Monday, August 31, 2009

From Classical Music To Pop

This article is really good about a man (about my age) and his love of music:

On Beethoven's Eroica:

"I don’t identify with the listener who responds to the “Eroica” by saying, “Ah, civilization.” That wasn’t what Beethoven wanted: his intention was to shake the European mind. I don’t listen to music to be civilized; sometimes, I listen precisely to escape the ordered world. What I love about the “Eroica” is the way it manages to have it all, uniting Romanticism and Enlightenment, civilization and revolution, brain and body, order and chaos. It knows which way you think the music is going and veers triumphantly in the wrong direction. The Danish composer Carl Nielsen once wrote a monologue for the spirit of Music, in which he or she or it says, “I love the vast surface of silence; and it is my chief delight to break it.”"

"If I were in a perverse mood, I’d say that the “Eroica” is the raw, thuggish thing—a blast of ego and id—whereas a song like Radiohead’s “Everything in Its Right Place” is all cool adult irony. The idea that life is flowing along with unsettling smoothness, the dark C-sharpness of the world sensed but not confirmed, is a resigned sort of sentiment that Beethoven probably never even felt, much less communicated. What I refuse to accept is that one kind of music soothes the mind and another kind soothes the soul. Depends on whose mind, whose soul."

On Classical Music itself - defined at something written a long time ago. At its core its a disdain for anything modern:

"Scholars eventually defined the Classical Era as Viennese music of the late eighteenth century, especially Mozart and Haydn, who, in their day, had been racy, modern figures. The word was nonsense from the outset."

"In Europe, the past began to overwhelm the present just after 1800. Johann Nikolaus Forkel’s 1802 biography of Bach, one of the first major books devoted to a dead composer, may be the founding document of the classical mentality. All the earmarks are there: the longing for lost worlds, the adulation of a single godlike entity, the horror of the present. Bach was “the first classic that ever was, or perhaps ever will be,” Forkel proclaimed. “If the art is to remain an art and not to be degraded into a mere idle amusement, more use must be made of classical works than has been done for some time.” By “idle amusement” Forkel had in mind the prattling of Italian opera; his biography is addressed to “patriotic admirers of true musical art,” namely the German. "

It used to be that people got rowdy and clapped during the classical music performance - no longer.

"The rise of “classical music” mirrored the rise of the commercial middle class, which employed Beethoven as an escalator to the social heights. Concert halls grew quiet and reserved, habits and attire formal. Improvisation was phased out; the score became sacred. Audiences were discouraged from applauding while the music was going on—it had been the custom to clap after a good tune or a dazzling solo—or between movements. Patrons of the Wagner festival in Bayreuth proved notoriously militant in the suppression of applause. At an early performance of “Parsifal,” listeners hissed an unmusical vulgarian who yelled out “Bravo!” after the Flower Maidens scene. The troublemaker had reason to feel embarrassed; he had written the opera. The Wagnerians were taking Wagner more seriously than he took himself—an alarming development."

Composers were egomaniacs but they weren't snobs like the classical music listeners of today:

"Composers liked the fact that listeners were quieting down; the subtle shock of a C-sharp wouldn’t register if the crowd were chattering away. Even so, the emergence of a self-styled élite audience had limited appeal for the likes of Beethoven and Verdi, who did not come from that world. The nineteenth-century masters were, most of them, monstrous egomaniacs, but they were not snobs. Verdi wrote for the masses, and he scandalously proclaimed the box office the only barometer of success. Wagner, surrounded by luxury, royalty, and extreme pretension, nonetheless railed against the emergence of a “classical” repertory, for which he blamed the Jews. His nauseating anti-Semitism went hand in hand with a sometimes deeply charming populism. In a letter to Liszt, he raged against the “monumental character” of the music of his time, the “clinging and sticking to the past.” Another letter demanded, “Kinder! macht Neues! Neues!, und abermals Neues!” Ezra Pound condensed this thought as “Make it new."

And then the whole thing broke down, and composers wrote for each other and no one else:

"Unfortunately, the European bourgeoisie, having made a demigod of Beethoven, began losing interest in even the most vital living composers. In 1859, a critic wrote, “New works do not succeed in Leipzig. Again at the fourteenth Gewandhaus concert a composition was borne to its grave.” The crazy modern music in question was Brahms’s First Piano Concerto. By 1870, seventy-five per cent of works in the Gewandhaus repertory were by dead composers. The fetishizing of the past had a degrading effect on composers’ morale. They began to doubt their ability to please this implacable audience, which seemed prepared to reject their wares no matter what style they wrote in. If no one cares, composers reasoned, we might as well write for connoisseurs—or for each other. This was the mentality that gave birth to the phenomenon of Arnold Schoenberg. The relationship between composer and public became a vicious circle; the more the composer asserted independence, the more the public clung to the past. A critic who attended the première of the “Eroica” saw the impasse coming: “Music could quickly come to such a point, that everyone who is not precisely familiar with the rules and difficulties of the art would find absolutely no enjoyment in it.”"

