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Why there aren't composers writing in a classical style today?

Why don't we hear of classical composers today like we do of Beethoven, Chopin or Mozart?

My question may be strange, but I am really curious.

11 Answers 11

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I believe two factors are at play here:

  • The democratisation of music
  • The proliferation of genre

The Democratisation of Music

In its day, classical music was tied in to the main influence structures of society: nobility, and the church. This meant that classical composers who made it in the day were akin to Michael Jackson or The Beatles today.

Becoming a part of the influence structures at the time was hugely difficult, and very few had the means to do it. Mozart for example was fortunate enough to be taken round royal courts from a young age along with his sister, almost as a novelty. But through that exposure - along with his talent, a lot of work from his father, and possibly the fact that he was male - he was able to cultivate his talents in front of the influencers that made him a cultural icon of the day.

In metaphoric terms, imagine a small X-factor panel decided what was worth sharing, and nothing else got through. That panel was the nobility and the church, and Mozart was Susan Boyle.

The Proliferation of Genre

It's no coincidence that Mozart and Beethoven were around the same time, because classical music for its beauty is a genre based on harmonic rules. Both Mozart and Beethoven had access to the people who not only defined those rules, but expanded upon them (Notably Haydn and Bach).

One of the advantages of a set of rules is that you can work within them to make increasingly elaborate and beautiful examples.

The reason there was a set of rules ties largely into the church's views on music, but what's important is that they don't apply anymore.

Nowadays, you don't simply have a genre of music that's worked on and elaborated. You have tens of thousands. What was once a giant pile of influence is now a thousand little piles.

Most genres have what you'd consider their own Mozarts. Some names immediately come to mind if I say say Pop, Country, Progressive Rock, Dubstep, Jazz, Time Lord Rock (Okay maybe not Time Lord Rock). But they're all big fish in smaller ponds. The splitting of a preferred music genre into a thousand smaller genres means that there are a thousand separate rule-sets, and divisions people who love them.

--

Some people love Michael Jackson's Music; some hate it. For the ones who hate it there are thousands of other artists and genres.

How can one flavour of composer arise when all tastes are catered for?

  • There were probably also people who hated Mozart's and Beethoven's music in their day (and in the centuries since.) – corsiKa Mar 11 '18 at 3:55
  • Folk music existed in Mozart's time as well an and would be the more popular and less Nobel music of its day. – Neil Meyer Feb 13 at 8:12
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There are composers like Beethoven, Chopin, and Mozart out there today--you just haven't looked hard enough.

On YouTube, I've found Shuwen Zhang, who has some Asiatic and ragtime influences in his music but otherwise composes somewhat like Chopin. He nails the classical musical forms, and he's written some of the most memorable scherzos I've ever heard.

On Musescore, I've found that Niilo Korsulainen and Vigo Kovačić compose remarkably like Mozart, complete with his style of nailing the classical music forms. There are also those "Compose like Mozart" courses out there, so maybe more people will follow in their footsteps.

Now why some of them publish on IMSLP and pretty much all of them above not earn quite as much money, I don't know....

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    I'd like to point out that Billy Joel (yes, THAT Billy Joel of Piano Man fame) is also a composer in the viens of Chopin, Mozart and Beethoven. – mickburkejnr Mar 8 '18 at 13:31
  • I myself tend to compose like Beethoven when I am composing something in the key of C minor. Like out of all the keys, that is where my most Beethoven sounding music comes from is C minor. – Caters Feb 7 at 16:35
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There are. Beethoven pushed musical boundaries a bit in his later career, but mostly he wrote accessible music that people enjoyed listening to - he HAD to, in order to make a living! Today's musical craftsmen feed the film and TV markets more than the concert hall perhaps, but their job is not to challenge or disturb TOO much (and many of them COULD turn out a Beethoven pastiche if asked). Churches seem to have a never-ending appetite for traditional styles, and some gems inevitably surface above the blandness.

Yes, the journeyman composer is alive and well!

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    The film and TV markets are not a bad thing as such. A lot of classical music was written for theatre or opera, which was their film and TV equivalent. – RedSonja Mar 9 '18 at 8:30
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    NO musical market is a bad thing! Was someone suggesting otherwise? – Laurence Payne Mar 9 '18 at 11:19
  • Well, I sensed a certain disparagement... then I could be wrong. – RedSonja Mar 9 '18 at 11:46
  • I am certainly unimpressed by much church music. But film and TV is where it's all happening these days! – Laurence Payne Mar 9 '18 at 12:41
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Out with the old, in with the new.

Seeing just how huge the amount of progress of each of the schools of western music has had, you as a 21-century composer are not going to compose contrapuntal piano music to the standard that Bach or Handel did.

You may, on the other hand, become a master in a new modern style that has not yet have three-and-a-half centuries worth of musical exploration. You can become a jazz master and develop a meaningful contribution to a style that has not yet existed a century, one which still has an immense amount of progress to be had.

