I’m a huge proponent of taking care with form in a piece. Too often I see pieces that suddenly switch sections jarringly, unnecessarily, and disjointedly, to the point of rendering the listener lost, clueless, and unnecessarily startled for no reason. Disjunct form is great for theatrical and dance works because it is often subject to a plot line, but even in music with a program disjunct form can be a more destructive than constructive event.
Another problem I see in a lot of newer music is an apparent lack of form. I appreciate music that flows fluidly from one gesture to the next, but when there is no apparent direction, no sense of discernible or sensible movement, the question that I pose is: what’s the point? To where is the music going, and if it isn’t going anywhere, why should I care about the music or its purpose? In some cases having no point works well, but all too often I hear music that might have a point or might not have a point, and it leaves me with nagging doubts and unanswered inquiries into the music.
With all of our advances in harmony, rhythm, technology, and virtuosity on the part of the composer, I’m surprised that form is not taken as seriously as these other advances. Form in music can make a bad piece acceptable or great musical moments trivial. We constantly hear about extended techniques of instrumental playing, the progression of harmony over the centuries of modern Western music, the influences of other cultures on music, the rhythmical complexities and advancements in meter that have sprung up since Modernism happened, and the advances in software that reacts to music or generates music. However, the discussions of form seem reserved as afterthoughts.
It is odd that the composers we most revere most were the revolutionaries in form (just think of Beethoven, Mahler, Debussy, Cage, Xenakis, Reich, etc.), yet I received the least amount of focus in theory, history, and composition classes on “formal” discussions.
That’s just my two cents in reaction to listening to good new music versus questionable new music (I’ve been experiencing a lot of both lately, but I won’t name names).
What do you think?
Thanks for reading,