A Conversation for The Three Ages of Music

Peer Review: A1046963 - The Three Ages of Music

Post 1


Entry: The Three Ages of Music - A1046963
Author: Recumbentman (keeper of solmization syllables) - U208656

Welcome to the Third Age smiley - magic

A1046963 - The Three Ages of Music

Post 2


Interesting entry, however I think you need to provide an explanation of some of the terms you use (such as counterpoint for example) that non-musical people may not have come across.

smiley - panda

A1046963 - The Three Ages of Music

Post 3

Dr Deckchair Funderlik

Great stuff. smiley - biggrin

Beautifully written and constructed - in a kind of musical way, which is fitting, I suppose.

Insightful and interesting.

And now, for the suggestions..

First, a general meandering-under-the-surface kind of thought: There seems to me to be a tension at work underneath everything here, between the interpretation of a musical work and its preservation. If I am right here, you are saying that notation and sound recording help preserve a work - but at a cost to the possibilities of its interpretation. In the former, the cost is that the format cannot preserve the interprative qualities you mention. In the latter, those things can be at least partly preserved - but only once - or only a limited number of times.

The problem then - for both notation and sound recording - is that everyone clings to them as somehow 'definitive'. That's part of the mechanism that seems to motor the supremacy of one 'age' over the next. Is that right? If so, then I am really curious as to why this is. I mean, is it human psychology? Fear of standing out from the herd? Or is it something to do with a fear of "losing" what is preserved. Since music is fluid, is there something about preserving it that is fundamentally important? Is that why nothing changed for thousands of years before notation came along?

Whether this is of any help with the entry, I do not know. It could well be just the way my thoughts went on it.

Second, I agree with Cyzaki that some of the musical terms might need elucidation. I know what counterpoint is, but I have to guess what you mean by an 'expression mark'.

Third, I don't know if this was intentionally funny, but I enjoyed this:


and fourth: This -


- might need a bit more spelling out. What are the important differences between the culture of recording and the oral cuture? And why does the former devalue both the latter and the written culture? I have had a guess at this - see above - and you have explained well how sound recording has become both the dominant mode, and one that is needlessly relied on as 'definitive' ... but maybe some blanks need to be filled on on the seperate question of why it is also the most devaluing culture?

A1046963 - The Three Ages of Music

Post 4

Trout Montague

"Most music we hear comes through a loudspeaker. This is not a perfectly transparent window, nor does its influence stop there."

What does that mean?

A1046963 - The Three Ages of Music

Post 5


Thank you Cyzaki and Drs both.

I think if I had to explain 'counterpoint' the reader will get little from the entry, as it is meta-technical. I could explain it perhaps - 'the art of superimposing melodies within harmonic rules' - but does that help?

The meaning of "Most music we hear comes through a loudspeaker. This is not a perfectly transparent window, nor does its influence stop there" is simply that the way we are given music has an effect on the way we think about it; and that the influence doesn't stop there means that it also has an effect on the way we create music. To say that a loudspeaker is not a transparent window echoes the linguistic argument, that language itself is not transparent; it colours the way we think (to say the least).

Dr Funderlik goes into what I am getting at, and points out what I suspected, that my way of writing is terse to the point of puzzling. I'll try my best.

The whole point is that the *means of recording* shapes, or even *becomes* the means of creating. What was originally descriptive becomes prescriptive. A recording technology is invented as a faithful copying device (a transparent window) but is quickly exploited and its fertile individuality is mined, as clever folk discover what can be done with it. We should not remain ignorant of the exploitation, but it is hard to see the colours of the window, when our eyes are focussed on the view beyond.

If you think it will bear it, I will expand whatever passages need expanding - suggestions please. I live in (irrational) fear of saying too much.

A1046963 - The Three Ages of Music

Post 6


By 'expression marks' we mean the signs for loud, soft, slow, fast, accented, smooth, detached, and all the gradual changes of such paramaters. P, f, ritardando, crescendo, staccato . . . all the extras that have been added since Gabrieli wrote his 'Sonata Piano e Forte' in the late sixteenth century.

Early composers stuck to composing - that is, writing counterpoint - and the fact that the music was played blandly is as likely as it is that Shakespeare acted in a monotone, depite omitting such directions as 'sneering wickedly' from his plays.

A1046963 - The Three Ages of Music

Post 7

Bels - an incurable optimist. A1050986

I think this entry makes an excellent discussion paper.

Ranging as it does from Satchmo to Schoenberg and far beyond, it puts forward a considerable number of opinions, on which one could have quite long debates, with arguments and counter-arguments back and forth.

A1046963 - The Three Ages of Music

Post 8


"I think this entry makes an excellent discussion paper"

I take that as a compliment; thank you.

However it might also imply 'this is not Edited Guide stuff'; too controversial.

