Genre Battles

by Robert Li

One interesting aspect of the late Romantic period relates to the conservatist versus progressivist movement. It’s strange how there can be such a large divergence in the musical community and how different schools of thought form. With composers like Schumann, you have a group who prefers the classical forms of music and a standard form of nomenclature for their pieces. On the other hand, composers like Liszt and Wagner let emotions or impressions dictate the form, tonality, and melodies of their pieces. It’s also evident in the romantic and descriptive method in which they name their pieces.

I believe this trend is interesting seeing as how it manifested in the rock and metal genres. If we think about the beginning of this genre, many of the instruments, scales, and melodies began with blues. The guitar riffs and acoustic guitar would eventually move to jazz. However, at some point, musicians realized that they could take their guitars and amplify them.  By using gain on the guitars, new effects could be created, especially as electronics and digital effects came into play. In 1965, Bob Dylan helped spearhead this movement by transitioning from a folk musician into a rock musician by using electric guitars in his music. You can see how he was met with a lot of criticism by fans of Dylan’s folk work here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MZ2AIc0cgvo

In addition, you can see how genres can be mixed in many solo metal music. Yngwie Malmsteen, once a virtuoso violinist, decided to take the classical structures that he had learned from playing the violin to the electric guitar. He takes the arpeggio form and makes an entire song: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aS_IYe5JTZ4

How should we think about genres? Are there stringent rules governing how a piece of music can be classified? How has that changed over time?

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