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Deutsche Welle: At the beginning of the 20th century, people tended to think about progress in music. Does music have to go somewhere - does one piece or one composer lead to the next?
Steve Reich: Well, there is a continuation in musical history - let’s say from Gregorian chant up through the death of Johann Sebastian Bach. Then there’s a break. Even his sons felt, “We can’t go on this way.” And they began with a much simpler music. Then the movement from Haydn to Mozart to Beethoven to Schubert to Schumann on to Brahms and to Wagner, in particular, is all so continuous. It gets harder to tell what key you’re in. It gets less and less rhythmic. Any orchestra can play Mozart or Haydn without a conductor. But no orchestra on earth can play Wagner without a conductor because he’s just not about rhythm at all. Schönberg is the beginning of the death of German Romanticism. It’s about deciding that we didn’t need harmonic organization. But this was music for a small cadre of listeners. I think Schönberg said, “In fifty years, the postman will whistle my tunes.” Well, it’s been over a hundred years, and there is no postman on earth who whistles his tunes. There never will be a postman who whistles his music. Now this doesn’t mean Schönberg wasn’t a great composer - he is. But he’s in a dark corner and always will be. What I and other people did was not a revolution. It was a restoration of harmony, of rhythm in a new way. We also recognized that there has always been a connection in Western music between popular music and classical music.
I think this conclusion is way to simple. But still I think it will help the listener to come in the perspective Reich’s music is written for.
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