New Music in the United States, 1950-1980

Charles Shere

Originally published (in Italian translation) by Arnoldo Mondadori Editori, Milan
Storia della Musica, 1982

WHEN JOHN CAGE COMPOSED his Concerto for Prepared Piano and Orchestra in 1952 he completed the process, begun in 1946, by which his music was to form an apparently irreconcileable break between two concurrent streams of contemporary music.

The break exists in two simultaneous directions. First, it defines a new music utterly different from that of the past: a historical disruption of the centuries-old domination of teleological, goal-oriented structural process and values in Western European music. Second, since most composers, even in the U.S., resisted Cage’s example, another rupture developed setting him apart from most of his contemporaries, exacerbating an already pronounced gulf between conservative and innovative music. This turned out to be a difference of basic musical esthetics and historical philosophies, not merely between musical styles like the Italian and German styles of the 19th century or the learned and dance styles which existed simultaneously in the Baroque.

Until 1946 Cage’s career had been characterized by a concern for timbre and structure rather that for pitch. He had studied with Schoenberg, whose sense for pitch manipulation and need for structural integrity had led him to develop the famous method of composing with twelve tones related only to one another. Cage, who would later recall that he had “no feeling for harmony,” transferred Schoenberg’s pitch-logic to another important musical dimension, that of time. In the percussion and prepared-piano music written up to 1950, with occasional forays into such other combinations as voice and piano, an ensemble of radios, and the single string quartet, he perfected his means of integrating temporal relationships on both the small level (the duration of single sounds) and the large (the structure of phrase-groups within whole movements).

“Both the Sonatas and Interludes and the String Quartet used rhythmic structures where the large parts have the same proportion as the phrases have within a single unit (what I called a micro-macrocosmic rhythmic structure). In the case of the Sonatas and Interludes , a rhythmic structure was completed with each piece, whereas in the String Quartet the whole work (having four parts) is a single rhythmic structure,” Cage has written.

Between 1946 and 1952 Cage completed a number of pieces which gradually transformed this consciously abstract process, intellectually motivated (for all the sensuous music it was able to express), into a procedure motivated by an entirely different concern: complete suppression of the artist’s ego-sensibility, of the urge to express a personal statement. “My last works that attempted to ’say something’ instead of letting the sounds be sounds,” Cage continues, “were The Seasons , Sixteen Dances, the quartet, Sonatas and Interludes and the Concerto for Prepared Piano, all composed between 1946 and 1951.” The next work in the series, Music of Changes (for piano), continued the “micro-macrocosmic rhythmic structure” but also incorporated ritardandi and accellerandi, leading Cage “toward the renunciation of structure.”

It was not structure that was renounced, but the conscious imposition of an arbitrary, preconceived structure. Throughout the 1950s Cage worked at “letting the sounds be sounds,” developing relationships all their own, allowing even silences to develop their own rich resonances. Instead of being related through pre-planned proportions, structural lengths were determined (along with pitch and timbre selection) by the use of chance operations based on the ancient Chinese I Ching, the Book of Changes. By 1952 the apparent ultimate in this direction had been reached in the silent 4'33", a piece in three movements “during all three of which no sounds are intentionally produced. The lengths of time were determined by chance operations but could be any others.”

Where no traditionally “artistic” qualities (taste, expressivity or structure) are present, “silence becomes something else — not silence at all, but sounds, the ambient sounds. The nature of these is unpredictable and changing... There are, demonstrably, sounds to be heard and forever, given ears to hear. Where these ears are in connection with a mind that has nothing to do, that mind is free to enter into the act of listening, hearing each sound just as it is, not as the phenomenon more or less approximating a preconception.”

