Iconic Lexicons of 20th-Century Music: Varèse’s Density 21.5, Babbitt’s Du, and Messian’s Colors of the Celestial City
If one thing could be said to have unified the 20th century, it must be the quality and intensity of the varieties of its disjunction. Nowhere is this more true than in the disparate languages which developed in the wake of atonal music: like bits of cooling matter scattered throughout an ever-increasing universe in the microseconds following the Big Bang (a theory first proposed in 1927), composers soon found themselves in charge of creating their own systems. This solipsism, in which each composer’s language is its own beginning and end, finds its parallel in the increasing individualism prized in the nations from which the three works represented here hail. These three compositions, composed within a span of fewer than thirty years, are not easily made to fit into that paradigm of artificially assembled history: progress! This line of thought, in which Haydn is seen a natural and more perfectly evolved form of CPE Bach, the two bearing the relationship that some bird which nature has bestowed generations of survival does to archaeopteryx (a necessary but eventually discarded stepping stone), fails to cling to composers whose works are detailed below. As such, it is those differences between the composers, rather than their similarities, which will be highlighted. Presented in chronological order, the values displayed within these works differ so wildly that any serious attempt to unite them under any other banner is at best spurious.