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Increasing complexity has characterised the last 200 years of classical music. But, however difficult a composer might seem at first, if musicians want to play his music it will find an audience

By Charles Rosen   May 1998

Harper’s

March 1998

As concert halls became bigger, and audiences larger, music became gradually more difficult to understand at first hearing. This paradox is essential to an understanding of the history of modern culture. Mozart was already difficult for his contemporaries, who were distressed by what they thought were unintelligible modulations and overcomplicated textures. Yet his music was played anyway, simply because enough musicians liked it, and finally everyone else came around. Beethoven was much harder than Mozart, and polemic about the insanity of some of his late compositions continued until the end of the 19th century; his music was…

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