HOWARD GOODALL'S 20TH CENTURY GREATS
JOHN LENNON & PAUL McCARTNEY knowing only a handful of chords between them, turned themselves into the most influential composers of the late twentieth century. Their music wasn't just immensely popular. It also proved that traditional western harmony - the main building block of European music - still had plenty to offer. (Even though avant-garde composers had turned their back on it.) By mixing pop and classical techniques, and cross-fertilising them with Indian, and electronic music, The Beatles refreshed and revitalised western harmony. They also transformed the recording studio from a dull box where you recaptured your live sound, into a musical laboratory, of exciting and completely new sounds. This was one of the most crucial advances in the way popular music was to be produced. But Lennon/McCartney didn't just influence all popular music that followed them. They influenced classical music too. The leading classical composers of our own era have turned back to traditional harmony. More than anyone, Lennon & McCartney prefigured this trend. They showed that the old musical forms could be refashioned and refreshed, to make music that was both exciting and popular, and sophisticated and new. They, more than anyone, saved the western musical tradition from extinction, and gave it a new purpose and a direction. Not bad going for two boys who met at a local church fete and taught themselves their instruments.
BERNARD HERRMANN wrote some of the most famous film music of the twentieth century, from Citizen Kane to The Day The Earth Stood Still, Fahrenheit 451 to Taxi Driver. He is best known for his scores for Alfred Hitchcock, in particular the masterpieces Vertigo and Psycho. Herrmann completely transformed film music, dragging it out of its reliance on the sounds and textures of nineteenth century Vienna and into the modern age. Realising that each film is a one-off, and experimenting with new recording techniques and instruments, he completely re-wrote the rule book. Herrmann brought the orchestra up to date with imaginative and unprecedented musical textures and effects - his use of purely electronic instruments predate those of the classical pioneers Karlheinz Stockhausen & Edgar Varese. He used these new sounds to score a series of landmark films, from science fiction to horror to suspense. In doing so, Herrmann not only weaned the film audience off the Romantic music it was most familiar with. He introduced many of the most 'difficult' elements of mid twentieth century music to a mass audience, who accepted dissonance and even atonality because Herrmann cleverly adapted them to the needs of the drama. Psycho is not only the most imitated and admired film music ever. Its harsh, screaming dissonance was the very sort of music audiences had been turning their back on in concert halls. Thanks to Herrmann, they lapped it up, now in a popular form. Bernard Herrmann was consistently, brilliantly inventive, and he influenced every film composer who came after him. But he also influenced classical concert music. In his works are the seeds of the modern musical movement of 'minimalism.' Herrmann himself was ambivalent about his film success. He never received the respect he craved in the classical world. But he did more than anyone else to broaden the musical tastes of the public. Not in the concert hall, but in the crucible of the twentieth century's own most important art form - cinema.
LEONARD BERNSTEIN was the composer who, more than anyone else in the twentieth century, embodied the trend we now call 'cross-over.' A brilliant musician and conductor, he wrote in the 'classical' style, but also wrote some of the best known 'popular' music of the century, from On The Town to West Side Story. In mid century, this was a bold step - you were expected to choose between the two styles, and they were seen as poles apart. Bernstein never accepted this - to him good music was good music - but he was forced to veer wildly between writing for the supposed opposites of popular and classical taste. But he was always trying to join the dots between the two. At first it seemed as if the answer was to introduce jazz, pop and dance styles into classical music. But in 1957 he came at the conundrum from a different direction and finally squared the circle. West Side Story had all the pizzazz and popular appeal of the Broadway musical - although with a contemporary, hard-hitting subject. But the great advance was that the fun and energy of the musical was underpinned with the subtlety and shape of classical music - specifically opera. It was a hit with great songs - Tonight, Somewhere, Maria - but also with an emotional and artistic subtlety new to the musical, derived from the best music of the past. Here was a hint as to the future direction of music, a way to get the best of both worlds. But not only did West Side Story revitalise the musical. By incorporating Latin American rhythms - most famously in America- Bernstein pointed the way forward for the most important musical trend of our own time - fusion. But for Bernstein 'fusion' wasn't only about mixing new musical colours merely for effect. It had a religious and political purpose too. For him music could and should reflect all the world's communities, nations and creeds. By his own mixing of European classical, pop and Latin styles, Bernstein may have prefigured the next important phase in the music of our own time - the fusion of Western and Asian styles.
COLE PORTER was the most gifted of a richly talented generation of composers who transformed popular music in the 1920s and 30s. It had started the century, for the most part, bland, patronising and trite, the gauche, poor relation of classical music. Cole Porter, more than anyone, made it musically, and lyrically sophisticated, emotionally satisfying and subtle. Remarkably, not only did he write some of the best music ever, but was also one of the greatest lyricists in the English language. Cole Porter began his career at a pivotal moment in the history of music. Classical music, after several centuries as the undisputed master of the field, had decided to embark on a journey into dissonant, harsh, complex music that the mainstream audience couldn't follow, far less enjoy. A vacuum was thus created and popular music seized the chance to take over classical music's former role as the main provider of intelligent, sophisticated music for the general listener. No one did this with greater effect than Cole Porter. Classically-trained, he could have made a career in 'art music'. Instead he chose to write in the popular field. His classical background was of great significance, though, because he enriched popular music precisely by using the sophisticated techniques of classical music. But he used them so cleverly that the pop audience didn't find anything outside or beyond its taste. No other popular composer wrote more songs in a minor key, for example. Porter brilliantly squared the circle, writing worldwide, enduring hits that can stand comparison with the romantic songs of any composer - whether 'classical' or 'popular' - from any age. From I Get A Kick Out Of You to Love For Sale, from Anything Goes to Let's Do It, Night & Day to Ev'ry Time We Say Goodbye, in Porter's hands the popular song came of age, and the history of music in the twentieth century was to undergo a sea change.