UNTIL THIS PERIOD, CAGE’S MUSIC had explored abstract formal relationships; it was analogous to the painting of Piet Mondrian: certainly modernist, but clearly within a traditional artist-centered aesthetic context which stretched back to the Renaissance. After this point, however, Cage embraced the profound break with that tradition which had already been signalled in the visual arts by Marcel Duchamp’s invention of the “readymade,” a previously existing manufactured object promoted to the status of a work of art solely by the will and choice of the artist, and by the Surrealist promotion of the “found object.” Within the musical tradition, too, the break had been prepared. The laws of tonal music had related pitches to one another according to their common relationship to the keynote: this group of relationships was what constituted tonality. Schoenberg had “liberated” the dissonance by freeing pitches from the pre-ordained harmonic hierarchies imposed by the conventional language of tonality. Cage took this liberation to its logical conclusion. Schoenberg’s harmonic context was dissonant, but each sound within the context, if heard outside the context, was acoustically consonant — was a “musical” tone, in the conventional meaning of the word. Schoenberg had retained the conventional image of the musical tone: a complex of overtones, acoustically related to the principal (fundamental) tone and sounding simultaneously with it. But Cage “liberated” the components of each sound, allowing them to be unrelated harmonically — to be “noise,” even to be unforeseen noise.

The Cage “liberation” developed particularly in the 1960s in a series of compositions growing out of the 1958 Concert for Piano and Orchestra. A series of Variations was composed without respect to the kinds of sounds their performance might produce, their scores offering only transparent sheets of plastic bearing lines and points whose juxtaposition, after a random superimposition of the sheets, would be interpreted to suggest the nature of sound events produced on unspecified instruments or sound-makers by an unspecified number of players. Subsequently the indeterminate nature of this music would advance further when Cage’s scores would be directed to the procedures by which sounds might be produced, rather than the nature of the sound events.

It is important to note that the musical result of this sort of freedom is not meant to be chaotic, and need not be so construed; it is instead an excerpt of a continually ongoing musical process which exists wherever ears listen to sounds. “The early works (before 1952) have beginnings, middles and endings,” Cage notes; “The later ones do not. They begin anywhere, last any length of time, and involve more or fewer instruments and players. They are therefore not preconceived objects, and to approach them as objects is to utterly miss the point. They are occasions for experience, and this experience is not only received by the ears but by the eyes too... Music itself is an ideal situation, not a real one. The mind may be used either to ignore ambient sounds... and to control and understand an available experience. Or the mind may give up its desire to improve on creation and function as a faithful receiver of experience.” (A later diary of Cage’s would be entitled How to improve the world [you will only make matters worse]. )

The visual analogue has moved from Mondrian to Jackson Pollack and the Abstract Expressionists. Cage’s music, previously American by virtue of the Yankee bricolage of its sounds (an aspect shared with such forerunners as Charles Ives and such contemporaries as Lou Harrison), is now American by virtue of a reliance on action and process, freed from aesthetic or literary egoism. Cage’s music, like Pollack’s painting, exists as arbitrary excerpts of a work which is eternally present (even when unobserved); they can extend to fill available space and time, and their form and significance is determined by a naturally occurring process, not a consciously and subjectively aesthetic one. “Music is an oversimplification of the situation we are actually in,” Cage writes in Silence. And again: “Form is what interests everyone and fortunately it is wherever you are and there is no place where it isn’t. Highest truth, that is.”

Interestingly, these developments took place at the same time that total serialization of all musical “parameters” — pitch, instrumentation, octave placement, loudness, duration and the like — was ultimately to bring preconceived music to the same apparently chaotic or arbitrary condition as seemed to characterize Cage’s indeterminate music. Karlheinz Stockhausen and Pierre Boulez in Europe, and Milton Babbitt in the U.S., had taken the serial process to so abstract a degree that their music, for all the imposed logic of its expression, became apparently devoid of finality. Both camps, theirs and Cage’s, were freeing music of the obligation to express merely the composer’s individual taste or “style” — though in fact each of these composers managed to produce music whose sound was recognizably his own — but an injurious partisanship grew up around the exponents of the two tendencies, a partisanship as intense as the refusal of conservative composers (who still adhered to neo-romantic or neoclassical positions) to participate in either of them. (A third radical approach to non-ego-expressive music, based on the application of mathematically generated random processes to musical decisions, pursued in Europe by Yannis Xenakis, found little interest in the U.S.)

