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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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So-called Postmodernism

← 160 | 161 → So-called Postmodernism


The striking term “postmodernism” has been in the air for a good thirty years, yet for all the discussion it has prompted, the term itself still escapes precise definition. The question of whether it means the negation of the avant-garde or the continuation of the modern by new artistic means has been much debated,1 yet what is beyond dispute is that the now fashionable term covers a whole range of different trends.

In 1950s America, an artistic movement emerged which had no parallel in Europe, that of minimal art. Both then and now its leaning toward extreme simplicity was found baffling, and it became known as the art of reduction. It stood in opposition to the European concept of art, the notion of art with a message, traditional forms and, above all, complexity. Carl Andre, one of the movement’s leading sculptors, made the following comments: “The meaning of art does not lie in its conveying a message like a telegraph. There is no idea behind the artwork, the idea is in the artwork itself”.2 Minimalists question the category of “artwork”, the category that for Western artists is absolutely key. Many of them claim to be “anti-art”, in protest against Western ways of life and thought.

It is striking that many representatives of minimal art are guided by East-Asian philosophy, and Zen Buddhism, Indian and Chinese philosophy has had a profound effect on their thinking and artistic outlook. John Cage (1912-1992), one of the movement’s...

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