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The Aesthetics of Survival

A Composer's View of Twentieth-Century Music

George Rochberg

Publication Year: 2004

A revised paperback edition of composer George Rochberg's landmark essays "Rochberg presents the rare spectacle of a composer who has made his peace with tradition while maintaining a strikingly individual profile. . . . [H]e succeeds in transforming the sublime concepts of traditional music into contemporary language." ---Washington Post "An indispensable book for anyone who wishes to understand the sad and curious fate of music in the twentieth century." ---Atlantic Monthly "The writings of George Rochberg stand as a pinnacle from which our past and future can be viewed." ---Kansas City Star As a composer, George Rochberg has played a leading role in bringing about a transformation of contemporary music through a reassessment of its relation to tonality, melody, and harmony. In The Aesthetics of Survival, the author addresses the legacy of modernism in music and its related effect on the cultural milieu, particularly its overemphasis on the abstract, rationalist thinking embraced by contemporary science, technology, and philosophy. Rochberg argues for the renewal of holistic values in order to ensure the survival of music as a humanly expressive art. A renowned composer, thinker, and teacher, George Rochberg has been honored with innumerable awards, including, most recently, an Alfred I. du Pont Award for Outstanding Conductors and Composers, and an André and Clara Mertens Contemporary Composer Award. He lives in Pennsylvania.

Published by: University of Michigan Press


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pp. xi

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Preface to the Revised Edition

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pp. xiii-xvi

Some years ago a young colleague said that when he saw the title of the first edition of these essays he was sure the book was going to be an autobiography. Yet nothing could have been further from my mind. In time I began to think his remark was actually quite perceptive—but in a way I don't believe he ever intended. ...

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pp. xvii-xix

We are in the 1980s, and it is generally accepted among most artists that modernism is on the wane. What is happening now is less a new movement—although critics have been quick to name it postmodernism—than it is a movement away from movements, those schools and isms that have bedeviled art ...

On the New Image of Music

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Indeterminacy in the New Music (1959)

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pp. 3-15

Human consciousness and thought in the twentieth century have discovered the essential irrationality of the premises on which they are based. That the old world of illusory certainties has disintegrated in the face of new conditions which govern contemporary existence is acknowledged by all who are seriously concerned with man's destiny, ...

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The New Image of Music (1963)

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pp. 16-26

The break with tradition which resulted from profound changes affecting the sound, structure, and form of music continues to exert its powerful but negative influence on composers, few of whom have been able to accept it without qualm or reservation. This accounts in large measure for the difficulties they have experienced ...

On Schoenberg and Serialism

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My Dear Igor (An Imaginary Dialogue) (1957)

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pp. 29-35

Stravinsky: If you mean, Herr Schoenberg, that I have embraced the serial technique, that is so; but you are undoubtedly aware that I apply it in a completely personal way, therefore there can be no logical basis for claiming that I have also accepted the expressionistic aesthetic of the Vienna School. ...

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Reflections on Schoenberg (1972)

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pp. 36-58

I think it best to acknowledge at the outset that these "reflections" on Schoenberg are personal, therefore biased; that they are somewhat random in their organization, even containing contradictory elements, because I take it as a rule of reality and of the mental realm ...

On Musical Time and Space

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Duration in Music (1960)

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pp. 61-67

Any discussion of duration in music must necessarily probe the nature of duration itself, particularly as it relates to human experience.1 Without even the most limited understanding of the relationship between duration and existence, it becomes virtually impossible to comprehend how music becomes the living, dynamic, artistic embodiment of time; ...

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The Concepts of Musical Time and Space (1963)

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pp. 68-126

Musical composition involves complex, simultaneous operations which I shall call, in the broadest sense, articulations of the conjunction of musical time and musical space. These articulations are infinitely variable, determining both external and internal structure and therefore the potentially expressive qualities of music. ...

On Music, Humanism, and Culture

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No Center (1969)

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pp. 129-134

The winds of change are blowing. Harder. Stronger. Gusts up to twenty, thirty, forty miles per hour. Gale warnings all up and down the coast. Tornados and hurricanes; maybe. Tidal waves, too. It's getting so you can hardly stand on your own two feet without holding onto something or somebody. ...