That being said there very much are 'classical' style composers. Composers like Danny Elfman and John Williams really are 21st-century master composers, so it is not unlike there has not been classical-esque music being composed. The patrons who make it all possible have just changed over the years.

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Define "like classical music"...

Classical music itself has moved on, via Stravinsky, Debussy, Britten, Glass and so on. There are wider influences available today than Beethoven had, partly by virtue of wider cultural range, but also simply by the passage of time and the work done by successive composers. Even your examples show the history involved. Mozart and Haydn were influenced by Bach, Beethoven and Schubert were influenced by Mozart and Haydn, Chopin and Liszt were influenced by Beethoven and Schubert, and so on.

Perhaps you're thinking in terms of more "challenging" works by modern composers. I'll be perfectly honest and say I don't actually like a lot of that myself! But that's not to say these are the only works available by modern composers.

If you want more "tuneful" music, the most obvious modern examples are composers for film. If you like Stravinsky, you'll get on very well with Danny Elfman's scores. Richard Strauss? John Williams. Debussy? Howard Shore. Tschaikowsky? Hans Zimmer. All these "classical" composers wrote significant music for ballet, by the way, which is definitely comparable.

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    I'm not quite sure I agree with the specific pairings (e.g. I hear a lot more of Prokofiev in Elfman's scores than I hear of Stravinsky), but you're absolutely right that film music is the best place to look for professional composers imitating older styles. – Kyle Strand Mar 8 '18 at 19:37
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    Ironically enough, Prokofiev composed film music. – Dekkadeci Mar 8 '18 at 21:31
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    If you want challenging try Messiaen. He was classically trained, and wrote more or less in classical forms, but the content is quite new, and he did a lot of work on unusual scales and modes. OK not quite 21st century. – RedSonja Mar 9 '18 at 8:35
  • @KyleStrand I agree, the pairings aren't perfect, and Howard Shore is probably more like Vaughn Williams than Debussy too. Still, they seemed close enough for a quick reply, and hopefully it got the OP what he was looking for. – Graham Mar 9 '18 at 12:55
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    @Graham It's like ten thousand Prokofievs when all you need is a film score! – Kyle Strand Mar 12 '18 at 16:38
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Because they need to make money. There are a lot of people who compose music like that, they just can't make as prolific a career out of it as those from the past.

There are many studios who hire people to compose cinematic music for movies, games, commercials, etcetera. They are studios such as Two Steps From Hell, Epic Scores, City of the Fallen, X-Ray Dog, Globus, to name a few.

The reason they may be off many musicians' radar is because although they compose "classical" sounding music, they incorporate sounds, chord progressions, instruments, moods and musicians not at the disposal of the greats of yesterday.

For instance, I'm sure Beethoven would compose something like this piece from Two Steps, but, he didn't know what he didn't know. Musicians today can draw from the past but add to it from the vocabulary of today. And, the Classical Era is long gone.

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. The answer could probably be improved by making it less opinion-based so it doesn't lead to such discussion, but please refrain from doing so in comments regardless. – Matthew Read Mar 8 '18 at 22:58
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The impression that people there is no classical composer today is probably due to availability heuristic. When making a judgement on whether classical music is conducted today, one relies on memories of past classical music events. According to the classical music event database Bachtrack, most popular composers performed are dead. Therefore, it is reasonable to conclude that no new classical music is made, since the same old conductor names pop up everywhere.

However, Bachtrack, separately highlights most popular living composers. They start from the top 50. Top names include Arvo Pärt, John Adams, and John Williams

Bachtrack PDF report on popular composers:

Wiki page on availability heuristic

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There are lots of them. Their works are maybe not played so much in big bombastic buildings like was done hundreds of years ago so maybe you are looking in the wrong places. If you look for music for CD albums, computer games, movies and other things you should find lots of them.

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An interesting and maybe relatively famous example is Easley Blackwood. His idea is to compose in whatever style is required, be that classical/romantic or much more modern as well.

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Masters like Mozart and Beethoven weren't respected then like they are today... they competed.

A work becomes classic when, later on, enough folks realize that it was their favorite all along and do things (like Disney's Fantasia) to keep them alive. We know of Mozart and Beethoven, but they knew of dozens and dozens of contemporary composers whose works were promoted with or above the works that we know today.

Time gives the wonderful opportunity to select classic works with clarity, giving less consideration to the personal advantages enjoyed by the artists and giving more consideration to what we like about the work ourselves.

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Lack of general interest in classical music relegated it to the academia, and there it became very exploratory, experimental, 'researchy'. Most of today's working composers are even forced to pursue this path as this is what gets funded and commissioned. You might for instance not get a grant if you decide to explore established harmony as opposed to serial music. IMO there is still lots of new possibilities within existing harmonic framework and XX century jazz proven that, whereas the world of classical music drifted into serialism and even more experimental forms.

protected by Dom Mar 8 '18 at 16:42

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