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Who killed classical music?

Started by Retinend, January 22, 2014, 12:04:34 PM

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Retinend

The name of a radio 4 program presented by Prokofiev's english grandson. Listen to it. Now, what do you think? Are the Schönbergs and Boulezes to blame for the decline of classical music's popularity - the reason it's come to be "chunked" into a genre, "classical", in the first place? Not at all? Not totally?

I think they must accept a great deal of the blame. The grand pronouncements look silly in retrospect and the music hasn't taken[nb]of course some will deny that this fact is meaningful[/nb]. That said, the blame can only be placed so far, since the great shift of the public over to popular music has to have been pre-determined by the new mass political culture, just as the world of art switched over to the mass culture of comic books, animation and populist prints like Wyeth, Rockwell and Hopper. I think you can generalize and say that all art quite ostentatiously reacted against the upcoming mass-culture at the beginning of the 20th Century and that now attempts to reconcile with the dominant art forms (literature, music, art) are varying shades of dismal failure. A symptomatic result of the self-ghettoisation of artists in the modernist years, 100 years down the line. As the documentary says, they now have to fight against being merely museums.

iplayer:
http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b03q6f00
or download:
http://www.4shared.com/music/W8lYkrQrba/Who_Killed_Classical_Music_-_W.html


madhair60


Retinend


Don_Preston

Times move on and this stupid sod is stuck in the past. Classical still thrives, either through the nostalgic pomp of the last night of the Proms, to the black classical/Third Stream of Bill Dixon, Roland Kirk, MJQ via P.Glass, John Adams, Gavin Bryars et al.

I forgot to mention John Zorn. John Zorn.

Retinend

"Thriving" by the standards of a banal boy band?

Retinend

John Adams, Glass and Reich are not a part of this problem though, I agree. This is the sort of convergence towards populist sounds that could have happened.

Retinend

Reich:

"'The tie between the man in the street and the man in the concert hall must be firm, or there's something wrong with the concert hall. Years ago people said: 'If you don't understand my work, get a degree in music.' How ridiculous! If you don't understand the music, there's something wrong with the composer. Or it's a very special case - and I don't think the special cases were in this country."

''The great American music has been comprehensible, a wide spectrum of people enjoy Ives. A very wide spectrum enjoy George Gershwin and Aaron Copland. And those are our greatest composers! Not difficult, crabby types, but men with the common touch. The same goes for our great poets: Walt Whitman and William Carlos Williams, and even Ezra Pound, though he was weird....''

Don_Preston

Quote from: Retinend on January 22, 2014, 12:31:12 PM
"Thriving" by the standards of a banal boy band?

It has no need to be compared to popular music. They exist in entirely separate realms of music.

Why not compare classical music to shoes.

The answer is more to do with communication theory than a decline of standards. For an audience to appreciate a composer's work it should have a familiar reference point, a style identifiable with the composer, and a certain amount of novelty. These criteria can be contradictory, and are certainly limiting. And at this point in history, most of the style paths have been mined out. If a new work's references are too familiar then it becomes a pastiche, if the style is too identifiable then it becomes a self-parody, and if there's too much novelty then it begins to alienate.

The same is true of popular music. I used to watch Top of the Pops as a kid and wonder at what point would the tunes run out. According to Mrs Mud Horse that point was 1971, which I think is a bit harsh, but she does have a point. It becomes increasingly difficult to compose new works without either infringing on someone else's style or just producing unlistenable noise.

Petey Pate

#9
Surely music that's not from the classical period is not classical music, therefore classical music is dead, yes.

Or you might as well say, "classical music is whatever you want it to be baby!" seeing as John Zorn sounds nothing like the Last Night of the Proms or whatever hundreds of other examples you could use.

Also radio has probably had something to do with the "death" of "art" music (though as Henry Cow drummer Chris Cutler points out, "folk" music can still also be "art" music, and it's also possible for it to be "commercial" music too).

Johnny Yesno

I've not listened to this yet but the title alone sounds dubious. As Howard Goodall pointed out in one of his shows, classical music is still alive and well in the soundtrack to pretty much every current blockbuster film.

