What Would Classical Composers Think of Modern Musicians?

Portrait of Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827), German composer and pianist, composing the Missa Solemnis, 1819-1820, Painting by Joseph Karl Stieler (1781-1858)

By Nolan Aljaddou 

What would Beethoven think of Kurt Cobain?  The answer may be more ascertainable than one might think.  The ground-rooted chord progression of “Smells Liimageske Teen
Spirit” has all the Romantic Era flare that any of Beethoven’s more major compositions ever possessed (his seventh and ninth symphonies, for example), in a more compactified model of aural passion.

Green Day is a modern equivalent of Mozart chamber music; one need only subtract the quartet or piano ensemble and replace them with one electric guitar, one amplified bass guitar, and a rhythm section, set the pace to maximum, and envision something a little more akin to timeless musical practices than seeing an actor play Ludwig van hammering away at mall keyboards in Bill And Ted.

It is the universal core melodic component of all harmonic compositions which drew one classical music critic to say that the Beatles were the best composers since Beethoven.  Can’t Buy Me Love, can’t put a price on the universal – effortless, flawless.

It may require a great deal more training to compose in the classical vein, however it requires a proportionately greater deal of ingenuity to create the original and eternally vivacious from a mere handful of notes.  This is perhaps what led the Beatles’ producer George Martin to state that it was about the most difficult thing in the world to compose a catchy pop or rock song centering around roughly five main notes.  After all, if it were that easy, given how beloved modern pop is, everyone would be doing it – rather than the rarefied few that do.

Given this criteria, the Beatles are certainly, and veritably, among the greatest musical geniuses of all time.  Those who also belong to their domain are the likes of Nirvana, Garbage, Weezer, Bowie, Queen, and a plethora of other supergroups who literally didn’t know how to write bad songs.mozart-glasses

If one is to truly make a valid comparison to classical music, however, from the perspective of a world that hangs on every note of pop melodies, one need only understand that classical is the exact same genre – merely liberated of rhythmic constraints, with an emphasis on harmonic elaboration.  There is no inherently greater or lesser complexity in the genre, as percussion in modern rock works is an atonal equivalent of the sophistication elaborations found in virtually every piece of classical – more so as well, since it resonates on a relatively unrestricted plane of infinite harmonic applicability without restrictive note delineation.

It is fair to say that due to these equalizing factors, classical composers in general, and as a rule, would consider modern rock musicians their equals (perhaps, more creative and inventive counterparts for working within the constraints of a medium full of hackneyed repetition potential with a requisite of complete originality to succeed).

About the Author: Nolan Aljaddou is an alumnus of the University of Nebraska Omaha, and has authored a book and several papers on physics.  He started playing guitar at the age of 12 and writes extensively on Psychology, Mathematics, Physics, Philosophy and of course, Music.

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