a sense of emotion or imagery for a listener was old news. His approach opened up opportunities for audiences to hear sounds as they are, leaving it up to chance to determine the performance outcome. One example of this method can be found in his Music of Changes, a piano work that uses the Chinese I-Ching method of tossing coins to determine the outcome.

Another aspect of aleatoric music is indeterminacy. Indeterminacy leaves certain aspects of a piece unspecified so that the outcome is up to the performer’s interpretation. The composer may provide various graphics or instructions in the score but the performance will vary each time it is played. Cage’s infamous 4’33’’ is a great example of this.

Join me next month as we look at classical crossover! 

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Postmodernism in Art

This month, Clef Notes has been looking at how various music and art movements overlap throughout history. Let’s wrap up our topic this week by looking at postmodernism.

Just what is post-modernism? This late 20th-century style in art, music, architecture, and literature began as a reaction to objective explanations of reality. While modernism focused on new innovative ideas and the concept of art for art’s sake, postmodernism believes that anyone can be an artist and often takes images from pop culture or mass production as its subject, thus blurring the bridge between high and low art and culture.

Not sure if you’ve seen postmodern art? If you’ve visited the Cincinnati Art Museum, you most likely saw a few Andy Warhol works that fall into this category. The first, shown below, reflects the idea of mass production and commercialism in art—everyone has seen a Campbell’s soup can!
Courtesy of Cincinnati Art Museum 

This next piece draws from pop culture, again, an example of blurring those lines between high and low art. Most people, even those not accustomed to viewing art, would see this piece and be familiar with who it depicts—pop culture icon Pete Rose.

Courtesy of Cincinnati Art Museum 
Next time, we’ll take a look at why John Cage is considered to fit into the postmodern category with some of his works. 

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Webern's Use of Pointillism

This week, Clef Notes is looking at pointillism and how it appears in both art and music. Last time, we looked at Georges Seurat’s famous pointillist painting A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte. Today, let’s listen to Anton Webern’s (1883–1945) Symphony, Op. 21, which shows how pointillism is used in composition.

Anton Webern
Courtesy of 
A student of Arnold Schoenberg, Webern was known to use the 12-tone method in his work. He was a firm believer that composers worked as researchers, discovering new ideas and ways to compose. Believing that the best art only does what is necessary, many of his works are quite concise, without the lush elaboration found in music of the Romantic era. His Five Pieces for Orchestra, Op. 10, No. 4, for instance, is only six measures long!

Some of Webern’s work is considered to use pointillism. Like the dots on the artist’s canvas, pointillism in music uses only one to four notes at a time, sounding like pitch points to the ear. The only way to truly understand this is to listen to an example.

Webern’s Symphony, Op. 21 above is quite interesting in that, not only do we hear pointillism, but in the first movement alone we also witness a double canon in inversion and palindromes!

Next week, we will wrap up our month on music and art by looking at post-modernism. Stay tuned!