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Contemporary Piano Music


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#1 Invidia

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Posted 10 January 2020 - 22:10

This came from a discussion in another thread which needed its own space. 
 
How many people around here are interested in contemporary music? Has anyone played any? Who are your favourite composers? Alternatively does anyone NOT like this kind of music? Why not?
 
I'll post my own experiences later on- just getting the ball rolling  ;)

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#2 EllieD

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Posted 11 January 2020 - 08:42

What would you mean by "contemporary music" - according to Wikipedia:

 

"At the beginning of the 21st century, it commonly referred to the post-1945 modern forms of post-tonal music after the death of Anton Webern, and included serial music, electronic music, experimental music, and minimalist music. Newer forms of music include spectral music, and post-minimalism"

 

Which is a pretty broad spectrum, and also, for me, seems less not to fit in with the word "contemporary" as music currently being written seems less experimental than these post war compositions.


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#3 mel2

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Posted 11 January 2020 - 10:21

There was an article about contemporary music in a recent edition of Pianist magazine (which I read in order to answer my own question in the Prelude and Fugue thread).
A shorthand definition might be anything from the 20th C onward, although Invidia might refine it to post-tonal compositions. Interesting!
For me, it has an image problem in that it rarely moves me in any way. It can be difficult to discern the structure, the mode, and if there is none of this, what is it telling us - what is it for?
I'd love to be better informed but very often the pieces seem difficult to learn as they sometimes lack the usual building blocks of beat, repetition etc.
Any listening suggestions to ease pianists into a better appreciation of what we are missing would be great. I know Joanna MacGregor has championed Nancarrow but something more approachable would be helpful.
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#4 corenfa

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Posted 11 January 2020 - 13:40


This came from a discussion in another thread which needed its own space.

How many people around here are interested in contemporary music? Has anyone played any? Who are your favourite composers? Alternatively does anyone NOT like this kind of music? Why not?

I'll post my own experiences later on- just getting the ball rolling ;)


Me! My favourite is the Ricercare and Toccata by Menotti. I like tonal modern music. I can't deal with the atonal stuff, I have no issue with other people liking it but I can't abide it myself.

Stylistically, I like stuff with some structure and that is not minimalist. Neoclassical styles appeal to be as I like seeing how traditional forms are reinterpreted.

I've recently also come to like video game music- particularly the original scores written for the Final Fantasy series. They are not easy either technically or musically, and a lot of fun to play.
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#5 fsharpminor

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Posted 11 January 2020 - 15:12

I have played a few Preludes and Fugues by the Norwegian composer Trygve Madsen.   He wrote a whole set of 24 in the later 1990's. Not unattractive pieces with some jazzy idioms and a few 'digs' at Bach and Shostakovich.   No 1 has been in Grade 8 syllabus.


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#6 Clovis

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Posted 11 January 2020 - 17:46

There was an article about contemporary music in a recent edition of Pianist magazine (which I read in order to answer my own question in the Prelude and Fugue thread).
A shorthand definition might be anything from the 20th C onward, although Invidia might refine it to post-tonal compositions. Interesting!
For me, it has an image problem in that it rarely moves me in any way. It can be difficult to discern the structure, the mode, and if there is none of this, what is it telling us - what is it for?
I'd love to be better informed but very often the pieces seem difficult to learn as they sometimes lack the usual building blocks of beat, repetition etc.
Any listening suggestions to ease pianists into a better appreciation of what we are missing would be great. I know Joanna MacGregor has championed Nancarrow but something more approachable would be helpful.

For me, it's definitely post-tonal music (I'm not going for a literal definition of 'contemporary'), beginning certainly with Schoenberg and perhaps going back to Debussy – his later piano works sound increasingly experimental the more I play them.

 

Yes, it can be hard to listen to, and to learn, but I have found the process of learning such music a very rich experience. The more I play it myself the more I come to appreciate it. Once released from all tonal functions, every note has to justify being sounded, and so tone quality, voicing and rhythm take on extra significance.

 

One piece I particularly like to suggest is Messiaen's La Colombe from the Preludes. It's about Grade 8 standard and only 2 pages (and being Messiaen, there are substantial repeated sections). Plainte Calme from the same set is also very approachable.

 

I am going to hunt for that Pianist article now.


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#7 Invidia

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Posted 11 January 2020 - 17:49

I actually took my undergraduate degree in contemporary music. The two definitions with the largest consensus are 1) music since 1900 and 2) music since 1945, as Ellie and Mel pointed out. Personally I think you have to look at music in its social context and while I agree 1945 was a significant year, I think 1900 should be changed to 1914. I fail to see the significance of the year 1900- perhaps someone could enlighten me?
 
