The New Music
The new music was built out of materials already in existence: blues, rock'n'roll, folk music. But although the forms remained, something completely new and original was made out of these older elements - more original, perhaps, than even the new musicians themselves yet realize. The transformation took place in 1966-1967. Up to that time, the blues had been an essentially black medium.
Rock'n'roll, a blues derivative, was rhythmic dance music. Folk music, old and modern, was popular among college students. The three forms remained musically and culturally distinct, and even as late as 1965, none of them were expressing any radically new states of consciousness.
Blues expressed black soul; rock was the beat of youthful energy; and folk music expressed anti-war sentiments as well as love and hope.
In 1966-1967 there was spontaneous transformation. In the United States, it originated with youthful rock groups playing in San Francisco. In England, it was led by the Beatles, who were already established as an extremely fine and highly individual rock group.
What happened, as well as it can be put into words, was this. First, the separate musical traditions were brought together. Bob Dylan and the Jefferson Airplane played folk rock, folk ideas with a rock beat.
White rock groups began experimenting with the blues. Of course, white musicians had always played the blues, but essentially as imitators of the Negro style; now it began to be the white bands' own music. And all of the groups moved towards a broader eclecticism and synthesis.
They freely took over elements from jazz, from American country music, and as time went on from even more diverse sources. What developed was a music readily taking on various forms and capable of an almost limitless range of expression.
The second thing that happened was that all the musical groups began using the full range of electric instruments and the technology of electronic amplifiers. The electric guitar was an old instrument, but the new electronic effects were altogether different - so different that a new listener in 1967 might well feel that there had never been may sounds like that in the world before. Electronics did, in fact, make possible sounds that no instrument up to that time could produce. And in studio recordings, new techniques made possible effects that not even an electronic band could produce live.
Electronic amplifiers also made possible a fantastic increase in volume, the music becoming as loud and penetrating as the human ear could stand, and thereby achieving a "total" effect, so that instead of an audience of passive listeners, there were now audiences of total participants, feeling the music in all of their senses and all of bones.
Third, the music becomes a multi-media experience; a port of a total environment. The walls of the ballrooms were covered with changing patterns of light, the beginning of the new art of the light show. And the audience did not sit, it danced. With records at home, listeners imitated these lighting effects as best they could, and heightened the whole experience by using drugs. Often music was played out of doors, where nature provided the environment.
Different Types of Composers
I can see three different types of composers in musical history, each of whom creates music in a somewhat different fashion.
The type that has fired public imagination most is that of the spontaneously inspired composer - the Franz Schubert type, in other words. All composers are inspired, of course, but this type is more spontaneously inspired. Music simply wells out of him. He can't get it down on paper fast enough. You can almost tell this type of composer by his fruitful output. In certain months, Schubert wrote a song a day. Hugo Wolf did the same.
In a sense, men of this kind begin not so much with a musical theme as with a completed composition. They invariably work best in the shorter forms. It is much easier to improvise a song than it is to improvise a symphony. It isn't easy to be inspired in that spontaneous way for long periods at a stretch. Even Schubert was more successful in handling the shorter forms of music. The spontaneously inspired man is only one type of composer, with this own limitations.
Beethoven belongs to the second type - the constructive type, one might call it. This type serves as an example of my theory of the creative process in music better than any other, because in this case the composer really does begin with a musical theme. In Beethoven's case there is no doubt about it, for we have the notebooks in which he put the themes down. We can see from his notebooks how he worked over his themes - how he would not let them be until they were as perfect as he could make them. Beethoven was not a spontaneously inspired composer in the
Schubert sense at all. He was the type that begins with a theme; makes it a preliminary idea; and upon that composes a musical work, day after day, in painstaking fashion. Most composers since Beethoven's day belong to this second type.
The third type of composer I can only call, for lack of a better name, the traditionalist type. Men like Palestrina and Bach belong in this category.
They both are characteristic of the kind of composer who is born in a particular period of musical history, when a certain musical style is about to reach its fullest development. It is a question at such a time of creating music in a well-known and accepted style and doing it in a way that is better than anyone has done it before you.
The traditionalist type of composer begins with a pattern rather than with a theme. The creative act with Palestrina is not the thematic conception so much as the personal treatment of a well-established pattern. And even Bach, who composed forty-eight of the most various and inspired themes in his Well Tempered Clavichord, knew in advance the general formal mold that they were to fill. It goes without saying that we are not living in a traditionalist period nowadays.
One might add, for the sake of completeness, a fourth type of composer - the pioneer type: men like Gesualdo in the seventeenth century,
Moussorgsky and Berlioz in the nineteenth, Debussy and Edgar Varese in the twentieth. It is difficult to summarize the composing methods of so diversified a group. One can safely say that their approach to composition is the opposite of the traditionalist type.
They clearly oppose conventional solutions of musical problems. In many ways, their attitude is experimental - they seek to add new harmonies, new sonorities, new formal principles. The pioneer type was the characteristic one at the turn of the seventeenth century and also at the beginning of the twentieth century, but it is much less evident today.