Dissonance, Harmony, and American Culture

For many years I had a much older friend.  My friend was highly intelligent and musically cultured, but he had an odd quirk:  He listened to Arnold Schoenberg’s atonal, and highly dissonant, music for pleasure.  My friend maintained that this music was the epitome of beauty and that the philistine world would eventually see that beauty as he saw it.  Classical harmoneous music was hopelessly obsolete and banal. Then, one day, my friend was exposed to Vaughan Williams’ “The Lark Ascending.”  Tears in his eyes he admitted that he had never imagined something could be so transcendently exquisite.  With this, his mind newly opened, he began a deep reevaluation of why the great musical classics were indeed classics. I was not greatly surprised at his emotional epiphany.  After all, like myself, my friend was a product of U.C. Berkeley. There, my professor in the music history class was openly scornful of twentieth-century...(Read Full Article)