At a time dominated by total serialization and the continued use of Schoenberg’s “twelve-tone” procedure — methods which were producing academic music by the late 1950s on most American campuses — the musical aesthetics implied by Cage’s “open” pieces — open to variable interpretation, even varied sonic results — were significant enough. The poetic implications were even more radical. Since the swing to neoclassicism after World War I, music had turned away from poetic, literary and symbolic content or expression. Such European exceptions as Olivier Messiaen and Alban Berg had no American counterparts; in the U.S. the only exceptions were such occasional pictorialist “tone-poems” as Aaron Copland’s El Salon Mexico.

Cage’s purely musical considerations evolved from an experimental application of structural abstraction to his music, but they had been reinforced by a developing interest first in Eastern philosophical concepts (Hinduism, Zen Buddhism and the I Ching), then with Marcel Duchamp’s concept of ironic indifference, later with the writings of Henry David Thoreau, who (in Walden) had evolved a practical personal way of life out of the spiritual idealism of the American Transcendental movement. When Cage and Harrison discovered independently that both Indian and Renaissance English writers considered it music’s function “to quiet the mind thus making it susceptible to divine influence” the implication of Cage’s poetic vision was confirmed: the use of random choice, the approach to open scores, the acceptance of sounds not traditionally considered musical, the avoidance of preconceived structures could all free music from an individual sensibility, could produce (or confirm) music of a new objectivity, music not expressive of a single ego but meaningful on a collective, even universal level. (We will see later, in connection with the development of vernacular and “world music” values by American composers after the mid-’60s, how this poetic vision promises a bridge across the apparent breaks described at the beginning of this essay.)

IN THE EARLY 1950s, partly through his teaching (at Black Mountain and at the New School for Social Research) and partly through friendships with such artists as Robert Rauschenberg and Merce Cunningham, a “school” of composers grew up around Cage. The most prominent of the first-generation Cage school (often called the “New York school”) were to be Earle Brown, Morton Feldman and Christian Wolff; during the 1950s all of them produced distinguished “open” scores, chiefly for instruments. Even more important to Cage’s own development was his association with David Tudor, the brilliant pianist for whom the pivotal I Ching-inspired Music of Changes was written.

Cage, Tudor and Rauschenberg also collaborated with dancer-choreographer Merce Cunningham; indeed it was the Cunningham company tours which were to introduce Cage’s music to Europe. Continued performance activity influenced a new direction in Cage’s music. The Concert for Piano and Orchestra was the culmination of his purely instrumental music in 1958; he then turned increasingly to electronic music — at first music resulting from random rearrangements of fragments of prerecorded tape (Fontana Mix, 1958), then music produced by the “live” manipulation of electronic equipment (i.e., manipulation during the actual performance)) (the later Variations; Cartridge Music). (Both approaches guaranteed unforseen results: the tape fragments were rearranged without respect to the sounds recorded on them; the electronic equipment manipulated without the possibliity of predicting the resulting sound. In both cases the result was further distance between conscious creative intent and the resulting sound.) Tudor remained Cage’s close associate in the realization of these scores, and the collaborative nature of their work confirmed the suitability of electronics to open, nonfixed music at a time when electronic instruments were associated chiefly with the studio production of precisely controlled (and totally serial) music.

By the early 1960’s the techniques of such collaborative “real-time” live electronic performance became central to the compositional values of other collaborations which had sprung up around the country, inspired by the success of Cage and the Cunningham performers. The Tape Music Center was begun in 1962 in San Francisco by Pauline Oliveros, Ramon Sender and Morton Subotnick; it has since become attached to Mills College in Oakland as the Center for Contemporary Music. The Cooperative Studio for Electronic Music was established in 1958 by Robert Ashley and Gordon Mumma; by 1963 it produced the ONCE group of performing composers, whose title emphasized the performance of unique events. Ashley, Mumma and David Behrman went on to form the Sonic Arts Union in New York in the middle 1960’s where it in its turn became associated with Merce Cunningham’s company.