Jazz used to be the modern, now its classical - all music becomes classical eventually:

"All music becomes classical music in the end. Reading the histories of other genres, I often get a warm sense of déjà vu. The story of jazz, for example, seems to recapitulate classical history at high speed. First, the youth-rebellion period: Satchmo and the Duke and Bix and Jelly Roll teach a generation to lose itself in the music. Second, the era of bourgeois grandeur: the high-class swing band parallels the Romantic orchestra. Stage 3: artists rebel against the bourgeois image, echoing the classical modernist revolution, sometimes by direct citation (Charlie Parker works the opening notes of “The Rite of Spring” into “Salt Peanuts”). Stage 4: free jazz marks the point at which the vanguard loses touch with the mass and becomes a self-contained avant-garde. Stage 5: a period of retrenchment. Wynton Marsalis’s attempt to launch a traditionalist jazz revival parallels the neo-Romantic music of many late-twentieth-century composers. But this effort comes too late to restore the art to the popular mainstream. Jazz recordings sell about the same as classical recordings, three per cent of the market."

Rock and Roll is even on the fast track toward classical:

"The same progression worms its way through rock and roll. What were my hyper-educated punk-rock friends but Stage 3 high modernists, rebelling against the bloated Romanticism of Stage 2 stadium rock? Right now, there seems to be a lot of Stage 5 classicism going on in what remains of rock and roll. The Strokes, the Hives, the Vines, the Stills, the Thrills, and so on hark back to some lost pure moment of the sixties or seventies. Their names are all variations on the Kinks. Many of them use old instruments, old amplifiers, old soundboards. One rocker was recently quoted as saying, “I intentionally won’t use something I haven’t heard before.” Macht Neues, kids!"

The key is reinvention:

" The mistake that apostles of the classical have always made is to have joined their love of the past to a dislike of the present. The music has other ideas: it hates the past and wants to escape."

The future is the iPod shuffle (or maybe the present), because it merges styles in unsettling ways:

"Ihave seen the future, and it is called Shuffle—the setting on the iPod that skips randomly from one track to another. I’ve transferred about a thousand songs, works, and sonic events from my CD collection to my computer and on to the MP3 player. There is something thrilling about setting the player on Shuffle and letting it decide what to play next. Sometimes its choices are a touch delirious—I had to veto an attempt to forge a link between György Kurtág and Oasis—but the little machine often goes crashing through barriers of style in ways that change how I listen. For example, it recently made a segue from the furious crescendo of “The Dance of the Earth,” ending Part I of “The Rite of Spring,” right into the hot jam of Louis Armstrong’s “West End Blues.” The first became a gigantic upbeat to the other. For a second, I felt that I was at some madly fashionable party at Carl Van Vechten’s. On the iPod, music is freed from all fatuous self-definitions and delusions of significance. There are no record jackets depicting bombastic Alpine scenes or celebrity conductors with a family resemblance to Rudolf Hess. Instead, music is music."

Classical concerts are dull:

"I feel dispirited from the moment I walk in the hall. My black jeans draw disapproving glances from men who seem to be modelling the Johnny Carson collection. I look around dubiously at the twenty shades of beige in which the hall is decorated. The music starts, but I find it hard to think of Beethoven’s detestation of all tyranny over the human mind when the man next to me is a dead ringer for my dentist. The assassination sequence in the first movement is less exciting when the musicians have no emotion on their faces. I cough; a thin man, reading a dog-eared score, glares at me. When the movement is about a minute from ending, an ancient woman creeps slowly up the aisle, a look of enormous dissatisfaction on her face, followed at a few paces by a blank-faced husband. Finally, three grand chords to finish, which the composer obviously intended to set off a roar of applause. I start to clap, but the man with the score glares again. One does not applaud in the midst of greatly great great music, even if the composer wants one to! Coughing, squirming, whispering, the crowd visibly suppresses its urge to express pleasure. It’s like mass anal retention. The slow tread of the Funeral March, or Marcia funebre, as everyone insists on calling it, begins. I start to feel that my newfound respect for the music is dragging along behind the hearse."

But it doesn't have to be:

"Two centuries ago, Beethoven bent over the manuscript of the “Eroica” and struck out Napoleon’s name. It is often said that he made himself the protagonist of the work instead. Indeed, he engendered an archetype—the rebel artist hero—that modern artists are still recycling. I wonder, though, if Beethoven’s gesture meant what people think it did. Perhaps he was freeing his music from a too specific interpretation, from his own preoccupations. He was setting his symphony adrift, as a message in a bottle. He could hardly have imagined it travelling two hundred years, through the dark heart of the twentieth century and into the pulverizing electronic age. But he knew it would go far, and he did not weigh it down. There was now a torn, blank space on the title page. The symphony became a fragmentary, unfinished thing, and unfinished it remains. It becomes whole again only in the mind and soul of someone listening for the first time, and listening again. The hero is you."

The author compares this hip hop recording with Steve Reich's Its Gonna Rain, enjoy:

Steve Reich:

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