Wednesday, 13 February 2019

"In former times, contemporary orchestral music survived despite opposition from critics and professional musicians because the public liked it. Today it languishes despite critical and professional support because the public will have none of it. That it survives at all, or at least continues to be played, is due simply to the fact that the public no longer has anything to say about it." # QotD


Today's quote comes from Henry Pleasants's book The Agony of Modern Music, which argues that "modern" orchestral music in the form of Concerto for Vacuum Cleaner and Two Coffee Grinders is not modern and is rarely music, and is performed at all only because critics and subsidised professionals decree that it must:


"In former times, contemporary [orchestral] music survived despite opposition from critics and professional musicians because the public liked it. Today it languishes despite critical and professional support because the public will have none of it. That it survives at all, or at least continues to be played, is due simply to the fact that the public no longer has anything to say about it...   
    "Only in painting and sculpture does so bad a product get so much flattering professional attention. And only in painting and sculpture is such a state of affairs accepted so placidly as proper. Not only have the professionals taken over, lock stock and barrel; they have even persuaded the public that this is the way it should be!... 
    "We are ... faced with the paradox of contemporary society deferring to composers  not worth the deference in an effort to make up for the assumed former failure of society to defer to composers who were. In attempting to correct the alleged previous mistake of under-evaluating the greatly gifted, contemporary society compounds the error by over-evaluating composers who have yet to demonstrate that they are gifted at all."  
        .

6 comments:

  1. "...contemporary society compounds the error by over-evaluating composers who have yet to demonstrate that they are gifted at all."

    Our local classical music station runs a little feature called "Composers Datebook". In which, the vast majority of 'composers' covered are precisely as described above. The exit line is, "Remember, all music was once new..."

    Talk about definition by non-essentials! But when Beethoven's music was new, it was great, and now that it is old, it's still great. The detritus that is peddled today isn't great new, and will not be great, no matter how long gov't funds are used to keep on assaulting the listeners' ears.

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    1. A sad story, but true. And just as true too for painting and sculpture.

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  2. Popular orchestral music survives in the form of symphonic metal--see Nightwish during Tarja's tenure for a number of great examples. It surprises people, but it's very fitting. Orchestral music is music on a grand scale, and metal is, at its best, music by and for people that are burning with passion.

    Video game sound tracks are also increasingly orchestral in nature. It's the same concept: orchestral music is grand in scale, and provides a fitting backdrop for a game that's on an epic scale as well. And game soundtracks have achieved the level of recognition of movie sound tracks at this point. Celtic Women's version of the Skyrim theme isn't very good (it's meant for a male chorus), but demonstrates the mainstream recognition this genre is achieving.

    So I think the hunger for this type of music still exists in the average person. What's changed is where we're finding it.

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    1. Hmmm. Isn't it peculiar however that, to the extent their music is "orchestral," both prog rock and what you call "symphonic metal" seem to embrace Bach and Bartok, while skipping over altogether the most melodic and emotionally expressive orchestral music, i.e., classical music of the romantic era. Curious, don't you think?
      And, let's be fair, while the music of soundtracks and video games certainly betray the hunger that folk still have for tuneful, melodic, emotionally satisfying music, even the best of it (which usually steals wholesale from the truly accomplished masters) is truly facile. James Horner's Titanic? John Williams's Star Wars? Fffft. They pinch the themes and motifs of the masters, but there's very little of either scope or depth to what they do with them.

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    2. You could just say "How dare you enjoy these forms of entertainment, you lowborn scum" and save yourself typing. You address prog rock and movie soundtracks, not anything I referenced.

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    3. If I'd wanted to say that, be assured I would have. (Why is it do you think that folk so often become so touchy when music is mentioned!?)

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