Thursday 26 July 2012

I was thinking recently about new music, and about the problems of programming new works.  And I realized something, perhaps something very obvious, but which nevertheless struck me quite profoundly

Most music is boring.

Not just new music, but all music.  The few works that have survived over the course of centuries may have survived because they are the least boring works written in their age.  Most pieces are just dull.  Listen to music by Moscheles, for example, or even Mendelssohn at his weakest.  It's not bad music-- it's just really, really dull.  I have no desire to sit through it.

Do most people listen to music as background noise?  How can you actually listen to music by Vorisek or Dussek in the foreground? 

Can you really listen to the latest magnum opus from any one of a variety of new music stars and actually get excited about it?

New music has grown increasingly predictable and dull.  Even the finest composers seem to be self-replicating in each new work.  If they move forward at all, it's usually incremental.  And let's be frank, imagination seems to be less and less a part of composition.

I used to get angry at new music concerts, when the work I was listening to was incompetent, or misguided, or repetitive, or just generally out of control.  Now I find myself much more often than not simply bored.  The music might be alternative, mainstream, tonal, atonal, experimental, near-commercial, whatever, it all seems quite dull to me.

Part of this is probably due to the fact that composition has now become a polished practice.  Many of the young composers I teach have more technical skill than any of the students I went to school with.  Many can tear off complete works of considerable skill in very short periods of time.  But skill can't make music interesting.