Music Since 1945: Issues, Materials, and Literature, by Elliott Schwartz and Daniel Godfrey

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Music Since 1945Music Since 1945: Issues, Materials, and Literature, by Elliott Schwartz and Daniel Godfrey. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1995. xvi + 640 pp. ISBN 0-06-019046-9.

A review of an extensive review is in essence what the following combination of patter is intended to produce. Not that Music Since 1945, by Elliot Schwartz and Daniel Godfrey, should be considered a review, although it could function very well as such—and more—for those who think themselves to be already well versed in the music of our time. The book is rather an introduction, one that certainly provides an informed, informative and well-rounded condensation of this most complex yet exciting and multifaceted era of musical history and musical invention. Some believe the text leans heavily toward appreciation. If so, this is exactly what is needed in presenting our era to upper-level undergraduate music majors in both professional and liberal arts settings, as well as to graduate music students specializing in music history, theory, composition, performance, or education, and to anyone else. It also supplies user-friendly guidelines for practical musical analysis, and it provides a wealth of historical background on the grand range of recent advanced developments in music. It thus succeeds in leading its readers out of the warmth and familiarity of the masterpiece cave into the light of discovery.

Challenging. Intelligent. As comprehensive as possible. Diverse. Balanced. Like good lawyers, Schwartz and Godfrey ask searching questions. Also like good lawyers, they usually have answers to the questions that they ask.

I once had the blessing of sitting in on the classes of a brilliant philosophy professor. His clever, enthusiastic arguments and defenses of each philosopher's viewpoints were far more than exceptional academic duty. He knew the material so well and had such a command of the various views that he actually "became" the philosopher of the day. Some students never realized this and became emotionally involved when facing "Aristotle" or "Hume." They didn't realize they were up against the "historical figure," not the terrific, otherwise-endearing teacher himself. In fact, after being blasted by "Kant," one student stomped out and never returned. The point here is that Schwartz and Godfrey display the same committed quality when illustrating the vastly different aesthetic goals and compositional approaches of composers at work since 1945. Equally supportive when presenting the inventiveness of Milton Babbitt's hexachordal combinatoriality, Earle Brown's ground-breaking notation and musical forms, Samuel Barber's tonal explorations, Jacob Druckman's elegant collage technique, Donald Erb's innovative command of orchestration, or Mario Davidovsky's remarkable electronic pieces, for instance, this text encourages students to discard prior assumptions and biases as they explore the rich palette of music in our time.

But on occasion, I found myself asking—you may ask yourself—"yes, but what about . . . ?" Subsequently, my questions were usually answered.

The authors convey their appreciation of the many aesthetic approaches without hinting at their own particular bias. They present works in a positive light. They give all styles—from the ascetic conservative to the cutting-edge avant garde—equal backing and support. This genuine receptiveness is rare and refreshing. It may also prompt criticism from those remaining steadfastly in one camp or another. Perhaps we are beyond that. The book confirms the achievements of many composers of monumental integrity who happen to have arrived at their present levels by having traveled along many routes from different points of departure.

The book is divided into four parts. Part I, "Precedents, Influences, and Early Postwar Trends," beginning in the first decade of the twentieth century and ending in the late 1950s, examines the origins of Modernism in music. Part II, "New Aesthetic Approaches," covers the peak years of postwar Modernism, from the late 1950s to the early 1970s. Part III, "More Recent Developments," is devoted to the development of postmodernism, from the mid-1970s through the early 1990s; and Part IV, "Issues and Directions," deals with persistent themes of the postwar period, such as the role of notation, national traditions, and new approaches to traditional genres. And by integrating the aspects of music—theory, history, literature, and aesthetics—rather than concentrating on only one of those dimensions, Music Since 1945 avoids the pungent whiffs of academic formaldehyde common to myopic, compartmentalized musico-dissection. This text "examines how composers and listeners deal with pitch logic, process, texture, sound color, time, performance ritual, parody/historicism, notation, and technology." These nine factors are used effectively throughout the book's four parts as a means to compare, contrast and illustrate musical topics, similarities and differences.

