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The Pleasure of Modernist Music: Listening, Meaning, Intention, Ideology (Eastman Studies in Music) Hardcover – 16 Oct 2004


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Review

A superb compilation of essays that will provoke discussion and thought on all sides. The writers are first and foremost music-lovers, and that standpoint informs all of the essays. Urgently recommended. --David D. McIntire, composer, from a review at amazon.com There are few recent books on serious musical matters which ask more pressing questions and provide more thought-provoking -- even pleasurable -- answers than this one; few other books in which so many facets of modern culture. . . are brought together so productively. (Ashby's) introduction and opening chapter alone contain enough material for several books . . . I expect to be referring to the arguments and examples given here for some time to come. THE GRAMOPHONE (Arnold Whittall) Excellent collection. . . anyone with even the slightest concern for the topic should take the time to chew on what is in this book. . . an invaluable resource. AMERICAN RECORD GUIDE The Pleasure of Modernist Music presents the reader with a significant array of possible listening strategies for music otherwise dismissed as un-listenable. . . . Where these essays overlap is as fascinating as where they diverge in that the overlapping reveals the compositions, personalities, and ideologies most influential in a musical century that was conflicted at best. To the benefit of the present day listener, professional musician or otherwise, these essays represent a bold step forward in rescuing a body of music from that conflict, as well as from its own self-imposed alienation. MLA NOTES, 2006

About the Author

Arved Ashby is Professor of Music at the Ohio State University. He is the editor of The Pleasure of Modernist Music, and has published articles on twelve-tone composition, film music, minimalism, and Frank Zappa. He was an American Musicological Society (AMS) 50 Dissertation Fellow, and won the AMS Alfred Einstein Award in 1996. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Amazon.com: HASH(0x9043c114) out of 5 stars 2 reviews
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x90b0a240) out of 5 stars Principles of Musical Pleasure 27 July 2005
By David D. Mcintire - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Echoing the title of an earlier book (Henry Pleasants' The Agony of Modern Music, a dreary compendium of all that was wrong with the world of modern music), this new volume serves as both a retort to Pleasants' gloomy old report of falling skies, and gives notice (by use of the radical word "pleasure") that many of us have found the music of the twentieth century and beyond to offer far more than intellectual satisfaction. Pleasants' own personal "agony" has been a real pleasure for many other listeners, and it's high time that someone said that out loud (or in print, anyway).

Arved Ashby, a musicologist teaching at the Ohio State University, has edited a superb compilation of essays that contribute greatly to the ongoing conversation about musical style and musical values that is currently raging in and out of concert halls today. What pleases me most about this volume is its writers' refusal to adhere to the standard musi-political norms that one has come to expect; boundaries are crossed and recrossed, ultimately blurred entirely. Musical eclecticist William Bolcom defends staunch serialist Donald Martino from critical assailant Richard Taruskin and others. Milton Babbitt, the arch-serialist hyper-intellectual composer who is frequently blamed for all that has gone wrong in the musical academy, is defended from himself. The diverse team of writers display an impressively broad and healthy grasp of music in all of its manifestations, not simply "classical music," whatever that presently means in our culture. Nits could be picked (and have been by other reviewers), but the fact of the matter is that this is a much-needed volume whose primary purpose is to provoke discussion and thought on all sides. The writers are first and foremost music-lovers, and that standpoint informs all of the essays. Urgently recommended.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x8f642168) out of 5 stars Like modernist music, can't put your feelings into words to explain to your weirded-out friends? Take a look at this collection 19 Jan. 2011
By Christopher Culver - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
If you like modernist classical music, you may be baffled by the claims of some musical conservatives that serialism or Schoenberg's free atonality are just so much noise. Even entire books have been dedicated to castigating the pieces I and my peers enjoy greatly, like Henry Pleasant's dodgy classic THE AGONY OF MODERN MUSIC. But in defense of "20th century music with a popularity problem" comes THE PLEASURE OF MODERNIST MUSIC: Listening, Meaning, Intention, Ideology, edited by Arved Ashby. It collects 15 papers which discuss how modernist music can be a fun/touching/moving/thought-provoking experience. I didn't read all the papers here, so I'll just comment on a few.

Greg Sandow contributes two papers where he feels that excessive analysis gets in the way of just enjoying the music. Even Milton Babbit is great fun, he claims, if you just get past the dry programme notes. William Bolcom hopes that we're finally past the stage where we either have to strive for newness at all costs or trash mid-century modernism -- let's just enjoy what we like.

Richard Toop's "Informal Reflections on Simple Information and Listening" tries to undo some of the hyperbole around modern composition by noting that so much of the structure remains intelligible if one just pays attention. Even if the peculiars of twelve-tone rows pass by too fast or too squished by multiple voices and chords, even Stockhausen's ultra-abstract Klavierstuecke have a perceivable form that a sincere ear can latch on to. Andrew Mead's "One Man's Signal is Another Man's Noise" is a personal account of his joy in discovering Milton Babbitt, even as his father shook his head in disapproval.

Jonathan W. Bernard's "The 'Modernization' of Rock & Roll, 1965-75" charts a heady time when even popular music was exploring weird new sounds. If you've ever listened to late '60s psychedelia or Miles Davis' thick fusion, with all its revelations and surprises, and wonder how the human race could pass from that to disco, Bernard's is an interesting paper.

This is an academic text, not one meant to convince a mass audience that this kind of music is for them. Even if eggheads like myself absorb its arguments, they might not be all that useful in turning friends on to the wonders of 20th century modernism. Still, some many of the observations here resonated with me and helped me clarify my feelings about this repertoire, so at the very least THE PLEASURE OF MODERN MUSIC can help one formulate an apology for their tastes.
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