Is Classical Music Superior To Other Kinds Of Music?

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THEHORN
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Is Classical Music Superior To Other Kinds Of Music?

Post by THEHORN » Thu May 27, 2010 9:36 am

Greg Sandow has some interesting blog posts at artsjournal.com lately on trying to define classical music(not an easy thing to do) and the question of whether it is "superior" to other kinds of music.
He maintains that it isn't. Of course,Sandow is convinved that classical music has to"change" in order to appeal to younger people and htose who are accustomed to going to Rock and pop concerts etc. Otherwise,he fears,it may go the way of the dinosaur,God forbid.
But the question of superiority or inferiority is one loaded with baggage and difficulties. As the ancient Romans used to say, De gustibus non est disputandum.
But of course, it's equally wrong to go in the opposite direction and say that classical music is inferior,too. People who are unfamiliar with it need to realize that it's just as valid an art form as other kinds of music and should not be judged by other standards.
And yes,some people,like my primitive friend who always mocks classical music and thinks opera is really full of fat people in Viking hats, think that this kind of music is a joke and not something any normal person could ever take seriously.
As they say,taste is subjective. There are countless people who are fans of Rock,pop, Jazz,folk,country, and world music etc. And there's absolutely nothing wrong with that. It's wrong for people who love classical to turn up there noses and sneer at their supposedly inferior tastes.
But it's equally wrong for lovers of these other musics to sneer at us classical people and dismiss us as snobs and elitists just because of our musical predilections.
Myself, while I have nothing against other kinds of music. But I find classical music infinitely more enjoyable ,interesting,mentally stimulating and emotionally powerful than Rock or pop etc. But that's just my taste.
Can't we all just get along ?

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Re: Is Classical Music Superior To Other Kinds Of Music?

Post by maestrob » Thu May 27, 2010 10:13 am

Hmmmm......

To me, most classical music is living history. Being a history buff, I like it.

When I was a teenager, I listened to young people's music too and thought it was (some of it) great stuff, but somewhere in my 20's my taste turned to jazz for relaxation and classical for serious listening and that's where I've stayed even during my years as a working musician.

There's so much going on in the music world: I don't denigrate pop music now (I'm sure some of it inspires young people to think about their lives and their surroundings, which is what music is supposed to do, at least it did so for me when I was younger), but my interests have moved on.

What I am sure of is that there are very serious, intelligent people who want to communicate through music in all genres, and I respect that. I just don't have time to try to keep up with all of it.

Classical music is not necessarily better, but it does preoccupy my thinking and bring me much joy, and for that I'm eternally grateful.

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Re: Is Classical Music Superior To Other Kinds Of Music?

Post by jbuck919 » Thu May 27, 2010 10:15 am

Of course it is. One of the reasons some of us are members here is so that we can say so without fear of the pseudo-egalitarians waiting in the wings to turn on the slime hoses.

There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
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Re: Is Classical Music Superior To Other Kinds Of Music?

Post by RichardMitnick » Thu May 27, 2010 10:58 am

The roots of all composition are in Classical music. As much as I am passionate about Classical music and "New Music", I am similarly passionate about Jazz.

If you study the biographical material of many Jazz musicians, you find that they at least spent some at Juilliard, Eastman, Manhattan, Mills College, CalArts, etc.

McCoy Tyner studied Paul Hindemith; Dave Brubeck studied at Mills under Darius Milhaud. And the beat goes on.

But, Steve Reich studied with Hall Overton at Gene Smith's Jazz Loft in New York City. A certain "Classical" composer was found crouching down by the drum kit in a Greenwich Village Jazz club. It turned out it was Leonard Bernstein, trying to pick up the licks.

Alan Gilbert, the new Maestro of the N.Y. Phil has been a Jazz drummer.

There is no best. It is hard to find a better accoustic guitarist than Al DiMeola, or electric guitarist than Eric Clapton.

I have Rhoda Scott playing Jazz in Paris. On one of the discs, she shows competence with Bach. Glen Gould she is not.