As other, younger musicians were successively influenced by the collaborative nature of such groups and by the new sounds their interacting electronics were capable of producing, two prominent trends developed in their work. Perhaps the most striking surfaced on the West Coast, where between 1958 and 1965 a number of composers were developing: La Monte Young, Terry Riley, Steve Reich, Douglas Leedy, Loren Rush, Ian Underwood, Frank Zappa, Philip Lesh, Robert Moran, and others.

Under the tremendous impact of the artistic and commercial success of rock and roll, especially of the Beatles, a new kind of music developed in rock bands playing a loud, harmonically simple popular music on electric guitars and keyboards. Zappa formed “The Mothers of Invention,” joined by Underwood; Lesh co-founded “The Grateful Dead.” The latter band was central to the spectacular development of San Francisco “acid rock,” a free-form version of popular “rock” music distinguished by the psychedelic imagery of its words and the intensity of its incantatory sounds and even visual images. The experimental, non-determined stance of Cage’s music was reinforced by a new “subculture,” with its overtones of tribalism, its rejection of established political and social formants and traditional hierarchal structures, its permission of individual and group exploration of the “alternative realities” suggested by hallucination and alternative styles of loving.

As it rarely had since the Hellenic discovery and elevation in priority of conscious thought, music was once again taking an active and consciously ordained part in opening the minds of sophisticated listeners to worlds beyond the immediate present — a distinct assault on the ingrained, “practical,” materialistic American sensibility. Music was, in short, leaving the narrow confines of art and entertainment, to which it had been largely relegated, but instead of rejoining the mathematical sciences, where it had been placed by the Greeks and had remained through the Renaissance (and where one might say such twentieth-century composers as Webern, Carter, and Boulez were tending to restore it), it was returning to an even more remote position, that of ritual, akin to the pre-conscious function it had in Dionysian rite.

Related to this development was another, closer in spirit to the “happenings” of the 1950’s (themselves original with Cage and Rauschenberg in 1952 at Black Mountain). This was the “theater piece,” a non-narrative theatrical form, often involving mixed media, within which the passage of time was not articulated by a developing plot (as in narrative theater) or the similarly linear structure of a conventional musical form (as in classical music) but instead served as an envelope containing events which co-exist rather than relate to one another causally or consequentially. The Tape Music Center and the ONCE Group were both active in this development, which had an important recent predecessor in Cunningham’s dance presentation but which reduced or entirely eschewed dance activity, often replacing it with increased emphasis on lighting or projections. The nonverbally communicative possibilities of such visual effects proved useful to rock bands: Anthony Martin moved from the Tape Music Center to the Fillmore Auditorium, also in San Francisco, where his “light shows” became an important adjunct to performances by the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, Big Brother and the Holding Company, and other groups. In New York, John Cale, a Welsh composer who had studied with Cage, joined Lou Reed to form The Velvet Underground, a band associated with the “Factory” of actors, filmmakers, and entertainers who had gathered around the painter Andy Warhol.

In the popular music of the 1960’s the serious artistic implications of these developments was latent, more or less buried, but powerful; the English critic Wilfrid Mellers was to note their poser in a keen analysis published on the Beatles in Twilight of the Gods: The Music of The Beatles (New York, 1974.) They were to surface much more self-consciously later in the 1970s as “Punk Rock,” a form of popular music with exaggeratedly provocative qualities (Stage action and clothing referring to sadism and masochism, deliberately crude song-texts, groups with such names as “The Dead Kennedys), and in “performance art,” a new kind of performance, usually by visual artists, usually executed by the creative artist as solo performer, drawing on the mixed-media concepts of the Happenings-derived “Theater piece” discussed above but without its collaborative nature, and related to the 1970s tendency among visual artists (particularly sculptors) to “conceptual art,” in which the artist’s concept was extolled as equal to its execution in aesthetic significance. (Punk Rock and performance art also drew from the “Fluxus” movement of the late 1960s, an international movement of poets, composers and visual artists whose work was often playful, intellectual, marked by its appreciation of the Dada movement of 50 years earlier. One of the most influential of the Fluxus movement was Yoko Ono, who had studied with Cage, was first married to Toshi Ichiyanagi (an impressive Japanese composer of the Cage sensibility), and then to John Lennon, on whom she had a profound artistic influence resulting in such Cagelike productions as “Revolution 9” and Two Virgins .)

