Saturday, July 5, 2008

MM musing elsewhere

Since the blogging's slow here, might as well mention that I've once again multiplied words over at Greg Sandow's blog. To date, there are 29 comments there responding to his provocative suggestion that pop concerts (well, certain kinds of pop concerts) provide more substantive material for newspaper reviewers than do classical concerts. It's an odd comparison for multiple reasons (many addressed by other commenters), but what intrigues me the most about the point Sandow is making is in the value he puts on extra-musical connections. I think his perspective can be summarized as follows: the classical music industry needs to understand that other artforms (film, visual, pop music) are more directly tied into current culture than the typical classical concert; therefore, a typical classical review will tend to be focused on insider music details that wouldn't attract new listeners, whereas a typical pop review has the ability to draw in new listeners. (My short answer is that I doubt either kind of review draws in many new listeners, but I could be way off.)

I'd like to reemphasize here that I think Sandow is asking good questions, even though I don't always share his point of view. Also, the long comment I posted is a bit of an experiment for me in considering my own aesthetic principles. I'm basically taking the "music is best appreciated for its own sake" argument, as opposed to the "music is about educating/provoking/transforming us" ideal. That's not to say that music can't help to accomplish those idealistic things, but rather that the typical classical music lover is primarily attracted to the music itself (whatever that means). I think that's what I think, but making sense of how the mind processes music isn't a simple task. But, rather than going on and on about it here, I'll just point you over there.


Debsi said...

I actually read his entire post, your comment, and all of the others (all while I SHOULD be studying, haha). Your comment was very well put together and I agree with what you said, but then again it's sort of like preaching to the choir. It's interesting to see how others perceive "classical" music.

Fusedule Tecil said...


Some time ago you posted some provocative comments on "contemporary music."

You might be interested in reading Joe Queenan's article in Wednesday's "The Guardian," Admit it, you're as bored as I am. at:,,2289751,00.html

There is also a link to an absurd response by new music fan, Tom Service, at:

The Geneva Convention outlawed torture. Yet why do we persist in allowing it in our concert halls?

Abu Ghraib? Guantanamo? No. It's in concert halls where modern techniques of torture, at the expense of western civilization, are being practiced day in and day out. Queenan is on to something. Kudos to him for having the courage to point out the emperor is wearing no clothes.

[NB: Here's hooing the html tags in this post work - they display fine in the Preview...]

-Fusedule Tecil


Yeah, I read Queenan's article (via Oboeinsight link) and liked a lot about it - especially the fact that it comes from someone who's really given the hard stuff a try.

I hope to get around to commenting on it more - what I don't think he emphasizes enough is that many/most of the people who enjoy the more out-there atonal/serial music really do "get" it. I don't think it's as simple as an Emperor's New Clothes thing. See Greg Sandow's response to some of the more conservative comments here. Note that Sandow's article began by heavily criticizing an ultra-modernist work, but in the comments he's quite clear that he really loves a lot of Schoenberg, Carter, etc. I believe him (I often don't agree with him, but I think he's honest), and have come to appreciate better that the James Levine's of the world really do find musical satisfaction in the "difficult" music they endorse. Now making it work for audiences is another matter . . .

Fusedule Tecil said...


A thread on this topic would be welcome. Thank you.

One observation. Whether the Emperor is wearing any clothes is more than simply a matter of taste and preference. The whole issue of "contemporary music" is laden with very deep subtexts including, "Wither music?" What is the point of music anyway? Is it to entertain, or enlighten, or educate, or stimulate, or provoke, or annoy? Or any of a number of other things?

When it comes to the "cranky moderns" (let's just use Carter as an example as you brought him up a few weeks ago), I would submit that there isn't a person on the planet who "gets it" to the point that s/he understands what in the world Carter is doing. Try to explain Carter's use of the 12 tone row while listening to it without the score? His rhythmic "patterns", inversions and modifications? I don't think so. That some people LIKE IT is different than some people GETTING IT. I find those who say they "get it", when asked "What is it that you get?", saying nonsense. They can't explain what truly can't be explained. It is fine to say they like it, but they should at least be honest and not make absurd claims like they "understand it." They don't. Truly, they don't.

And now we are on to something. Just because you LIKE something doesn't make it empirically "good." Now we're dancing around metaphysical territory: "Can some music be identified as being good and other music be identified as being bad?" More important, perhaps, can we say, "This music is well crafted and that music is poorly crafted."?

There are lots of things people LIKE that are socially unacceptable. Make up your own list of societally deviant behaviours that some like but society has determined are aberrant.

Are we not in a similar category with some of the "cranky moderns"? Do those of us who appreciate beauty and craft have to put up with - indefinitely - the all knowing head nodding of those who have put provocation above beauty? Just as it has become unacceptable in political circles to say certain truisms that, by virtue of political correctness, are deemed "unacceptable" to utter (despite their being self-evidently true), we "musical Luddites" who prefer Mahler to Carter have been badgered in recent decades by the "academy" into not being allowed to shout from the highest mountain, THIS MUSIC IS UGLY! Queenan did that and I applaud him. And while I can certainly respect James Levine's advocacy of Carter, that advocacy - no matter how much that music is shoved down audience's throats - has not and very likely will not translate into anything more than respect. And respect does not sell concert tickets, CDs or mp3 downloads. And in a world that is horribly messed up, I, for one, does not need ugly music to "reflect our time." I need an antidote to that which greets me when I open my eyelids. Carter's music isn't the antidote I need, he is more poison.

-Fusedule Tecil