It dawned on me that avant garde music, so to speak, is about 100 years old if we count the 1913 premiere of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring as the starting point. It also dawned on me that it's still not that popular. Rite of Spring is still immensely successful but it’s the exception not the rule.
I get something not being popular because it was ahead of its time but 100 years is 100 years. You see, for something to be ahead of its time, its time needs to show up eventually. If you’re waiting for Stockhausen’s time to come, good luck.
I also get that an appeal to popularity is an informal logical fallacy. Popularity is not a determinant of artistic value. The examples are legion.
What I don’t get is why so many serious composers bring an obscure doom down upon themselves and their music.
If certain composers had never lived and composed, my life would be different. There have been moments when the expressive and emotional beauty of their music have guided me to aspects of my own self that I may have never realized. I have had that experience with a few pieces of what I’m calling avant garde music. Jesus Love Never Failed Me Yet by Gavin Bryars is one such piece, as is Gorecki's Third Symphony.
However, Copland has done the same for me as well as Bernstein, Barber, Rachmaninoff and Shostakovich — all of them 20th Century composers. All of them not avant garde. The most effective 20th Century composers consistently wrote music that moved people.
Benjamin Britten, Vaughan Williams, Ravel, Debussy, Khachaturian, Korngold, Poulenc, Prokofiev, and others are all great 20th Century composers who have their music performed regularly.
Here’s the thing that sticks out to me. These composers didn’t revolutionize music, but they did write music that generations of humanity continue to enjoy. You see there have been only a few who have managed to revolutionize music. Beethoven, Wagner, and Stravinsky are about the only ones who have any claim. Maybe Gesualdo but he was secluded because of his double homicide.
Schoenberg? No. He tried to found a new school of music, but I would have to say at this point it’s a failure everywhere except in academic settings.
Avant garde is always trying to do something new. It’s gotta be new, it’s gotta be groundbreaking and there’s been a few pieces that have succeeded, but by and large it’s obscure. I’m trying to think if there is a less popular form of music than avant garde. I can’t think of one.
Again, there is nothing wrong with obscurity I just wonder if that is what these composers want. The thing is, I adore the underlying philosophy or spirit of most avant garde music. I’ve yet to find a piece of new music where I think the idea behind it is stupid or unworthy. However, I’ve found plenty that don’t deliver on their idea.
Perhaps that’s part of it. The composer is trying to express a concrete idea using music. The problem is that music isn’t concrete. It is the most fleeting of experiences.
A hundred years later, I think avant garde music needs to be revolutionized.