Classical: On Air
Friday 06 November 1998
There was a substantial sequence of extracts from pieces written by Stravinsky at different periods, putting his character to the test. But the most characteristic thing about Stravinsky is his method of continuity - or discontinuity - and his character is not reducible to any of the single elements of rhythm, harmony or melody.
Then there was a telling editorial juxtaposition of music from Stockhausen's Stimmung and Debussy's Fetes to show, without a word being said, that identical pitches don't necessarily make for similar music. What's in a chord?
Anyway, "What do we mean by harmony?" enquired Harrison Birtwistle, sounding slightly put upon. This was a real question, for Birtwistle has almost as little harmonic sense as any 20th-century composer, and there was a touching eloquence in his absence from the next 20 minutes or more, before he popped up again, explaining, "What I control is intervals!" - as if some unseen or unheard inspector from the Arts Council had accused him of laxity.
Schoenberg's 12-note method bypassed an independent grammar of harmony altogether, even though Schoenberg himself was a connoisseur of harmony. But then James Wood was confident that Schoenberg's method would not turn out to have been one of the most significant innovations of the century, as we once thought.
Alexander Goehr - franker than you expect a Cambridge professor to be - confessed he had been to see Sir Michael Tippett (before he died) and told him he was worried about his (Goehr's) lack of harmonic sense. He would write something but not be able to remember the harmonies the following day. "Funny you should say that," returned Tippett. "I've been trying to write coherent and expressive music without harmony all my life."
But then the harmonic series, or overtones present in a note, do suggest that some sort of tonality is natural, even if it isn't the system of major and minor scales or the harmonic vocabulary built upon them that European theorists codified a few hundred years ago. French avant-garde composers such as Gerard Grisey and Tristan Murail have explored the higher regions of the harmonic series, beyond the bounds of tempered tuning systems, and John Tavener mumbled benevolently about the "harmony of the spheres".
The rediscovery of clear and simple harmonies in composers such as Arvo Part, Steve Reich and Tavener came with a sigh of relief, said James Wood. Or a groan of boredom in the case of Pierre Boulez, who said he didn't like being able to predict what he would hear, hinting at a subject for a whole new programme.
It was all very well for Debussy to shock a conservative professor by saying, "There is no theory, you merely have to listen", for the boat he was rocking hadn't yet sunk. Nearly a hundred years later, Gyorgy Ligeti admitted that in the Sixties he had thought clusters the new language, only to realise they were a mirage, although those weren't exactly his words. "I was lost, and I am still lost."
filmIn Black Seahe is as audiences have never seen him before
MusicThe band accidentally called Londoners the C-word
Film 'I've never been comfortable on-screen', she says
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Jennifer Lawrence scores first UK top 40 single with Hunger Games track 'The Hanging Tree'
- 2 Shia LaBeouf claims he was raped during #IAMSORRY art installation performance
- 3 'You should come to my house and eat cheeses with me': 4-year-old sends adorable love letter to girl at school
- 4 Scientists predict green energy revolution after incredible new graphene discoveries
- 5 Michael Buerk wishes he killed Jimmy Savile when he had the chance - by pushing him overboard a cruise ship
I'm A Celebrity 2014: Jungle security stepped up after murder and 'suspicious death' close to camp
Star Wars The Force Awakens trailer: What we know about JJ Abrams' film
Exodus Gods and Kings casting controversy: Ridley Scott would never cast 'Mohammad so-and-so from such-and-such' in lead role
Jennifer Lawrence scores first UK top 40 single with Hunger Games track 'The Hanging Tree'
The Fall, series 2, episode 3 – TV review: The Gillian Anderson drama is starting to push the realms of plausibility, but who cares?
Obama: The only people with the right to object to immigration are Native Americans
Ukip says babies born to immigrants in the UK should be classed as migrants – which would include Nigel Farage’s own children
The young are the new poor: Sharp increase in number of under-25s living in poverty, while over-65s are better off than ever
Ukip mocked after mistaking Westminster Cathedral – for a mosque
Tamir Rice: 12-year-old boy playing with fake gun dies after being shot by Ohio police
David Cameron sets out immigration reforms: We should distrust Ukip and their 'snake-oil of simple solutions'