Part 2 Twentieth Century Music

Notes and references for Assignment Two

Electronic Music

Edgard Varese – considered the Father of Electronic Music

His music emphasises timbre and rhythm which inspired a generation of jiscians who came of age in the 1960s and 1970s – most notably Frank Zappa. Varese coined the term “Organised sound”. His connection of music reflected his vision of “sounds as living matter” “musical space as open rather than bounded” He conceived the elements of his music in terms of “sound masses”. “What is music but organised noises.” in 1936 he speculated on specific ways in which technology would change music in the future. He predicted musical machines would be able to perform music as soon as a composer inputs his score. These machines would be able to play “any number of frequencies”. he expanded on this in 1939 “:anyone will be able to press a button to release music exactly as the composer wrote it”. These predictions were finally realised in his tape experiments in the 1950s and 1960s. Influence many composers including John Cage, Karlheinz Stockhausen , Olivier Messiaen and Frank Zappa.

References

Pierre Schaeffer- the godfather of sampling

It was Schaeffer who coined the phrase “Musique concrete”. He developed the concept of including any and all sounds into the vocabulary of music. He met Pierre Henry in 1919 and they established the GRMC (Groupe de Rechereche de Musique Concrete) ai Radiodiffusion et Television Francais. This gave Schaeffer a new studio which included a tape recorder and he regarded as being the first composer to make music using the medium of electronic tape. He is also referred to as The Godfather of sampling.

Schaeffer left GRMC in 1953 and reformed the group in 1958 under the name Group de Rechereche Musicale(s) (GRM). It was here that he briefly mentored Jean Michel Jarre.

Pieces chosen

🎼Poeme Electronique – Edgard Varese

Poeme electronique is an 8 minute piece written for the Philips Pavilion at the Brussels World’s Fair of 1958. Le Corbusier was commissioned to design the pavilion and it was alleged that he came yp with the title of Poeme electronique saying he wanted to create “a poem in a bottle “. Varese composed the piece with the intention of creating a liberation between sounds and as a result uses noises not usually considered musical.

In the stomach shaped pavilion, Poeme lectronique was synchronised to a film of black and white photographs selected by Le Corbusier which touched on vague themes of human existence.

References

🎼Gesang Der Junglinge – Karlheinz Stockhausen

Known in English as “Song of the Youths), this piece has been described as the first masterpiece of the electronic era, combining Musique concrete and Electronische Musik. Realised in 1955-56 Stockhausen conceived the idea of composing a mass for electronic sounds and voices. A devout catholic he had approached Cologne Cathedral to premier it there but was refused on the grounds that loudspeakers had no place in the cathedral. The piece took over a year to make as the recordings were cut down and fragments were edited and combined with electronic sounds. The text used in the piece is from a biblical story in the book of Daniel. It concerns Nebucadnezzar, who throws three youths Shadrach, Meschach and Abednego into a fiery furnace and they are miraculously unharmed and begin to sing praises to God.

🎼4’33” – John Cage

Premiered on 29th August 1952 by David Tudor at Maverick Concert Hall, Woodstock, New York, and named because of the length of its first public performance. The work soon became one of the most controversial pieces of the 20th century because it consisted of silence. To be precise there were ambient sounds which Cage referred to as “the absence of intended sounds”. The manuscript stated that it was written “for any instrument or combination of instruments”.

Nobody knew what to make of the piece but it became clear that it was intended to help the audience discover the impossibility of actual silence in life. All manner of counts became part of the composition – weather that could be heard inside the concert hall, coughing, footsteps, creaking of chairs and the building are just a few examples. The music was chance music as Cage could not control any of the sounds during the performance of the piece.

They missed the point. There’s no such thing as silence. What they thought was silence, because they didn’t know how to listen, was full of accidental sounds. You could hear the wind stirring outside during the first movement. During the second, raindrops began pattering the roof, and during the third the people themselves made all kinds of interesting sounds as they talked or walked out. – John Cage

🎼Pierre Schaeffer – Etude aux chemins de fer

This particular piece of work was the first in a set of five musical compositions called “Cinque etudes de bruits” – Five Studies of Noises. These were premiered via a Broadcast on 5th October 1946 titled “Concert de bruits”.

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