But music is also capable of precisely the opposite: ugly sounds. I'm going to refer to this as the musical grotesque. Shostakovich had a bit of a gift for the grotesque. This arrangement for string quartet of a polka from his ballet The Golden Age is an example:
The presto from Shostakovich's 9th Symphony starts quite nicely, but grotesque elements start to appear after a bit:
Musical grotesqueries are almost a specialty of Russian composers. Here is the "Gnomus" movement from Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition:
But for sheer, unrelenting unpleasant sounds, I think some non-classical musicians take the cake. I'm reminded of this by the New York Times article in yesterday's post where someone was suggesting that a baby be exposed to non-stop Frank Zappa and Captain Beefheart. I seem to recall reading a similar suggestion a year or so ago, but I can't recall who was making it. In any case, this seems like a bad, bad, bad idea. Why? Because this is ugly music. Grotesque. Let's listen:
What can you call that? Blues from the fifth circle of hell?
There can be many rebukes to the point I'm making here. You could say that it's not ugly, it's just, oh, intense or uncompromising or original. Sure, but it is those things by being ugly. Perhaps you like ugly music and think beautiful music "sucks". Ok, that's a point of view I have heard.
Don't get me wrong. I would prefer this kind of music to the soggy, maudlin, throbbing falsity of a lot of so-called 'pretty' music. (cough) Andrew Lloyd Webber (cough) In fact, good music needs an admixture of the cutting, severe, or harsh to offset the smooth, flowing and mellow. The best music has both. But the problem I have with Frank Zappa and Captain Beefheart is that they rarely show the other side. It's always the ugly side.