For European artists, the idea of silence was purifying and enriching, but composers like Eimert were already questioning the purpose of this direction in the 50′s and 60′s, with many others feeling the same which perhaps explains the proliferation of serial compositions with distorted and wrecked “voices”, ie. Babbit’s Philomel (1964), Stockhausen’s Gesang der Jünglinge (1955-6) Nono’sIl Canto Sospeso (1955-56).
With the advent of computers and programmed algorhithmic composition, this depersonalization extended further, allowing composers to grapple with massive amounts of information that could be bent and manipulated to compositional frameworks. At this point, the computer became capable of composing more purifying, enriching serial experiences than a composer with limited time and energy could accomplish. Had serial music’s destructive seeds taken root?
Detachment continues in postmodern music, but we see afterwards a return to expression, representation and, in the 80′s onward, a new sincerity towards artistic practice. So, broadly speaking, is atonality and serialism a strange footnote in music history (like the ars subtilior in the 14th/15th century)? Do we continue to inhabit the “era of the sonata form”?
Tyler Versluis is a composer and pianist.