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CLASSICAL  May 2005

CLASSICAL May 2005

Subject:

Re: Hoffman on Tonal Music

From:

Steve Schwartz <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Mon, 23 May 2005 21:29:29 -0500

Content-Type:

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text/plain (69 lines)

Denis Fodor replies to me:

>Steve Schwartz, about the problem of accepting "progressive" music:
>
>>...either do the work it takes or stop complaining.....
>
>As I see it, it's only a problem when Nono or Boulez, or the likes, are
>foisted on listeners, in dribs or drabs, on a classical radio station
>or in a large symphony hall.  Audiences tend to abide the stuff provided
>it's not too long.  Ten minutes of Webern'll pass muster.  But the average
>symphony-goer or classical-radio attender is not deeply educated in
>music.  As with most of his/her other pursuits, (s)he's been conditioned
>to react by upbringing and pursuant experience.  (S)he might be ready
>to read a bit of Pushkin in translation, but learn to read him in Russian
>s(he) will not.  Trouble is, you can't translate Schnittke and you can't
>ask the multitudes to seek to lend him its ears by learning to break the
>sonic barrier.

Actually, I never called it "progressive," since I have no idea at all
what progress in the arts means, unless it's like the progress of a
river.  I did call it "hard" and "difficult," which seems empirically
true.

The thing that bothers me is that it's only THIS music that's singled
out as the cause of The Decline of All Things True and Beautiful, and
is the subject of wooly-headed theorizing about the true nature of art
and the structure of the mind.  People just can't seem to accept that
it's just music, without special status, like all the other music they
listen to.  They take it as 1) an insult directed against them personally,
2) a fraud perpetrated by a snobbish, clannish, self-proclaimed elite,
3) God knows what else.  Most of the theorizers never seem to consider
the possibility that composers write it out of a genuine artistic or
expressive need and that some listeners genuinely enjoy it -- just like
every other type of music.

I'm not asking the multitudes to embrace this stuff.  The multitudes
don't embrace serious art in general, and this includes Bach, Beethoven,
Brahms, Chopin, Debussy, Rachmaninoff, Donizetti, etc.  etc.  Why would
I expect anything different here?  I do say, however, that no good comes
from excluding it from mainstream performance venues.  I'm with Karl
Miller on this one.  If an arts organization has any pretentions to
educating and fostering an audience, rather than catering to a graying,
dwindling audience, it does nobody good by limiting *any* part of the
repertory.  It only encourages people to hold idiotic prejudices and to
congratulate themselves for their culture.  I don't say you should
super-saturate all programs with Elliott Carter and Iannis Xenakis.  But
including a work out of the ordinary doesn't seem to me too much to ask
from someone's life or excessive stimulation of the brain.  After all,
a lot of music puts me to sleep, and I don't complain that programmers
ban it forever.  You never know what might hook somebody.

And by the way, I'd extend this all the way back to Baroque music
(Renaissance and medieval music doesn't really suit the modern symphony).
Indeed, I suspect the century we know least is the Nineteenth.  How many
have heard a symphony by Max Bruch or a symphonic work by Hugo Wolf or
a Gossec symphony?  How about the Concert Fantasy by Rimsky-Korsakov?
Tchaikovsky's first orchestral suite?  A Beethoven choral work NOT the
Ninth or the Missa Solemnis?  How many have heard CPE Bach's sacred
music?  I doubt the odds are more than fifty-fifty against hearing one
of these in concert anytime soon.

I was eight years old when I heard Appalachian Spring for the first time
at a young people's concert in Cleveland.  It so happens that Beethoven's
Fifth was on the program.  I liked the Fifth.  Not only did I HATE
Appalachian Spring, I was certain it wasn't really music.  Sound familiar?
But of course that was when I was eight and knew everything.  Now I've
forgotten everything.

Steve Schwartz

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