Arts & Culture | Harmonic Language | Modern Era | Classical
Western classical music since the seventeenth century, because it placed great emphasis on harmonic subtlety and tensions between keys, had been less interested in melodic flexibility (a maximum of 12 notes to the octave, while Indian music uses 22) and in rhythm (regular division into bars, normally of two, three, four or six beats; Indian music, again, uses rhythmic structures much longer than Western bars). Twentieth-century composers have investigated these neglected areas. Ives, in his Fourth Symphony, calls for an (optional) piano tuned in quarter-tones (24 notes to the octave) and in several passages divides his orchestra into groups playing simultaneously in different rhythms. Other composers (notably Stockhausen, Berio, Boulez and Babbitt) have invented entirely new sounds, using electronic means, or have incorporated into their music sounds that an earlier age would have dismissed as noise. Déserts by Varèse alternates orchestral music with a pre-recorded tape of sounds collected in factories, saw-mills and iron-works. At the outset of his career he had declared that ‘I refuse to submit solely to sounds that have been heard before’.
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