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#655017 - 10/02/02 02:09 PM Classical Music - Why Bother?
netizen Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/02/01
Posts: 1926
Loc: New York
I just finished reading an outstanding article on the Salon.com web site. It's titled "Classical Music - Why Bother?". The author, a composer, makes, imo, some truly thoughtful observations on the current state of classical music. Unfortunately, I don't think he entirely follows through with his insights in some instances. All the same, it's one of the better things I've read in a while to compass the various issues. Definitely worth the read. You can find it online HERE.

==Some choice excerpts:

On the other hand, what happens if there are no intrinsic values, or if people act as if there were none? Then it's a waste of time to grapple with much of anything. People will need to have a wide menu of choices. If something doesn't satisfy them, they'll flick to another channel, and if there's nothing good on any channel, the search itself becomes the program. The father of the current U.S. president was known to prefer the Beach Boys to the Philharmonic and saw no need to pretend a love for high culture: If he didn't like broccoli, he just wouldn't eat it.


I have heard people suggest that somehow the gene pool has been diluted to the point that no more Beethovens are possible (this suggestion actually came from a composer). What they forget is that Gioacchino Rossini was arguably more famous than Beethoven in the early 19th century and that a French opera composer named Giacomo Meyerbeer was much more popular than his rival, Richard Wagner.


I believe the same thing is happening in more popular art forms like jazz or film or some kinds of pop music. Perhaps because these forms don't make quite the same outrageous demands on their listeners and viewers -- and I mean that in the best possible sense -- the process doesn't seem to be as far along. Still, around the world Hollywood movies increasingly dominate the market, driving the various traditions of art cinema to the margins. Jazz, which can require an enormous amount of knowledge to appreciate fully, seems to be fighting for its survival, in constant danger of becoming little more than upscale aural wallpaper. There seem to be fewer and fewer hardcore buffs eager to scour the local clubs for another Coltrane or Miles Davis.

In jazz and rock, the work itself and the performance of it are joined in a way that is quite different from the case in literature or classical music. That relationship may blur some of the distinctions I have been making, but I don't believe it fundamentally alters them. When high school students start broadening their record collections and searching for more adventurous artists they haven't heard before, they do so because they believe that great things are to be found out there. Once that belief disappears, turning on top-40 radio or MTV will be enough. "

Cheers, N.
"To announce that there must be no criticism of the president, or that
we are to stand by the president right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public."-- Theodore Roosevelt

#655018 - 10/02/02 07:15 PM Re: Classical Music - Why Bother?
Ted Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/03/02
Posts: 1569
Loc: Auckland, New Zealand
I agree that the article is a good one but tend to think that the author's idea of what constitutes music is severely conditioned by Western tradition. I have to say that he seems unduly pessimistic about the future of music and about art in general.

The mechanism of Western art has always involved this structure of a small arcane group forcing ideas onto the supposedly ignorant masses, either during the lifetime of the creator or posthumously - doesn't matter which. This mechanism applies to any sort of Western music - classical, jazz or pop, and implies the existence of a collective consciousness and a hierarchy of training by which a novice may ultimately come to experience this collective reality.

What I think may be happening, and what I see as a very liberating process, is the transfer onto the individual of much more responsibility for the creation of his own personal aesthetic. This in no way implies either that he must reject anything which has gone before or that music is reduced to expression without communication.

On the contrary, with emergent communication and recording technology now at our disposal I see fabulous possibilities for musical communication between individuals. The only difference is that we are no longer dependent on the same old tired economic and social processes to do it.

Let's bring it down to a concrete level. I can record some improvisation in my home and exchange sounds with a person of similar bent (found in a few minutes using the internet), thus short-circuiting all the old composer/performer/listener economic and social mechanisms. Just last week I scanned in one of my pieces, sent it to a pianist and he played it as an encore. This is the way it should be - direct contact.

The traditions of classical, jazz and so on will be merged into this free global exchange to the extent that each individual consciousness desires them. "Masterpieces" will exist or not depending on how many individuals term them such - but that's not new - it's always been the case.

In short, music will broaden to take in the whole globe. Thousands of new minds, ideas and voices will hear one another where previously they would have been suppressed by economic and social powers. How can this possibly be bad ? Either the author has some sort of vested interest or he's simply an incredibly gloomy person.

It's a well written article though, thank you for drawing it to our attention.
"It is inadvisable to decline a dinner invitation from a plump woman." - Fred Hollows

#655019 - 10/31/02 11:04 AM Re: Classical Music - Why Bother?
David Burton Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/28/01
Posts: 1759
Loc: Coxsackie, New York
Very well, after Dr. Joshua Fineberg lists the usual problems with classical music, he says some things that are to me at the heart of it for classical music as well as all the fine arts.

"Traditionally, most composers have held a deeply felt, almost RELIGIOUS BELIEF in 'Art.'"

