2.2. The ‘break’
In the 19th century, besides opera, lied also gets stronger – a need for chamber music, more concentrated focus, smaller performing spaces, performing for a group of friends, and working really closely with your singer and even your poet.
On the other side, in the opera industry, capitalism takes over: fitting in more audience members requires both growing halls and growing voices, which results in most focus being placed on singers' sound production. Other musical and scenic parameters might suffer from that. Thus, the two mentalities drive each other to extremes, up until a breaking point comes.
With the turn of the 20th century new ideologies arise with the couleur local— looking for one’s own identity, national identities, and the importance of folk music. Kodály and Bartók, to mention examples from my own musical background, are famous for their work in collecting folk songs. Yet when putting their findings on stage, they still work with classically trained singers, who present the folk melodies in a canonized form, so it appeals to learned listeners who are used to that sound. Their accompaniments also resemble the fashionable, mainly Germanic music of their times, only incorporating folk motives and turning it into their own Hungarian flavour. The same process can be seen in America with Gershwin for example: jazz is born, from Afro-American influences, and later fuses with Anglo-Saxon and Irish influences and develops into pop and rock. Exotic traditions also came with the Paris World Exposition at the turn of the new century, and influenced many composers (for example the gamelan from Indonesia had a huge impact on impressionists and later reaches even Messiaen, who incorporates it as a basic element of his music). The search for new voices is on. Sprächgesang was used by Schönberg to alienate the singer, often even using a non-trained voice of an actress.
Amplification changes everything of course. The focus shifts from producing sound to expressivity. Connecting to audiences through vulnerable and ‘honest’ sounds (as later discussed in chapter 3). It allows the singer to drop the projection, resonance and bigger vibrato, used to fill a concert hall, and makes it possible to incorporate any sound from this ‘honest’ speech-like singing, thus strengthening the communication between performer and listener. Pop singing too – a generation of composers grew up on this sound ideal, and continue writing vocal pieces in that style. The ‘problem’ comes however, when they are still written for classical voices, which ‘shouldn’t sound classical’. Electronics develop rapidly, new sounds and hybrids of what we can do with the voice and how to process it digitally. Recently, even singing machines and simulators are being developed.
In the last 30-40 years, completely new aesthetics arrived too: those like sound-based art, zero aesthetic, ‘found object aesthetics’ from sonology. All derive from creative processes, where creating a system that generates the sounds or the music itself, and the creator doesn’t interfere, but is an observer. The taste of how we listen to this music is also ‘non-narrative’, in a way non-human, so performing it also requires a new attitude. In many genres improvisation became a basic tool, being up-to-date and having a broad taste both as performer and creator – and even as listener! - is essential. Nowadays we live in a totally multicultural environment. A creator can ‘pick’ his own influences, and virtually anything is accessible. The ‘Common knowledge’, as they still speak about it in Hungary for example, doesn’t exist anymore in the West. Each and every individual has their own taste, and develops knowledge in different subjects. In such a context thus we start observing how the relationship between modern composers and classically trained singers has come to be.