The Cycling of Sides

“You can find the Abstract listening to hip-hop/ My pops used to say it reminded him of bebop/ I said well daddy don’t you know that things go in cycles?”

-A Tribe Called Quest, “Excursions”

In some early cases of opera, women were not allowed to participate. A male castrati would take the high ranges instead. To instate this exclusion, these men would play the women roles instead.

Their conservativeness  lead to a radical form of gender bending: males that were accepted as women, even if just for an evening.

Arnold Schoenberg considered the twelve tone series as a natural extension of chromaticism, composing many pieces within this method. It sent shocks through the music world, deemed as a radical shift. Later in his life, however, he loosened his exclusive use of the method. Schoenberg threw in traditional chords and at times left a 12 tone series as a single utterance, never to return.

This caused confusion amongst those entrenched in Schoenberg’s principles. There is correspondence with Rene Leibowitz in regards to Schoenberg’s Ode to Napoleon and Trio, Op.45 that expresses this concern. Leibowitz writes: “…in the Ode and Trio, op.45, it is quite impossible to find a functional series as such. This is what interests me most: Why have you loosened the 12-tone rigor in that specific way?” What was a radical shift in music had calcified into a conservative method one had to follow to a tee. No one was off the hook, not even Schoenberg.

What is strange is that, in going so far to one side, both instances found the parties arriving on the other side. Is it even fair to call them “sides”? That would imply a straight line. Perhaps it is a cycle, an oval of sorts.

“The people who you think are radicals might really be conservative. The people who you think are conservative might really be radical”.

– Morton Feldman


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