Re: art music/pop music

Subject: Re: art music/pop music
From: Kevin Austin (
Date: Tue May 18 2004 - 07:49:32 EDT

If this is about western european art / popular music only, then it
may be easier to follow for about 200 - 300 years. If what is seen in
the art music tradition can be extended backwards, then it may be
possible to make some hypotheses.

Comparing popular and art musics, the popular music was simpler in
terms of melodic structure (diatonic / chromatic, and notably phrase
length in dance music), and harmony, one reason being that chromatic
melody and harmony is more difficult to play on 'folk' instruments --
an example being the diatonic button accordion, or seven hole flutes.
Popular music pieces tended to be shorter.

And popular music had two main roots: text and dance. Songs were
clear and simple, and were therefore more memorable, since the
listeners would have a lower level of literacy. Dance music would
need to be (largely) picked up by ear.

The influence (and impact) of notation cannot be underestimated. For
singers to sing in four voices (eg Byrd Mass in Four Voices), the
music would have to be notated, which requires literacy, which
requires education, which requires long term support -- money.

Art music, being notated could be more 'dense' as all of the
performers wouldn't have to remember all of the parts for all of the
pieces. Some popular music performers remember thousands of pieces,
which they learned by ear, yet they play with people who don't know
thousands of tunes. The tuba player in a Bavarian band may or may not
need music after a couple of months of playing; the drummer may not
need music after a couple of hours (!).

Many art music composers have some (great) knowledge of popular
musics -- it's all 'grist for the musical mill'. The question would
arise as to what percentage of pop musicians know all of the Copland
Third Symphony.

The transfer from pop to art idioms might be quite fast -- 'jazz' in
the 1920s turning up for a decade or so, occasional rock crossover
pieces in the 60s and 70s, but the influence is not widely seen,
heard or felt. Many art music composers feel there is not enough
'depth' to pop music to integrate it fully into their style / idiom /

I think the line to trance can be traced back through the minimalists
via Hindemith and Bruckner to the first movement of the Beethoven
Ninth Symphony. The line of Beethoven > Bruckner is clear. Bruckner
added monumental and architectural to Beethoven's monumental and
architectural. Hindemith's re-adaptation of the Bruckner-esque
ostinato (derived from Beethoven) shows itself in the very early
works of Philip Glass (whose early style was heavily influenced by

And the other path to trance (and new age) pre-dates Gorecki's Third
Symphony with the neo-modality path that wanders through the 20th
century (via Satie > les Six, Copland, Roy Harris and in the fullness
of time, Alan Hovhaness). The musical language had undergone a
process of simplification.

 From time to time pop and art composers run into the same problem, as
noted by both Copland and Bob Dylan ... the story goes that Copland
had been wooed back to twelve-tone (serial?) composition by the
mid-60s (Inscape, Connotations, Dance Panels) and when he met Dylan,
they asked each other "Have you found any new chords?"

For Dylan, the musical language was restricted to certain
combinations of sounds -- those of a language which would have
relatively direct accessibility, a kind of 'deceit of understanding',
the feeling of a commonality of experience that could be "shared".
Inscapes is not easily 'understood' by many people. Was Copland place
importance on being understood?

Pop music artists need to be understood (at least to an extent to the
people who will put $400,000 into making the video), and they need to
achieve this condition rather 'quickly', few of them have the 10 - 15
years required to start to gain regular access to the art music world
that art music composers must dedicate to starting a career.

The apprenticeship of an art music composer is in most cases much
longer than that of the pop music performer / composer. There are few
art music composers who are 'high profile' in their teens and
twenties. The languages of art music are (mostly) by their nature of
a more difficult character. To develop the technique to sing the
music of the Beijing Opera (along with the other aspects of
performance) takes many many years of training and work. There
probably aren't many garage bands preparing performances of the
Butterfly Lovers. Consider also the music of Bollywood and its
relationship to the South Indian (Carnatic) music tradition.



At 1:58 AM -0400 5/18/04, wrote:
>I happen to be reading a book that deals with much of that, it's a collection
>of essays titled "Postmodern Music, Postmodern Thought" edited by Lochhead &
>Auner. I've read a few of the articles so far but that's a central theme
>throughout, there's one article in particular where the author meticulously
>traces influences of Gorecki's 3rd Symphony through artists like Test Dept.
>Goldie, Lamb, Pale Saints, Faust, Tricky...and though she deals mostly with
>issues of gender, there's some articles by Susan McLary where she traces the
>influence of "art" music in the themes of specific contemporary artists like
>Madonna. hope this helps.
> and ever...
> - chris
>> Anyone know of any articles or books that deal with musical style and the
>> relationship of "pop music" to "art music". (perhaps an artificial
> > distinction which needs redefining) I'm interested in pre 20th
>century music. Did musical style changes in art
> > music find their way pop music?.. - chromaticism in beerhall tunes for
> > example. Any examples of pop culture finding their way into
>art music? I
>> suppose use of folk tunes is one of them.
> > How did they interact on one another when the style differences weren't as
> > great as they are today?
> >
> > thanks
> >
> > mediadrome
> > international audiochrome, inc.
> >

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