Through much of the 1970s, however, such activity was sidelined by an apparently reactionary development. As if stepping back from the endless possibilities offered by Cage’s philosophical values and by the new technological and ethnomusicological developments (including the greater artistic resonance of vernacular and popular music), composers turned toward individual exploration of various specific possibilities which the new music had opened. With few exceptions, these composers, no matter how much in agreement with Cage’s philosophy, were not interested in extending its implications in their music. Their common bond was to be their interest in collaborative performance as it influences composition, and throughout the 1970s they were to pursue that effect more or less systematically, either in collaboration or individually. The most conspicuous early success in this area was undoubtedly Terry Riley’s In C, comopsed in 1964. The score consists of fifty-three short musical “cells,” some as short as a single held “C,” some as extended as a tune which ranges over an octave and lasts some twenty-seven beats. The work is played by any number of musicians, who begin together but who then move ad libitum from each cell to the next. The tempo is maintained by a “pulse”(typically on piano or mallet percussion instruments) of steadily repeated eighth-notes on the two top “C”’s of the piano.

The unpredictable but characteristic texture of overlapping repetitions of single phrases is typical of “mobile forms” of avant garde music as they had been developed in the U.S. by Feldman and Brown and in Europe by Witold Lutoslawski and Roman Haubenstock-Ramati, all of whom had worked with the concept of a music sections of which could be superimposed in randomly changing relationships, analogous to the changing superimpositions of forms seen in one of Alexander Calder’s “mobile” sculptures as its parts move with respect to one another. But the steady pulse of In C, related to the driving beat of rock music (as well as to such “serious predecessors as Lou Harrison, whose own rhythmic organization had been influenced by the steadily jangling sounds of Indonesian gamelan music), and the tonal implication of the piece, whose melodic cells are all related to the common tonality of C major, was entirely new to American avant garde music which had until then eschewed both predictable rhythm and firm tonality.

Riley had been a fellow-student with La Monte Young at the University of California in Berkeley, and they have remained associated since. Young, who settled in New York in 1960, was an early example (perhaps the first) of a “minimal” composer concerned with exploring the fullest resonance of the smallest musical material. Composition 1960 #7 consists of a single interval, the perfect fifth B-F#, with the instruction “to be held for a long time.” Young worked throughout the 1960s and 1970s with very long durations and simple musical content, developing a concern for sonic precision which was to lead him to retune a concert grand piano according to just intonation in order to restore the acoustically true proportions between its pitches.

Both Young and Riley studied traditional Kirana (North Indian) singing with Pandit Pran Nath, a master of the meditative vocal style. These studies have perhaps reinforced a thinking, already part of the post-Cage aesthetic, that music is more than merely the craft of arranging sounds: it involves the “tuning” of the entire human organism — and its attuning to the world in which it lives. These implications have been methodically explored by Pauline Oliveros, a Texan who studied in San Francisco in the 1950s, as she moved, in the 1970s, from an intuitive style of composition for traditional insturments, through innovative theaterpieces involving mixed media, toward collective intuitive music in which performers — sometimes even the audience — are asked to play or sing intuitively, responding to the shape of a music which is developed collectively, only its broad outlines being determined by the composer.

