Don’t blame experiment for “killing classical music”

This article from Ireland actually made me laugh out loud:  Click here. (And do read the lot. Even if you disagree with me, it will get your brain moving.)

Our regular readers have seen me respond to other examples of the “classical is dead” harangue, particularly the ongoing diatribes that are so often rooted in nothing but momentary reaction. Admittedly, this is a little different. The author, Dave Flynn, is clearly someone who truly loves classical music, but apparently embraces only one part of it, and believes this preference should be dogma. (How very kind of him to set us straight!)

Framed like scientific or artistic theory and based on a one-goggled understanding of modern music history, Flynn is still simply spouting his own opinion. But no number of mansplaining references to the big-guns innovators of the 20th century can justify the wholesale dismissal of entire categories of art music. Throughout musical history, there have been works that challenged the audience, and even many staunchly traditional works failed. This is part of the game: some things work, and some don’t. But the vast majority of them must be played before they can be relegated into one pile or another. And that means that audiences might not like everything they hear, just like pop, jazz, painting, writing, theater or any other art form. Get a clue, dude: just because more challenging pieces don’t speak to you, that doesn’t mean that their existence on the airwaves or in the concert hall is “killing classical”. It may be that classical music is simply evolving beyond your ability to grasp it.

So many of Flynn’s statements are worded with authority, but are either purely subjective (and therefore impossible to prove) or just inaccurate, even arrogant. (Who is he to speak for “most people”?) He writes, “Nowadays composers of tonal/modal classical music are an almost radical minority.” Not true. While contemporary composers of all types are more willing to use the “experimental” techniques that have opened up as a result of 20th-century innovation, plenty of composers are writing astonishingly beautiful music on a regular basis… and they’re getting it performed, contrary to what he seems to be seeing in his corner of the world.

Here’s a particularly choice quote:

“Scientific music tends to replace intuitive composing methods with mathematical ones. It is usually very dissonant and, unsurprisingly, most people can’t bear to listen to it.”

Yes, he’s talking about a specific approach to composition, but tries to legitimize his point by lumping together all mathematical techniques. Elsewhere, he maligns the concept behind Cage’s chance music, mushing that oeuvre into a cohesive ball in a fit of singlemindedness. The quote about the “attention-seeking soloist” is downright funny. While some might be more dramatic than others in their search, let’s be honest: how many accomplished soloists do you know who are really looking to hide their lights under a bushel? The point, about programming about the Berlin Phil,near the end of the article, doesn’t even make sense: the decisions of one organization, and a biased one at that, “does not a trend make”. And finally, this argument shows a sore lack of broader perspective:

Experimental music is no longer avant-garde and it exists in a kind of self-preserving mainstream. Yet the general public do not want to hear it in classical concerts. What other genre so alienates the audience it is intended for?

So, think of the ignominious starts to these four iconic operas whose premieres were disastrous. Initial reactions are not always testament to a piece’s durability. Rock, pop, folk, hymnody, jazz, grunge, and just about every other genre you can think of have all endured experiments that either influenced others or fell flat on their faces. In a larger view of the arts, other disciplines have experienced the same conflicts of tradition, expectations and rebellious vision. The stories of these presumed flops that rise from their own ashes are legion. Again, Flynn throws it all together and ignores so much.

Cute tax!

The strangest thing about this mode of thinking is the one person’s absolute certainty that his or her tastes should be shared by everyone else.  In reality, the marvelous thing about art is that it can reach many people in many ways.  Hell, music can even reach dogs, and yes, they have preferences. If music can be that diverse, and can move so many different groups in such a multitude of ways, then we all need to make room for the things that don’t necessarily move us.  This is a classic #INAYmoment *.

Broaden that mind a bit, Mr. Flynn, or stay home and listen to LPs. Don’t tell the rest of us that what we might love is irrelevant and hurting your preferences. The world is bigger than that.

*it’s not about you…

Leave a Comment

Verified by MonsterInsights