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Music in the Late Twentieth Century


CHAPTER 8 A Harmonious Avant-Garde?
Richard Taruskin
Music as Spiritual Discipline

fig. 8-1 La Monte Young with Pran Nath and Marian Zazeela, 1971.

But the “spiritualizing” interpretation carried conviction. By 1989 Young had made a decisive turn toward a religious lifestyle, having in 1970 become a disciple of Pran Nath, an Indian musician and spiritual guru. In the early 1960s, after moving to New York, he and his wife, the painter and performance artist Marian Zazeela, had founded the Theatre of Eternal Music, an ensemble dedicated to the devout daily rehearsal and very occasional performance of his work, which consisted of several enormous, ongoing, and unfinishable compositions, reminiscent in concept of the famous torsos (Scriabin's Mysterium, Ives's Universe) of early-twentieth-century music. They achieved their huge dimensions through the application of improvisatory and ritualistically repetitive techniques to tiny preplanned and notated musical ideas or “modules,” following a set of verbal instructions that Young (possibly recalling his serial training) calls “algorithms.” These utopian compositions, such as The Four Dreams of China, realizable only in small snatches, have been “eternally” in progress since the early 1960s. Perhaps needless to say, they no longer employ twelve-tone procedures, Young having come to see a contradiction between the all-encompassing, undifferentiated twelve-tone approach to pitch and his ideal of concentration, delimitation, and singleness. Pitch has been the area, in fact, to which he has applied the most rigorous restrictions, arriving finally at an approach based on natural acoustical resonance (invested, in his thinking, with purity and holiness) that virtually excludes conventional chromaticism of any kind. Since the mid-1970s, much of Young's composing and performing energy has been devoted to The Well-Tuned Piano, a body of music to be played on a piano tuned in a system of just (or Pythagorean) intonation.

Citation (MLA):
Richard Taruskin. "Chapter 8 A Harmonious Avant-Garde?." The Oxford History of Western Music. Oxford University Press. New York, USA. n.d. Web. 7 Oct. 2022. <https://www.oxfordwesternmusic.com/view/Volume5/actrade-9780195384857-div1-008004.xml>.
Citation (APA):
Taruskin, R. (n.d.). Chapter 8 A Harmonious Avant-Garde?. In Oxford University Press, Music in the Late Twentieth Century. New York, USA. Retrieved 7 Oct. 2022, from https://www.oxfordwesternmusic.com/view/Volume5/actrade-9780195384857-div1-008004.xml
Citation (Chicago):
Richard Taruskin. "Chapter 8 A Harmonious Avant-Garde?." In Music in the Late Twentieth Century, Oxford University Press. (New York, USA, n.d.). Retrieved 7 Oct. 2022, from https://www.oxfordwesternmusic.com/view/Volume5/actrade-9780195384857-div1-008004.xml
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