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Why is Mozart such a big deal?


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In reply to an earlier post on Jan 12, 2013 8:03:49 AM PST
Mahlerian says:
Nope, there's a big difference between the music of The Beatles and Beach Boys (who pushed boundaries in Popular music for their time) and Bubblegum Pop like "Call Me Maybe".

I wouldn't say that everything Classical is better than everything "Popular", but they're very hard to compare, because they work from very different values.

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 12, 2013 8:07:13 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Jan 12, 2013 8:10:16 AM PST
Ataraxia says:
I am sorry if I am sounding argumentative- that is not my intention. I am realizing what a powerfully passionate fan base Mozart has- I feel like even questioning him a little is like insulting some religious figure (eg, "That's all I can say. There are so many of his works that sound as if some divine intervention allowed him to compose them. It took a while for me to realize it" posted earlier).

But I assure you I mean no disrespect to Mozart. I guess it's more of a broader internal argument which I am hoping to clear up by hearing other views. So please, everyone- just relax. We are just having fun shooting the breeze here.

I guess I always grew up around alot of people who made a very clear distinction between "serious" music, and the sort of "baser" and "unrefined" music for the masses.

One example of this kind of thinking was my violin teacher. For a while in junior high and high school, I was quite taken with the music of the famous Italian virtuoso Nicolo Paganini. I read his biography, I was killing myself trying to master some of his pieces (I still try my hand at it sometimes- it's fun to try)- it was a bit of an obsession. And it wasn't just the technical challenge. I actually enjoyed the music too. I think Paganini, outside of his technical gifts, had a real gift for melody too. I thinkk there is a purely musical value to his work- outside of their sheer technical brilliance.

My violin teacher thought that was all fine, and he certainly helped me along in my efforts. But he made it quite clear that Paganini's music was not REAL music. He was great to study for the technique. But it didn't require the transcendent musicality that was required to play some of the great canonical work- like the great Beethoven violin concerto, or the great violin concertos of Mendelssohn, Brahms, Tchaikowsky, Sibelius, etc... There was something, I was led to believe, far higher, more trascendent, etc... to these works than the sort of "bubble gum" melodies of Paganini's works.

So forget Mozart- would you agree with this assessment of Paganini's work?

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 12, 2013 8:17:02 AM PST
Ataraxia says:
"Until the 19th c. all music that was performed was "new" music and most of it was "popular"--few people cared about Bach in the classical period, for instance. Only in the 19th c. did you get the enshrinement of a canon of musical museum pieces"

I would agree with this. And this sort of "high brow-low brow" distinction is not only made here in the US. I think the 19th century British Victorian aristocrats also had something to do with.

But this argument does not exist only in music. In literature today, for example, many professors are bemoaning the loss of the requirement of certain canonical works of western civilization for students (eg, Shakespeare, Homer, etc...), and the sort of popularization of literature with the entrance into the curriculum of works by women authors, African American authors, Latino authors, gay authors, etc...

They feel quite frightened that something quite transcendent is being lost by this popularization of literature, that we are forgetting the things that have made western civilization great and succumbing to a sort of crass popularization. This book is one example:

The Western Canon

This kind of thinking comes also from this sharp and aristocratic distinction between "high brow-low brow", or "high art-low art".

I take it then that most people here would disagree with such a distinction.

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 12, 2013 8:17:23 AM PST
Mahlerian says:
I'm not a huge fan of Paganini's music, but not because it is "popular" music of a different type than that of the classical masters, but because it is of (in my view) lesser quality, more concerned with virtuosity than musicality. I think your teacher would have agreed.

Bubblegum pop is not necessarily less serious because of its complexity. A lot of rock music is extremely simple. But Bubblegum viewed as less serious than rock because as a genre it has decidedly low aims and standards.

Mozart, who composed even his light music to a high standard, doesn't even enter into the discussion. The Beatles, who, even in their early music, were trying new things, aren't bubblegum by any stretch of the imagination. Neither, for that matter, is Paganini.

Enjoy what you like. Don't worry about how other people classify it.

