When it comes to classical music and American culture, the fat lady hasn’t just sung. Brünnhilde has packed her bags and moved to Boca Raton. Classical music has been circling the drain for years, of course. There’s little doubt as to the causes: the fingernail grip of old music in a culture that venerates the new; new classical music that, in the words of Kingsley Amis, has about as much chance of public acceptance as pedophilia; formats like opera that are extraordinarily expensive to stage; and an audience that remains overwhelmingly old and white in an America that’s increasingly neither. Don’t forget the attacks on arts education, the Internet-driven democratization of cultural opinion, and the classical trappings—fancy clothes, incomprehensible program notes, an omerta-caliber code of audience silence — that never sit quite right in the homeland of popular culture.Clearly, this is not claiming that classical music is dead in contemporary mainstream American culture but a suggestion that it finds itself in serious trouble; viz., as the rest of the article makes clear, relegated to the culture's deepest hinterlands, its outermost margins. (Although the article negligently does not make note of it, this silent, insidious process had its beginnings in the mid-1960s and became more pressing with each passing year since and has today reached a degree that's perhaps the most extreme it's been since America became a fully developed nation sometime in the mid- to late-19th century.) And following those lede grafs, that is what the balance of this article is all about; the thesis it attempts to support and prove using statistical evidence of the inarguable migration. And that's it. No requiem, no funeral. The article's author even hopes classical music in American culture is due a comeback (see the article's closing graf). The above commentary published here in an attempt to inject a modest measure of clear-eyed sanity into the presiding hysteria.
If the lockout of the Orchestra ends, the Musicians could work with management to merge any planned concerts produced by the Orchestral Association with those produced by the Musicians.Our ignorance of the workings of symphonic orchestra management procedures and dynamics notwithstanding, we feel compelled to issue openly the following brief letter of admonition to the Musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra (with apologies for our temerity): STOP! Don't even think about it! If you manage to successfully self-produce your planned concerts you're already more than halfway home. If the Minnesota Orchestral Association (MOA) shows signs of wanting to lift their lockout of the Minnesota Orchestra Musicians and settle the matter, make certain in that settlement that, when all is said and done, the MOA ends up working for YOU, not you for them as in the past. Always remember and keep foremost in mind that YOU are the sine qua non here, in some respects the unique sine qua non, not the MOA which is made up of mere money-men(-women) and therefore freely replaceable and interchangeable. Money is money and always the same everywhere and at all times no matter from where or from whom it comes. STAND YOUR GROUND! That is all. As you were.
The biggest part of the problem is the Great Man myth that still permeates classical music and which has also found its way into the new music claiming its lineage from that tradition. Until we rid ourselves of the notion that the best music of all time was created by a handful of men who lived an ocean away from us and who all died more than a century before any of us were born, we will never have programming that truly reflects the vast array of musical creativity all around us. It’s the same myth that locks American repertoire out of most programming at opera houses and symphony orchestras as well as music by anyone from anywhere who is currently alive. When a work by someone who is alive, American, or female (or a combination of those attributes) is played, it’s inevitably a single work wedged in between the obligatory performances of works by Great Men. Heaven forbid a major opera company or symphony orchestra would most [sic] a season that included a broad range of works that were not penned by Great Men!If "the biggest part of the problem" is truly the Great Man Myth (and we don't for an instant imagine that it truly is) that has it that "the best music of all time was created by a handful of men who lived an ocean away from us and who all died more than a century before any of us were born," then we've news for Mr. Oteri: the "problem" is indissoluble and will remain so for even the most remotely foreseeable future. For the "Great Man Myth" as above defined (except for the "more than a century" part which more accurately should have read "more than a half-century or so") is in large part no myth but a demonstrable truth that no amount of wishful, PC, or delusional thinking can make disappear or cease to exist and it's time living composers (and incidentally, their champions and cheerleaders as well) accepted and got over that demonstrable truth and their destructive "anxiety of influence" response to it, to borrow Harold Bloom's neatly and aptly named formulation, and instead got on with the business of composing new music as best their native gift will allow without the need to attempt to demythologize or pooh-pooh a phantom myth that's no myth at all and never was. Yes, we understand your pain. But instead of railing at us for the above as you may be wont to do, you would do better to consider it our sincere if modest contribution to the furtherance of new music worldwide.
said the situation has reached a “serious tipping point” whereby centuries of great works could be lost to future generations more interested in “vacuous celebrity culture and inane talent shows." He described the standard of music teaching in British schools as a “disgrace” and backed calls for every child to study classical works to help them better understand humanity. However, the 79-year-old said the same ignorance extended to other areas of learning, warning that many children are equally oblivious to the writings of Shakespeare or Dickens.One quails at what Sir Peter might have to say concerning this matter should he ever have cause to examine America's education system. We suspect he would be beyond appalled. Read the whole article here.
