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Modernism Is Dead Again?

The latest bundle of nonsense about the irrelevance of musical modernism, an article (Classical music could even become the new rock'n'roll, February 1) by Martin Kettle for The Guardian, was brought to my attention first by Arts & Letters Daily. The image of an ostrich with its head stuck beneath the sand comes to mind here. At the same time as musical conservatives are proclaiming the death of modernism, Kyle Gann and Alex Ross are having an extended discussion with composers (Steve Hicken and the Sequenza 21 Composers Forum) about the return to complexity and atonality in recent composition. (Alex has now written a brief response to Kettle's article, too.)

Few people think that serialism or any other modernist style is the new law anymore, which the Darmstadt people really did think for decades. However, to think that modernist styles are irrelevant is absurd. Philip Glass and John Corigliano write film scores, which is a sure sign of how accustomed our ears have become to these kinds of sounds. As I've written before, people rioted at The Rite of Spring in 1913, and by 1940 the same music was in a Walt Disney film. Face it: it's not going to go away.

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