Petey Pate

Quote from: Petey Pate on January 22, 2014, 12:49:27 PMJohn Zorn sounds nothing like the Last Night of the Proms

That said (and I've been meaning to post this clip for a while now, but didn't think it warranted its own thread)...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H2A4DAcle-Q

Maybe music is classical if it doesn't frighten labradors?

Retinend

Quote from: Don_Preston on January 22, 2014, 12:44:31 PM
It has no need to be compared to popular music. They exist in entirely separate realms of music.

Why not compare classical music to shoes.

It's extreme to compare classical to boy bands, because boy bands enjoy truly overwhelming popularity (though a level of popularity not foreign to the history of classical music). But let's compare classical to a less popular, but still thriving musical "realm" such as "indie rock." With this comparison, classical music still barely registers against the "thriving" indie rock community.

You can only call classical "thriving" if you put up strict walls between "realms" hard enough to ignore the bigger picture of what musical culture is in the world you live in.

Johnny Yesno


Don_Preston

Quote from: Retinend on January 22, 2014, 01:20:29 PM
It's extreme to compare classical to boy bands, because boy bands enjoy truly overwhelming popularity (though a level of popularity not foreign to the history of classical music).

So compare it Indie rock instead?

They are separate musical forms though. If you want to look at instances of classical crossing over into the pop music market, G4 and Il Divo do very well.

Johnny Yesno

I bet more people heard the Uncharted 3 soundtrack than heard any contemporary indie rock song.

Retinend

Quote from: Grass Mud Horse on January 22, 2014, 12:44:40 PMAnd at this point in history, most of the style paths have been mined out. If a new work's references are too familiar then it becomes a pastiche, if the style is too identifiable then it becomes a self-parody, and if there's too much novelty then it begins to alienate.

I think that this description de-historicises the important motivations for the artists of the "modernist" movements. Writers and musicians and artists all became involved in self-expression which sought to find new "style paths," it's true, but this was a rather self-conscious process which was motivated by WWI and the depression, amongst more social issues such as the decline of the traditional educated man and the rise of mass culture.

To say that it was inevitable seems like dubious hindsight to me. Look at the progress of art before the 20th Century: a slow evolution of mutual respect between generations. To take an example from art, Cubism lasted for about 5 years as a "direction." Why not as long as the romantic age did?

QuoteThe same is true of popular music. I used to watch Top of the Pops as a kid and wonder at what point would the tunes run out. According to Mrs Mud Horse that point was 1971, which I think is a bit harsh, but she does have a point. It becomes increasingly difficult to compose new works without either infringing on someone else's style or just producing unlistenable noise.

The decline of popular music is a matter of the music business becoming turgid, for reasons of financial security. To say that it's because we've "run out of songs" is almost exactly like saying we're about to "run out of novels."

Retinend

Quote from: Don_Preston on January 22, 2014, 01:29:47 PM
So compare it Indie rock instead?

They are separate musical forms though.

Yeah but we're talking only about relative popularity.

You're kinda refusing to see things relatively, only on their own terms. In which case the word "thriving" sort of loses meaning. So The Proms sold out - woop de woop, concerts sell out all the time in music.

If one can't see that classical music is relatively small and ever shrinking in the world of music then the reasons behind the history of classical music will be very obscure. In the 60s, record companies still put more money and effort into their classical recordings than their popular ones.

Johnny Yesno

Quote from: Retinend on January 22, 2014, 01:37:15 PM
The decline of popular music is a matter of the music business becoming turgid, for reasons of financial security.

Like classical music, popular music isn't declining. There isn't less popular music being made. The business model has changed, that's all.

Retinend

Quote from: Petey Pate on January 22, 2014, 12:49:27 PM
Surely music that's not from the classical period is not classical music, therefore classical music is dead, yes.

Whether you call it "Classical Music," "European Art Music," "Dead White Guy Music" or just refuse to give the world of classical music any holistic name, as you've just done, it's all the same thing. It forms a set when compared with from the music of mass-culture: pop, rock, blues, jazz and dance. The latter more or less freely interact and borrow from one another.

Retinend

Quote from: Johnny Yesno on January 22, 2014, 01:43:43 PM
Like classical music, popular music isn't declining. There isn't less popular music being made. The business model has changed, that's all.

In that case I meant a decline in originality, following from the idea that we were "running out of songs."

