By Catherine Wagley
By Channing Sargent
By L.A. Weekly critics
By Amanda Lewis
By Catherine Wagley
By Carol Cheh
By Keegan Hamilton
By Bill Raden
From my 1999 vantage point, the music of this second quarter is astounding above all for its mix. Jazz continued its inroads into the "classical" world, thus speeding the crumbling of the wall between "serious" and "popular" that the 19th-century bourgeoisie had erected and labored to maintain. Maurice Ravel’s fascination with blues harmonies shone forth in his elegant Piano Concerto. In Berlin, Kurt Weill and the poet Bertolt Brecht stirred their preachments into a pot already aboil with jazz, ragtime and atonality, and produced the sizzling agitprop opera The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny. Four years later, Virgil Thomson and the sibylline Gertrude Stein wove their Four Saints in Three Acts out of a much more polite jazz plus hits from a Baptist Sunday-school hymnal. In his 1935 Porgy and Bess, George Gershwin’s attempt to meld a vivid blues style into a grand-opera format was uneasily received at first, and grew to masterpiece stature only slowly. And eight years later, the arrogant, jazzy rhythms of Leonard Bernstein’s On the Town signaled a giant forward step in literary and musical quality for the Broadway show, a breaking down of the wall of snobbery between musical theater and opera.
In the early 1930s, the American Colin McPhee traveled to Bali, and came home to compose music inspired by the rhythmic patterns of the Indonesian gamelan. Brazil’s Heitor Villa-Lobos produced amusing amalgams of his native folk rhythms and the stringent outlines of Bach. Closer to home, Roy Harris proclaimed his symphonies as illustrative of the "hard fastness" of the prairie soul; Aaron Copland succeeded somewhat better with his own fashionings of authentic or contrived "American" tunes in his cowboy ballets Billy the Kid and Rodeo, and the eloquent Appalachian Spring.
All of this happened within the context of an even greater upheaval, one that probably helped shape some of these other changes: the great communications explosion and its impact on the availability of music. By 1930, radio listeners coast-to-coast could hear live broadcasts by the New York Philharmonic and the Metropolitan Opera; by 1950, they could also watch them on television. In 1926, the process of recording was greatly advanced by the development of electronic technology to supplant the acoustic horn; in 1948, the long-playing record made it possible to survey the realm of masterful and not-so-masterful pieces in remarkable likenesses of the original performances. The spread of broadcasting also established music as an unparalleled political resource. In Adolf Hitler’s Germany, Carl Orff turned medieval German songs into musical poster art to help celebrate his nation’s past; Joseph Stalin’s Soviet Union made good use of its composers — the great Sergei Prokofiev and Dmitri Shostakovich among them — to spread the communist word, and came down hard on them when they strayed in the direction of originality.
In previous centuries, the construction of the first public concert halls and grand-opera houses, offering accessibility to an ever broadening social spectrum of consumers, had greatly influenced the development of grander, noisier and more flamboyant music. In our own century, the infinitely greater expansion of access through recordings and broadcasts seems to be having the same effect, infinitely magnified.1951–1975
51. STRAVINSKY: The Rake’s Progress (1951)
52. CARTER: Quartet No. 1 (1951)
53. CAGE: 4’33" (1952)
54. BOULEZ: Le Marteau sans Maître (1954)
55. BRITTEN: The Turn of the Screw (1954)
56. STOCKHAUSEN: Gesang der Jünglinge (1956)
57. STRAVINSKY: Agon (1957)
58. COPLAND: Piano Fantasy (1957)
59. HENZE: Kammermusik (1958)
60. SHOSTAKOVICH: Quartet No. 8 (1960)
61. PENDERECKI: Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima (1960)
62. RILEY: In C (1964)
63. BABBITT: Philomel (1964)
64. XENAKIS: Eonta (1964)
65. LIGETI: Requiem(1965)
66. PARTCH: Delusion of the Fury (1966)
67. REICH: Come Out (1966)
68. SCHNITTKE: Violin Concerto No. 2 (1966)
69. SUBOTNICK: Silver Apples of the Moon (1967)
70. NANCARROW: Studies for Player Piano (1968)
71. STOCKHAUSEN: Kurzwellen (1968)
72. BERIO: Sinfonia(1969)
73. CRUMB: Ancient Voices of Children (1970)
74. LUTOSLAWSKI: Symphony No. 3 (1973)
75. HARRISON: Suite for Violin and American Gamelan (1973)
To John Cage, composing music meant redefining music. One of his first teachers, Arnold Schoenberg at UCLA, tried to stanch his creative juices by telling him that he was more an inventor than a composer; Cage took it as a compliment. He invented the notion of creating music by pounding on resonant junkyard objects, by "preparing" a piano (i.e., imposing bits of hardware among the strings) to alter its tone quality, by allowing four minutes and 33 seconds’ worth of the ambient room noise around a silent performer seated at a piano to stand for the entirety of a titled piece. In 1951, Cage established the Project for Magnetic Tape in New York, encouraging composers to create music out of taped sounds collected the world over. Magnetic tape had been invented in Germany in the 1930s. By the 1950s, armed with electronic sound-producing and sound-processing equipment — and, not many years later, reinforced with the ancillary marvels of computer technology — a composer could state with justification that the previous two millennia of music represented only the base of the mountain of possibilities.
Actually, there had been some attempt to redefine the very sound of music long before Cage. As early as 1914, the Futurist poet/painter/composer Luigi Russolo had built massive room-filling machines to produce an array of harsh, mechanized cacophony that he and his Italian cohorts had proclaimed "the music of the future"; unfortunately, Russolo’s machines and most of his musical sketches were destroyed during World War II. After that war, several composers in France — Pierre Henry, Pierre Schaeffer and, for a time, the young Pierre Boulez — had used the recently invented tape recorders to process natural sounds, overlaid upon themselves or otherwise transformed into the designs of what came to be called "musique concrète." These experiments would soon be supplanted, however, by the broader potential in the range of sounds produced by electronic means and processed by computer.