Emphasis mine. It will get deeper than this in a few moments, but it starts here: classical music as a RELIGION and by extension the practice of any fine art as religious, but not like any other known religion, not necessarily a worship of any god or any human, no, something else, something we as a race have yet to completely understand. Why was it that I felt a certain way the other night when Bernard played one of my favorite Brahms intermezzos?

"We believe that if through determination, hard work and talent, we are able to make truly great works of art, sooner or later people will grapple with these works, come to see their value, and develop the sense of awe we feel in the presence of true masterpieces."

No (and he half corrects himself later), we (those who would be composers) study music and the craft of composition and then we compose OUT OF COMPULSION to compose; driven to do it, bugged and bothered by whatever unconscious forces or even exterior beings, both real or imagined, to create the music. It is from the standpoint of the materialistic world, a waste of time. Is the creation of music primarily a matter of entertaining an audience? Some composers have thought of their craft in exactly this way. A few thought themselves involved (at least with some of their compositions) with one of the usual religions, their music as a medium for worshiping God. Very few are or were aware that they are consciously attempting to create "great art." In fact this is the most materialistic point of view for an artist; "I am creating a physical manifestation in the world (a score? Or a CD?) that someone out there is going to think of as somehow 'great'." We are here forced to deal with irrelevances. We have no idea what great art really is, although a few of us can still recognize it when we see it. And even so, there are those who will think something is "great" that someone else, equally versed in this art, who will not agree.

"This is not to say many composers are certain that they themselves are writing masterpieces. The belief has more to do with the possibility of masterpieces and a confidence that such works will inevitably, even if belatedly, be recognized."

You know what's wrong with this? It equates the idea of writing music to winning a game or winning a war. Composing music is not about sport or even about competition. They do have competitions, have for a long time. But they may have done as much harm as good.

"Ultimately, we share what some may view as an embarrassingly corny and idealistic view of art: We believe it enriches the world, whether or not the world knows or cares. This belief depends on the idea of intrinsic value."

OK, we're getting closer. Intrinsic value is still very hard to pin down. It all turns on the subjective.

"FAITH IN THE VALUE OF ART depends on a second, less obvious, premise, JUST AS MOST RELIGIONS' BELIEFS IN A DIVINE CREATOR ARE PREDICATED ON A BELIEF IN AN IMMATERIAL HUMAN SOUL. To believe in art, one has to believe in abstract criteria of worth or value. This notion, which is profoundly out of fashion today, has formed the underpinning of artistic endeavor in the West for a long time."

Emphasis mine. There it is: classical music, indeed any fine art, is religious. It is somehow related to something we all assume exists but in our world, dominated as it is by materialism, we can't PROVE it; an immaterial human soul. Hypothesis: classical music is intended to send shared messages among souls. The essentials of these messages are also immaterial.

By contrast, any popular music is rooted in the notion that human beings are BODIES first and foremost; rock, pop, rap, all of it expresses nothing very far from the notion that we are pieces of meat.

Not sure just what he's getting into, Dr. Fineberg continues, "Here's what I mean: A great work is still great even if fashion or society or the cultural institutions of the time reject it entirely. There are essential qualities in the form, shape, phrasing, ideas and a million other harder-to-isolate elements of the piece that, when combined, will ultimately determine the worth of the art object -- its greatness or lack thereof."

Maybe Dr. Fineberg has to have this hope that what he's doing will eventually become recognized as "great." I don't think someone like ... Domenico Scarlatti thought about what he was doing writing all those harpsichord sonatas for anything other than teaching his royal student as anything that he expected would eventually in some future time be accepted as "great." In fact I wonder how much this might serious override and subvert the fundamental compulsion to write music.

Dr. Joshua Fineberg was onto something that I have been hinting at for some time now; classical music is fundamentally a religion that one "comes to" in every sense that one "accepts the Lord Jesus as one's personal savior" or "converts to Catholicism" or becomes a Jew or a Moslem. One has a few fundamentally deep emotional and SPIRITUAL (for want of a better word) experiences that from that point on make the impression on the person that this whole business we call "classical music" has something about it that makes the rest of the world a different place. The classical music person has a different vision of their life of their world. Among other things it is that as Keats so well put it, "a thing of beauty is a joy forever."
This viewpoint is not typically shared by those involved with any other forms of music.

It is the fight for this viewpoint, that a deeper life involving a search for eternal verities maters, that concert halls are our temples, that pianos and other musical instruments are our alters, that the rites we perform as musicians are as sacred, if not necessarily as holy, as those of other religious activities.

The question is not why bother with classical music, it is rather how much longer will human society have to endure the killing nature of philosophical materialism and the rendering of all human activity to the standards of a sporting event?

I thank my worthy colleagues for their comments.
David Burton's Blog


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