Chou Wen-chung

Excerpts from keynote speech, The ISCM-ACL World Music Days Festival, Hong Kong, 1988

It was exactly 30 years ago that another great international event, which has since proven to be a landmark in the history of music, took place in Europe. Namely, the premiere of Edgard Varèse's Poème électronique at the Philips Pavilion at the Brussels World’s Fair… Symbolically, it could be regarded as pivotal in the development of modern music, because conceptually it represented a true search for the musical future and a willingness to break beyond the limits of European traditions…

These international events of the mid-twentieth century and certainly the ISCM festivals of the past few decades amply demonstrated a period of intense ferment in contemporary music in Europe. This ferment already reached a stage of revolutionary proportion in compositional concepts and practices by the 1960’s.

The three decades beginning around 1950 could be said to be the peak of American music because of the great variety of esthetics and technical innovations. For example, around the year 1950, numerous compositions were written that are unique for their esthetic commitment or technical breakthrough.

Let us cite only a few by some of the best known composers working in the U.S.: Déserts (1949-54) by Varèse; Three Compositions for Piano (1947-48) by Milton Babbitt; First String Quartet (1951) by Elliott Carter; Music of Changes (1951) by John Cage; and Mass (1948) by Stravinsky. Schoenberg died in 1950 [sic], but not before he produced some works with new dimensions, such as Trio for Strings (1946).

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