A more traditionally musical influence from outside the Western European tradition occurred in the work of Steve Reich, a New Yorker who worked in San Francisco in the early 1960s and was associated there with Riley. Work at the Tape Music Center with “tape loops:” — short fragments of recorded sound spliced into endless loops which could be made to play endlessly — led him to experiment with “phase pieces” in which the pitch or “melodic” content is of little importance, perhaps not even present. In these “phase pieces,” sometimes based on snippets of recorded conversation, an apparently regular repeated pulse gradually moves out of phase against a constant repeated pulse, either shifting imperceptibly until it comes back into phase, or moving on to develop wholly new areas and thereby structurally diverse compositions. These pursuits were reinforced by the discovery that traditional West African drumming was based on a similar aesthetic.

Unlike Young, Riley and Oliveros, Reich developed a more or less steady performing group to perform his music, and the steady beat, attractive sonorities (percussion, electric keyboards, and traditional instruments) and fascinating process of his music in performance made it accessible to a large public. By the middle 1970s an apparently similar “pattern music” had been developed by Philip Glass, whose collaboration with Robert Wilson resulted in the opera Einstein on the Beach , and whose interest in rock has approached a “fusion” of rock and the “serious” avant garde. A third such collaboration which developed grew out of the Mills College Center for Contemporary Music when Robert Ashley and “Blue” Gene Tyranny, with others, produced Ashley’s opera Perfect Lives (Private Parts).

In the meantime a significant minority of American composers and composer-performers was pursuing the combination of electronic and live performance. Larry Austin, whose jazz background had led him to found an improvisation group at the University of California at Davis similar to the earlier ensemble Lukas Foss had formed at Los Angeles, organized the First Festival of Live Electronic Music (with percussionist-composer Stanley Lunetta) there in 1965. Members of the ONCE Group continued to investigate electronic and mixed-media work (often including film), as did Roger Reynolds, who joined Oliveros at the University of California at San Diego. Gordon Mumma, who joined the faculty of the University of California at Santa Cruz, continued to explore “cybersonics,” the division of compositional decisions among composers, performers, and consciously or unconsciously manipulated electronic equipment, including microcomputers. Aspects of this activity were also investigated by Ashley in his String Quartet Describing the Motion of Large Bodies and by Alvin Lucier in his music incorporating such organic and cosmic sonic activity as brian waves and ionosphere electrical disturbances.

IT WILL HAVE BEEN OBSERVED that a good deal of this activity took place or was developed on the West Coast. There are two important ramifications of this: the decentralization of American culture, which had long been based in New York City, and the opening of new music to input from world musics. California had long been hospitable to such activity: Charles Seeger instituted the study of non-European music at the University of California in Berkeley when he opened its music department early in the century, and his student Henry Cowell passed the acceptance of such music on in turn to his own students, among whom John Cage and Lou Harrison were prominent. Harrison’s music, from the 1950s on, reflected his expertise in Chinese, Korean, and Indonesian music, as well as his profound knowledge of practical and theoretical musical contributions from ancient Greece, medieval and Renaissance Europe, and the present day. (Harrison has been prominent in leading the recognition that even Nineteenth-century European “classical” music is merely another stream of “ethnomusicology”.)

The West Coast has also favored radical new music on some campuses, notably those of the University of California at Davis, Santa Cruz and San Diego, and of Mills College in Oakland, where Darius Milhaud, then Luciano Berio had provided continuing awareness of European developments in new music. A greater impact has perhaps been made by the “alternative” or “counter-culture” developments in the San Francisco Bay Area since the student movements of the late 1960s, which have favored the development of untraditional explorations of art movements. Broadcast activity, notably by noncommercial Pacifica radio, and “underground” performance arenas have put the Bay Area on a high plane of cultural activity not recognized by the region’s popular or academic commentators. The Computer Music Center at Stanford University, for example, has strong working ties with IRCAM in Paris; indeed, Pierre Boulez studied the Stanford facility closely as a model for the French center. Mills College is an important stop-off for musicians on tours from Amsterdam, Rome, Paris, or New York. A performing ensemble and record company grew up in Berkeley called 1750 Arch with similar international standing. Reaction against both conventional instrumental music and electronic music has led to a healthy activity in non-traditional acoustical instruments, including a number of new gamelan collections, many using percussion instruments custom-made by the performers — a development of areas pioneered by the maverick California composer Harry Partch (1901-1974) and by Harrison. There has also been significant activity in the field of electronics, however, including that of Donald Buchla, an early developer of the synthesizer who worked with the rock bands of the 1960s and has since made new contributions to the rapidly expanding field of computer music.

