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Agony of Modern Music Paperback – 1969


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Product Details

  • Paperback
  • Publisher: SIMON & SCHUSTER (1969)
  • ASIN: B000SHLG76
  • Product Dimensions: 8 x 5.2 x 0.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,131,056 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Michael Nault on August 22, 2013
Format: Unknown Binding
Olin Downes once began a review of this book with the lead-in that he agreed with "at least 60%" of it. I'll do him one better and say that I agree with at least 70%. To be sure, there is a fair bit of bathwater here...like when Pleasants basically dismisses the classical music composed since the First World War. But the "baby" of his argument is that, since the end of the Classical Period, composers of "serious" music (and particularly those writing the self-consciously "experimental" variety) have increasingly isolated themselves from their former social and popular moorings. This, the author claims, has led to the virtual exhaustion of the tradition and its supplanting by jazz, which he claims is the "real" modern music. While given to hyperbole, Pleasants is not wrong about his main thesis. As more time passes and we continue to reassess the historiography of Western Classical music since Beethoven, I believe that the claims of the 20th century avant-garde about themselves and their music will look increasingly feeble, and that Pleasants' argument will look increasingly apt (however flawed its dressing). This book is an important testament to the musical times in which the author lived, and a rich commentary on our musical inheritance. That it is Chestertonian in style and flavor only further leads one to suspect that its keen insights will not be lost upon future generations.
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Format: Paperback
Published in 1955, Henry Pleasants' THE AGONY OF MODERN MUSIC is an 180-page jeremiad against the development of classical music after World War I. Pointing to the rise of twelve-tone music and neo-classicism, and declining public interest in recent compositions, Pleasants claimed that classical music was now dead. Oddly enough, the ultimate conclusion of his book is that jazz is the true successor to classical music and what the audiences want, even though jazz was to experience the same declining popularity and avant-garde experimentation over the next decade or so.

Even listeners who dislike the same music as Pleasants will be confronted with a number of flaws in this book. To list just a few major ones:

* Pleasants' description of modernist music is based only on the Second Viennese School, early-to-mid period Stravinsky and a few other composers. He wrote this book before minimalism, neo-romanticism and other such later styles, and therefore his claims that modern music lack this or that (e.g. memorable melodies, powerful rhythms) are now challenged by innumerable counterexamples.

* The author's claims of audience appeal seem to be based solely on the particular (American?) audiences of 1955 that he was acquainted with. Thus he claims that Stravinsky, Shostakovich and Berg are unwelcome additions to concert programmes, but these composers have become part of the canon in many places and provoke no displeasure from audiences. The suggestion that opera can no longer attract any kind of crowd is peculiar to this Finland-based reviewer, who has seen sold-out crowds and popular press adoration for Kaija Saariaho's "L'Amour de Loin".
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By Julie Wright on January 19, 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
My son requested this book as a Christmas gift...he was so thrilled when he got it. It arrived much quicker than I had even hoped. Thanks so much for making it a wonderful gift.
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