The New Image of Music (1963)
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The New Image of Music 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 in attempting to solve their problems. Ambivalence, uncertainty , and nostalgia are reflected in the attitudes and works of the masters of the first half of our century-Schoenberg, Stravinsky, and Bart6k; although, in the case of Varese, we see no sign of the vacillation that afflicted his generation . The first generation to accept unreservedly the break with tradition grew to maturity following World War II. Nevertheless, in the ranks of today's advanced composers there is now discernible a growing tension and widening gap between those who proclaim their abandonment of and disengagement from history and those who, reacting against the consequences of this denial, reassert the value and necessity of a sense of historical continuity, a feeling for the continuum of human life and culture. Despite all this--the ambivalence toward the break with tradition, the rejection of or adherence to historical continuity-in the process of casting about for and searching out viable means of composition, certain processes of thought and attitudes of mind, resting on commonly held assumptions, which tend to ameliorate and reconcile differences , have crystallized to create what we may call the new image of music. At first glance this image appears strange, many-faceted, and complex, its features seemingly distorted and disarranged in cubist fashion and, like a cubist image, looking in several directions at once-or in none at all. And, like the cubist image, it is an aggregate with a compelling unity about it, gathering into its field the plurality and diversity of methods and means which have been and are still being devised, transformed, discarded, and replaced in the ceaseless search for solutions to the problem of musical composition. Viewed in this way, the image loses its aspect of immobile complexity and instead acquires that fascination which derives from contemplating the richness of a constantly metamorphosing process which, despite surface changes, retains its basic morphology. In order to bring the new image of music into clearer focus, it is necessary to show how developments in twentieth-century musical thought came to bear on those processes of thought and attitudes of mind which may be said to be widespread, if not universal, among today's advanced composers. The most significant effect of these radical departures from tradition is that which we can discern in the nature of the musical discourse itself. Traditional processes of THE NEW IMAGE OF MUSIC 17 thought had assumed tonality as the basis of melodic-harmonic organization and periodicity as the regulator of metric organization and rhythmic flow. When these fundamental direction-producing forces gave way to freely chromatic atonality and an essentially nonperiodic rhythmic structure, a musical discourse based on readily predictable continuity was no longer possible. Since the time the break with tradition occurred, this has remained a virtually insoluble problem. Schoenberg admitted that "it seemed at first impossible to compose pieces of complicated organization or great length."l Later, relying on the structural layout of texts, he found he was able to "construct larger forms," thus differentiating the parts of the musical setting "as clearly as they had formerly been by the tonal and structural functions of harmony."2 From the doctrine of "the emancipation of the dissonance," it was a logical step for Schoenberg, with his deep-rooted, unshakable belief in the efficacy of traditional structure, to formulate what he chose to call "the method of composing with twelve tones which are related only with one another," a procedure in musical construction "which seemed fitted to replace those structural differentiations provided formerly by tonal harmonies."3 Schoenberg's efforts to cast his large-scale twelvetone instrumental works in classical structure and formal design proved no more satisfactory a reconciliation with the structural logic of traditional procedures than Stravinsky's attempt to adapt his musical ideas to the molds of neoclassicism. Both masters suffered a severe reaction to the very crises they were chiefly instrumental in bringing about. On the other hand, the search for precisely structured, self-contained musical organisms led Webern to the production of prismatic shapes, often geometric in structure by virtue of their symmetric ordering. Thus, Webern achieved a unique type of continuity which profoundly...


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