Skip to comments.Classical Musicís New Golden Age
Posted on 07/28/2010 5:24:08 AM PDT by sitetest
Thanks to period-music evangelists, breathtaking virtuosity, and millions of listeners, the art form remains vibrant.
Anyone inclined to lament the state of classical music today should read Hector Berliozs Memoires. As the maverick French composer tours mid-nineteenth-century Europe conducting his revolutionary works, he encounters orchestras unable to play in tune and conductors who cant read scores. A Paris premiere of a Berlioz cantata fizzles when a missed cue sets off a chain reaction of paralyzed silence throughout the entire sorry band. Most infuriating to this champion of artistic integrity, publishers and conductors routinely bastardize the scores of Mozart, Beethoven, and other titans, conforming them to their own allegedly superior musical understanding or to the narrow taste of the public.
Berliozs exuberant tales of musical triumph and defeat constitute the most captivating chronicle of artistic passion ever written. They also lead to the conclusion that, in many respects, we live in a golden age of classical music. Such an observation defies received wisdom, which seizes on every symphony budget deficit to herald classical musics imminent demise. But this declinist perspective ignores the more significant reality of our time: never before has so much great music been available to so many people, performed at levels of artistry that would have astounded Berlioz and his peers. Students flock to conservatories and graduate with skills once possessed only by a few virtuosi. More people listen to classical music today, and more money gets spent on producing and disseminating it, than ever before. Respect for a composers intentions, for which Berlioz fought so heroically, is now an article of faith among musicians and publishers alike.
(Excerpt) Read more at city-journal.org ...
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I find this hard to believe, especially the part about more people listening to classical music than ever before. Most people know rarely, if ever, listen to it.
But classical music is branded as "high brow" and our society wants to avoid "high brow" and embrace things that "keep it real" and have "street cred".
Both facts could be true. The population of the world is way higher than it was in 1800, for instance.
Classical music doesn’t have the supremacy it had in e.g. the 18th and 19th centuries. But there could still be more people listening to it.
I don’t seek it out, but listen when it’s presented to me. I enjoy it, as long as it’s not opera, which I can’t, and won’t, tolerate. Highly-trained, unnatural voices bellowing to be heard above an orchestra raises my hackles!
The last classical music station in my area closed up shop over 20 years ago. The only place you’ll find it on the radio is on a single PBS station, and that’s only part-time.
Classical will always have its admirers, but in a popular sense, it’s long been dead.
The article mentions that - at any one moment in our modern world - 10,000 people are listening to some version of the Eroica Symphony.
The ‘classical centuries’ didn’t have listening figures anything like that. Maybe 500 people a day tops. Today we have instant replay, recordings, the internet - and loads more listeners. It’s a mere added extra that the quality these days is also vastly improved.
Thank you for posting this! I have always loved Berlioz, especially his orchestrations!
Although I agree with the article (mostly in areas of virtuosity and sight-reading), I have found that in most cases, Classical Training is still sadly lacking in the Exploration of Music THEORY.
I find myself being hired to do remedial tutoring of Classically trained musicians in Chord Theory, Composition, Voice leading, and Counterpoint, using the Jazz Model that I picked up just hanging Out With Berklee Students in the Jazz Dives in Cambridge and Boston.
Some of these Folks hold degrees in music, and don’t even understand the Circle of Fifths.
But hey, I make a living.
My wife is first violin with the local symphony orchestra, and I sing baritone with the associated symphony chorus and several other groups. We have seen increasingly large crowds at our concerts over the last 5 to 10 years, and we have a backlog of people waiting to audition both instrumentally and vocally.
Highly trained yes, unnatural no. At my first voice lesson, I was 18, my instructor asked me to show her what I knew, and I blew her out of the water with “Nessun Dorma” after only listening to a recording of it a dozen times or so and never looking at the score. I’m not a tenor anymore (that was 45 yrs ago) but it is the upper extent of my range.
After describing what goes on at this particular orchestra's performances and how the musicians distract themselves when the music is second-rate:
One man only in this orchestra does not allow himself any such diversion. Wholly intent upon his task, all energy, indefatigable, his eye glued to his notes and his arm in perpetual motion, he would feel dishonored if he were to miss an eighth note or incur censure for his tone quality. By the end of each act he is flushed, perspiring, exhausted; he can hardly breathe, yet he does not dare take advantage of the respite offered by the cessation of musical hostilities to go for a glass of beer at the nearest bar. The fear of missing the first measures of the next act keeps him rooted at his post. Touched by so much zeal, the manager of the opera house once sent him six bottles of wine, "by way of encouragement." But the artist, "conscious of his responsibilities," was so far from grateful for the gift that he returned it with the proud words: 'I have no need of encouragement.' The reader will have guessed that I am speaking of the man who plays the bass drum.
I love his Requiem. Hearing the “Dies irae” (Judgement Day), with four antiphonal brass ensembles placed at the corners of the concert stage, will make the little hairs on the back of your head stand up!
The delivery system for music has changed, and for the better. The fidelity from radio was always sub-par and you were at the mercy of what the DJ wanted to play. Now you can download and archive tons of music and reproduce it digitally at will. There are many good sites on the web for streaming music.
interestingly, youtube also has a decent collection....
Doctor, I must concur. Opera is unlistenable.
>I used to sing with the Oratorio Society of Washington - we performed the Berlioz Requiem
Back in the day, me and the boys used to sing on a street corner in the Bronx. I had a great falsetto. We sang stuff by Dion and the Belmonts only because we hadn’t heard of Berlioz. So much for a public school education:)
“Opera: a bad melodrama in which a man upon being run through with a sword, instead of bleeding, sings”.
