Modern Times pp 349-387 | Cite as

The Current Musical Scene

  • Keith Potter
Part of the Man & Music book series (MAMU)


These days the only justification I can see for embarking on a new composition is that it must be founded on a radically new idea, and must explore as many of the implications of this idea as possible. By ‘new idea’ I don’t mean writing a fugue with the answer at the tritone instead of the dominant, or using a ten-note row instead of a 12-note one, but something much more fundamental.1


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Bibliographical Note

  1. The only music encyclopedia in English adequately to cover composition in the ‘cultivated’ tradition during the period with any thoroughness is Contemporary Composers, ed. B. Morton and P. Collins (London, 1992). The New Grove and some of its specialist successors-notably The New Grove Dictionary of American Music (see note 2)-are, however, useful.Google Scholar
  2. Few histories of twentieth-century ‘serious’ music are sufficiently recent to be able to treat the last 25 years with any thoroughness. Two which do so are E. Salzman, Twentieth-Century Music: an Introduction (Englewood Cliffs, NJ, 3/1988)Google Scholar
  3. and R. P. Morgan, Twentieth-Century Music: a History of Musical Style in Modern Europe and America (New York, 1991);Google Scholar
  4. the latter’s companion volume, An Anthology of Twentieth-Century Music (New York, 1992), contains extracts from five works of the period.Google Scholar
  5. Even surveys of composition since 1945, whether general or specialized, are almost all too old now to be as up-to-date as the above, though P. Griffiths, Modern Music: the Avant Garde since 1945 (London, 1981) is still useful on the 1970s as well as 1945–70.Google Scholar
  6. The revised edition of R. Smith Brindle’s The New Music (London, 1988) has a final chapter, ‘Conclusions — 1986’, which ruminates on, rather than covers, developments since the book’s first edition was published in 1975, and may interestingly be compared with the original final chapter, ‘Conclusions — 1975’, republished in the later edition.Google Scholar
  7. More specialist books on the period include M. Nyman, Experimental Music: Cage and Beyond (London, 1974),Google Scholar
  8. C. Cardew, Stockhausen Serves Imperialism (London, 1974),Google Scholar
  9. and J. Rockwell, All American Music: Composition in the Late Twentieth Century (London, 1985).Google Scholar
  10. Collections of interviews include C. Gagne and T. Caras, Soundpieces: Interviews with American Composers (Metuchen, NJ, 1982)Google Scholar
  11. and P. Griffiths, New Sounds, New Personalities: British Composers of the 1980s in Conversation (London, 1985).Google Scholar
  12. Milton Babbitt’s own Words about Music, ed. S. Dembski and J. N. Straus (Madison, 1987)Google Scholar
  13. and Pierre Boulez’s Orientations, ed. J.-J. Nattiez, trans. M. Cooper (London, 1986) are good.]Google Scholar
  14. The best book on Boulez is Pierre Boulez: a Symposium, ed. W. Glock (London, 1986), though its publication was so long delayed that the core of the volume, S. Bradshaw’s chapter on the instrumental and vocal music, written in 1975, had to be given a 1985 update.Google Scholar
  15. D. Schiff’s The Music of Elliott Carter (London, 1983) is solid but already dated.Google Scholar
  16. D. Osmond-Smith’s Playing on Words: a Guide to Luciano Berio’s ‘Sinfonia’ (London, 1985) and Berio (Oxford, 1991) are excellent.Google Scholar
  17. The 1981 republication of R. Maconie, The Works of Karlheinz Stockhausen (London, 1976), is now dated, and the best collections of the composer’s own writings and interviews deal with earlier work; this is also true for Carter and Xenakis.Google Scholar
  18. D. Revill’s The Roaring Silence-John Cage: a Life (London, 1992) is the most up-to-date and complete book on Cage’s life and work.Google Scholar
  19. Most of the composer’s seminal writings date from before the period, but the interviews with Daniel Charles entitled For the Birds (London, 1981) are especially relevant.Google Scholar
  20. Philip Glass’s book on his operas, edited and with supplementary material by R. T. Jones and published in Britain as Opera on the Beach: Philip Glass on his New World of Music Theatre (London, 1988) is one of the very few reasonably up-to-date book-length studies in English of any composer under about 65 years old mentioned above. I have not listed here any other books already mentioned in footnotes.Google Scholar
  21. Periodical literature, both specialist and popular, makes up the vast bulk of secondary source material on this area. Specialist journals to look out for in particular are the British Contact, Contemporary Music Review and Tempo, and the American Perspectives of New Music.Google Scholar
  22. L.B. Meyer’s Music, the Arts, and Ideas: Patterns and Predictions in Twentieth-Century Culture (Chicago, 1967) is, though dating from the very beginning of the period, a good way into the wider cultural issues now frequently assessed as ‘postmodernist’. The literature on postmodernist music is so far weak, and the extensive literature on postmodernism in literature and philosophy sometimes daunting.Google Scholar
  23. M. Sarup’s An Introductory Guide to Post-Structuralism and Postmodernism (London, 1988) is a useful start.Google Scholar
  24. Readers could also do worse than read Umberto Eco’s novel The Name of the Rose, trans. W. Weaver (London, 1984), and its theoretical follow-up, Postscript to The Name of the Rose, also trans. Weaver (San Diego, CA, 1983–4), for some understanding of post-structuralist and postmodernist concerns.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 1993

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  • Keith Potter

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