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Humanism versus Science (1970)

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pp. 135-144

I suppose the usual or conventional thing for me to do would be to define, as succinctly and cogently as possible, the essential characteristics of the humanist mentality and the scientific mentality and then to go on to show in what way, as a musician and composer, I believe the former to be superior to the latter. ...

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Fiddlers and Fribbles or Is Art a Separate Reality? (1986)

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pp. 145-164

Of his Puritan ancestors, Hawthorne had this to say: "No aim that I have ever cherished would they recognize as laudable; no success of mine ... would they deem otherwise than worthless, if not positively disgraceful. 'What is he?' murmurs one gray shadow of my forefathers to the other. 'A writer of story-books! ...

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News of the Culture or News of the Universe? (1988)

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pp. 165-179

My subject is the state of American culture viewed within the larger context of Western culture. My method will be to weave a concatenation of voices together with the strands of five major themes that characterize for me the present, all-pervasive cultural and societal atmosphere blanketing America and the West, ...

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Talking to Luigi Russolo Eighty-Five Years Later (1998)

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pp. 180-184

In your unabashedly declared ignorance (or was it insouciance?" I am not a professional musician; I have, therefore, no acoustic prejudices and no works to defend.") you proclaimed a MUSIC OF NOISE to replace the "stale" works of the old master composers. Beethoven's day had passed; it was over. ...

On the Fantastic and the Logical

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Aural Fact or Fiction: Or, Composing at the Seashore (1965)

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pp. 187-198

The crisis which has overtaken the contemporary composer involves, at its deepest level, his relation to his art and the very process of composing—the making of the artwork. He is suffering from the triumph of abstractionism. ...

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The Fantastic and the Logical: Reflections on Science, Politics, and Art (1973)

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pp. 199-213

The dilemma confronting us at present demands careful and close examination leading (one hopes) to accurate diagnoses of problems, their sources and causes. A tall order, to be sure, and one to which I address myself with some trepidation, hoping more to be able to suggest rather than prescribe ways out of our dilemma. ...

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The Marvelous in Art (1982)

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pp. 214-222

Josef Pieper, the contemporary German philosopher, quotes Thomas Aquinas in his essay, "The Philosophical Act": "The reason ... why the philosopher may be likened to the poet is this: both are concerned with the marvellous."4 Pieper wonders at (i.e., philosophizes) the nature of man's capacity to wonder, ...

On the Renewal of Music

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The Avant-Garde and the Aesthetics of Survival (1969)

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pp. 225-241

It takes some sense of history, however vague or dim, just to utter the term avant-garde in relation to the aesthetic and stylistic problems of art. Implicit in the term for me is the handy, if fanciful, image of Zeno's "irreversible arrow of time," and it is generally assumed that the avant-garde either sits on the point of that arrow, ...

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Guston and Me: Digression and Return (1992)

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pp. 242-245

On one of my rare (these days) visits to New York I saw an exhibit of drawings by Philip Guston at the Museum of Modern Art. What led me there was not so much interest as just plain curiosity. Guston's name and work had always existed ever so vaguely on the periphery of my inner awareness of American painters. ...

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Polarity in Music: Symmetry, Asymmetry, and Their Consequences (1995)

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pp. 246-252

There are two great nodal points, two great dividing lines visible to the historical eye and audible to the discerning ear, that mark the morphological development of Western music with its unique twistings and turnings—and yes, in the precise spirit of Harold Bloom's term, its strangeness. If I can convey some sense of this, I will have put before you ...

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L'Envoi (1998)

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pp. 253-254

There is a fire in the brain, in the mind that comes from the universal fire that makes solar systems and galaxies, asteroid belts and comets, huge orbiting spirals, circles, loops that bend back on themselves in giant symmetries and stream out across millions of miles in giant asymmetries. ...

Selected Bibliography

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pp. 255-256


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pp. 257-262

E-ISBN-13: 9780472025114
E-ISBN-10: 0472025112
Print-ISBN-13: 9780472030262
Print-ISBN-10: 0472030264

Page Count: 288
Publication Year: 2004