At the end of this school year, I completed my third and final semester of music history classes. I think the last (Twentieth Century Music) was my favorite of the sequence. Over this last year and a half, I did serious research on one composer each semester; these composers were Henry Purcell, Scott Joplin and George Gershwin and perhaps someday I'll write more about them. Overall, I’ve digested lots of names and dates over this time and have really enjoyed the brief overview of musicology.
I think some of the most important concepts I’ve learned over the past year and half have had to do with philosophies on why we have music. There was the Medieval era, where universities taught music as one of quadrivium or “four ways”, along with arithmetic, geometry and astronomy. Despite its study as an academic subject, music in this time was usually composed for liturgical purposes. Then came the humanists and their Renaissance celebration of humanity in polyphony shortly followed by the complexities of Baroque counterpoint. Soon the pendulum swung back to the simplicity of melody in the Classical period, which was followed by rejection of strict rationality with the emotional intensity of the Romantics. And about a hundred years ago, everything split open. Soon, we would have Schoenberg creating tone rows, jazz, Debussy’s impressionism, Gershwin’s hybrid of show tunes with classical and everything in-between. Later in the century, people like John Cage, Aaron Copland, Milton Babbitt and Steve Reich would present their vastly different opinions of what music should be. And though I didn’t agree with all of these, each was fascinating.
For Twentieth Century Music, we read a book called The Rest Is Noise by Alex Ross that was incredibly informative and fun to read—a killer combo for certain. The book helped me realize how vast the geography of Western music has been just in the last century alone. And going back to what I said earlier, Ross did a fantastic job outlining why each composer did what he/she did.
Part of why music is endlessly intriguing to me is that each composer has a slightly different reason for writing the music he/she does. So much thought has been devoted to music and the only real certainty is that music is important. For no one can deny that music has, does and will exist in every culture in human history. These classes I’ve taken have shown me the winding evolution of the art form and confirmed that this is a worthwhile vocation. We’ll see if I feel the same why if and when I decide to go to graduate school.