Keith Jarrett: brilliant Jazz improviser, beyond competent in Bach.

There is no best; but, there are roots. They are in Classical as much as Classical in in Church chant. And the beat goes on.
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Re: Is Classical Music Superior To Other Kinds Of Music?

Post by slofstra » Thu May 27, 2010 11:04 am

Okay, Richard if the roots of all composition are in classical music, does this mean that the roots of roots music are also in classical music?
What would be rooted in so-called roots music? Just wondering.

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Re: Is Classical Music Superior To Other Kinds Of Music?

Post by some guy » Thu May 27, 2010 12:41 pm

I'm less and less convinced that there's an "it." First of all, think about all the different kinds of music that fall under the umbrella of "classical music." It's a lot. And few classical listeners listen to all of them. Few if any. Second, think about the term itself. It's not been around all that long. It started out more or less as a substitute for what had been called antient music, those canonical pieces (in a pre-canonical time) from the past that were still being performed. Much of what we now refer to as "classical music" had already been written.

Third, if you're not all wore out by all that thinking (I know I would be), think about the term's changing meanings over the years, or even about the various simultaneous meanings it has had and has. One that was particularly persistent was the exclusion of opera. That exclusion had mostly faded out by the end of the nineteenth century, but it has persisted in some people's minds to at least the 1990s (which was when I last heard someone say it). Another that gets a lot of play, in spite of organists past and present, in spite of Beethoven's piano playing extravaganzas, in spite of cadenzas, is that classical music is written down. No improvisation!

I say the term itself is slippery enough to keep dozens of threads busy, without ever going on to the question posed here.

But not everything is difficult:
RichardMitnick wrote:It is hard to find a better accoustic guitarist than Al DiMeola, or electric guitarist than Eric Clapton.
Magnus Andersson

Elliott Sharp

See? That was easy!!
"The public has got to stay in touch with the music of its time . . . for otherwise people will gradually come to mistrust music claimed to be the best."
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Re: Is Classical Music Superior To Other Kinds Of Music?

Post by premont » Thu May 27, 2010 12:56 pm

jbuck919 wrote:Of course it is.
Heartily seconded.

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Re: Is Classical Music Superior To Other Kinds Of Music?

Post by RichardMitnick » Thu May 27, 2010 1:12 pm

slofstra wrote:Okay, Richard if the roots of all composition are in classical music, does this mean that the roots of roots music are also in classical music?
What would be rooted in so-called roots music? Just wondering.
"Roots music" is a terminus technus, or "term of art", referring to the roots of American music, generally folk, blue grass, etc., in the rural American experience. That is a specific use of the term. Obviously, I did not use the term "roots music".
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Re: Is Classical Music Superior To Other Kinds Of Music?

Post by Werner » Thu May 27, 2010 3:26 pm

I think there is a problem with the term "classical music," which seems to be less and less clear in identifying the kind of music this site is concerned with. Yet it does, whatever the idiom or the time of its creation - the classical period being one - seem to concern itself with a body of the musical art that warrants repeated exposure and serious analysis and thoughtfulness - in which the creator, or composer, the performer, and the listener each have their parts. And, at least in my experience, no other musical reations have a similar claim to concentrated attention - even as I've occasionally felt that, lisrtening to jazz, great music making is not necessarily limited to my one favorite medium.

For an example, look at the thread concerning Beethoven's Piano Sonata No. 32, Opus 111. How much thought must be - or CAN be - devoted to appreciating a work of art of this dimension - the work itself, the conposer's world when he was writing it, the various performers' skill, spirit, and personality - all things of little or no relevance in other, lighter weight musical fields of expression. No wonder one can listen to musical works again and again - the same piece in various performances - or even the same performance over time, considering the listener's mood or state of mind at the time.

This, to me, represents some essential elements of an art whose peak achievements will survive over time and become "classics." And most certainly opera must be included in this field - the complex of music, drama, and theater that has brought about lasting masterworks over time.