Such activity no doubt flourishes in other areas throughout the United States, almost always out of sight of the average music-lover. The “establishment” media are notoriously uninterested in the new music, as are by far the majority of the country’s educational institutions. Opera companies, symphony orchestras, radio and the recording industry avoid new music. Except for a handful of non-commercial radio stations, there has been little broadcasting activity of the sort familiar to European listeners. There are few American equivalents of the many European festivals; in fact, American composers and performers of the “avant garde” are often better known in Europe than they are at home. This is not to say that there is no new music being performed by the Establishment. On the contrary, the activities of foundations and particularly the impact of the National Endowment for the Arts has resulted in a considerable number of commissions and premieres — but very often of music whose interest is more stylistic than substantial.

A MARK OF THE BACKWARDNESS of the American musical taste is the extraordinary delay in the acceptance of its greatest heritage, the music of Charles Ives. He died at 80 in 1954; his Third Symphony had been awarded the Pulitzer Prize only seven years earlier on the occasions of its premiere — forty years after its composition! Yet it was not until the 1960s that his music really became known, first after the publication of John Kirkpatrick’s “temporary” catalogue of his manuscripts, which revealed the wealth of unperformed music in his estate; then on the premiere of his Fourth Symphony, conducted in 1965 by Leopold Stokowski. A major Ives characteristic, the use of quotations and other “found material,” reinforced by the return to a neo-Romanticism spurred by the increasing popularity of the music of Gustav Mahler, influenced a number of American composers to turn to the collage of harmonic music in an effort to make their work accessible and expressive to the public. George Rochberg’s Music for the Magic Theater (1965) was an early example, preceded on the West Coast by the earlier compositions of Douglas Leedy, whose Quaderno Rossiano assembled a number of fragments unaltered from the Rossini originals into a mobile-form score. In Dans le sable, Loren Rush refers extensively to Barbarina’s cavatina from the fourth act of Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro and, in his complex text, to playwright Arthur Adamov’s Living Time, to create a sensuous web of text and music that probes the complexities of consciousness and memory.

Leedy and Rush turned subsequently to other interests. In the 1970s much of the music written in this manner by other composers became merely nostalgic, attempting to restore nineteenth-century harmonic practise and even melodic formulae to a music tradition which had moved implacably on (and to a community of audiences and performers which had in many cases lost that intimate awareness and understanding of those formulae and practises which had made them artistically viable in their own time).

The 1970s found at least a half-dozen streams of original compositional work existing simultaneously. Pattern-music continued to be explored by Steve Reich, Philip Glass and others. Electronic music created during the live performance, not in the studio, drew considerable new impetus from such technological developments as micro-computers and was pressed to new refinements by such performing composers as Ashley, Subotnick, the jazz trombonist George Lewis, David Behrman, Paul DeMarinis and others. Berhrman, Young, Mumma and Lucier also continued their individual researches, often into quite experimental fields involving the electrophysics of sound.

George Rochberg led a few composers in reasserting harmonic expessivity in such works as the Third String Quartet and the Violin Concerto. George Crumb, another Pennsylvanian, developed an expressively detailed style using color- and texture-details to illustrate literary subject matter in settings of Lorca or references to programs recalling those of Schumann or Berlioz (Black Angels, for electronically amplified string quartet, refers to the Schubert “Death and the Maiden” Quartet and to Renaissance music). A number of composers, principally on the East Coast, continued the exploration of post-Webernian “atonal” music, no matter how apparently abstruse the results proved: among them can be counted Charles Wuorinen among the middle generation, Milton Babbitt and Elliott Carter among the older.