A major advantage of this text is its inclusion of electronic/computer music. Two of the twenty-one chapters are devoted solely to electronic music. These chapters showcase the authors' direct, communicative style, which elegantly codifies this multifaceted material. Chapter Eight, of Part II: "New Aesthetic Approaches," covers expanding philosophies, the first major developments, the American pioneers, early classical studios and associated composers, synthesizers, and tape music with live instruments. It is introduced with prophetic precedents such as Busoni's famous "Sketch of a New Esthetic of Music" (1907), which "predicted the widespread use of electronic musical machinery half a century in advance."Also noted is Francis Bacon's visionary "New Atlantis" (1624), in which he "imagined a music of 'quarter-tone sounds,' 'rings,' 'warblings,' and 'artificial echoes,' of voices made 'shriller,' 'deeper,' or 'louder' by artificial means, and of sounds conveyed over distances through 'trunks and pipes'—a startlingly accurate foretelling of such phenomena as microtones, reverberation, filtering, amplification, and electrical sound transmission." The musical contributions of Edgard Varèse, John Cage, Pierre Schaeffer, Pierre Henri, Vladimir Ussachevsky, Otto Luening, Henk Badings, Mel Powell, Luciano Berio, Walter/Wendy Carlos, Karlheinz Stockhausen, John Eaton, Morton Subotnick, Terry Riley, and Toshiro Mayazumi, among others, are mentioned along with their techniques of composition. Chapter Seventeen, "Computers and Digital Systems," distinguishes digital from analog technology in a straightforward fashion. Also noted are discoveries and developments in computer music, its capabilities, the computer in live performance, the vanishing boundary between acoustic and digital sound, and future developments—all quite readably chronicled and interwoven with the leading contributions of Paul Lansky, Tod Machover, Charles Dodge, and Max Matthews, et al.

Musical achievements by women composers are also brought to light in this volume, and thankfully not in a separate chapter. Logically interspersed with their male counterparts—imagine that!—we gratefully find Joan Tower, Sofia Gubaidulina, Libby Larsen, Ellen Taaffe Zwilich, Thea Musgrave, Kaija Saariaho, and others who not only make the pages, but indeed find some of their works and techniques highlighted in the Pieces for Study sections.

This brings us to a problem, not about gender, but about historical significance. I fully identify with the difficulty of determining whom to include and whom to omit but how can Laurie Anderson, David Byrne, Brian Eno, and David Bowie land a few pages if Frank Zappa and his lifetime of eccentric contributions are not even mentioned? For one of the few American composers commissioned, performed, and recorded by Pierre Boulez not to receive even a line is a certain oversight that should be remedied in subsequent editions. One could easily cite other prominent, perhaps curious, omissions. Moreover, the "younger generation" paragraphs should be expanded to include a larger cross-section of our truly exceptional, clearly promising composers. The documented wide range of extraordinary talent already evident in the "established" generation lives in the younger composers as well, rising upon the horizon.

The book contains an extensive bibliography, divided into eleven sections, but it is also the select discography that separates this text from others, because at the time of this writing it is still current. The discs are reasonably available and can be found or ordered at the local record store. The at-home or in-the-car aural experience is what students require for future interest beyond academe. The discography is found at the end of the text and is logically organized paralleling the chapters of the text. Musical scores selected by the instructor from the bibliography can be ordered to amplify the students' absorption of the material.

I recommend this text to everyone. Those who know me will find this hard to believe, but I really did read every word of the book. I'm not sure I've ever done that before with any "textbook." It does need supplementing, and an accompanying anthology would be helpful. But it would be a pleasure to use this book, which in essence says with an outstretched hand, "welcome to the excitement and adventure that naturally results from living fully in one's own time."≈

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Last modified on Monday, 22/10/2018

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