Popular entertainment uses all sorts of musical devices and provides much pleasure and entertainment. But when we're talking about classical music we're considering musical creations - instrumental, symphonic, vocal, or operatic, that have been created with an extraodinary amount of craft reaching up into art. Hopefully, creation of this caliber of art will continue through and beyond our lifetimes - even if recognition of this may be delayed by as much as a generation or two.
Werner Isler

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Re: Is Classical Music Superior To Other Kinds Of Music?

Post by Jack Kelso » Thu May 27, 2010 3:45 pm

What makes so-called "classical music" superior to the "pop" stuff (rock, rap, etc.) is that its enjoyment is not based on the lowest common denominator of comprehension, rather is based on the metric system of harmonic, rhythmic, melodic and contrapuntal expression.

But pop fans don't care. If everyone else buys it, well---"what's good 'nuff for them must be good 'nuff for me."

Pop music is becoming the new universal legalized drug: it's irritating and everywhere....in restaurants, on the streets, in ads, stores, supermarkets, t.v. spots, background noise for documentaries even! The biggest problem? Almost nobody notices it! Second biggest problem? If you say anything against it---most folks think you're intolerant.

The question should be: should the POP entertainment musical forms change? After all, "classical" music was there first---and will still be there when the last rap album decays in the gutters of Chicago.

Tschüß,
Jack
"Schumann's our music-maker now." ---Robert Browning

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Re: Is Classical Music Superior To Other Kinds Of Music?

Post by Guitarist » Thu May 27, 2010 3:46 pm

Yes. Next question, please.

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Re: Is Classical Music Superior To Other Kinds Of Music?

Post by RichardMitnick » Thu May 27, 2010 4:30 pm

Werner wrote:
For an example, look at the thread concerning Beethoven's Piano Sonata No. 32, Opus 111. How much thought must be - or CAN be - devoted to appreciating a work of art of this dimension - the work itself, the conposer's world when he was writing it, the various performers' skill, spirit, and personality - all things of little or no relevance in other, lighter weight musical fields of expression. No wonder one can listen to musical works again and again - the same piece in various performances - or even the same performance over time, considering the listener's mood or state of mind at the time.
While, of course, we have no thread, I think that John Coltrane's A Love Supreme, and the Thelonious Monk 1959 Town Hall concert can rival any "Classical" work in the amount of time and thought that they have prompted. I mean, you know, I am not belittling the Beethoven. Just that people should be aware of what else matters.

Right now, I am in the midst of a complete Bartok cycle on my Zune during my daily exercise walks. But I have already completed Al DiMeola, Alice Coltrane, Arvo Part, Bill EVans, Leonard Bernstein, Terry Riley, Philip Glass, Steve Reich, Jimmy Smith, John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Sonny Rollins, The Modern Jazz Quartet, Bob Dylan, Peter Gabriel, Roy Orbison, and the extant body of work by Eric Clapton. As "The Duke" said, if it sounds good, it is good. And, after the Bartok, it will be The Bad Plus.
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Re: Is Classical Music Superior To Other Kinds Of Music?

Post by piston » Thu May 27, 2010 4:56 pm

Time, knowledge and thought devoted to composition make music superior, not the genre itself.

I'm wondering, though, how many non-classical music composers devote more than a week, full time, to any composition....
In the eyes of those lovers of perfection, a work is never finished—a word that for them has no sense—but abandoned....(Paul Valéry)

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Re: Is Classical Music Superior To Other Kinds Of Music?

Post by RichardMitnick » Thu May 27, 2010 5:42 pm

piston wrote:Time, knowledge and thought devoted to composition make music superior, not the genre itself.

I'm wondering, though, how many non-classical music composers devote more than a week, full time, to any composition....
This is a wonderful question. I do know that Miles Davis worked many hours with Gil Evans on composition after composition. Thelonious Monk worked with Hall Overton at the Jazz Loft.
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Re: Is Classical Music Superior To Other Kinds Of Music?

Post by Brendan » Thu May 27, 2010 9:32 pm

Depends on age, exposure and culture among other things, methinks.