[The language of the music of ancient Greece] is a uniquely simple language but one that can find endless possibilities of development. It easily accepts external influences - a new color, a new combination of intervals, a rhythmic pattern - and it has the capacity of continually renewing itself. Those composers who bought into the theory that this ever-evolving system was dead at the beginning of the 20th century were enthusiastic and passionate adolescents, almost all of whom later recanted and got back to writing music, having passed through their tantrum phase. Hindemith, Weill, Copland, Stravinsky, Schoenberg, Prokofiev, Bartok, Shostakovich - they all ended up in a very different place from their bang-on-a-can, yell-in-your-face entrance onto the international stage. We don't teach that version of history [today], mind you. We are meant to believe that classical music just got more and more complex and experimental — and continues to. But the only way to accept that idea is to eliminate the data, since this explanation of the 20th century describes a fraction of the music actually composed and listened to. If you were a physicist, and proposed a theory of the Universe that simply ignored 99% of perceivable information, you would be laughed out of the Academy.Yes indeed. Indeed you would. Read the whole article here.
Impossible? Believe.In response to which we say, Why impossible? But of course we believe. It sounds perfectly logical and spot-on apposite to us.
The musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra are forgetting several important things: 1) They make the music. 2) They create the experience. 3) What matters to the people is, simply put, the musical experience. This dispute has hit the culture-rich community of the Twin Cities hard because the art form itself has been lost in the blame game. The musicians must rise above this and remember that the power to make history is in their hands, literally and figuratively. Here’s how the musicians make history: Follow Maestro Vänskä’s lead and resign from the Minnesota Orchestral Association. Immediately announce the creation of the Minnesota Symphony, a self-governing orchestra modeled on the Vienna Philharmonic. Find a charitable organization to give temporary use of its tax status (while you establish a new nonprofit) so you can receive donations from foundations and corporations and from your audience. Govern yourselves, and assign responsibilities to yourselves. Make history by setting an example for other orchestras to follow, and end the labor-management paradigm that leads to these kinds of disputes.Do we detect an echo in this? Why, yes; yes we do. Indeed we do.
I've been reading Sounds and [sic] Fury for several years now, mostly because I like the way you write, but I think that's going to stop now as I still don't understand your blog's purpose. It's short on information but long, very long, on criticism, especially against the work of print classical music critics, yet you never post reviews of your own. In fact you've admitted to not attending live performances of concerts or operas for decades now, and even seem to brandish that as some kind of mark of distinction. Even when you write about televised opera performances or DVD or YouTube recordings of performances you still don't do actual reviews but comment in a general way about some aspect or other of the productions, mostly about the stagings which you almost always hate. It's getting to be more than a little annoying and I don't need to come here to be annoyed. I commend you for your writing skill, but other than that, reading Sounds and [sic] Fury is getting to be a waste of my time. Sincerely,Honest, straightforward, and right to the point, and we mean to answer in kind. First off, and perhaps most important of all, S&F is NOT written to be informative or for the delectation of others. It is written for ourself alone to provide us "a more satisfying alternative to arguing with and raging at insensate objects such as books, newspapers, magazines, CDs, [DVDs,] computer displays, and TV sets in respect of their wrongheaded, in-error, or otherwise imbecile content," as we once (but apparently not often enough) put the matter some years ago. It's always gratifying to learn that others find S&F worthwhile reading but that's nothing more than a mere side benefit for us. If we wrote S&F to be informative and for the delectation of others we would, of course, insist on being paid meaningful amounts of hard cash for our efforts as writing the blog gratis in that case would make us little better than Dr. Johnson's blockhead. And in that, you have as well your answer as to why we don't do actual reviews on S&F (although we've made rare exceptions to that rule in the past). Doing a proper review is bloody hard work and unrewarding in itself (not to even mention the trouble and expense of attending a live event when required) and none but a slave works for no pay justly commensurate with the time, talent, and expense involved. Lastly, we don't at all mean to "brandish ... as some kind of mark of distinction" our nonattendance in the last couple decades or so of live concert and opera performances. It's merely a fact of life for us due to constraints financial and logistical. The only exception to that is the case of performances of known Eurotrash stagings of canonical operas which performances we would never attend were we a multimillionaire and the opera house immediately next door our abode both as a matter of principle and because one's attendance at such performances serves only to fatten the wallets of and encourage the perpetrators. We trust you will find the above response to your correspondence as honest, straightforward and to the point as that which occasioned it, and we thank you for sharing your thoughts with us.
