When most people think of classical music they associate composers such as Beethovan, Mozart and Bach. Yet, classical music is still being composed every day. While we like to relish in the Baroque, Classical and Romantic music time periods, there is one music time period that is usually skipped over. Modern Music is the period from 1910 to present time.
Modern Music is a subgenre with a narrow group of listeners. Traditional classical music lovers say that they don’t typically like modern music because it is weird, chaotic and unstructured. Non-classical music listeners also are not interested because it sounds like traditional classical music. Across the board, people find modern music challenging to listen to.
Dissonance is a word frequently used to describe modern music. Dissonance is “the degree of perceived roughness, harshness, unpleasantness or difficulty in listening to the sound.” As the level of dissonance grows higher, fewer people enjoy the music. If modern music has a great level of dissonance, it will not be widely listened to.
A recent study conducted by the University of Melbourne found that many people perceive dissonance in all genres of music, not just modern classical music. The study linked the perception of dissonance to incomprehension in music: “When listeners hadn’t previously encountered a certain chord, they found it nearly impossible to hear the individual notes that comprised it. Where this ability was lacking, the chords sounded dissonant, and thus, unpleasant.” The people who knew less about musical structure perceived a higher level of dissonance.
The study then sought to lower the perceived level of dissonance. A group of non-musicians were put through some basic music theory training. After the training, the group “reported that they found those chords to be less dissonant than other chords that they hadn’t been taught, regardless of how technically harmonious they were.” The results suggest that the ability to comprehend and like certain types of music can be learned with some training and understanding.
While modern music carries the stereotype of not having a recognizable melody, repeated refrain and dissonant chords, not all modern music has these characteristics. In fact, many works composed after 1910 are quite lyrical with a clear melody line and consonant chords.
One such modern composer and violist is Paul Coletti, born in 1959. This original composition, “From My Heart,” features solo viola and piano accompaniment. Its soaring melody line over broken chords is reminiscent of Debussy’s sonata for violin and piano. Compare the two below.
It’s possible that if you listened to both of these pieces without knowing the composer and were asked to choose which one was more dissonant, you may actually choose Debussy’s sonata. Perhaps if modern classical music was named “new” music or “pop” music, more people would be inclined to listen to it.
Paul Coletti Live in Steamboat Springs
Paul Coletti will perform two concerts at the Strings Music Pavilion this summer: Wednesday July 3 and Saturday July 6. He will play his own compositions “From My Heart” and “Circus.” Tickets go on sale April 10th.