Music for cruising, clubbing and getting crazy is, at least in my experience, for the young. Rock'n'rollers should retire, drown in their own vomit or die in a plane crash once they reach 40.

When I was 17 I thought Dark Side of the Moon the most profound work of art in the history of the universe and Beethoven was rubbish. Now I think Pink Floyd very juvenille and Ludwig Van a genius. At 20 I thought Jim Morrison was a poet. Now I think he was a self-indulgent, drug-addled fool.

It's quite strange to feel nostalgia for songs like Deep in the Woods:



Of course, half the band is dead now. The astonishing was that any of these maniacs lived to see 25!


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Re: Is Classical Music Superior To Other Kinds Of Music?

Post by John F » Fri May 28, 2010 4:48 am

some guy has it right, I think. (You see, we don't disagree about everything. :) In fact I'm sure we agree about a lot that we don't feel the need to talk about.) But that won't stop me. :mrgreen:

Richard Taruskin asserts that there are no self-evident criteria for saying that classical music is better music than other kinds, commercial or whatever Better in what way, for what purpose, and sez who? Personally I believe that classical music is the best music, but don't know how to go about proving it. And I suspect that Taruskin believes the same, or something like it, since he has devoted his life to classical music and shown no interest in performing jazz or writing books about the Beatles.

For starters, how do you define classical music? The very title of Greg Sandow's essay "Perotin and John Cage" points up the difficulty, as some guy has also done. If you can't even define your basic terms, you can hardly make much of a case. Sandow's own effort, in its current form, is:
Greg Sandow wrote:Classical Music: Music in a long and originally European tradition, starting with Gregorian chant and continuing into the present day; typically composed and notated in advance of performance, and taking either traditional forms (such as symphony, sonata, opera, art song, and string quartet) or new ones (including pieces for mixed ensembles, minimal music, serial music, electronic music, music for composer/performers, and pieces in which a composer specifies only a process of performance, instead of notating every musical detail).
http://www.artsjournal.com/sandow/
But this doesn't actually define "classical music," it describes a very broad and heterogeneous repertoire that many choose to lump together under the rubric "classical." And even in this, it begs basic questions. Sandow has stretched his "definition" so it won't exclude, for example, John Cage's 4'33". But how is 4'33" music, let alone composed music? What does it really have in common with Perotin's "Sederunt principes"? Someone with no musical axes to grind would more likely categorize Cage's whatchamacallit as the scenario for a stage pantomime. The avant-garde is a great breaker of definitions, that's one of the things it's for.

We don't really need to argue whether classical music is superior to other kinds of music. We can only get away with it when preaching to the choir. What we do need is to make the case that classical music is valuable and important in itself - something that the general public used to take for granted, if only as a shibboleth, but no longer does, at least in America. Circling back to Richard Taruskin, who has some original, interesting, and typically controversial ideas about this, I hope to post a review of his recent books (when I've finished them) that will give an idea of what his ideas are.
John Francis

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Re: Is Classical Music Superior To Other Kinds Of Music?

Post by jbuck919 » Fri May 28, 2010 5:52 am

It strikes me that these semantic difficulties are owing to an over-thinking of semantics rather than a straightforward addressing of the question. Replace "classical music" with "art music," everything else that is worth any attention at all with "folk/popular forms," and everything that's left over with "schlock" and you have a judgment no more difficult than deciding how to rank Rembrandt, Currier and Ives, and billboards. Do gray areas remain? Obviously. But I for one am not going to sweat the question based on considering whether a Cole Porter hit is superior to Franck's ghastly Panis Angelicus. The latter is not a work of art even though it is by a classical composer and is therefore out of the running.

There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
-- Johann Sebastian Bach

Brendan

Re: Is Classical Music Superior To Other Kinds Of Music?

