Why Structure Does not Guarantee Good Music

copyright © 2004 by Larry J Solomon

It is clear that most of our best and highly skilled composers plan their music on many different levels, creating fractal-like structuring. I am not questioning here that structured, multi-dimensional composition can contribute to the effectiveness of music or to its quality. However, in modern times, some composers, especially those of serial or twelve-tone leanings, seem to believe that structure in music guarantees its "greatness", or at the least, its quality. These particular composers, who are often also theorists, seem to believe that structure is an end in itself and that it matters little if the structure is perceptible or not. They sacrifice or are indifferent to its perceptibility, and they concern themselves only with mathematical logic and architecture.

Some contemporary music journals are replete with new theories and analyses, graphs, mathematics, formal logic, and other quasi-mathematical essays about structure in modern music that reflect this perspective. This phenomenon is so common that a casual perusal of these journals gives the impression that they could just as well be about mathematics, rather than about music.

My contention here is that any musical structure that ignores or pays little attention to its perceptibility not only gives no guarantee of "greatness" or quality, but could even be musically impotent and just plain bad music. Here I offer a sound example of a highly organized serial work. The only change made to it is that it has been sped up several times. All the pitch content and relative timings (rhythms) are intact -- in fact, all its structure is intact. I hasten to add that I do not mean to imply that the original music is not good. Even Bach's music played at this speed would sound similar. The point is that structure that cannot be perceived contributes nothing to the quality of the music.

Listen and judge for yourself -- simply click on the speaker.

2004 GUEST