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The Romantic Composers

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Hi everyone, I'm a first time poster with a long-time interest in Objectivism, now seeking more knowledge on the subject. Having recently read the Romantic manifesto, I am comparing Rand's definition of Romanticism with the composers and writers to whom academia has given the same label. Particularly, I am speaking of Lizst, Beethoven, Chopin, Schubert, Schumann, Rachmaninoff, and their ilk. I saw in the "favorite music" thread that there are fans of these composers, so I am sure some will say they certainly believe their works to be in line with Objectivism's aesthetic principles, but if anyone is interested, I'd like to hear your thoughts on how these composers fit into Rand's philosophy of art. Are there any serious composers or pieces you'd recommend who you feel exemplify the Objectivist sense of life?

This also suggests another question. Based on the favorite music thread, it seems some of you here like rock, pop and jazz in addition to Romantic and Classical. What do you think defines music that is palatable to Objectivists - is it merely the sense of life displayed therein? Or is there a level of musicianship that you look for? The "tiddlywink music" that Ayn Rand is said to have loved is really quite simplistic, but incredibly jubilant. However, Rand also loved Rachmaninoff's piano concertos. My own tastes are similar, as I like much very complex Romantic, classical and progressive rock music, but also enjoy some simplistic, energetic pop and punk music that makes me feel excited and happy. Feel free to discuss your own views on what constitutes great music, and how your view squares with Objectivist aesthetics.

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  • 3 weeks later...

in non art music, i.e. popular music, a sense of life is the only consideration...

that is all there is to be found. unless you count the lyrics, which fall under the category of poetry and are to be judged seperate from the music itself.

as for art music, you will find that great composers say something with their music. as per the nature of music it will be something abstract and is closely related to (and sometimes mistaken for) the sense of life. but it is very deliberate and more specific than a sense of life.

the best advise when deciding what is good music (assuming no knowledge of music theory) is this: listen closely and notice what is being said (again this is abstractly i am talking about) and decide if you like the message (useing objectivism).

the level of musicianship is something to attribute to the musican, not the composer (even if they are the same person), they are very seperate arts.

musicianship is not to be considered when evaluating the composition itself.

and keep listining to Rush they are good.

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  • 2 weeks later...


What exactly do you mean by "listen closely and notice what is being said (again this is abstractly i am talking about) and decide if you like the message (using objectivism)?"

When I listen to classical music, I find myself evaluating the piece based on the emotional response I have from it.

For example, when I listen to Yanni, I feel jubilant and happy. When I listen to Saint-Saens Organ Symphony, I feel victorious and triumphant. When I listen to most "non-art music", I usually feel disgust in response to the words and boredom in response to the music.

With "art-music," while I can identify general emotions that the piece is meant to inspire, I have never been able to identify a specific message.

So, would you say that a piece that inspires a feeling of triumph in the listener is a piece about reaching a goal in the face of opposition? Is this what you mean by "the message?"

P.S. I'm expecting a good answer, since you've chosen "Richard Halley" as your s/n. ;)

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Hi Walker, I'd like to opine on your question to Richard Halley if I may. I don't think you can identify a clear message in non-programmatic (absolute) music. With a programmatic piece like Schumann's "Carnival," the message is to express the joy and beauty of the masquerade ball and the emotions of the attendants, and will probably inspire similar emotions of happiness and excitement in listeners. But with a piece of absolute music, such as Brahms's symphonies or Liszt's sonata in B minor, there isn't a clear "message."

However, there are certain emotional qualities that certain musical phrases inspire - to use a simple example, the major key is typically heard as "happy," and the minor key as "dark" or "sad." But these must be taken in context. There can be uplifting pieces in the minor key - Rachmaninoff's second and third piano concertos, for example - and sadder pieces in the major. In light of this, it's difficult to say that a non-programmatic piece is "about" something in particular. To me, the aforementioned Liszt sonata in B minor evokes a internal battle between good and evil, with good ultimately triumphing (perhaps I think this because I know Liszt was fascinated by subjects like this). But someone else may find it to "mean" something completely different.

That said, it's hard to listen to something like the first movement of Beethoven's Waldstein and not feel the energy and joy of it, due to its major-key melodies and quick, exciting pace. (As Halley suggested, this is true of some modern "non-art" music like Rush, especially a song like "Freewill" or my personal favorite "Analog Kid".) So while I think it's erroneous to claim all music has a "message," there are emotional qualities at the heart of certain pieces. I would be interested in discussing other pieces that generate the emotions of triumph and happiness, and how they do so through musical techniques.

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Skywalker is right on here. In fact, he seems to have saved me the trouble of making a well crafted response. But I would like to say that, despite conventional wisdom, the minor 3rd--when used correctly--does not diminish, but improves, the ability of a musical phrase/melody to show jubilation.

