What’s New?

I usually find things to disagree with in Greg Sandow’s posts. Here’s an excerpt from a recent one that raised some questions in my mind.

But, briefly, new classical pieces might fit into three broad categories. Modernist stuff (marked by dissonance, and, often, irregular rhythms); pieces that sound (despite updated harmony) like the older music in the classical repertoire; and then a big third category, which we  might very roughly call minimalism and beyond. (And which includes pieces that blend classical music and pop, even if those might not sound as if they stem from minimalism, because without minimalism, which (re)opened classical composition to a steady, driving pulse, the pop blend might not have happened.)

If you want names, try Elliott Carter, Paul Moravec, and David Lang. Understand that I’m not making value judgments, not saying any category stands out for good or bad music. And forgive how broad the categories are; plenty of pieces might have traits of more than one at once.

But still the categories are useful, and I’d say that only the third really sounds contemporary, especially outside the classical world. And even within it, since modernism lost its dominance a generation ago, and the pieces that sound like standard classical music — even if they make the classical audience sigh with relief — by their very nature don’t do much that’s new. While third-category music resonates with many things outside classical music, including many kinds of pop, visual art, graphic design, fashion, film, you name it.

The categorization is actually pretty useful, though I certainly agree that there are lots of pieces that fall between the chairs. Here are my questions:

– do the categories of modernism or “minimalism and beyond” truly do anything more that is “new” beyond what “pieces that sound like the older music in the classical repertoire” do? And why is “new” (which is usually old) to be valued?

– Is “new”-ness in a piece really a function of its style?

– are there really no connections between the music in the second category and the “many things outside classical music” that Sandow mentions?

– why does a connection with the “many things outside classical music” make a piece more musically interesting?

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