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Kamarck, Edward (ed.) / Arts in society: the arts and the black revolution

Yates, Peter
Book reviews: the question of "stasis",   pp. 333-343 PDF (8.4 MB)

Page 336

336      equally defined as "consonant".
Therefore the color-change of modulation
and the consonant-dissonant clash which
created the distinctive forms of fugue
and sonata disappeared; to replace them
composers extended the range of
permissible dissonance to the full
chromatic scale: hence the "emancipated
dissonance" proceeding to the music
"emancipated from its notes" of John
Cage's compositions for prepared piano.
So much for Professor Meyer's elaborate
dialectic about the reasons for stylistic
change. In the music most pertinent to
our discussion stylistic change was
built into the evolving structure of the
scale, which changed in accordance with
the changing predominance of certain
instruments, voice, keyboard, orchestra,
and will change again now that the
computer enables composers to explore
every acoustical cranny of the field of
sound: with the consequence that noise,
the totally random mingling of sounds,
becomes a musical means as significant
as just intonation, and equal
temperament, except as an historical
bypass, may go the way of meantone.
This argument should give some
estimate of the length and effort which
would be necessary, if one wished to
controvert some of the other ideas
Professor Meyer offers. I do not wish
this to be interpreted as saying that all
the ideas are bad, misdirected, or
irrelevant: by no means! But to
discriminate the good from the bad,
the real evidence from the assumed,
the theoretical fancy from the observable
fact would be an heroic task.
For example, he writes:
"In the area of tonal relationships, an
aspect of music which has heretofore
been central to major changes in style
[though he hasn't explained why this
is so], the possibility of significant
change also seems doubtful. For not
only will new or radically modified
notation schemes have to be both devised
and accepted if a new tonal system is
to replace the present equal-tempered
scale, but new instruments will have to
be invented, manufactured, and sold
and a new performance tradition
developed, taught, and mastered."
[Further on he doubts that "a really
new symbolic notation, even if invented,
would be accepted and flourish." This
is in line with the old musicological
notion that 17th century composers went
on unhappily trying to invent modern
harmony but failed to do so until
J. S. Bach came along. Composers
today are forcing on performers all sorts
of new notations, to the despair of
theorists. Gardner Read's exhibits for
his new lecture on current notation more
resemble a gallery of abstract graphic
art than musical scores. Computer and
electronic composers speed up the
revolution by dispensing entirely with
notation. Professor Meyer, when he
gives evidence against his general thesis,
proceeds to argue as if this evidence
can be done away with.] "Moreover . . .
change in the tonal structure of styles
has generally moved in the direction of
filling in gaps in the repertory of tones
already in the system -a tendency
toward equidistant scale steps." [I have
already shown that equal steps are not
the norm but the exception in the
history of Western music. But, if "filling
the gaps" is what counts, then the
31-tone equal temperament invented
by Christian Huygens and reimplemented
today by Adriaan Fokker does just
that. It is a meantone filled in to the
degree where both the major third
and the 5th becomes acoustically,
though not precisely, just.
If equal intervals are not what is wanted,
there are the "filled in" scales of just
intonation used by Harry Partch and,
more recently, Eivind Groven, both 43
tones in the octave.2 Each of these
systems both adapts traditional

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