A question that musicians frequently ask themselves is: does a vanguard still exist in classical music? And if so, where is it and who are its representatives?
Time has shown that certain famous composers, such as, Stockhausen, Boulez, Nono, and those that came after them, have not stood as a point of reference for the most advanced philosophical or aesthetical ideas. The ideals that moved these authors to develop certain thoughts concerning music have changed or even disappeared. The consumer society and well-being in Western culture have put an end to issues that were once important. The premises of the vanguard of the 40's - 60's have become obsolete; times have changed and new issues have become valuable; people are looking towards new directions.
What is unmistakably true is that certain works which were once considered important, as the touching stones of a certain style, are now out of circulation, both in concert halls and recording studios. Most importantly, they are out of consideration for most professional musicians. This is because there has been a distortion of ideas regarding musical worth during the late 20th century: the conviction that the worth of a piece can justified with technical arguments, through analysis and theory. One can never forget that a composition is nourished by what is musical and humane; through sensitivity and intelligence, without any extra musical justifications. Music is an aural experience, not a graphical or a visual one. The different currents are but representations of a composer's conception that should be secondary to the music itself. In a musical composition one should listen to the composer through his system, not just a system.
Certain aesthetical movements, like serialism or aleatorial music, have been developed without concern for the most basic natural mechanisms of human aural perception, not to mention disregarding its limitations. The human being is limited; some people seem to have forgotten this. They need points of reference, something essential to be able to establish relationships that permit us to recognize what we hear. The limits concerning both dynamics and intervallic distance in the human ear, as well as the instrumental limits have not been taken into account by certain composers.
Many pieces from this period were sustained by the myth of the premiere performance, of being something new. They were valued by how revolutionary they seemed, but not by the inherent musical value they contained. This is why the aesthetical movements in the vanguard composers were frequently frustrated: they did not surpass the merely anecdotic in their short lives because they never had a true harmonic system, not necessarily in the tonal sense, that allowed for future developments. That is why we have composers that have spent the last 50 years composing the same type of music in an out-of-fashion style, boring audiences and trying to convince them through any available means, mostly theoretical reasons, that their music is the newest and most interesting gift that has been sent by fate.
Before any other consideration a composer is a craftsman with good taste that must be a master of his art. In what does this consist? One must have a profound knowledge of all the elements used in composition, so that he can give form to his sensitivity, and he must know how to write a melody in any style.
Many composers have written pieces for instruments they did not master, justifying their theoretical system with the argument that it is necessary to innovate different instrumental techniques, thus qualifying their own pieces as outstanding. One must realize that certain things never change; such as what is idiomatic of the instrument, its idiosyncrasy, technological progression aside.
Following the revolutionary time of the vanguard movements, the lack of substance and craftsmanship in many works came to the surface. Performers, the true inheritors of these pieces, do not want to play them any more. A composer should keep an open ear to the musical atmosphere of the current times and write musical scores that are relevant.
As in any era, the vanguard of the 20th century has produced some good pieces, although few in comparison with the bad ones, that are there to be enjoyed. It is our own ears that should judge the composer and not the given information in the program the usher gives us as we enter the auditorium. Let us have confidence in our own criteria without prejudices. And let us never forget that we should make the music ours at the moment in which we listen to it, without preconceived ideas, so that we can take pleasure in it.
Translated by Luis Eduardo Díez.
Published at MundoClásico (Spain)