Post by Brendan » Fri May 28, 2010 7:29 am

OK, maybe I'm different (gee, what a surprise :roll: )

As much as I really do consider so much music as Art (I really do think Nick Cave is an Artist, however strange and messed up), there remain to me "levels" of art. I truly love The Birthday Party as a unique band/art, but I also recognise that the likes of Beethoven are a class above. Ludwig Van, however "punked" by A Clockwork Orange, can never speak to youth on drugs the way Jim Morrison or Nick Cave can. Simply ain't possible. Ludwig did not drop acid (it wasn't invented then. I don't think he tried mushrooms either) or shoot up whatever was available.

But a mature (or self-deludingly maturing) mind hears things that can't be done is 5 minutes. Hell, Stairway to Heaven is considered a lengthy, overblown epic by many - and is about the length of a scherzo in a Bruckenr sym.

No classical (modern or ancient) music can do the youthful, modern weirdness as intensly as The Birthday Party. Does that make The Birthday Party better than Beethoven? When it comes to youthful intense alienated werdness, LvB is nowhere in the ballpark.

But I know where the great art really is.

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Re: Is Classical Music Superior To Other Kinds Of Music?

Post by John F » Fri May 28, 2010 8:50 am

jbuck919 wrote:Replace "classical music" with "art music," everything else that is worth any attention at all with "folk/popular forms," and everything that's left over with "schlock" and you have a judgment no more difficult than deciding how to rank Rembrandt, Currier and Ives, and billboards. Do gray areas remain? Obviously. But I for one am not going to sweat the question based on considering whether a Cole Porter hit is superior to Franck's ghastly Panis Angelicus.
It's not that easy, just changing adjectives. In fact, this change makes it harder, because now the issue is the nature of art, and what distinguishes it from not-art. And that's even harder than defining the nature of classical music.

I used to try to distinguish decisively between art and entertainment, which I believe is more or less your distinction, and couldn't make it stick. Much art is highly entertaining, and much commercial entertainment is highly artful. Where, for example, do you place the Gilbert & Sullivan operas, and on what grounds?

Works of art music have become popular music or even folk music, such as Schubert's "Der Lindenbaum," with or without adaptation. Even more commonly, pieces of popular or folk music are "classicized" by adaptation or incorporation into the classical repertoire, for example Brahms's "Deutsche Volkslieder" (note that he still called them folk songs); the popular tune "Der Strassburger" in the finale of Mozart's 3rd violin concerto, which pleased him so much that he always called the whole concerto "the Strassburger"; two simultaneous popular songs (which Bach's contemporaries may well have dismissed as schlock, I don't really know) in the last of the Goldberg Variations, etc. etc.

As for "how to rank Rembrandt, Currier and Ives, and billboards," I've two words to add: Andy Warhol. Tell the connoisseur who paid $43.7 million for Warhol's "200 one dollar bills" that he's not buying art but schlock.
jbuck919 wrote:I for one am not going to sweat the question based on considering whether a Cole Porter hit is superior to Franck's ghastly Panis Angelicus. The latter is not a work of art even though it is by a classical composer and is therefore out of the running.
But there's the rub. Why is "Panis Angelicus" not a work of art? You find it distasteful, but is there any more solid and arguable basis for such a judgment? Is there no such thing as mediocre or bad art? I think you have to sweat these questions if you maintain that artistic status is intrinsic in the work and not "created" by the eye or ear and the taste of the beholder.

If you'd like to have a go, I'd certainly be interested, but people have written whole books on the subject without settling the question.
John Francis

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Re: Is Classical Music Superior To Other Kinds Of Music?

Post by Lance » Fri May 28, 2010 12:00 pm

Just seeing the title of this thread made it "sound" as though "classical music" is an elitist "commodity," for lack of a better word. For me, of course, it is superior to listening to rock, pops, blues, country & western, rap, bop and even jazz, and whatever are other names appeneded to various kinds of music. Most music affords the individual listening some kind of enjoyment or pleasure, both of which I take from classical music in huge amounts. True composers of classics require more attention and concentration than others, but if one's mind is "tuned" to that kind of music, that is what WE want to hear. Can I enjoy a good polka? Sure. I happen to love the voice of Patsy Cline in her kind of C&W repertoire along with Roy Orbison's voice [not Presley, however} (both of which I think are "operatic" in many ways). No, I don't listen to these voices often, but on occasion and always enjoy them, among others of their ilk.