Opera: a bad melodrama in which a man upon being run through with a sword, instead of bleeding, sings. at the top of his lungs!
Mark Twain, and Doc Bogus
One word rebuttal: “FIDELIO”
In the 20th century classical music had a significant influence on pop music. One of the top hits of 1923, for example, was "Yes, we Have No Bananas," a song influenced by Handel's "Hallelujah Chorus" and Michael Balfe's 1843 aria "I Dreamed I Dwelt in Marble Halls."
During the 1940's, band leader Freddy Martin had a string of hits with pop versions of classical pieces, including the first movement of Tchaikovskii's "Piano Concerto #1," Grieg's "Piano Concerto in A Minor," and Rakhmaninov's "Piano Concerto #2 in C Minor." In 1946, Frank Sinatra had a hit with the latter piece under the name "Full Moon and Empty Arms." Jo Stafford's "No Other Love," which is essentially Chopin's "Étude No. 3 in E," reached #10 on the pop charts in 1950.
Classical music continued to influence popular music into the rock and roll era. In 1959, Della Reese took Quando Men Vo from Puccini's "La Bohème" on a ride up the charts under the name "Don't You Know," and the next hear, Jackie Wilson did the same with "Mon Cour s'ouvre à ta Voix from Saint-Saëns opera "Samson and Delilah," which he recorded as "Night." B. Bumble & the Stingers jazzed up Tchaikovskii with "The Nut Rocker" (1961), and the Toys charted with "A Lover's Concerto" (1965), based on Bach's "Minuet in G Major."
In the 1970's, Apollo 100 scored with "Joy," a rock version of Bach and Johann Schop's "Jesus Bleibet Meine Freude, Meines Herzens Trost und Saft" (1972), and Eric Carmen charted with "All By Myself" (1975), another song taken from Rakhmaninov's "Piano Concerto # 2." Even in the 1990's, Blues Traveler had a hit with "Hook" (1995), which is based on Johann Pachelbel's "Canon in D."
I'm not very familiar with the popular music of today, but it is probably a safe bet that it is not influenced all that much by classical music.
Thanks! City Journal is excellent on so many fronts...
Canon in D is the Kevin Bacon of classical music. Many modern songs using the same chord progression are referred to in Rob Paravonian's Pachelbel Rant
And the effort is underwritten by some business sponsors. (E-VIL Corporations. HA)
I recall when classical music was occasionally used for the theme songs of radio and television shows. “The Lone Ranger,” for example, used the “Galop” from Rossini’s “William Tell Overture,” and the television show “Lassie” used “Avant De Quitter Ces Lieux” from Gounod’s “Faust.”
That’s more a function of population growth.
It’s perfectly listenable. And not all opera sounds the same. Something like Carmen is very close to the Musical Comedy. Various French operas have voices that are virtually whispering. Mozart’s operas certainly don’t have any ‘bellowing’. Not to mention the fact that the invention of opera is the single most important event in the history of Western music.
Tell me this is unlistenable...
Only if you do not inform yourself concerning the story. Many people do not take the time to do so, otherwise they might enjoy it more. Granted the language barrier is insurmountable for most, but the notes and diction must be pure in order to be performed properly. Typically though most productions I have been involved in have provided transcripts for the audience.
It was great,,,,,, until she started singing! I just do not like operatic voices. Love the music though. I’d much rather listen to a Mongolian throat singer! In fact, I like Mongolian throat singing, and Peking Opera. As a musician, who started out with French Horn, I like almost all music. Just can’t stand operatic voices, and errr,, Rap.
Beautiful example. I could not have chosen better. Thank you.
Some folks are hopeless :~). Opera isn’t for everyone though.
I wonder how many people were first introduced to classical music through Looney Tunes.
“Opera isnt for everyone though.”
Correct! I love the music, but loathe the singing. But then I like Classical Electronic Music, which is certainly not everyone’s cup of tea. I’ve actually had girlfriends that became frightened listening to the Columbia Princeton LP.
Bugs Bunny introduced me to Wagner.
Tristan is so historically significant and momentous that it isn't even epic; another word should be invented to describe it.
I love Track And Field, but loathe the running.
But before Edison, if you didn't play it yourself and couldn't afford to listen to the pros, you didn't have it. Frederick the Great is widely mocked for his criticism of Mozart - "too many notes!" - but I know perfectly well where he was coming from. You're an amateur flautist - he was a good one, by all reports - and you sit down and there before you is a page that is mostly black. Dang it, there are too many notes!
And so if you're Freddy the Great you call in the court musicians, but if you're his bootmaker you're lucky to hear the strains drifting through the open windows of the concert hall. These days the latter cues it up on his iPod. And that's the difference.
Now, that's probably hurt the sheet music market a little, I'd guess, although I really don't know it for a fact. If you depend on that sort of thing for a living you're going to end up as broke as Mozart did. If you're as popular as he was these days, though, it's limos, groupies, and dying in a drug- and alcohol-induced haze. Good times.
So how does Mozart's Requiem stack up against, say, Led Zeppelin's third album? 100 years from now it might be a serious question. ;-)
As I said, “ I love the music, but loathe the singing.” If the vocal lines were replaced by instruments, I would be enthralled. Bu,, then it wouldn’t be opera, would it? I have a vast collection of recordings of all sorts of varied genres of music. Classical guitar, Country Blues, Boogie Woogie piano, Jazz, electronic music, Very little rock, except for Zappa, Django to Hooker to Gatton and Vai.,, lots of Asian music. But after all that, I still don’t like operatic voices! Cauliflower and Sea Cucumber are also on my list of things to avoid!
Quite well, but expect an unfavorable comparison to their second on the basis of "The Lemon Song" alone.
I agree with the author.