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date: 08 April 2020

New Complexitylocked

  • Christopher Fox


A term that became current during the 1980s as a means of categorizing the music of Brian Ferneyhough, Michael Finnissy and a number of younger composers, the majority of them British, all of whose music was held to share certain aesthetic and formal characteristics. In particular they sought to achieve in their work a complex, multi-layered interplay of evolutionary processes occurring simultaneously within every dimension of the musical material. Since composers within the New Complexity usually chose to realize their music through acoustic instrumental resources, their scores necessarily pushed the prescriptive capacity of traditional staff notation to its limits, with a hitherto unprecedented detailing of articulation. Microtonal pitch differentiations, ametric rhythmic divisions and the minutiae of timbral and dynamic inflection were all painstakingly notated; the technical and intellectual difficulties which such notations present for performers were regarded as a significant aesthetic feature of the music.

Although many of the composers involved were British, initial support for the New Complexity came principally from performers and promoters of new music in continental Europe. Both Ferneyhough and Finnissy became internationally prominent in the early 1970s through performances of their work at the Gaudeamus Music Week; later developments of the New Complexity were particularly closely associated with the Darmstadt summer courses where, between ...

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Perspectives of New Music
Contemporary Music Review