On the other hand, the year of composition doesn't account for the dramatic difference between the styles mentioned by Ellie and Mel, and those mentioned by corenfa and fsharpminor. So how do we factor that into our definition? 
 
I've ran out of time to talk about actual music! Maybe later  :rofl:
 
Edit: Just read Clovis's reply and 100% agree regarding the experience of learning post-tonal music!

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#8 mel2

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Posted 11 January 2020 - 18:42

 
I am going to hunt for that Pianist article now.


It is issue 110. Oct/Nov 2019 with s picture of Isata Kanneh-Mason on the cover. There have been others....
Surprised and delighted to find I have a copy of Messaien's Preludes on the shelf - no idea where it came from, unless it was gifted amongst some organ music. Yay!
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#9 corenfa

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Posted 11 January 2020 - 20:16

I don't really think too hard about the definition; it's the time period it was composed in that defines it for me. (But I'm not a scholar)

 

I find I simply can't even learn something if I don't like the sound of it, so I've never learnt anything atonal. There's plenty of non-atonal stuff around to keep me happy though. And if I ran out of that, I'd learn Bach, I'll be dead before I get through all of it. 


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#10 Arundodonuts

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Posted 11 January 2020 - 21:37

Trygve Madsen cropped up on the oboe syllabus. Nice stuff. I'm no great piano expert (or fan really) but there are some great contemporary works for it. Nancarrow previously mentioned, Ligeti, Cage and a few years ago I heard some really lovely miniatures by Howard Skempton.

 

I've dabbled a bit with contemporary on the oboe (Holliger at the moment) and I think getting away from the normal tonal and time structures is really interesting - as well as mind-boggling.

 

I'm quite a fan though, always have been. I think it's because I segued into classical from prog rock and psychedelic stuff in the 60s/70s. I think some of the most interesting concerts to go to are of music being written now. Not necessarily everything will be great but there are always standout pieces.

 

I draw the line at Fernyhough though!


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#11 BadStrad

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Posted 11 January 2020 - 23:06

There are some gorgeous prepared piano pieces by John Cage.

More recently Frank Denyer's work is interesting as is Alan Owen's.
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#12 Invidia

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Posted 12 January 2020 - 13:09

I love prepared piano! I played some of George Crumb's Makrokosmos for my final university recital and had so much fun learning it. Unfortunately since graduation I haven't had regular access to a grand piano, so can't learn any more of it at the moment. 
 
Like corenfa I also like playing arrangements of film/video game/popular music. There's something special about professional pianist-composers taking the time to create skillful arrangements of music that is often looked down on by the classically trained. I'm currently trying to get my fingers around a virtuoso Pokemon medley!

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#13 fsharpminor

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Posted 12 January 2020 - 15:22

There are some gorgeous prepared piano pieces by John Cage.

More recently Frank Denyer's work is interesting as is Alan Owen's.

Like 4min 33secs !


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#14 elemimele

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Posted 13 January 2020 - 07:23

off-topic, but I'm so happy to see video-game music being mentioned. It's such a wonderful and important development in the history of composition: a brand-new income-source for musicians, and one that has very few irrelevant strings attached. It's free to push boundaries if it wants, but it's equally free to be thoroughly traditional (because its audience only really cares that it is atmospheric and enhances the game). It has quality control, it can't just rush off and do irrelevant things that sound awful, but its quality control is flexible: it has an audience that is intelligent and perceptive, but diverse and open to creativity. And unlike, say, film-music, it is accessible, and operating at every financial level from two geeks brewing up something independent through to mega-games with eyewatering turnovers. It's not often we're lucky enough to see a complete new form of musical patronage evolving under our noses.


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#15 Invidia

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Posted 13 January 2020 - 09:28

I agree, and I don't think video game music is necessarily off topic! Many of its composers have some basic classical training so could be considered a branch of the classical tradition. If Liszt were alive today he'd be arranging game/film/popular music in the same way he did music of his day, so again arrangements are part of the classical tradition (my personal favourite arrangers are the Vitamin String Quartet if you know of them)
 
You also mention patronage and I think this is important for the weird and wonderful contemporary styles too. There is a huge market across the performing/visual arts for things that are controversial, that attract attention (even if negative), that will be talked about for years to come (again even if negative). I think the Cage 4'33'' mentioned above was a clever response to this market. 

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