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Topic: 2oth Century Theory....

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  1. #1

    2oth Century Theory....

    The last thing I got to in theory before the break between Summer and Fall semester was Late Romantic theory. I start the fall semester this Monday coming up and I'll be getting more 2oth century theory than I could wish for I have questions about 2oth century theory though...

    I have been reading some of the basic elements and vocab of the early 2oth century composition and I noticed that a lot of the rules that were drilled into my mind for counterpoint and such has kind of been thrown out the window in early 2oth century compositions and on. I'm pretty sure that twelve-tone serialism does not follow the rules of the tonal system, not sure since I haven't gotten there yet, but it would make sense.

    Does 2oth century theory brush aside a lot of the tonal rules (if not all)?

    How do you think that 2oth century theory ties into film score compositions of the past and esp. the present?

    Overall, do you think that many of the film composers today care about the traditional rules and functions of tonal harmony or is it kind of like "Rules? What rules and who cares if it sounds good" type attitude?

    When I speak of "rules" and "functions" I mean all the pre- 2oth century counterpoint rules (parallels, dircts, unequal 5ths, normal resolution of dominant harmonies, augmented chords, etc.) I do realize that a lot of composers in the late classical and romantic era began to break out of a lot of these practices, even Bach broke many rules. Any info and discussion is appreciated. Thanks!
    http://www.jamesjumonville.com

    Captain Hook (if you see Pan let me know!)

  2. #2

    Re: 2oth Century Theory....

    I'm pretty sure that twelve-tone serialism does not follow the rules of the tonal system, not sure since I haven't gotten there yet, but it would make sense.

    Tone row composition does more or less throw out all traditional rules of melody, harmony, and counterpoint, though not necessarily form, texture, or orchestration.

    Does 2oth century theory brush aside a lot of the tonal rules (if not all)?

    The 20th century saw a lot of fracturing of the rules of writing. You'll likely learn something about: Impressionism; Neo-Classicism; The Vienese School; Pan-Diatonicism; Minimalism; Stochastic, Aleatoric, and Heuristic music; and more.

    How do you think that 2oth century theory ties into film score compositions of the past and esp. the present?

    Many film composers write as if the 20th century never happened. Many embrace everything that has happened. My personal opinion is that the more you learn about and embrace, the better your music will be. There are many absolutely beautiful atonal film scores out there.

    Overall, do you think that many of the film composers today care about the traditional rules and functions of tonal harmony or is it kind of like "Rules? What rules and who cares if it sounds good" type attitude?

    "Sounding good" is a rule too. However, it NEVER hurts to know more. The more you know, the more experience you have to draw on, which means you can pull out of your head what you need to. If you don't immerse yourself in atonal music, you're going to have a rough time trying to "fake it" if you need that sound.

    When I speak of "rules" and "functions" I mean all the pre- 2oth century counterpoint rules (parallels, dircts, unequal 5ths, normal resolution of dominant harmonies, augmented chords, etc.) I do realize that a lot of composers in the late classical and romantic era began to break out of a lot of these practices, even Bach broke many rules. Any info and discussion is appreciated. Thanks!

    The 12-tone system had very strict rules, if one asked Schoenberg. His pupil Berg tended to break a lot of those rules.

    In one sense, any set of rules can be viewed as arbitrary. One thing that many great composers did that was more important than breaking rules, was to create all together new ones, whether for many of their pieces, or just one work.
    - Jamie Kowalski

    All Hands Music - Kowalski on the web
    The Ear Is Always Correct - Writings on composition

  3. #3

    Re: 2oth Century Theory....

    Thank you for the info, very helpful in my search to make a little more sense out of all of this. As of now, I compose in a romantic/late romantic style on paper following the rules of that style for practice and enjoyment. For the movies, animations, and just general compositions on the keys, I follow as much as I can, but I go more for a sound or sonority.