Werner Isler hits on an interesting point of WHAT musics constitute "classical music" today. Classical music, for me (right or wrong) embraces music composed from the Baroque through the Romantic eras and up to around 1940 or so. Contemporary music would largely come after that period. Is Contemporary music perceived as "classical" then? Can we place Copland's music written after 1950 or so "classical music"? And of course, myriad other composers. The term "classical," think more properly identifies, for most of us, music composed between the Baroque and end of the Romantic periods. The terms Contemporary, New Age, and other terms may more correctly place in these other categories.

Classical music elitist? It used to be years ago. I think it has become less so over the years particularly because of recordings and the availability of "classical music" performed with other current-day applications, such as Virgil Fox did with the music of Bach at the Fillmore East, using lighting, etc. to entice younger generations to get involved with classical music.

This is a VERY complex subject to answer. No matter how one answers it, there is no correct answer, and some of us will still be consiered "elitist" even if we don't feel ourselves to be such! But - an interesting TOPIC, for sure!
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Re: Is Classical Music Superior To Other Kinds Of Music?

Post by Brendan » Fri May 28, 2010 12:06 pm

Elitist? Ye gods, it has to be Rebellious these days! Goes against the grain of mainstream society and taste for sure!

SaulChanukah

Re: Is Classical Music Superior To Other Kinds Of Music?

Post by SaulChanukah » Fri May 28, 2010 12:54 pm

THEHORN wrote:Greg Sandow has some interesting blog posts at artsjournal.com lately on trying to define classical music(not an easy thing to do) and the question of whether it is "superior" to other kinds of music.
He maintains that it isn't. Of course,Sandow is convinved that classical music has to"change" in order to appeal to younger people and htose who are accustomed to going to Rock and pop concerts etc. Otherwise,he fears,it may go the way of the dinosaur,God forbid.
But the question of superiority or inferiority is one loaded with baggage and difficulties. As the ancient Romans used to say, De gustibus non est disputandum.
But of course, it's equally wrong to go in the opposite direction and say that classical music is inferior,too. People who are unfamiliar with it need to realize that it's just as valid an art form as other kinds of music and should not be judged by other standards.
And yes,some people,like my primitive friend who always mocks classical music and thinks opera is really full of fat people in Viking hats, think that this kind of music is a joke and not something any normal person could ever take seriously.
As they say,taste is subjective. There are countless people who are fans of Rock,pop, Jazz,folk,country, and world music etc. And there's absolutely nothing wrong with that. It's wrong for people who love classical to turn up there noses and sneer at their supposedly inferior tastes.
But it's equally wrong for lovers of these other musics to sneer at us classical people and dismiss us as snobs and elitists just because of our musical predilections.
Myself, while I have nothing against other kinds of music. But I find classical music infinitely more enjoyable ,interesting,mentally stimulating and emotionally powerful than Rock or pop etc. But that's just my taste.
Can't we all just get along ?
Well Rabbi Daniel Lapin said famously that all Bible believing countries are more prosperous, and created more wealth and success and inventions and contributed to humanity in all aspects, be it art, music and technology, then all other nations. Therefore if you look into western music and compare it with other types of music, you will see that western classical music is superior, and remember that all great composers believed in God and were religious.

But today, the modern countries of the world produced lots of junk 'music', and that has to do very much with the secular movement. The more liberal you are and the more you don't believe in God, the quality of the music becomes lower and lower, this is just a plain fact.

Brendan

Re: Is Classical Music Superior To Other Kinds Of Music?

Post by Brendan » Fri May 28, 2010 1:03 pm

Isn't all that Western music - which derives from Christian chant and worship - the wonder of the musical world? Or just the world?

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Re: Is Classical Music Superior To Other Kinds Of Music?

