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New Ears for New Music

Translated by Kenneth Chalmers

Constantin Floros

20th-century music is characterized by a bewildering multitude of trends and movements. Often several movements co-exist in contradiction to each other, in a reflection of the century’s intellectual currents and social and political changes, and the reactions they prompted. In this book, renowned musicologist and author Constantin Floros provides a survey of the different styles and tendencies in new music, presenting the most important composers from Schoenberg to Rihm in a series of fluent and readable essays that will appeal to connoisseurs and non-specialists alike. For Floros, music and biography are inseparable, and here he puts music in the context of the social and psychological background of its time.
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Iridescent Sound

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Extract

The history of musical aesthetics, as much as music theory, is unimaginable without the notion of purity. It is, nevertheless, a notion that has, over the course of time, undergone some ebb and flow. In 1825 the legal expert Anton Friedrich Justus Thibaut, whose Heidelberg lectures the young Schumann attended, published his short but widely-read book Über Reinheit der Tonkunst (Purity in Music) in which he attacked the liturgical music of his time and argued passionately in favour of Palestrina’s vocal polyphony. From the beginning of the 19th century, music theory considered certain intervals (unison, fourth, fifth and octave) to be pure. The term took its bearings from mathematics and acoustics, tunings and tonal systems. What is termed mean temperament, used by musicians in the 16th and 17th centuries, was, as is generally known, based on pure thirds.1 In contrast, the twelve semitones of equal temperament – the work of Andreas Werckmeister and J.S. Bach – abandoned the acoustically pure system and used the melodic principle of equal intervals as a musical basis. The tempered intervals were now considered to be pure, and the music of the 18th and 19th centuries can be said to belong to a culture of pure sound according to those terms.

In the 20th century, the undisputed primacy of equal temperament was challenged as microtonality gained ground, noise-like structures entered music, and the invention of electronic music in the 1950s led the establishment of new standards.

After he fled to the West in...

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