    I am the point now where I am beginning to blend more of the "rules" with (my ear) what I want it to sound like and it is a heck of a lot slower than just composing without paying any attention to any rules at all. I'll keep on moving forward and all of this will come together eventually, I'm patient

    I guess it deals with the alpha and beta waves in the human brain. When you are in one state, you don't want to have to constantly keep going to book and notes, etc and then switch back over to the other state. The state that the composer is in when most creative needs to be maintatined and knowing the rules knee-jerk is essential to staying in that state. I mean all rules, not just counterpoint, but intervals, what all the 7th chords are composed of, altered chords, augmented chords and how the *usually* resolve, etc...

    Sorry for going on a bit, but I guess this does tie into the rules of 2oth century, thank you for the info!
    http://www.jamesjumonville.com

    Captain Hook (if you see Pan let me know!)

  4. #4

    Thumbs up Re: 2oth Century Theory....

    WOW!

    It's a compelling thread: you will have my contribution soon. Let me go back to my better network...

    Ciao

    Fabio

  5. #5

    Re: 2oth Century Theory....

    Hey Fabio!

    I'm very interested to see what your take this subject will be. I'm actually kind of sad, I thought I'd have more responses and opinons than this. Oh well, I guess everyone is really busy which is cool b/c I know how it is to be bogged down with too many things to do

    This is something that has been bothering me ever since I began serious music education and I guess it is one of those things that will just make sense to me one day all at once. In my course of learning music at a university level, I've been instructed on all the rules and language of music theory and composition.

    OK, now, I've busted my butt on getting these rules down to the point of dreaming of them and I still have so much more to go. I study theory, I eat theory, I sleep theory, and the cylce starts over again each day!!!

    MY MAIN PROBLEM: If I compose a piece for a movie in the "typical" Hollywood type soundtrack (Horner, Williams, Newton Howard, Goldsmith, etc.) and try to follow the rules that I have learned, the music will end up sounding like it is from the Classical or Late Romatic period, which is not what I want **BUT** I don't want to compose by just playing chords or a melody and then embellish it only by ear. I don't want to just say "I'll compose by ear and if it breaks rules, OH WELL!" I don' want to be rude, but IMHO, I think that is lazy.

    Maybe a lot of the film composers of today write something first, melody, bass, percussion etc and then embellish it and then tweak to fit using rules of that style. I have a feeling though that a lot of the film composers today aren't checknig or even caring about any rules at all. The reason I feel this way is b/c the awesome Beethoven completed NINE symphonies in his ENTIRE life time, as far as orchestral works go, while Danny Elfman is knocking out about, what, 12-15 films PER YEAR if not more! Now, that is what I call fast. I do realize that many composers today have a "team" that orchestrate and such which makes the whole process faster, but still... I know there is a HUGE difference between Beethoven and Elfman, just an example. Thanks folks!
    http://www.jamesjumonville.com

    Captain Hook (if you see Pan let me know!)

  6. #6

    Re: 2oth Century Theory....

    The thing about creating a rule ( or gradually agreeing on one, by practice and custom), is that any rule implies the statement “If you break it, then so-and-so will happen.” Some examples:

    1) If you write consecutive octaves or fifths, then, temporarily at any rate, two parts have merged into one so you have lost one part.
    2) If you let the leading note fall, then an expectation of the listener has been thwarted.
    3) If you do not resolve a discord, then you will have treated it as a concord. Will the listener agree that it is concordant, i.e. satisfactory in itself?
    4) If you repeat the same chord weak to strong, you will have shifted the metric accent.

    And so on, for every rule in the book.

    Now, one may desire these “forbidden” results; one may even seek to achieve these results; but the crux of the matter is that it is risky to break rules without regard for the consequences. A rule should be broken for a reason, not out of ignorance. If a higher artistic result (or at any rate a new valid concept) results, then any and all rules may be broken.

    A constant consideration must be the audience. Since music is communication, listeners will judge and appreciate a piece of music according to the rules they have unconsciously learnt from all the music they have previously heard. They are probably even using different sets of rules for different periods or styles of music. A new musical about New York crime, with music in the style of Bach, complete with fugues, would be an infringement of the “rules” for writing musicals which audiences have unconsciously acquired.

