Where Do We Go From Here?

by AL BENNER

I will avoid the discussion about whether or not the new millennium has begun by just saying that we have gone from being composers of the 1900s to composers of the 2000s. For those of us who have struggled to find a musical identity, we get a chance--at least I think as far as history is concerned--to redefine ourselves and quite possibly become a defining composer for the next musical era.

I am waiting for musicologists to clearly classify the various musical styles of the 2Oth century. It has certainly been filled with many different ones. We have blurred the division lines by all of them being lumped into a hundred year period. However, in a simplified manner, this century continued the path of the chromatic style of Wagner with Stravinsky, Copland, on up to Zwilich. But there was a fork in the road with the introduction of 12-tone and the atonality of Schoenberg. This took us in the direction followed by Webern, Babbitt, Cage and many others. In fact, this style was so dominating in the academic community that most "chromatic" composers at least experimented with it. Most were unsuccessful and returned to their more natural writing styles. But if we strip away all the transformations that have developed, I would say all would trace their paths back to either chromaticism or serialism.

For about the last twenty years of this century, the stranglehold serialism had on the academic musical world has loosened. There are many reasons for this, from loss of audience support, to an abundance of composers outside academia, to the natural progression that drives all musical styles to change. I am not here to argue for or against any style, only that something has changed in the past twenty years in the way composers approach writing. Except for those who are stubbornly clinging to the past, composers nowadays no longer automatically begin with either chromaticism or serialism. A new style is developing, perhaps a combination of the two, perhaps transformations of the two, perhaps a whole new fork in the road.

The point in all of this is that we can all begin anew. Some of us will become the new "Stravinskys" or "Schoenbergs" and influence a whole new generation of composers. Some of us will continue the writing of the past and be successful as Vaughn Williams was from the 19th into the 2Oth century. But if history tells us anything, as time passes the writings of most of us will pass into obscurity. We have all lined up at the start of the 21st century. At the end of this century, which ones of us will be remembered?