Carter’s is undoubtedly the most authentic voice among them to have attained a wide audience. His maturity was slow but steady in development, taking shape through a series of neoclassical scores through the Symphony No. 1 (1942), Piano Sonata (1945-46) and Cello Sonata (1948). The first of his three string quartets, composed in 1951, marked the onset of his mature later style, which is neither neoclassical nor serial but which retains the former’s concern for clarity, the latter’s for flexible organizing principles by which small musical details can be related to one another and to the general musical context as it evolves into large structural forms. To these qualities must be added Carter’s characteristic differentiation of contrapuntal voices, reaching its fullest development in the second and third quartets (1958-59; 1971). These pieces explored the assignment of distinct musical “personalities” to the instruments, which play different intervals, textures, etc. from one another — an idea Ives had already used programmatically in his Second Quartet (1907-13) but which Carter extends to an organizing principle in his intricate counterpoint. (Carter knew Ives when Carter was a young man, but it may be oversimplification to attribute too much influence in this case to Ives; these differentiating qualities may equally well be traced to the differentiating patterns of articulation — detached, staccato, or slurred notes — at the beginning of the Webern Concerto Op. 24. And a device like the canon first heard in the cello at figure 48 of Carter’s Third Quartet, in which both pitches and durations are determined by a single sequence of numbers, is clearly indebted to concepts of such total serialists as Boulez, Stockhausen and Babbitt.)

Finally, a number of composers continued the fine American tradition of the “maverick” — the individual who prefers to go his own way, pursuing completely independent work which may have been suggested by a forerunner but which takes him into areas completely outside such various musical fashions as live electronics, collaborative performance, “process” music, the return to tonality, or the extension of serial practises. These are composers in the tradition of Ives, of Harry Partch, who often work on the periphery of the active musical scene but who often produce work of impressive honesty and uncompromised integrity. Among them are Conlon Nancarrow, expatriated to Mexico following political retaliation against him for having fought against Franco in the Spanish Civil War, who has conducted intense research into rhythmic intricacies using mechanical (player) pianos as his instruments; Lou Harrison, who has built numbers of instruments with his companion William Colvig in order to realize his music, often influenced by Oriental melodic and harmonic concepts and relying on just intonation rather than the equal temperament of the modern piano for its sweetness of sonority; Robert Erickson, whose interest in timbres led him to work with new percussion instruments and to combine natural sounds (surf, winds) with conventional instruments, and who is now working extensively with microtones smaller than the conventional half-step; and Henry Brant, who continues to investigate the effect of spatial distribution of sounds in his pieces for unusual groupings of instruments playing simultaneously from different directions.

All these different streams of music are capable of further development. None of them is likely to dominate the American music of the future. Like the other arts, music in America at the beginning of the 1980s is characterized by a tremendous plurality of points of view— and, on the forefront, especially among younger composer-performers, by a preference of results to theory, of artistic expression to artistic politics. Gamelans, rock fusion, music for conceptual theater, virtuoso performer music, collage, and the pursuit of exact intonation all flourish simultaneously, driven into modest surroundings by the continued indifference of government, the media, and the musical Establishment, but responding with growing resilience and tenacity. It is not a culture likely to produce (or to follow!) a single dominant figure: no Boulez or Stockhausen, not even a Cage. But it is historically both promising and appropriate, carrying out the collective ethic of Ives in the collectively open aesthetics of Cage; asserting collectively, if not individually, the breakdown of old hierarchies of culture; contributing to the freeing of human expression from theoretical and class-determined systems. To the extent that the freedom is won, the apparent disruption of John Cage’s revolutionary achievements will have been healed; the very concept of an “avant garde” will disappear in a rich and fascinating culture recognizing that music is indeed everywhere there are ears to hear, and just as individual musical structures were freed from subjective taste and expressive obligation in his music, the collective body of musical expression which constitutes a tradition reaching from Pythagoras to the Beatles and beyond can be freed from social restrictions and exclusive stylistic demands.