Posted on Jan 12, 2013 8:28:33 AM PST
MacDoom says:
Ataraxia says:
(quoting her violin teacher)
"it didn't require the transcendent musicality that was required to play some of the great canonical work- like the great Beethoven violin concerto, or"...

That seems to me to be the opposite of the truth. It needs much less effort/input of the artist to 'make something' of the works mentioned, then it does to elevate the Paganini works to a comparable level. Whether or not that can be done is a different discussion, but a halfways successful effort, one that makes music out of virtuosity, is no small deal.

Posted on Jan 12, 2013 8:28:58 AM PST
Dichterliebe says:
I'm reading the words 'standards' and 'values' in these comparisons. I'm interested in what evidences these demarcations -- what features in the music connote higher or lower aims. Why? Much of today's popular music is written to be catchy and profitable -- so was much of Rossini and Verdi. So was much of the Beatles' music. (I remember reading an interview with John and Paul, John bragging that he was especially proud of one song not because he thought it was good but because it bought him a swimming pool.)

Where I do think there is some disagreement as to fragile, temporal social context from myself and perhaps a few others is the idea that 'tonality' and/or the resolution of harmonic conflict *may* have some biological implications, i.e. is a natural phenomenon and is not merely a social convention.

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 12, 2013 8:35:26 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Jan 12, 2013 8:35:45 AM PST
Mahlerian says:
"Where I do think there is some disagreement as to fragile, temporal social context from myself and perhaps a few others is the idea that 'tonality' and/or the resolution of harmonic conflict *may* have some biological implications, i.e. is a natural phenomenon and is not merely a social convention."

Atonal music does have harmonic resolution in it.

And before you say it doesn't work in the same way that the resolution in (common practice) tonal music works (which is true), I'll counter that neither do resolutions in Debussy, or Bartok, or Stravinsky, or jazz, or The Beatles.

Tonality in the western sense is not innate. Otherwise, it wouldn't have taken centuries of music to come into being, and it would be the overriding principle of all cultures' music. But it did, and it isn't.

Have fun trying to find a way to describe this as tonal:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kx1uw4n575M

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 12, 2013 8:38:35 AM PST
[Deleted by Amazon on Nov 26, 2013 10:12:14 AM PST]

Posted on Jan 12, 2013 8:46:35 AM PST
Dichterliebe says:
"Atonal music does have harmonic resolution in it."

For the very reason I try to not use the term 'atonal'.

I deliberately didn't use the expression 'common practice tonality' because its history is relatively short compared to the history of 'tonality'. Tonality is a far broader subject than common practice and having heard much folk and world music, is ubiquitous and has likely been in existence since man began expressing himself musically.

Actually, there are many places in Debussy that observe the rules of CPT, partly or fully. But he also used other harmonic language to a far greater degree.

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 12, 2013 8:51:03 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Jan 12, 2013 8:52:08 AM PST
Mahlerian says:
"I deliberately didn't use the expression 'common practice tonality' because its history is relatively short compared to the history of 'tonality'. Tonality is a far broader subject than common practice and having heard much folk and world music, is ubiquitous and has likely been in existence since man began expressing himself musically. "

Tonality is a term defined to describe the common practice period in contradistinction to what came before.

Most folk and world music is modal, in the sense of using pitches from a pre-set collection. It is not tonal, which means that those pitches have a hierarchical relationship to one another.

This is modal, not tonal:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BmlAZxha8Pw

"Actually, there are many places in Debussy that observe the rules of CPT, partly or fully. But he also used other harmonic language to a far greater degree."

Of course, he was trained in that system, and references it. His later music follows CPT about as strictly (less so in many cases) than the atonal expressionist music of Schoenberg and Webern.

Posted on Jan 12, 2013 8:57:27 AM PST
Dichterliebe says:
"Tonality is a term defined to describe the common practice period in contradistinction to what came before."

No it isn't. 'Tonality' is a generic term; 'Common Practice Tonality' is much more specific, implying established rules of voice-leading, etc.

"And before you say it doesn't work in the same way that the resolution in (common practice) tonal music works (which is true), I'll counter that neither do resolutions in Debussy..."