Retinend

Quote from: Johnny Yesno on January 22, 2014, 01:02:54 PM
I've not listened to this yet but the title alone sounds dubious. As Howard Goodall pointed out in one of his shows, classical music is still alive and well in the soundtrack to pretty much every current blockbuster film.

Yes this is important.

However here it is "alive and well" in a way which is quite restrictive for the composer.

Don_Preston

I dunno. It's easier to record than it was in the Baroque era.

Johnny Yesno

Quote from: Retinend on January 22, 2014, 01:54:38 PM
In that case I meant a decline in originality, following from the idea that we were "running out of songs."

How do you measure that? Are you hearing all the popular music that is currently being made?

Quote from: Don_Preston on January 22, 2014, 02:00:18 PM
I dunno. It's easier to record than it was in the Baroque era.

Yes. Also, having to compose for the church or nobility was pretty restrictive too. And composing soundtracks pre-dates film.

Quote from: RetinendThe decline of popular music is a matter of the music business becoming turgid, for reasons of financial security. To say that it's because we've "run out of songs" is almost exactly like saying we're about to "run out of novels."
Yeah, the changing chart demographics muddies the waters somewhat. There're plenty of good contemporary tunes out there, but it becomes increasingly difficult to pass the Old Grey Whistle Test1.

There's a statistical proof out there somewhere that for the life of me I can't cite at the moment (for some reason Bill Bryson springs to mind, it may be one of his essays). The reason the age of the Great Composer is passed is the same reason that baseball score averages have declined over the years.

Here's an essay from a US conservative website that seems to conclude that it's possible to have a second great age, if only the kids of today would buck their ideas up: Can There Be Great Composers Anymore? It doesn't support my argument, but it's all debate innit.

Quote from: Johnny YesnoAnd videogames.
Yup, same phenomenon.



1. An old Tin Pan Alley figure of merit. A songwriter would grab some old boy off the street, play him the latest tune, and if he could whistle the tune back then the tune was deemed to be sufficiently catchy.

Petey Pate

Quote from: Retinend on January 22, 2014, 01:53:35 PM
Whether you call it "Classical Music," "European Art Music," "Dead White Guy Music" or just refuse to give the world of classical music any holistic name, as you've just done, it's all the same thing.  It forms a set when compared with from the music of mass-culture: pop, rock, blues, jazz and dance. The latter more or less freely interact and borrow from one another.

It is all the same thing - music.  Obviously categorising it is useful when discussing the history of musical development, and out of those terms I like "European art music" the best.  Fuzzy definition though, as folk musical forms can also be considered "art music", as I mentioned above.  On a personal level I'm not fussed with how music is labelled, all that fundamentally matters is whether I enjoy it or not.

Also "classical" music has interacted with and borrowed from "mass culture" music on many occassions and vice versa.  To give just one example of the latter, a significant amount of prog rock like Yes and Emerson Lake and Palmer (who had a big audience in the early '70s) was appropriating from dead composers.  The different musical forms aren't that simply opposed to each other.

Retinend

Quote from: Johnny Yesno on January 22, 2014, 02:06:19 PM
How do you measure that? Are you hearing all the popular music that is currently being made?

You've mistaken me for making a categorical statement about popular music in opposition to classical. Not my intention.

I'm talking about those handful of huge media companies whose financial resources allow them to dominate public perception of popular music. In the same way that hollywood used to monopolize the world of film back in the 30s and 40s. This is the grain of truth in the idea that popular music is becoming increasingly derivative and unoriginal.


QuoteYes. Also, having to compose for the church or nobility was pretty restrictive too. And composing soundtracks pre-dates film.

I think the analogy here between "writing music for the nobility" and "writing music for a film" is entirely linguistic. For example films scores can be divided into chunks like "building tension" "terror" "escape" "freedom" which are dictated by the images on screen. What chunks would "the nobility" impose? This is nonsense. The nobility and church were the musicians.

The pre-film "soundtracks" you mention - what would those be?

Don_Preston


Retinend


Quote from: RetinendThe pre-film "soundtracks" you mention - what would those be?
Romantic? Or am I getting this mixed up with the pre-Cadburys painting movement that made pictures for yet-to-be-invented chocolate assortment boxes?