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Where Is Modern Symphony Going?

Recently I read an interesting article on the topic of the modern symphony. However, it left me wondering. The author spoke of titans of symphony in the twentieth century, yet Prokofiev, Honegger, and Shostakovich completely escaped his attention. Was this an accident? It seems like the mighty stream of modern symphonic music of these composers has not been appreciated enough in the critical literature of European music. More appreciation of the atonal avant-garde and dodecaphony (Schoenberg’s music and the Second Viennese School, and late works of Stravinsky), but less of the tonal and traditionally melodic approach.

Another question: Should we write symphonies for the public, or only for an elite audience? Is it possible that New Age composers have a historic mission to foster the public’s experience of the highest music genre - to share it with people “not trained,” or “unprepared” for a professional music experience? Where else in music today does the public have a such a chance to submerge itself in the ocean of orchestral sound without fear of being lost, and to actually emotionally enjoy it? The answer is New Age! And of course, in the music of cinematography. But soundtracks shouldn't count because they are not free from visual images, and so they can't be experienced in the same purely musical way.

The electronic era has created possibilities beyond imagination. We can experience sounds remotely recognized as orchestral, or something absolutely new with no connection to anything we have heard before. Symphonies written with this new kind of sound - is it something yet to come?

Next question: Is there anything common among all the symphonies ever written, starting with the era of classicism? Considering the differences of the centuries - artistic styles, ethnic or class-based bonds, religious or cultural priorities, and personalities of composers - is there anything that unites all the symphonies, not only on the level of the definition of the symphony as a music genre or form, but fundamentally deeper?

Another way to ask the question is this: What gives a listener the impression of a symphony? Let's say that you turn on a radio in the middle of a piece you never heard before. If it’s a symphony, there’s a very good chance that you will recognize it as such. But how do you know?

Is it by the sound of a large orchestra? Then what about symphonies with smaller orchestras? Is it by its monumental way of expression? Then what about lyrical and intimate kinds of symphony? It seems that these features of the symphonic genre still do not define it.

It seems that the scope of what symphony can possibly encompass is incredibly wide. Of course, there are basic similarities of musical form. For a very long time the most distinctive characteristic of symphony as a music genre was the sonata form in the first movement. But like everything else, genres evolve and our perceptions do too. Shouldn't we start searching deeper? Really, an average person wouldn't appreciate how thesis, antithesis, development and synthesis can create a music form ( and even these are not necessarily all a part of symphony anymore ). Still all human beings seem to appreciate symphonic music on its different levels. So, is there something else, something global, rooted in our human sensibilities by which we recognize a symphony, as if by a certain language or code? Was it invented, or just discovered, at a certain level of civilization? Could it be like recollecting something you knew before, but have forgotten from not using it, so it feels more like an essential part of our reflection? Does it have to do with how we feel TIME? Because basically, symphony as a form very much depends on how it comes into existence, changes, develops, and transforms in TIME. That's probably why we can relate to symphonic music - as a reflection of our own traveling through life. If this is an answer, then classification of a symphony as a complex musical composition for an orchestra usually composed in four movements, at least one of which is in sonata form, is outdated, isn't it?

Lots of questions!

Submitted by:

Oksana Birch

Oksana Birch is a professional composer. She writes mostly symphonic music, symphorock, progressive rock, and New Age music.

Copyright 2006, ModernSymphony.com

http://modernsymphony.com





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