You're contradicting yourself. La Mer, as one example, has moments of pure CPT. CPT in Debussy was one more harmonic tool he had at his disposal.

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 12, 2013 8:58:59 AM PST
barbW says:
Paganini's intent for his compositions (and his capabilities as a composer) were very different. Mozart tried and succeeded in taking the art music of his time (the Classical elements and forms and approaches) far beyond what it had been before he began. Paganini? Well, he was an innovator for the violin and guitar. He wrote virtuoso and study pieces. What was his intent? Did he succeed?

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 12, 2013 9:01:18 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Jan 12, 2013 9:03:51 AM PST
Mahlerian says:
"No it isn't. 'Tonality' is a generic term; 'Common Practice Tonality' is much more specific, implying established rules of voice-leading, etc."

It may be used that way, but it's historically inaccurate and misleading.

Via Wikipedia
_______________________________

Tonality is a system / language of music in which specific hierarchical pitch relationships are based on a key "center", or tonic, that is, on hierarchical scale degree relationships. The term tonalité originated with Alexandre-Étienne Choron (1810) and was borrowed by François-Joseph Fétis in 1840 (Reti, 1958; Simms 1975, 119; Judd, 1998; Dahlhaus 1990). Although Fétis used it as a general term for a system of musical organization and spoke of types de tonalités rather than a single system, today the term is most often used to refer to Major-Minor tonality (also called diatonic tonality, common practice tonality, or functional tonality), the system of musical organization of the common practice period, and of Western-influenced popular music throughout much of the world today.

_______________________

"You're contradicting yourself. La Mer, as one example, has moments of pure CPT. CPT in Debussy was one more harmonic tool he had at his disposal."

Moments do not make a piece tonal. Tonality is something that must structure an entire work in order to have any power. It was indeed one harmonic tool he used, but Debussy was fond of undermining it with others such as the whole-tone scale.

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 12, 2013 9:06:52 AM PST
barbW says:
"I take it then that most people here would disagree with such a distinction."

Not at all. I think it's the intent and the goal that matters. ..And whether the highest aesthetic intentions and goals are even important to the creators of today.

There's been a crisis of ambiguity in the Arts (called the 20th Century Crisis), so that the developmental goals might seem less important today. It's an inevitable arithmetic dead-end.

Posted on Jan 12, 2013 9:18:02 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Jan 12, 2013 9:20:39 AM PST
Dichterliebe says:
"Tonality is a system / language of music in which specific hierarchical pitch relationships are based on a key "center", or tonic, that is, on hierarchical scale degree relationships."

This is true. And modal music (where the tonal center shifts depending upon the mode) is completely consistent with this definition.

"The term tonalité originated with Alexandre-Étienne Choron (1810) and was borrowed by François-Joseph Fétis in 1840 (Reti, 1958; Simms 1975, 119; Judd, 1998; Dahlhaus 1990). Although Fétis used it as a general term for a system of musical organization and spoke of types de tonalités rather than a single system..."

Again, all true. And this is how I use the term 'tonality' as opposed to the specific system 'Common Practice Tonality'. Modal music is 'tonal' because it has a tonal center. Sonata form was not defined until Czerny defined it well into the 19th century. That doesn't mean sonatas did not exist prior to his definition.

"... today the term is most often used to refer to Major-Minor tonality (also called diatonic tonality, common practice tonality..."

Here is where I part with the definition Wiki provides. Diatonic != Common Practice Tonality. This is the problem with your definition; they are not the same thing.

"Moments do not make a piece tonal."

Agree and I never stated thus. I wrote: " La Mer, as one example, has moments of pure CPT."

"Tonality is something that must structure an entire work in order to have any power."

Hardly. Tonality is one possibility available to a composer; its power can (and often is) in the context of the tonal musical world that is all around us. There are many works that utilize 12-tone/serial/non-tonal approaches and tonal approaches together and are quite powerful.

Edit to add: They are powerful to me, at least.