Post by slofstra » Fri May 28, 2010 1:05 pm

I'm leery of context dependent words like "superior". Great for stirring up feelings though. A better question might be to ask whether classical music is more complex than other kinds of music. That can be measured in an objective way, like piston's question as to how long it takes to write. Another objective measure of complexity is how long it takes to learn to play a piece. Infinity in the case of some pieces and some performers. So you could also measure the % of the population that can play the piece at some level of competence. I get two quite different readings for the Hammerklavier versus Louie, Louie.

Brendan

Re: Is Classical Music Superior To Other Kinds Of Music?

Post by Brendan » Fri May 28, 2010 1:08 pm

Well, if it is more complex and more subtle, might that be reasons why folk think it inherently and instrinsically superior?

Just an obvious thought.

But it isn't PC to say anything at all is better than somthing else. However true it may be.

Does anyone here really think The Birthday Party (posted/linked above) is better than Beethoven?

I certainly don't - and I think the world of The Boys Next Door!

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Re: Is Classical Music Superior To Other Kinds Of Music?

Post by John F » Fri May 28, 2010 2:38 pm

slofstra wrote:I get two quite different readings for the Hammerklavier versus Louie, Louie.
Likewise the Hammerklavier Sonata vs. "An die Musik." Schubert's song took no time at all to write; he dated it March 1817 along with 10 other songs, a piano sonata, and the choral "Gesang der Geister über den Wasser." (That's just before Beethoven began work on his sonata, which took over a year to complete.) It can be sung at sight or by ear by anyone who can carry a tune, no special vocal skill and training needed, and played at sight by a modestly competent amateur pianist. A perfect thing of its kind, it's no less classical music, and good classical music, than the Beethoven sonata.
John Francis

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Re: Is Classical Music Superior To Other Kinds Of Music?

Post by jbuck919 » Fri May 28, 2010 3:38 pm

John F wrote: As for "how to rank Rembrandt, Currier and Ives, and billboards," I've two words to add: Andy Warhol. Tell the connoisseur who paid $43.7 million for Warhol's "200 one dollar bills" that he's not buying art but schlock.
Art has its own rules. Andy Warhol is commonly considered one of the half dozen most important artists of the last half century. I'm not a trained connoisseur, but those who are do not consider his work remotely to be schlock. Whatever your personal interest in Phillip Glass, you would not be influenced by the opinion of someone who said that his compositions, somewhat analogous to that Warhol work in being made up of repetitious cells which are themselves of little complexity, are "schlock."
But there's the rub. Why is "Panis Angelicus" not a work of art? You find it distasteful, but is there any more solid and arguable basis for such a judgment? Is there no such thing as mediocre or bad art? I think you have to sweat these questions if you maintain that artistic status is intrinsic in the work and not "created" by the eye or ear and the taste of the beholder.
For goodness' sake, John, it's crap, and Franck's own Violin Sonata is art; does anybody here honestly think otherwise? I purposely chose a non-debatable work for my example, so that this would not spill over into the question of objective standards for artistry. There are none, and the standard is always a consensus of connoisseurs developed over time, with composers as well as with visual artists. If anyone wants to waste time re-thinking Panis Angelicus from scratch, be my guest.

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Re: Is Classical Music Superior To Other Kinds Of Music?

Post by THEHORN » Fri May 28, 2010 5:43 pm

Saul,"All great composers believed in God and were religious"? Have you read your composer biographies? This is far from being the case. Some were highly religious,such as Bach and Bruckner. But quite a few great composers have been either atheists or agnostics, including Wagner,Berlioz,Verdi, Richard Strauss, Vaughan Williams,
Shostakovich, and others.
That did not stop them from writing great works such as the Berlioz and Verdi Requiems etc.
Vaughan Williams was an agnostic, but had no problems writing a mass and other religious works. Mahler,however, said that he could not contemplate writing a mass because he lacked the faith to set the Credo.
It certainaly would have interesting to hear a mass by Mahler,though.

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Re: Is Classical Music Superior To Other Kinds Of Music?

Post by piston » Fri May 28, 2010 6:27 pm

Brendan makes a most valid point about what I like to call cultural cognition: essentially, one's judgment can only be based on one's cultural knowledge at any given point in one's life.

