HomeClassical musicIs classical music dying, or still important today?


Is classical music dying, or still important today? — 7 Comments

  1. The fact that your article has drawn such little response may be an answer to the very question you pose. I am 91 and I still remember at age 15 playing a record of Ravel’s String Quartet over and over and over, because my middle name is Ravel. I hated it. And hated it. And hated it…and then, oh! I loved it. And I think that is the reason why today I would not presume to write off ANY new composition, and it is the reason I love the music of Nigel Westlake, Matthew Hindson, Carl Vine, Tim Dargaville, Donald Hollier and many other contemporary composers. One of the main reasons their music is not played enough is that many musicians find them too hard, and conductors are not prepared to put in the extra yards, when they can play the warhorses from memory! Not the fault of the music!

    • Unfortunately, I don’t get as much response as I’d like to very many posts at all, so I’m sure glad you dropped by.

      You’re right, of course, that it takes hearing pieces several times to come to appreciate them. New music doesn’t get heard enough to become familiar. How else can we know if it’s good music or bad music?

  2. Another feature of music–and this applies to classical too–is story. I partly got into classical music because the head teacher of my boys’ school began each Wednesday with a music lesson: he would talk about a piece and the story behind it, and then play a recording for us to hear on the school record player. This, for example, is how at 12 years old I first heard a recording of Tchaikovsky’s 1812 with real cannon and real bells. Story.

    • Yes. A lot of my posts are stories. Check out my program notes category. But we should be able to appreciate the music for its own sake, whether we know stories about it or not.

  3. For me, growing up in Rochester, NY with the RPO’s music director Christopher Seaman, a delightful English gentleman with a cheerful disposition and a love of talking to his audiences in his regular pre-concert chats at the piano. He would tell the audience, “now, there’s this little bit here [and he plays a bit] that happens in the 3rd movement, and that is where all the magic happens.” I can tell you, I was listening the entire concert for that little bit he played. It became an inseparable part of a classical concert that I wanted that little music analysis beforehand to whet my appetite. Thanks for this wonderful article!

  4. Thank you for this and other insightful and easy-to-read articles. Stumbled upon your blog when I Googled ‘Paganini devil’.

    I enjoyed this article. As an economist, it made me think of a few things:

    1. Your line “general public wants music that’s easy to understand and that they lose interest in songs they’ve heard too much”: this is in line with what’s outlined in The Joyless Economy: The Psychology of Human Satisfaction (1976; 1992). When human needs are satisfied –> comfort = boredom –> seek new novelty to escape boredom –> ad infinitum. The book also distinguishes between “skilled consumption” (consumption that is deeply satisfying that is obtained by applying effort to learn a skill, like playing the classical guitar and enjoying playing music, or baking one’s own rich rye bread and eating it hot) and “unskilled consumption” (less deep satisfaction from consuming something by just listening to something passively on a radio, or buying buying and eating white bread from a store). People gain higher/deeper/spiritual satisfaction by learning to play or listening to good music. There’s certainly scope for government intervention/support here.

    2. Classical music ought to be kept fairly fresh for new audiences and to sustain the interest of newcomers and established listeners. Radio stations ought to have programmes that play more accessible (or more melodic/catchy) classical music, folk music or orchestral light music that’s inspired by classical music. Some examples in my playlist: Antonio Carlos Jobim’s works; fellow Brazilian artist Guinga’s numerous albums; Trevor Duncan’s compositions for the film La Jetee (1962); Joe Hisaishi’s compositions for the films Hana-Bi (1997) and Sonatine (1993); Ettore Stratta’s Symphonic Tangos; Astor Piazzolla’s music, including his Cinco Piezas Para Guitarra for the solo guitar. While commercial stations might not be very interested in obscure but accessible and beautiful music – what economists call merit goods – focusing more on what it determines customers might demand and is therefore more profitable) – public radio stations ought to introduce and air what they believe might interest or benefit its listeners, even if demand for these types of music is not high. These stations should actively invite people who are musically educated and/or have eclectic musical taste to contact them and suggest good music that the radio stations can play.

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