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 12, 2013 9:23:57 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Jan 12, 2013 9:25:27 AM PST
DavidRFoss says:
Mahlerian says:
Moments do not make a piece tonal. Tonality is something that must structure an entire work in order to have any power. It was indeed one harmonic tool he used, but Debussy was fond of undermining it with others such as the whole-tone scale.
------------------
You're right to clarify. Its really modality and not tonality which is ubiqitous across cultures historically (I hesitate to use the word universal because there's always an exception somewhere).

That said, I think complaint about 20th century atonal music -- specifically twelve tone -- is that it specifically tries to avoid any semblance of tonality or even modality. It removes any semblance of "home" in the music. Now, that's a very fascinating effect and those pieces can certainly be loved and appreciated for what they are but the argument that this music is just as natural as other music is flawed. If you only exposed young children to twelve-tone music from day one, they wouldn't grow up whistling the tone rows on their walk to school.

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 12, 2013 9:26:58 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Jan 12, 2013 9:33:14 AM PST
Mahlerian says:
"This is true. And modal music (where the tonal center shifts depending upon the mode) is completely consistent with this definition."

No, modal music lacks the sense of hierarchy. In Bach, when we move from the tonic to the dominant, there is an immediate and palpable need to return to the tonic. If this is denied, tension is created. If this is given, tension is resolved. If the move from dominant to tonic is denied, then the music must eventually return to dominant before returning to tonic, and any other return in the mean time is not satisfactory. This is the very definition and meaning of tonality.

In modal music, a return to the central note can come at any time, without preparation, and this releases tension. Any motion away from the central note increases tension, but this can be immediately resolved by moving back.

"Hardly. Tonality is one possibility available to a composer; its power can (and often is) in the context of the tonal musical world that is all around us. There are many works that utilize 12-tone/serial/non-tonal approaches and tonal approaches together and are quite powerful."

This is such a broad definition of tonality that I fail to see how any music would not fit.

Given enough study, and your definition, I could find a way to define the following as tonal.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rphq-GRd02w

"If you only exposed young children to twelve-tone music from day one, they wouldn't grow up whistling the tone rows on their walk to school."

I've caught myself with snippets of Schoenberg's Violin or Piano Concertos running through my head. You don't hear the tone row any more than you hear a scale when you listen to Beethoven's Eroica. You hear the melodies and motifs that structure the piece. Same in Schoenberg.

"That said, I think complaint about 20th century atonal music -- specifically twelve tone -- is that it specifically tries to avoid any semblance of tonality or even modality. It removes any semblance of "home" in the music."

I disagree. Atonal music can remain atonal and exert a stabilizing effect on certain pitches or groups of pitches. This is accomplished much the same way in Boulez and Schoenberg as it is in Bartok and Stravinsky, by putting those pitches in relief or prominence via rhythm, register, or repetition.

Posted on Jan 12, 2013 9:35:26 AM PST
barbW says:
diatonic and common practice tonality are not the same thing. I think I understand your opinion.. Functional tonality?

I wonder which discussion group Amazon thinks will continue to bring them the most sales?

Posted on Jan 12, 2013 9:36:11 AM PST
Dichterliebe says:
"No, modal music lacks the sense of hierarchy."

The music of, say, Byrd is modal. The music resolves, although not in the same ways as music written according to CPT. These resolutions are often local, as is the central tone (and mode), but that doesn't mean the music is without hierarchy. Purcell's music is often modal but it resolves/revolves around a hierarchy of tones. Much folk music is modal and is in a certain, identifiable key when sung or played.

"This is such a broad definition of tonality that I fail to see how any music would not fit."

To what are you referring? The sentence "There are many works...are quite powerful."? There are countless works that do not fit this description.

Posted on Jan 12, 2013 9:45:24 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Jan 12, 2013 9:46:35 AM PST
Dichterliebe says:
This discussion illustrates why I try to choose my words carefully. I believe 'atonal' is a poor term, an oxymoron. How is Schoenberg's music w/out tones? 'Tonality' isn't much better, frankly. (I wish we could come up with something much better -- someone probably has.) But I use 'tonality' to mean music that does include a hierarchy of tones around which the music revolves, a tonal center. Yes, it's a very broad term and probably not very useful but there is such a great deal of music that does not comply with the rules of CPT yet still is tonally centered that I believe the distinction must be made in order to intelligently discuss harmony.

