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Let us define modern music as 20th and 21st. century music, which can be divided into at least two kinds: “popular music”, which is the widely broadcast, bought, and sung music of iTunes and the radio airwaves; and “art music” which is a continuation of the compositions now called “classical” music, and which includes all Western orchestral pieces since, say, the seventeenth century. Popular music today is youth-driven, fairly shallow expressions of the standard emotions, and generally (but not always) composed and/or written by the singer or musician who records it. Its audience and market are frivolous, temporary, and profit-driven. Serious music, on the other hand, is an exploration of the artistic possibilities of sound, and since Schoenberg, is most interested in finding alternatives to the standard key-driven harmonies of nineteenth-century music. Stravinsky, to Arvo Part and John Cage, are “necessity-driven” composers, not market-driven, and contemporary classical music is following many of the same paths as the visual arts – expressionism, minimalism, and the like. Its audience is a more serious, focused, long-term listener, and its emotional effects are wide-ranging, complex, and fueled by intellectual contemplation rather than shallow, juvenile sexual impulses. If one compares Part’s “Fur Elise” with Taylor Swift’s or Justin Bieber’s “love songs”, the difference is immediately clear.
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