Hoovooloo's entry on 'An Unnatural Sex Practice' was refused, presumably on similar grounds. I found his article well-reasoned though, and perfectly sound. The fact that it represents a point of view that not all will share is in my view totally unimportant. Think of the entries in the original Hitch Hiker's Guide ('Mostly harmless' etc) and indeed any guide to anywhere. They're obviously written from one person's often jaundiced point of view. And this Guide is bristling with disclaimers.

Do I overreact? Possibly.

A1046963 - The Three Ages of Music

Post 9

Dr Deckchair Funderlik


Did I do that? More like "Dr. Funderlik got somewhat confused..." I did say it was beautifully written in a manner like music - getting at the notion that the form reflects the content. But I also missed the point somewhat. And the point, as you say is this:


And I kind of missed that first time around. So, I would recommend that you should really forground that point more - make it the central focus of the entry. Repeat it a bit. Arrange the various sections around it.

In a way, the very substance of what you're saying makes it necessary for this to be done. I missed your point partly because my own pereception of what music was misconceived in precisely the way you talk about.

Part of what you are doing here, I reckon, is something like a 'grammatical reminder' in Wittgenstein's sense. I'm sure you know what I'm talking about.. smiley - smiley

A1046963 - The Three Ages of Music

Post 10

Dr Deckchair Funderlik

<<..pereception of what music *is* was misconceived..>>

A1046963 - The Three Ages of Music

Post 11


Spot on, thanks. Will do, definitely needed.

The thing about 'counterpoint quickly reached a dizzying height of complexity from which it has been descending ever since' perhaps needs fleshing out. There was some truly dizzying counterpoint in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, it became tamed in the sixteenth and Bach more or less nailed down the lid of its coffin. There were excellent contrapuntists later, but Berlioz made a show of despising it, indeed so did Beethoven in his 'Ode to Joy'. Hmmm, that had all better go in.

A1046963 - The Three Ages of Music

Post 12

Gnomon - time to move on

This is an excellent entry. Well done! I enjoyed reading it, but felt that it equated the age of written music with the age of counterpoint. Surely counterpoint was just one passing trend in the history of written music.

Some typos, grammatical points etc:

The medium is the massage. Do you really mean massage? It seems a bit out of place here.

the very suggestion, that --> the very suggestion that

ars subtilior - deserves a footnote
curiosity value an intriguing problem -- there is something missing from this sentence
on high moral ground as a critique -- did you mean 'as a critic' ?

A1046963 - The Three Ages of Music

Post 13

Bels - an incurable optimist. A1050986

I'm afraid I have to say I find the entry as it stands to be less than excellent. smiley - sorry

There are lots of comments I might make, but I'm not in a position at the moment to mention them all in one long post. I'll start with a few and see how it goes.

>>The first age of music was the age of oral transmission. The second, which began for Europe only a thousand years ago, was the age of written music<<

Written music began for Europe much more than 1000 years ago. The Romans had it, so did the Greeks. It is not clear, however, what is meant in this entry when you talk about an 'age'. I suppose there might be some definition of 'an age' which allows that it started 1000 years ago even though written music has existed much longer - perhaps you could clarify what you mean here.

When you come to the 'third age' I definitely feel that you need to say what is meant by 'age' and when and how it started.

I would also like to be clear what sort of music you are talking about - do you mean all music, or popular music, or religious music, or folk music, or what? You do seem to generalise about music a lot, and it doesn't seem as though your remarks on counterpoint are intended to apply to, for example, folk music - or are they?

I would prefer that you omit gratuitous opinion - eg describing Berlioz as 'garrulous'. That just opens up a whole other area of debate, which doesn't help.


A1046963 - The Three Ages of Music

Post 14


Thanks for the comments Bels; I need to be told what works and what spectacularly doesn't.

I know there was notation before 800 AD and mention that the Sumerians had it perhaps 3000 years back, in a footnote. What distinguishes the "written-music age" is how it came to be so dominant in Europe, which I don't suppose happened anywhere else, though I don't know.

The dominance of the written note pervaded all discussion of music, all religious and eventually all state-occasions music, to the extent that the written word dominated religion and law and eventually commerce.

Folk music was indeed exempt, and only became seriously a field of academic study with the coming of recording technology. Before that it was a counter-culture, but even then hugely effected (it must have been) by contrast with what it was not, namely the dominant culture.

Yes, this is a heap of enormous generalisations. I am coming from the position of having run a music school in Ennis Co Clare, where the traditional music is exceptionally flourishing and wonderful. The school was set up to teach classical and traditional music on an equal footing, in an innovative way. We held a conference of traditional players and knowledgeable people to work out how this was to be done, the balance struck. What surprised me was how many successful trad players said "The kids whould learn notation. I never did" without seeing anything odd in this. Only one teacher (Frank Custy, Sharon Shannon's primary school teacher who taught a lot of music in his school) suggested that writing was not universally good for trad music. As you see from my comments (painting by numbers) I am critical of notation though that is my background (viola da gamba player).

In the event there was no friction between teachers or pupils, and many pupils crossed over and were at home in both genres; a rare thing only ten or twenty years ago.