[Edit to add: To be clear, CPT is a subset of tonality.]

I completely agree that 'tonality' and 'CPT' are used interchangeably but that doesn't make sense to me. Often in context I'll know what a person means when they use 'tonality' (they often really mean CPT) but I can't accept that their definitions are identical. They aren't.

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 12, 2013 9:53:05 AM PST
DavidRFoss says:
Dichterliebe says:
Much folk music is modal and is in a certain, identifiable key when sung or played.
----
"Changing keys" in mid-piece is commonplace in tonal music. Its much less common when looking at modal music from other cultures. Indian Classical Music utilizes 72 different modes (major/ionian, minor/aeolian, and 70 others) there are some allowances for using a different pitch in certain places of the mode when ascending or descending but they don't shift the base of the scale in the middle of the piece.

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 12, 2013 9:58:53 AM PST
Ataraxia says:
"I'm not a huge fan of Paganini's music, but not because it is "popular" music of a different type than that of the classical masters, but because it is of (in my view) lesser quality, more concerned with virtuosity than musicality."

Hmmm. Maybe. But even there, I would remind you that, for example, the melody of Paganini's 24th caprice was inspiration for many great subsequent composers: Brahms, Liszt, Rachmaninoff, etc...

So even there, strict classifications seem to fall apart.

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 12, 2013 10:00:51 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Jan 12, 2013 10:06:04 AM PST
Ataraxia says:
"There's been a crisis of ambiguity in the Arts (called the 20th Century Crisis), "

Is this along the same lines as what we would today call "postmodernism"?

Francois Lyotard, a French philosopher of the mid-20th century, coined that term, and defined it as the 20th century's "incredulity toward meta-narratives"- meaning that each person has their own aims, stories they tell themselves, things they think are important- but that we can no longer take any over-arching aims, purposes, and stories very seriously.

What this does is flatten all heirarchies. It's good in a way. But on the other hand, it creates a sort of flatland too. I think in the past (especially 19th century)- artists like to think of themselves as inspired from "on high", with pictures of the muses or angels bringing them inspiration from above. Nowadays, I think we just think of them as clever people who create things people happen to like at the time. For better or worse, it's a much more deflated worldview.

I think that applies in this situation.

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 12, 2013 10:02:05 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Jan 12, 2013 10:02:47 AM PST
Mahlerian says:
"Indian Classical Music utilizes 72 different modes (major/ionian, minor/aeolian, and 70 others) there are some allowances for using a different pitch in certain places of the mode when ascending or descending but they don't shift the base of the scale in the middle of the piece."

In modal music, I believe this is called a shift of level.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Level_(music)

Dichterliebe, I doubt we're going to get very far if we keep arguing about definitions. Suffice to say, I believe that the distinction between "atonal" music and "tonal" music in your sense is slim to nil.

"To what are you referring? The sentence "There are many works...are quite powerful."? There are countless works that do not fit this description."

A definition that includes works that incorporate tonal methods with 12-tone and "non-tonal" approaches, as well as all modal music.

"Sonata form was not defined until Czerny defined it well into the 19th century. That doesn't mean sonatas did not exist prior to his definition."

I am not saying tonality came into being in the 19th century, when it was first defined. It came into being around the turn of the 17th century with the shift from the Renaissance to the Baroque.

Posted on Jan 12, 2013 10:06:40 AM PST
Dichterliebe says:
Davvid,

I'm not sure as to your point and we don't disagree, if I'm reading your comment correctly. My point is that in much folk music (I say much because I cannot say all because I don't know all folk music), a key is identifiable, i.e. there exists a hierarchy. Modulation isn't necessary to establish a key. I'm guessing most folk songs don't modulate, although I'm no ethnomusicologist. Indian music also uses quarter-tones and half-tones freely and that doesn't at all diminish (no pun) that the Indian music I've heard is certainly tonal -- modal and tonal.
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Discussion in:  Classical Music forum
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Initial post:  Jan 9, 2013
Latest post:  Mar 6, 2013

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