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Alexandra

Music: The New Dissonance

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From today's NYTimes, Anthony Tommasini writes about new music.

Looking for Just the Right Bit of Nastiness

Typically, fledgling composers are taught harmony and counterpoint according to more or less rigid, traditional rules, with dissonances carefully chosen and studiously resolved. But when they write in contemporary harmonic idioms and a nifty dissonance is called for, young composers are too quick to think that any old combination of pitches that produce some abrasive snarl of a chord will do. Not so, says Mr. Hartke, and it's a point he impresses on composition majors at the University of Southern California.

"I spend a lot of time with students on clarifying harmony," he said. "I try to make them understand that even if you are writing post-tonal music you have to think about voice-leading issues." Write nasty music, Mr. Hartke would say. Go haywire if you choose, but make the pitches matter.

I wonder if Mr. Hartke could be persuaded to give a few similar talks to young choreographers?????

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Alexandra, could you delve a bit more into this analogy? If I understand you correctly, I think you are suggesting that choreographers need to be aware that there is more to presenting innovative work than simply offering, say, shock value. That similar to not striking a chord, any chord, you do not present a move, any move. That you must have a thorough understanding of what it is you are trying to convey and the tools with which you are doing so. Am I correct in this understanding?

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Exactly! One of the problems that I have which much new work (aside from the fact that much of it isn't really new, but recycled old stuff; I got a press release a few days ago from a company claiming that their new ballet this upcoming season will cause a revolution -- it's putting modern dance on pointe for the very first time! Think of that!) But also because they are, in essence, banging on a piano and creating dissonance, yes, but not making the pitches matter. (The whole article gives a broader context for this, of course.) I'm also tired of New for the sake of New -- as silly, to me, as "anything old is good." But this gets at the bones of what's wrong -- it's smashing rules without knowing what the rules are, and not understanding the general principles that would allow you to expand the rules, change the rules -- which is, I believe, what genius realy does. (Genius has no rules. They Get It; the rest of us need rules to follow what they know.)

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Ooh, sorry to disagree, Alexandra, but I think that Genius has so fully assimiliated the rules that they have become second nature. Genius doesn't need to look them up before breaking them. Had Balanchine not been so thoroughly schooled in Petipan Classicism, he would not have been the innovator he was.

Also, ignoring rules and breaking them are distinctly different things.

AND, while an art can be brought forward by breaking the rules, isn't what's being done when it's done well, actually extending the possibilities?

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I had a friend who re-embraced tonality after a long flirtation with Schoenberg and Boulez. He said that he found himself wandering around, trying to assemble harmonies that sounded awful! He then declared himself to be "decomposing", and went back to the old rules, although with a kind of Milhaud/Poulenc type of sophistication.

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Ooh, sorry to disagree, Alexandra, but I think that Genius has so fully assimiliated the rules that they have become second nature.  Genius doesn't need to look them up before breaking them.  Had Balanchine not been so thoroughly schooled in Petipan Classicism, he would not have been the innovator he was.

Carbro, I agree that genius doesn't have to look up rules (that's in essence what I wrote above) and they've assimilated the "rules," they're thoroughly grounded in their craft, but I think there's more to it than that. By "they Get It" I mean their view of the world and of their art is much more broad than that of ordinary people. They know the real Rules (what is art) in a way that the rest of us can't know. (We then try to turn what they do into more better rules :wub: ) It's that they see the whole sky, the entire world, and the rest of us can only see what is over our back yard. I think it's more than just assimilation of what's gone before; it's seeing what has never been.

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I absolutely agree! I think Genius Happens on an intuitive level to the educated mind (although "mind" may not be le mot juste here; it is not entirely an intellectual phenomenon). That's pretty much what you're saying, isn't it?

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Yes, exactly. We're looking in the rule books, and Baby Genius comes out and throws paint at the walls in patterns that we've not yet seen.

I'd also been taught that Genius studies the rules and then breaks them, but I've come to think that's an oversimplification. I genuinely believe that Genius doesn't see "rules." (And that doesn't mean that Balanchine didn't learn everything from watching Petipa, and used it, or negate Ashton's "private lessons" from watching Sleeping Beauty.)

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Now I'm reminded of a famous quote: "What's the difference between genius and stupidity?"

Scroll down to see the rest of the quote:

"Genius has its limits."

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Ah, Funny Face, I'm not so sure that Genius has its limits. At least, it is always pushing against them.

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A scientific genius doesn't break the rules (laws) of nature, instead a new rule is formulated that is closer to the truth than the old rule. Perhaps an artistic genius is doing the same sort of process - breaking the old rule and replacing it with a more general rule.

Cliff

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Yes, or to turn it around, couldn't one apply the same principle to science -- looking at it one way, someone makes a discovery that overturns old "rules" and creates a new series of them. But to the gas that's just been discovered, or Nature itself, it's not a question of rules; they know they're there, and they know their secrets. We just haven't discovered them yet.

Funny Face -- I liked the stupid/genius joke :blushing:

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