New Music Encourages the Young
New music is often considered an expression of the contemporary classical music tradition, which is basically the creative edge and cutting edge of classical music. After all, new music really is just that: new music composed by live, breathing composers. But what distinguishes new music from established, familiar music? What makes a song unique?
New music tends to be less rigidly structured than classical music, in part because composers don’t have to follow strict rules. (That’s a good thing!) New music can have a strong rhythmic pulse and strong harmonic structure. Often, the first beat of a new piece will echo across the composition like a siren’s warning, announcing its arrival.
One major break with new music involves the use of quotation marks. quotations are a necessary part of music criticism, allowing the composer to draw on the influence of other composers within their genre. But quotations can also serve to distinguish a work of art. If you read a selection of Beni Ourain’s piano music, for example, and compare it to the piano pieces by Handel and Bach, you’ll find striking differences in style, structure, melodic innovation, and tonality. (In the case of Bach and Handel, of course.)
Another notable difference between new music and older classical is that the years between them are numbered in the same way. Bach’s and Beethoven’s music spans four decades; Mozart’s and Stendhal’s span three. The Bach era lasted from 1780 to 1800; Mozart’s lasted from 1791 to 18ayer. And although Beethoven died in 1799, his surviving works, which are still being edited, are expected to last for another three decades. (The same applies to Stendhal and Einstein.)
One of my favorite new music scholars is Henry Cowell, Emeritus Professor Emeritus of Music at Oxford University. His classic book Music and Human Interiors combine musicological study with exegetical study to produce a remarkably systematic exposition of the inner human experience. I first read it in its original volume, with its famous “Fantasies” (panoramic vistas of the soul), while I was on assignment at the University of California, San Francisco, having completed my dissertation on Italian Renaissance music. Having read it again for my own students, I cannot but mention the exquisite imagery Cowell presents in his lucid prose.
New Age music, as indicated above, may be new, but its insights into the human condition, if compared to classic or late classical music, are very much alive. A cursory look across the history of music will reveal many examples of new developments in the field of contemporary art music. It will also reveal many early developments in the field of classical music that have gone unrecognized, either because they were not perceived at the time, or because the musicians concerned did not have the influence that they needed to express their works effectively in those times. Even today, a cursory glance at the history of music will reveal many examples of new sounds and rhythms, new vocal techniques, and new ways of producing sound. New music will continue to challenge the listeners who explore it, just as classic music has done throughout the history of music.