Monday, December 2, 2013

"Simplicity" in Music

Ever since I took this class on the Future of Classical Musicians, I have found myself discussing the concept of "simple" and "complex" music with fellow musicians.  What makes art music simple or complex, and is one better than the other?  Has our recent change in favoring more straightforward and instinctual music said something about our society, and is the rise against this simplicity a valid argument?  The answers to these questions can be very opinionated and varied, but are very important inquiries.

I believe in the value of complex music.  Composers such as Elliot Carter, Schoenberg, and Pierre Boulez are vital in the scope of art music for the way they challenge the boundaries.  They also question aesthetics and the "tradition" of music, as discussed in Music: Healing the Rift by Ivan Hewett.  I cannot help my own personal taste and instinctual disdain toward such music.  Perhaps it is my view that the complexity of the music is so high, and the process is so meticulous, our mind is unable to listen and process such complexities.  However, my opinions do not change how important the contributions are.

Some people may, and have scrutinized my taste in music because of my fondness of Eric Whitacre, Steve Reich, or Arvo Pärt to name a few.  I have always wondered why people feel the need to hate "simple" music.  The blog post on New Music Box called Fear of Simplicity by Isaac Schankler brings some interesting ideas behind why these strong opinions exist.  He says: "There’s a weird combination of admiration, envy, and condescension that often comes into play when composers talk about simplicity. We can admire its bravery, its unabashed unembellished-ness. But maybe we’re unsure how to judge it when there isn’t as much on the surface to analyze. And maybe we want to protest, “But I could just as easily have done that,” even though of course we didn’t. Maybe we resent someone calling “dibs” on that idea before we got around to it."

Perhaps we judge too much in the substance and depth of something by its simplicity or complexity.  The blurred lines in art music is what makes it so interesting, infuriating, and fascinating at the same time.  Since we have had this long-standing tradition for so long, we get confused on whether or not to stick with the traditions, throw it away completely, or have a little of both.  There is beauty and fortune in the ability to have all of it.

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