    It has often been said that such-and-such a composer is ahead of his time. Maybe: one could also argue that most audiences are behind theirs. Forging new musical styles and rules has always been a case of composers running ahead of their audiences and enticing them to catch up. If you want to be a true innovator, go ahead, make your own rules. If you want to guarantee a friendly audience, stick to the style you think most of them are familiar with. A problem every composer has to face is whereabouts between those extremes to pitch his style.

    Terry Dwyer

  7. #7
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    Re: 2oth Century Theory....

    You will find that your subconscious has absorbed virtually everything you've been taught. Your conscious mind is what feels the need to brush up and refer to books etc. Don't worry about it because the more you write the less you will have to do this. You will also find that returning to books regularly is a great joy.

    The rules we all talk about are based upon the sonic result. Parallelism sounds bad in most contexts (counterpoint being the antithesis of it.) However certain parrallesims sound wonderful (as in min 11th chords.) An adherence to rules over a period of time trains the ear as to what is strong or weak sounding. You hear lots of weakness in modern film because these fellows were never trained in composition and don't hear the problems.

    The abandoning of traditional diatonic chord movement is a large factor in not sounding like old time Hollywood. Cm Ebm Gbm is as likely to be found as C F G.

  8. #8

    Re: 2oth Century Theory....

    Quote Originally Posted by capt_hook
    I don't want to just say "I'll compose by ear and if it breaks rules, OH WELL!" I don' want to be rude, but IMHO, I think that is lazy.
    Assuming you know which rules you are breaking and why, it is not lazy. It is bold. The other side of that coin is "I'll compose by the rules, but if my ear wants to break a rule, I will break that rule."

    The ear will always be more important than any set of rules.
    - Jamie Kowalski

    All Hands Music - Kowalski on the web
    The Ear Is Always Correct - Writings on composition

  9. #9
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    Re: 2oth Century Theory....

    Quote Originally Posted by Skysaw
    [B]
    Many film composers write as if the 20th century never happened. Many embrace everything that has happened. My personal opinion is that the more you learn about and embrace, the better your music will be. There are many absolutely beautiful atonal film scores out there.
    So very true. Or - they basically copy.

  10. #10

    Cool Re: 2oth Century Theory....

    Jamie and Terry are describing the core of the answer.

    Rules are never the music, but just a tool to reach a result, or infringing it, to reach the opposite. The music is a mix that YOU decide, between
    1)"sounding good",
    2) "loved and understood by the people" and
    3) "it's what I want to tell you".
    Rules help you to reach frequently the first two targets, the last one is your creativity, and is the field of rule infringement or new rules creation.

    Anyway remember:
    - in the past a strong philosophic background was influencing the music composition, then the importance of rules was linked to the natural low respect, and rethoric or philosophic, aesthetic and sometime esotheric concepts were hidden under the harmony and counterpoint academic organization.

    - the 20th century is the age of new and contradictory approach to the music: the mathematic and abstract new rules creation, and a new age of spontaneism coming from modal, jazz, ethnic, and pop culture. The incredible mix of this style is largely diffused by the new media (records, radio, television, cinema) and became day by day the "new multi-language" of people.

    -Contemporary composers then are able to use one or more languages when and if it's necessary. A good movie-music composer is able to write heroic and romance symphonic music (late romantic and jazzy or marching) as trilling atonal sequences of hard dissonances and convulse rhythms. The "reason" to do that will be the scoring of the image and story of course, but the mix is creating a wonderful contamination, where more modal, polytonal and jazz rules are used, instead of romantic harmony.

    - The modern didactic of the composition study is in fact moving from the "rules" learning to the "style" analysis: you must learn the language elements (rules) to make your music sound baroque, romantic, classic or contemporary. Then you will mix it all together to find your balance, or to forge your style and language, or symply to satisfy the audience, as Terry correctly say.

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