“For decades critics of modern classical music have been derided as philistines for failing to grasp the subtleties of the chaotic sounding compositions, but there may now be an explanation for why many audiences find them so difficult to listen to.
“A new book on how the human brain interprets music has revealed that listeners rely upon finding patterns within the sounds they receive in order to make sense of it and interpret it as a musical composition.
“While traditional classical music follows strict patterns and formula that allow the brain to make sense of the sound, modern symphonies by composers such as Arnold Schoenberg and Anton Webern simply confuse listeners’ brains.”
At the risk of making a bad pun, this really is a no-brainer. Music follows a path of evolution, with gradual changes over the centuries, each composer varying slightly from what preceded them. It was only in the 20th century that these changes became revolutionary – as they did in the visual arts and literature – and listeners were left without landmarks.
“Mr Ball believes that many traditional composers such as Mozart, Bach and Beethoven subconsciously followed strict musical formula to produce music that was easy on the ear by ensuring it contained patterns that could be picked out by the brain.”
Not so much strict musical formulas, but a way of making music that was familiar. No one wrote down the rules; composers simply figured them out from what worked.
I’ve written that a lot of contemporary classical music is boring, and that’s not because I don’t understand the styles, but, simply, because it’s not written to be enjoyable in the first place.
While I’m not a fan of the serialists – twelve-tone composers – because I find their music sterile, there is some dissonant music that I do appreciate. It took me a long time to learn to understand Charles Ive’s Concord Sonata, which is full of dissonance, but now that I do understand it, I can appreciate his music.