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Monday, April 04, 2005
thoughts on influence

I've been thinking about this since Lawrence raised the question; the following have crystalised in my mind:

1) As Kyle Gann said recently on his blog (I hope I'm paraphrasing this accurately), those of us who are old enough to have had our thinking-about-music/composing changed by a single piece in the 60's or 70's are likely to have solidified (ossified?) our thinking/composing to the extent that we are unlikely to be influenced in the same way by any piece in the 1990's or 2000's, how ever wonderful we may think it is, so it's hard, for me, anyway, to answer the question, as framed, about the 90's--or really even the 80's.

2)It struck me that a lot of 'big-name,' influential composers also solidified their styles so that any one of their pieces wouldn't have the same big impact that at one time it might have had. By now, I think, not just Carter and Boulez, but John Adams and Steve Reich are unlikely to change people's thinking--not that any one of them writes less good pieces, but their styles are part of the landscape, and no one of them is likely to do something drastically different in manner from what they've already done.

3)I wonder if any one piece could have the visibility to reach any thing like a mass audience, thereby having the chance to change many many people's thinking now. I first knew about the Berio Sinfonia and the Carter Piano Concerto, for instance, by reading about them in Time Magazine. They were both released in recordings by big name labels with very big (world-wide) distribution very soon after that. Does Time still even review any kind of music, let alone classical? Is there anything that counts as a major labels anymore and does any of them really have that kind of distribution? Do kids still haunt record stores the way I did then?

4) Sort of related (and something of a paradox)is the fact that a young composer these days has access to so much more music in so many different styles/languages, from so many different times and from so many different places. A teenager now can listen to recordings of Ravel and Debussy playing their music (probably earlier--certainly earlier if you count things like piano rolls). If Mozart could have done that he'd have been listening to Schutz, or earlier. If you disallow direct contact with the composer, she/he can listen to music by Leonin. I'm not sure if there were any recordings of Leonin when I was a teenager; if there were there certainly weren't many, and in any case none of them crossed my path. This kind of thing doesn't only, of course, include classical music; it goes to Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, King Oliver, Bill Monroe, The Carter Family, and God knows who else. Then if you figure in Bulgarian folk music, Tibetan religious music, African drumming...
Just about any kind of music can be the major influence for any body who can get at it, and it's relatively easy to get to. As long as there have been recordings, of course, that state of things has existed, but it's become increasingly (expotentially) that way as time passes. That also, it seems to me, mitigates againsts any single piece (or maybe even any particular composer) having the same kind of large scale impact that might have formerly been possible.


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