Gewinner der Karl Max von Bauernfeind-Medaille 2016
Intelligenz, Formen und Künste
fatum 4 | , S. 10

Was ist das: Intelligenz, Formen und Künste?

A New Musical Form

Musical form is the overall structure of a piece of music composed of sound vibrations ordered in time. Form follows content.

With early mensural notation and Guido d’Arezzo’s contribution to notation, we began to think and analyze music as two-dimensional. Glancing through history, from the early plainsong to dance forms, part forms, polyphonic forms of canons, fugues, and the passacaglia, the rondo, variation, and developmental forms climaxing in the sonata allegro, we come to the cyclical and mixed forms of songs, operas, oratorios, masses and requiems. With the sonata, symphony, and concerto, Haydn, Beethoven, and Mozart brought the development of musical form to great heights.

The technical revolution of the 20th century split the atom and also the diatonic scale of the Western World into 12 equal parts (Dodecaphonic period) and then the ensuing microtones (Microtonal or Post Minimalist period). The early tape-recorded and electronic music had their own forms and further increased the microtonal palette. John Cage presented his Wallpaper Music of patterned sounds which were made to last indefinitely.

This important open form was further developed by Morton Feldman in his process music and Terry Riley’s minimalism. Finally, it was accepted that the forms of new music must have a beginning, middle and end … and one might even take out the middle!

Musical globalization had already begun in the early 20th century, and exotic instruments such as the gamelan, unusual scales, and ragas were woven into the old forms creating new formal combinations.

But wait! Wasn’t our definition of musical form the overall structure of a piece of music, which in its most abstract and true sense is the ordering of vibrations in time and space?

Are we not looking at music as if two-dimensional instead of realizing its three-dimensional properties?

Guidonian Hand Manuscript from Mantua, Bodleian Library (15 th century)
Guidonian Hand Manuscript from Mantua, Bodleian Library (15th century)

Have we not been duped by notation presenting musical forms as two-dimensional ever since the Middle Ages? Antiphonal forms can be found in early music onward to Vivaldi and William Billings and certainly the new music of today which uses the principles of acoustic form. These three-dimensional elements of form have become so highly complex with modern technical possibilities that they perhaps should be included as part of the definition of form or as a subsidiary part with the definition of musical form changed:

Musical form is the vibration of ordered sounds emanating from a sound source to project its raison d’être. With the technical explosion of methods to carry the sound source of music to increasingly greater masses of space and extensions of time and place, through the means of digital recordings and computer manifestations, we are now able to carry our musical world with us wherever we go, as for example with our iPods. Thus, we are living and moving about in a world of highly differentiated vibrations that includes those of musical acoustic forms, the new field for analysis.


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