A1046963 - The Three Ages of Music

Post 15



I have added and subtracted bits in response to your comments, particularly in order to show what I mean by an 'age'. My argument ranges necessarily over all forms of music: popular, religious, studied, commercial and any other categories you can think of.

I have added a footnote about Berlioz: I hope he would not object to being called garrulous (primary meaning according to Shorter Oxford: "Loquacious").

If it is uncalled for or disparaging I don't mind removing it. Quite irrelevant to the argument. I loved Berlioz's Memoirs and felt they gave me a wonderful picture both of his ideals and his age, as well as his larger-than-life persona.

My greatest fear is that the thesis put forward will appear irreverent to the gods of the second age - the Great Composers - who are still worshipped, and are still great. I notice you have written on Bach, Handel, Elgar, Britten and Bernstein; and I don't wonder that you feel like letting off steam smiley - steam at my effort to shunt all of them along with their lesser contemporaries and predecessors into what looks like a musical siding.smiley - wah

A1046963 - The Three Ages of Music

Post 16

Bels - an incurable optimist. A1050986

Sorry, I don't understand. Letting off steam? Where? When?

No matter.

A1046963 - The Three Ages of Music

Post 17


Ah . . . I'm being sensitive. I took "less than excellent" and "I would prefer that you omit gratuitous opinion" as expressions of exasperation.smiley - run

A1046963 - The Three Ages of Music

Post 18

Sea Change

When I see a grand title like "ages of music" I expect the article to be worldwide. It is not, it only describes a western history. In particular, for Indian music, there is as much Bollywood as there is Ravi Shankar in Los Angeles music stores.

When I see a word like "ages" as an organizing theme, I expect them cover a subject broadly, but you are mostly only talking about the transmission of musical memes, and how this affects people's attitudes towards music. It's not clear if you are taking a relativistic or positivist view here, which is why I don't understand your response to what Deckchair has said about loss of information.

Perhaps a better title altogether would be "How people learn music affects how people percieve it". Or not. I am still not sure of your intention.

Musique concrete, and the use of turntables-as-instruments, synthesizers, MIDI effects, and samples are all one more layer of remove from the recorded music, and I think they represent a fourth age, using the logic you have here. These are entirely unnatural musics created with entirely artificial (in the good sense) means, and are one level abstracted, and aren't at all University related. (although, if you listen to Easley Blackwood's classically styles switchedonbachwendycarlos styled microtonal pieces, which are quite "pop"-like, one despairs of any category). I know recorded music sounds quite different on my B&W speakers (a british make) vs my roommate's Klipschs (a german make) so I am not sure they are a filter, so much as another means of transmitting musical memes.

It is highly unlikely Gregory made chant standard. Charlemagne did this to give legitimacy to his French court. It is also unlikely Gregory wrote the chant attributed to him. This last will remain unresolved as the Catholic Church is still sitting on most of its monody.

Your photography vs art metaphor is strained, and perhaps refutes your thesis. While Daguerre was prefecting photography, the Impressionists struck! Kandinsky and Braque came after and really did things in before Eastman and Land made photography truly as popular in the same way as popular music became so.

Clarifying Ars Subtilior opens a HUGE off-topic can of worms. It isn't really explainable without also explaining Trecento, which isn't explainable without some background on Palestrina and clerical schools, etc. It's probably fine as you have written it.

Trad. vs (and in addition to!) classical: very interesting. But the Country Western band that lives next door to me uses a technology that slows down recordings without changing their pitch to learn their stylings. It would be interesting to see the difference in interpretation revealed when one encounters an orchestra taught with a CD recording of only their part, done exactly in the style that the conductor wishes (I've been in some large symphonic choruses, and we always rehearsed separately, giving Kent Nagano a real challenge!)

A1046963 - The Three Ages of Music

Post 19

Sea Change

Oh yeah! Forgot this:

I have heard the thesis proposed that until after the baroque, there simply weren't musical instruments in existence that allowed large changes in expression.

I know that many singers of monody were chastised for their theatricality by the Catholic Church. This lack of expected dynamics in monody persists to this day, even though it is more a theological thing rather than a musical thing. To get a feel for how it could sound, all one has to do is listen to some recordings of some old-timey jewish cantors, and you can see the amazing dynamics (and some interesting old-roman-style noodling) transmitted.

A1046963 - The Three Ages of Music

Post 20


Thanks for your comments Sea Change.

Until I get round to them all, just this one: "It would be interesting to see the difference in interpretation revealed when one encounters an orchestra taught with a CD recording of only their part" -- this is happening in Irish traditional music, or something like it: in Germany and Eastern Europe many bands are performing Irish trad, learned from recordings. At present it is easy to tell them apart from the home-grown variety, as a certain flexibility is missing; but I can't tell how this trend will develop. Rock'n'roll is certainly learnt from recordings; the Beatles had access in their teens to American recordings that sailors brought back, more rootsy than what was on the radio.

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