Also, I would like to clarify that I certianally never said that all music has some meaning, but rather that good (that is to say, well written) music does. The depth of that meaning--how specific it is--is a testement to the skill of the composer. The meaning will vary from person to person, depending on ones subconcious values, but how deep it appears usually stays the same.

As an example, a mediocre peice by a composer with a good sense of life, might give a general happiness emotion. A better peice, by the same sort of composer, might give a more defined sense of self worth, or as I am trying to achieve with my present work, a sense that something great is being created in ones own presence.

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I agree with you both.

I only have a little bit of background in music (played viola in Highschool and I still write songs on my guitar for fun) - so, I don't know if I'll be of much help in identifiying specific musical techniques used to create certain effects in a piece of music.

However, I can say this. To inspire a feeling of triumph or victory there has to be tension in the piece followed by some type of catharsis. In Saint Saens Organ Symphony, the last movement from beginning to end is that catharsis (and I love listening to it).

How is the tension created? My answer, based on my limited knowledge, would be to use conflicting tones or chords, which I hear in Rachmaninoffs piano concertos.

This is a very interesting topic though, and I'd like to hear what people with music theory knowledge have to say about it.

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Walker - I agree with you about the tension. I don't think it's important to have tons of theory background to recognize something like that. (Personally, I've played guitar, bass and some keyboard for about a decade, and I teach guitar as well, but my theory background isn't as extensive as I'd like.) I think music that demonstrates only the "good" or "happy" is less effective than music that creates a sense of drama by depicting a contrast, or battle between light and dark - that makes the positive resolution all the more fulfilling.

The Liszt sonata in B minor, which I mentioned previously, is one of my favorite examples of this, with its incredible "thematic transformations" that present some very ominous themes, then turn them into beautiful uplifting melodies through dynamic and melodic alterations. There's a lot of music theory to that kind of juxtaposition, certain chords and key changes increase the effect, but I think the main thing is understanding the way a sense of drama and forward momentum toward a satisfying resolution is key to a great piece.

Halley - With the minor third, do you mean used as a relative in the major key? Do you have any favorite composers who use this technique (or just favorites in general)? Also, I'm curious about the present work you mention. Would you be willing to discuss it at all? Are you doing symphonic composition, or something else like classical style guitar or piano solo work?

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Halley - With the minor third, do you mean used as a relative in the major key? Do you have any favorite composers who use this technique (or just favorites in general)?

I was speaking about focusing on the minor 3rd, as opposed to the 6th or 7th, when composing in minor keys. Although I suppose it would be possible to use the concept similarly when in a major key.

I really don't listen to too much music. I try to focus on writing it these days. When I do listen, I listen to Rachmaninoff (naturally), Liszt, Vivaldi, Beethoven (some of his stuff was not so good, but the man was a genius) and a number of others (Mozart’s better work is incredible).

I try not to look too deeply at the music theory behind what I listen to. I like to keep my mind open for personal discovery. Almost all of my music theory knowledge comes from studies that I compose when I get stuck in what I am working on. I learned chord theory, inversions, and the like, and then took off on my own.

I am working now on a symphonic piece, which I consider to be my first professional grade work. Well… right now I am working on a study/prelude to this piece, to hone some of the details before I really get into the bulk of the main piece.

I agree with your theory about “drama,” but I believe that rather than contrasting good themes with negative themes, one should have varying and controlled levels/kinds of positive themes. I think that one can build a better overall piece by making the “drama” about varying intensities rather than a straightforward good/evil sort of things. This said I like Liszt’s Sonata in B minor very much as well.

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  • 4 weeks later...

I think we're on the same page, "Good/evil" was just a metaphor I was using. Varying degrees of themes is another way to put it - either way, the central concept is creating drama within the piece through the use of dynamics. And yes, Beethoven is great, some of his earlier work isn't up to the same standard but the 9th symphony and some of the sonatas (waldstein in particular) are just awesome.

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Beethoven (some of his stuff was not so good, but the man was a genius)

I take offense to this statement. Beethoven's utterly huge, purely benevolent music should be appreciated by all humans as being superlative. And as far as I'm concerned, you're not a true O'ist if you can't see that. Clearly, your sense of life isn't anywhere near benevolent enough to fully understand the unadulterated glory of things like the Waldstein Sonata and the Eroica Symphony (Symphony no. 3 to anyone who hasn't studied their Beethoven as much as they should) In conclusion, any attempt to deny Beethoven's total greatness is naught but evasion.

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When I do listen, I listen to Rachmaninoff (naturally), Liszt, Vivaldi, Beethoven (some of his stuff was not so good, but the man was a genius) and a number of others (Mozart’s better work is incredible). 

With all due respect, you have it exactly backwards. Everyone you listed with the exception of Beethovenoccassionally had a bad day. Beethoven never did.

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