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Is there a musical corollary to abstract expressionism--the paintings of such artists as Willem de Kooning, Jackson Pollock, and Mark Rothko--any composers or performers seem to fit?

I'm reading "How New York Stole the Idea of Modern Art," by Serge Guilbaut, which is a detailed, blow by blow account of how a very small art movement, practiced by only a few individuals in New York city, was established as a dominant movement on the international scene. Nothing as significant seems to have happened in music, but I'm wondering if attempts were made that never got off the ground.

Any thoughts?

Tomasino


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There are connections between the artists you mentioned and the New York School (John Cage, Morton Feldman, Earle Brown, Christian Wolff). I'm not that familiar with Brown and Wolff, but I can see an artistic similarity between Cage and Pollock on one side, and Feldman and Rothko on the other, but that may just be me.


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Originally Posted by tomasino
Is there a musical corollary to abstract expressionism

Any thoughts?


I read your question with interest but then saw the details and - could I be wrong? You seem to be focusing on some market/economic angle? Maybe I just have Synthesia? Ha! smile


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I think a lot of composers try. None seem to achieve real dominance, though. There were the expressionists (Schoenberg and the Second Viennese School), and after that figures like Ornstein, Scelsi, Roslavets, Ustvolskaya, Cage, Reich, Cardew, Zorn, Coleman, (Cecil) Taylor...

The difference is that people are far more accepting of abstraction in art than in music. Abstract music has never gained the kind of widespread popularity that abstract art has. Composers who have found more success are those whose music is still on some level familiar-sounding. (Adams, Whitacre...)

Originally Posted by tomasino
Is there a musical corollary to abstract expressionism--the paintings of such artists as Willem de Kooning, Jackson Pollock, and Mark Rothko--any composers or performers seem to fit?

I'm reading "How New York Stole the Idea of Modern Art," by Serge Guilbaut, which is a detailed, blow by blow account of how a very small art movement, practiced by only a few individuals in New York city, was established as a dominant movement on the international scene. Nothing as significant seems to have happened in music, but I'm wondering if attempts were made that never got off the ground.

Any thoughts?

Tomasino


"If we continually try to force a child to do what he is afraid to do, he will become more timid, and will use his brains and energy, not to explore the unknown, but to find ways to avoid the pressures we put on him." (John Holt)

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Originally Posted by Kreisler
The difference is that people are far more accepting of abstraction in art than in music. Abstract music has never gained the kind of widespread popularity that abstract art has. Composers who have found more success are those whose music is still on some level familiar-sounding. (Adams, Whitacre...)
I don't know if it's your term or a generally used one, but can you say a little about what you mean by "abstract music"?

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Yes, a definition of abstract would help. Personally I think almost all music is abstract. It is communicating something but what that something is is generated by our imagination.

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I think music itself is already an art of abstraction. Recreating reality as in representational visual art has not been the goal of music since a long time. Otherwise every piece you have would be about making birds sound, imitating wind noise, etc, etc.


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Originally Posted by pno
I think music itself is already an art of abstraction. Recreating reality as in representational visual art has not been the goal of music since a long time...

Good point, but you imply that music used to be much more representational. You mean in Bach's time? Renaissance? Medieval?... I'm not sure recreating reality was ever the goal.

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Originally Posted by beet31425
Originally Posted by pno
I think music itself is already an art of abstraction. Recreating reality as in representational visual art has not been the goal of music since a long time...

Good point, but you imply that music used to be much more representational. You mean in Bach's time? Renaissance? Medieval?... I'm not sure recreating reality was ever the goal.

-J


If there was ever a time "representational" music was a goal, it was probably in the prehistorical time, when people tried to mimic natural sounds to serve certain purposes, e.g. hunting, just as in cave paintings for recording certain events. Since then music has so evolved that it no longer makes any references to actual phenomena, while visual art still remained stuck until late 19th century.

But semi-representational music do exist even in more recent time, actually more so than before, e.g. Flight of the Bumblebee, which is certainly more representational than any of Bach's music.

I am no art historian myself. Just my opinion.


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Originally Posted by pno
[quote=beet31425]If there was ever a time "representational" music was a goal, it was probably in the prehistorical time, when people tried to mimic natural sounds to serve certain purposes, e.g. hunting, just as in cave paintings for recording certain events. Since then music has so evolved that it no longer makes any references to actual phenomena, while visual art still remained stuck until late 19th century.

But semi-representational music do exist even in more recent time, actually more so than before, e.g. Flight of the Bumblebee, which is certainly more representational than any of Bach's music.

I am no art historian myself. Just my opinion.

But there are plenty of isolated examples throughout history: Flight of the Bumblebee, yes, but also The Four Seasons, which has many instances of this kind of thing, including a barking dog. So still not convinced about the "actually more so than before" part. Hard to do an actual statistical analysis. But your larger point (comparing music and visual art) is well-taken.

-J

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Originally Posted by pno
Since then music has so evolved that it no longer makes any references to actual phenomena...
There are tens of thousands of compositions with very descriptive titles that fit the composition.

