Fifty Years After:
Music of the European Reconstruction and the Euro-American Community

© 1995 by Peter Gena.


Shortly after WWII, as the whole of Europe recovered from the tragic destruction, the musical community saw a need for unification and convocation in order to restore its distinguished tradition. This artistic identity, as entrenched previously in nationalistic ideologies as the continent had been, underwent reconstruction. In 1946, the first Ferienkurse für Neue Musik in Darmstadt generated a new musical community. Young composers from all over Europe and America convened to encourage and celebrate new ways of musical thinking; and within a dozen years Pierre Boulez, Karlheinz Stockhausen, Olivier Messiaen, Bruno Maderna, Luciano Berio, John Cage and many others had shared aesthetic viewpoints.

Many of the young Europeans embraced the post-serial style and the electronic medium, while their American counterparts (having reaped the benefits of the immigration of European artists) explored a similar road on the one hand, and the aftermath of the American ultra-modern idiom and indeterminacy on the other. As émigré artists Hans Hofmann and Josef Albers sowed the seeds of abstract expressionism in New York, American composers looked to Arnold Schoenberg in Los Angeles, Edgard Varèse and Stefan Wolpe in New York. Consequently, the previously formidable Atlantic barrier gave way to a new convergence of ideas on both continents. The emergence of important centers showed no geographic boundaries.

In the late 1940s, the recognition of sound as a significant element of music sparked the concrète experiments of Pierre Schaeffer and Pierre Henry at the Radiodiffusion-Télévision in Paris, and the work of Luciano Berio in the Studio di Fonologia at the Italian Radio in Milan. Similarly in the early 1950s, Herbert Eimert and Stockhausen (who had worked earlier at Radiodiffusion) founded the electronic music Studio at the Cologne Radio, while Milton Babbitt experimented with the Mark I & II synthesizers that led to the establishment of the Columbia-Princeton Music Center. In the Midwest, Lejaren Hiller created the Experimental Music Studio at the University of Illinois. Even Moscow, participated with Edison Denisov at the Experimental Studio of Electronic Music—though ten years later.

That sound could be quantitatively represented on magnetic tape, i.e. 15 inches of tape equaled one second of sound catapulted new concepts in the perception of rhythm and duration beyond Webern’s seemingly non-referential excursions. Stockhausen’s seminal article ". . . How Time Passes . . ." in Die Reihe, studied the perceptional limits of temporal lengths between events. In the 1940s, John Cage already had begun applying proportional time lengths in his "square root" systems. This temporal freedom, combined with the use of sound as a structural element, led to the development of graphic musical notation, the incorporation of "non-musical" sounds into music such as Cage’s prepared piano, and the employment of objets trouves or found sounds (radio, closely amplified noises, junk instruments) in his work and that of the musique concrète composers, Varèse, and others.

The natural outcome of indeterminacy in the US (aleatory, as Boulez called it, in Europe—"I like to know where I am going to land before I jump off the carpet.") not only paved the way for free-formed music (i.e. Cage, Earle Brown, Stockhausen, Berio, Maderna, Denisov, etc.) but for the highly formalized work of Xenakis, Boulez and Babbitt), and the fusion of improvisational elements (contributed by Americans in Europe such as Anthony Braxton, Don Pullen, and Nina Simone) that influenced young Europeans like Elodie Lauten. Furthermore, as the need for regimented ensembles on a proscenium stage and the necessity of a conductor waned, spatial considerations were often a prominent feature of new work.

Today as we look to the twenty-first century, we see a seamless cross-fertilization among national styles—a harbinger to the success of the newly formed European Union. We hope that the NEMO events of this May and next year encourage future global musics to thrive.


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