End of Musical Parody?

  • Hellmut Federhofer


If, up till now, the concept of a musical work has, in the main, coincided with that of music, then it is necessary to revise the concept so that it compares as sharply as possible with other concepts, such as musical, acoustic and tone structures. Many products of the avantgarde cannot be classified as musical works. These, like the products of folk tradition, allow an abundance of variants left to the will of the performer and put the composer into the background. However, the structural pattern is here replaced by a mental process which directed through semiscientific principles tends toward experiment. The experimental character also comes to the foreground in avant-garde compositions where such variants are not foreseen. The construction and succession of sounds are not determined by something perceptibly there but by an abstractly conceived order, resulting in a total lack of social connection. And therein lies the principle difference between the musical structures of the folk tradition and the sound phenomena created by the avant-garde. Nevertheless, there are many transitional phenomena which are difficult to classify because they partially follow traditional principles of structure and partially reject them. This is perhaps most clearly seen in the works of Schönberg. Although Schönberg discarded the contrast between consonance and dissonance before he invented dodecaphony, he did retain to some extent the traditional means of creating form through the use of motifs, rhythms and dynamics, as for example in his piano compositions Op. 19. Pieces of this kind have a strong tendency to succumb to the intentional fallacy which can mainly be observed in programme-music, and this is even increased by intentional deception. The experiment invented by the composer and musicologist Hans Gal and carried out with 40 students of the department of music at the University of Cleveland confirms just this. In this experiment Hans Gal reproduced on tape thirteen compositions: one of these compositions was by Schönberg and the others he composed himself. The point of the experiment lies in Hans Gal's endavours to write compositions of a similar kind to those of Schönberg in which the choice of individual tones was to a great extent left to chance, although Gal was careful enough to avoid consonances as much as possible. Whereas there is no indication that Schönberg didn't regard his piano composition as a work of art or at least as a seroius experiment all the compositions of Hans Gal are in complete contrast. The experiment should show whether it is possible to discern differences, and if so what differences, between the composition of Schönberg and those written by Hans Gal. After the tape had been reproduced twice the audience had to state which of the 13 compositions was by Schönberg. The result was that of the 40 listeners only two chose the correct composition. The same experiment was repeated in a more extensive and modified form in the Musicological Institute of the University of Gutenberg in Mainz with 53 musicological students. Ten short piano compositions were played back three times without their au- 120 thors being revealed. As in the former experiment all the compositions were by Gal, except the fifth piece which was Schönberg's Op. 19, No. 3. The audience were given a questionaire with the following questions: a) Are the compositions known to you? If not, who do you imagine the authors to be? b) What was their impression on you? c) Did you find the compositions stylistically homogeneous? d) If not, among which compositions did you note any stylistic divergencies? e) Did you feel any difference in the quality of the composition? f) If you did, among which? g) Do you have any preference for any of the compositions for any other reasons? h) If the answer is yes, which compositions and why? From the answers to the question a) we see that no subject recognized or knew the piano composition by Schönberg. As the presumed author Schönberg was nominated only uvq times, but even then without the number of his composition being indicated. To question b) 18 subjects answered essentially positively and 16 negatively; the others abstained or gave a neutral judgement. Question c) was in 37 cases answered by yes and in 14 by no; there were 2 abstentions. Question d) resulted in only 14 opinions. In the answers to question e) 35 subjects indicated no difference in quality whereas 17 answered to the contrary; one subject abstained. Question g) was answered in 24 cases by no and in 28 cases by yes. However, it deserves attention that a considerably high number of subjects (18) gave a positive judgement on Gal's compositions and appreciated them as an artistic expression. At any rate it is characteristic and significant that the results of this experiment also essentially coincide with those of the first experiment carried out by Gal in the United States. Both experiments confirm the assumption that it is not possible to differentiate between the serious model and arbitrary imitations in certain spheres. And the piano compositions by Gal are in fact neither serious imitations nor parodies which strive after a conscious violation of the stylistic principles or the rules of compositions; they are rather dominated by a completely arbitrary choice of tones. There is perhaps an intention to mock at a certain kind of music, but the liberating spirit which is a property of parody is absent. Herbert Eimert demands quite openly that the distinction between acoustic and musical listening should be abandoned and that we venture a step toward alert and concentrated listening which is sharply diagnostic. The sound figures of the avant-garde being neither musical works nor musical structures can only be refered to by this kind of listening. The task of musical history of the 20th century is, however, to show which music introduces the deviation from musical listening and needs the pre-orientation to that kind of listening demanded by Eimert. The devitation from aesthetic listening is reflected in the musical work. Where it happens, the notion of a musical work and certainly that of a masterpiece breaks down. In such a transitional situation where both levels of listening are demanded simultaneously, the danger of an intentional fallacy is especially great. This is proved by the above experiment for Schönberg's works stand at the crossroads. They are on the one hand still bound by many elements to tradition but the dodecaphony and the preceding free tonality, to which the demonstrated piece, Op. 19 No. 3 also belongs, mean a final deviation from that tradition.


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How to Cite
FederhoferH. (1969). End of Musical Parody?. Musicological Annual, 5(1), 111-121. https://doi.org/10.4312/mz.5.1.111-121