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Originally Posted by pianoloverus
Originally Posted by pno
Since then music has so evolved that it no longer makes any references to actual phenomena...
There are tens of thousands of compositions with very descriptive titles that fit the composition.


True there are plenty of musical compositions that have descriptive titles but the problem is: without knowing the title are you sure you can tell from the music itself what it is about?


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Originally Posted by pno
Originally Posted by pianoloverus
Originally Posted by pno
Since then music has so evolved that it no longer makes any references to actual phenomena...
There are tens of thousands of compositions with very descriptive titles that fit the composition.


True there are plenty of musical compositions that have descriptive titles but the problem is: without knowing the title are you sure you can tell from the music itself what it is about?
Sometimes most people could tell, but you said music "never made any reference" which is a lot different from saying what you said in your last post.

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Originally Posted by pianoloverus
Originally Posted by pno
Originally Posted by pianoloverus
Originally Posted by pno
Since then music has so evolved that it no longer makes any references to actual phenomena...
There are tens of thousands of compositions with very descriptive titles that fit the composition.


True there are plenty of musical compositions that have descriptive titles but the problem is: without knowing the title are you sure you can tell from the music itself what it is about?
Sometimes most people could tell, but you said music "never made any reference" which is a lot different from saying what you said in your last post.


Sorry if it caused any confusion with the wordings...but when I said "never made any reference" I mean the music itself, not the title.

For example, if I am not familiar with Tchaikovsky's Seasons and I am given the series randomly ordered without the titles, I don't believe I can rearrange them according to their intended seasonality. But that's just me.

Last edited by pno; 05/27/12 06:59 PM.

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Originally Posted by pno

For example, if I am not familiar with Tchaikovsky's Seasons and I am given the series randomly ordered without the titles, I don't believe I can rearrange them according to their intended seasonality. But that's just me.


On the other hand, every time I see a Rothko painting I say, "there's a square".

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Originally Posted by Damon
Originally Posted by pno

For example, if I am not familiar with Tchaikovsky's Seasons and I am given the series randomly ordered without the titles, I don't believe I can rearrange them according to their intended seasonality. But that's just me.


On the other hand, every time I see a Rothko painting I say, "there's a square".


Only one? I see 2, 3, ... LOL


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Originally Posted by Damon
Originally Posted by pno

For example, if I am not familiar with Tchaikovsky's Seasons and I am given the series randomly ordered without the titles, I don't believe I can rearrange them according to their intended seasonality. But that's just me.


On the other hand, every time I see a Rothko painting I say, "there's a square".

Just as every time I hear a Haydn symphony, I say "There's a movement in sonata-allegro form."

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While it is true that music cannot signify a "cat," or a "leaf," it sometimes mirrors the central theme of its own time. Bach, for example, reflects a time in history when many facets of existence had a right and proper place--a highly structured and hierarchical society, for example, with kings and high ranking church officials at the top, then the lesser nobility through to the bottom of the peasantry, then beasts of burden, and so on down the line. This structure was thought to be God's perfect plan.

Like most of us, I learned music theory based on Bach chorales, where every note, other than a few passing tones, could be accounted for and conceptualized as part of a perfect system of harmony. Again, in Bach's time, this was God's plan. And although Bach could not make his notes signify a "cat" or a "leaf," his notes, in their right and proper place, mirrored the central theme of his time.

The central theme of the years immediately after WWII was very different from Bach's time. The world had seemingly been blown apart, and was highly fragmented. There seemed to be no structure of any kind. Not only had western civilization just endured the second of two devastating wars, the whole thing had ended with the invention, manufacture, and use of two atomic bombs. The significance of these last events cannot be overstated. For the first time, civilization was confronting the possibility of its own annihilation. It seems certain, to me anyway, to have influenced the arts immediately afterwards--1946 to the late 50s--the period of abstract expressionism.

The abstract expressionist painter ". . . through a synthesis of the awful shapes and colors born of man's destructiveness . . . expresses his sense of that 'compulsion to disintegration' which for him is the central metaphysical fact of war." (p. 96, How New York Stole the Idea of Modern Art).

If there is a corollary in music to abstract expressionism, it would not necessarily manifest itself in visual/musical similarities. Rather, it would just as likely be found in the underlying and unspeakable content of the music. It would be found in the work of a composer, or school of composers, who somehow reflect the central theme, the ideology, the zeitgeist of that time.

Tomasino




Last edited by tomasino; 05/28/12 12:08 AM.

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Whilst I agree with tomasino re structure/belief etc, let us not forget Bach was born just 37 years after the end of the 30 years war which devastated what is now Germany: the country was fragmented into many mini-states. So it was 57 years after the 30 years war that Bach was 20, the year 2002 was 57 years after WW2. There are parallels and it is arguable that the 30 years war wreaked more devastation than WW2, especially in the area that Bach lived.


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I am interpreting the OPs question to referring to harmonic structure and symmetry in keyboard work (or any music, possibly) . . .

I am currently reading a wonderful book called: Jane Austen and Mozart: Classical Equilibrium in Fiction and Music by Robert K. Wallace...

Concepts such as symmetry, equilibrium, balance, resolution in earlier works might correspond to works of art in the same period, including literature. A most interesting topic!!

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