More Taruskin--Grand Narratives and Mini Narratives II
I have been offering some recent mini-narratives-->
1--Babbitt's late blooming diatonicism
2--21st C. composers de-coupling techniques from the sounds associated with them.
I wish to compare these with other mini-narratives.
The last movement of Brahms’s op. 114 was a mind-blowing surprise to me. I was taught that Schoenberg’s 12-tone thing was a Hegelian ego trip. After hearing and noting what happens in op. 114, I learned that Schoenberg took a painfully obvious step.
The opening of the movement consists of two inversionally related harmonies— F major and A minor. (Minor triads and major triads are inversions of each other.) The two chords have 2 common tones, while E and F flip between the chords.
Next E—F !!!! sixteenth note E lands on F.
followed by the inversion of that figure:
E—D# !!!! sixteenth note E lands on D#.
MOREOVER, the melodic figures that accompany these tunes invert from one figure to the next.
So clearly, anyone can see what Schoenberg saw in this and many other examples from Brahms the Progressive. Grant the poor man the credit for taking this where he did. What is obvious in retrospect took great courage at the time. Forgive Schoenberg for getting inflated and Hegelian. I would have thought myself a damn swell guy if I had thought of that at that time, and had the wherewithal to pull it off. (Schoenberg figured out how to have his music preserve the inversional relationships while dispensing with functional harmony.)
Moreover, German music had had a great run, and Schoenberg knew that the steps he was taking would appear quite obvious after the fact. How wrong was he to feel centuries of music bearing down on his one moment? The backlash against his sense of place has been overstated. It is petty not to celebrate Schoenberg’s moment. Get away from me with your Hegel.
In the clarified notion of evolution that Stephen Jay Gould explained in his book, *Full House*, there is no denial that things happen gradually in dynamic flux with one development leading to others. To say that music “evolves" is not objectionable in any way whatsoever. The Hegelian error is to say that God or a collective will is moving inextricably toward an ultimate end. No one is saying that. We are examining little step by step developments.
Babbitt carved out some territory. Schoenberg, declared dead by Boulez & his circle, had discovered combinatoriality. Webern had discovered 4 part arrays. Babbitt discovered mulitply partitioned arrays and explored that.
But it does not stop there.
Frank Brickle's setting of Emerson's Merlin I uses a multiply-partitioned array, and it sounds nothing like Babbitt. He successfully de-coupled a Babbitt thing from the Babbitt sound. Brickle also cracked an important partitioning problem with his colleague Bazelow, back in the days before computers made the problem trivial. Google "Brickle Bazelow".
My setting of Gillian Welch’s My Morphine is also a study of a multiply-partitioned array. It is another attempt to demonstrate that 20th C. techniques can be de-coupled from the bad old 20th C. sound world. In this case, the multiply partitioned array accompanies a pop song.
Partitions are so far off the beaten path that it is really the last thing in the world we'd expect to persist. Other more garden varieties of modernist techniques are really on their way to becoming public coin. Emerging now is a Doctirne of 21st C. Affects, comprised of all recent modalites and what they do to us qualitatively, and drawn from all music--uptown, downtown, free improv, thoroughly notated.
Music answers human needs, and therefore music will change when people are tired of something that's become tedious. We are all tired of the 20th C. sounds, yet techniques have a stubborn persistence, and can be made to work in surprising new ways, limited only by the creativity and audacity of the people who are using them.