A stranger asks me to write an Aesthetic Statement. He demands my notion of the ideal poem, so he’ll know the secret of my love of some poems and my distaste for others. I feel his pain. Perhaps he wants to prosecute me should I praise a poet who deviates from my Platonic ideal. An aesthetic statement is of little use to a critic unless he’s a lover of manifestos, a maker of quarrels, or a host who treats his guests like Procrustes. Aesthetics is a rational profession for the philosopher, but for the working critic it’s a mug’s game. To write about your aesthetics is no better than revealing your secrets if you’re a magician, or returning a mark’s stolen wallet if you’re a pickpocket.This is must-read stuff — for MSM professionals as well as for us mere blogger amateurs.
A few years ago [MSM music critic] Martin [Bernheimer] noted ... that it has been 30(?) years since an opera figure had appeared on the cover of Time Magazine. Why has opera lost its status as news? [...] My first thought was that American managers had not taken the course of their European colleagues and adopted a more adventurous course for staging along with expanding the repertory. By being boring, the charitable contributions, critical to America's artistic lifeblood, were shrinking. A financial slump was clearly happening with symphony orchestras and major opera companies cutting back. But, in a larger sense, it doesn't seem entirely to be related to donors. With the loss of so many local music critics around the US and so little media covering classical music is America's interest in "cultural" in the larger sense in a gradual decline? [...] Is there a solution for the Bernheimer Conundrum?To which we responded:
America's interest in matters "cultural" (meaning, of course, "high cultural" as opposed to "pop cultural") in "gradual decline"(!)? Precipitous decline, you mean: the snowballing toxic fallout from the equally toxic and imbecile equalitarian ideology of the Sixties. The postmodern answer to that circumstance has been an ever increasing surrender by the MSM "smart set" to those imbecile equalitarian notions and the resulting championing of the even more imbecile notion that high culture ought to embrace popular culture and erase the distinctions between it and high culture by making pop culture an integral part of high culture thereby making high culture (and you should forgive the contemptible locution) "more relevant". Is there a "solution" to this noxious trend? Only one I can think of that has any realistic chance of actually being effective: simply wait until the current postmodern lunacy dies of its own imbecility. The wait may be a relatively long one but, thanks to our present digital age, not nearly as long as such waits used to be.
None, for the simple reason that I know next to nothing about the way professional orchestras are run on the management side. For starters, I've never understood why a symphony orchestra needs a management and board not hired and controlled entirely by the musicians themselves, not the other way round. The musicians ARE the orchestra and they should be in total control of its destiny.Are we being hopelessly naïve and idealistic here? No doubt. But that doesn't make us wrong, does it.
"With the last chords of the Twilight of the Gods, I had a feeling of liberation from captivity. It may be that The Nibelungs' Ring [sic] is a very great work, but there never has been anything more tedious and more dragged-out than this rigmarole. The agglomeration of the most intricate and contrived harmonies, colorlessness of all that is sung on the stage, interminably long dialogues — all this fatigues the nerves to the utmost degree. So, what is the aim of Wagner's reform? In the past, music was supposed to delight people, and now we are tormented and exhausted by it." —From a letter of Tchaikovsky's from Vienna, to his brother, Modest, 20 August 1876 "I do not believe that a single composition of Wagner will survive him." —From a letter by noted German music theorist, teacher and composer Moritz Hauptmann, 3 February 1849