How does Modern era music compare with music from the Classical era, especially in terms of emotional reactions to them?
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Let us begin by clarifying and limiting some terms. First, we will limit our response to “fine art” music, let us say Western orchestral instruments. Second, we will expand the definition of “classical” past Vivaldi, Bach, and Haydn to mid-nineteenth century composers (Mendelsohn, etc.). Finally, we will limit our discussion to the intentions of the composers, rather than any accidental psychological effects. The Classical period treated music as a sort of mathematics, a “correctness” of harmonies, an adherence to the “rules” of composition (key structures, chords, etc.) The intention of the composers was to entertain their audiences through reinforcing the logical, needed order of social and governmental systems – “all’s right with the world”. In modern compositions, let us say Schoenberg and up, the idea was to experiment with “breaking the rules,” with atonality, dissonance, etc., in the case of some (John Cage), even silences and “found” sounds. Arvo Part, the modern Estonian composer, refers to modern composition as coming “out of necessity” rather than by demand. So in modern times, the emotional appeal was to the chaos of artistic expression, rather than pre-set mathematical rules.
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