The Pleasure of Modernist Music

September 2004
4 black and white, 48 line illustrations
416 pages
9x6 in
Eastman Studies in Music
Library eBook
University of Rochester Press
BISAC MUS020000, MUS001000, MUS007000

The Pleasure of Modernist Music

Listening, Meaning, Intention, Ideology

Edited by Arved Ashby

An exploration of the meaning of "modernist" music.
The debate over modernist music has continued for almost a century: from Berg's Wozzeck and Webern's Symphony Op.21 to John Cage's renegotiation of musical control, the unusual musical practices of the Velvet Underground, and Stanley Kubrick's use of Ligeti's Lux Aeterna in the epic film 2001. The composers discussed in these pages -- including Bartók, Stockhausen, Bernard Herrmann, Steve Reich, and many others -- are modernists in that they are defined by their individualism, whether covert or overt, and share a basic urge toward redesigning musical discourse.
The aim of this volume is to negotiate a varied and open middle ground between polemical extremes of reception. The contributors sketch out the possible significance of a repertory that in past discussions has been deemed either meaningless or beyond describable meaning. With an emphasis on recent aesthetics and contexts -- including film music, sexuality, metaphor, and ideas of a listening grammar -- they trace the meanings that such works and composers have held for listeners of different kinds. None of them takes up the usual mandate of "educated listening" to modernist works: the notion that a person can appreciate "difficult" music if given enough time and schooling. Instead the book defines novel but meaningful avenues of significance for modernist music, avenues beyond those deemed appropriate or acceptable by the academy. While some contributors offer new listening strategies, most interpret the listening premise more loosely: as a metaphor for any manner of personal and immediate connection with music. In addition to a previously untranslated article by Pierre Boulez, the volume contains articles (all but one previously unpublished) by twelve distinctive and prominent composers, music critics, and music theorists from America, Europe, Australia, and South Africa: Arved Ashby, Amy Bauer, William Bolcom, Jonathan Bernard, Judy Lochhead, Fred Maus, Andrew Mead, Greg Sandow, Martin Scherzinger, Jeremy Tambling, Richard Toop, and Lloyd Whitesell.

Arved Ashby is Associate Professor of Music at the Ohio State University.

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Table of Contents

Intention and Meaning in Modernist Music - Arved Ashby
The End of the Mannerist Century - William Bolcom
A Fine Analysis - Greg Sandow
In Memory of a Receding Dialectic: The Political Relevance of Autonomy and Formalism in Modernist Musical Aesthetics - Martin Scherzinger
Twentieth-Century Tonality, or, Breaking Up Is Hard to Do - Lloyd Whitesell
"Tone-Color, Movement, Changing Harmonic Planes": Cognition, Constraints and Conceptual Blends in Modernist Music - Amy Bauer
Sexual and Musical Categories - Fred Maus
Listening to Schizophrenia: The Wozzeck Case - Jeremy Tambling
The Musician Writes: The Deaf Man Looks On? - Pierre Boulez
"Are You Sure You Can't Hear It?": Some Informal Reflections on Simple Information and Listening - Richard Toop
A Fine Madness - Greg Sandow
"One Man's Signal is Another Man's Noise": Personal Encounters with Post-Tonal Music - Andrew Mead
The "Modernization" of Rock & Roll, 1965-75 - Jonathan W. Bernard
Refiguring the Modernist Program for Hearing: Steve Reich and George Rochberg - Judith Lochhead
Modernism Goes to the Movies - Arved Ashby


A superb compilation of essays that will provoke discussion and thought on all sides. The writers are first and foremost music-lovers, and that standpoint informs all of the essays. Urgently recommended. --David D. McIntire, composer, from a review at

There are few recent books on serious musical matters which ask more pressing questions and provide more thought-provoking -- even pleasurable -- answers than this one; few other books in which so many facets of modern culture. . . are brought together so productively. [Ashby's] introduction and opening chapter alone contain enough material for several books . . . I expect to be referring to the arguments and examples given here for some time to come. THE GRAMOPHONE [Arnold Whittall]

Excellent collection. . . anyone with even the slightest concern for the topic should take the time to chew on what is in this book. . . an invaluable resource. AMERICAN RECORD GUIDE

The Pleasure of Modernist Music presents the reader with a significant array of possible listening strategies for music otherwise dismissed as un-listenable. . . . Where these essays overlap is as fascinating as where they diverge in that the overlapping reveals the compositions, personalities, and ideologies most influential in a musical century that was conflicted at best. To the benefit of the present day listener, professional musician or otherwise, these essays represent a bold step forward in rescuing a body of music from that conflict, as well as from its own self-imposed alienation. MLA NOTES, 2006

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