But some works have stood out, much longer than others, for testing the limits of any paradigm based on cultural cognition. The personal anecdote I find especially relevant to this thread is that point in time, in the early seventies, why my buddies and I would spend long winter nights in someone's basement mixing together, in one evening session, music by Bartok, Mussorgsky, Jethro Tull, Emerson, Lake and Palmer, John Coltrane, John Mayall, Dizzie Gillespie, and Muddy Waters! It was all natural to us, no contradiction, no cultural hierarchies. There was cognitive convergence, in our own minds, between classical, jazz, rock.

Today, of course, I lost interest in the rock part and seldom listen to jazz anymore. And that's my personal criterion: classical music is superior because it has resisted the erosion of time.
In the eyes of those lovers of perfection, a work is never finished—a word that for them has no sense—but abandoned....(Paul Valéry)

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Re: Is Classical Music Superior To Other Kinds Of Music?

Post by 7flat5 » Fri May 28, 2010 7:20 pm

Brendan wrote:Isn't all that Western music - which derives from Christian chant and worship - the wonder of the musical world? Or just the world?
The more I learn about the genesis of most of what we might call "classical" music, the more it seems that there is a case to be made that it's just the music of the common people sanitized for the upper classes. We're talking about centuries, remember, when Europe was a very stratified society. There were certainly secular songs which provided the basis for Gregorian chant. Think about all the popular songs which provided the melodies for the Renaissance polyphonic masses of Lassus, Josquin, Palestrina. The party dances which became suites in the baroque and the movements of romantic symphonies. It is entirely possible for me to appreciate the art which went into the products of this "theft"-"improvement" of popular music. It neither diminishes "classical" music to acknowledge this, nor does it necessarily argue against it's superiority in some cases. But, I think it's an artificial distinction, and that the "classical" versions of a lot of this music is distinctly inferior, in fact, to the originals.

So, I have to say, No, "it" is not superior, even though I listen to an awful lot of "it."

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Re: Is Classical Music Superior To Other Kinds Of Music?

Post by barney » Fri May 28, 2010 7:27 pm

Jbuck wrote: "There are none, and the standard is always a consensus of connoisseurs developed over time, with composers as well as with visual artists."

I think this is the key. There are no absolutes, as in physics or maths, but that does not mean every opinion is as good as every other (which is the modern shibboleth). I don't particularly like Peking opera, and I certainly don't pronounce on it to an expert, but I recognise there is a tradition, a history, canons by which experts judge a work or performer to be better or worse, etc. Western music also has canons: complexity, development, imagination, control of forces, technique etc are relevant. By those standards I have no hesitation in pronouncing art music superior by and large, while acknowledging there are superb musicians and works in every genre.

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Re: Is Classical Music Superior To Other Kinds Of Music?

Post by jbuck919 » Fri May 28, 2010 7:41 pm

7flat5 wrote:There were certainly secular songs which provided the basis for Gregorian chant.
I know of no secular and/or popular antecedent to non-metrical Gregorian, or for many of the beautiful and more elaborate hymn tunes, though some of the latter may have secular analogs or proto-versions which have not survived. Simpler metrical pieces such as the later sequences are more popular in character, which is one of the reasons that the Council of Trent eliminated most of them from worship, but they are, not coincidentally, of much less artistic value. Renaissance polyphony used secular as well as primary sacred melodies, apparently as a matter of convenience, availability, and familiarity rather than for any inherently artistic reason (i.e., the composers could just as easily have made up equivalent melodies and sometimes did).

In general I do not agree that classical music from the Middle Ages through the modern period is uniformly owing to popular or folk sources, and where it is inspired by them it so transcends them that the origins, frankly, fade into artistic insignificance.

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Re: Is Classical Music Superior To Other Kinds Of Music?

Post by Chalkperson » Sat May 29, 2010 1:31 am

SaulChanukah wrote:Therefore if you look into western music and compare it with other types of music, you will see that western classical music is superior, and remember that all great composers believed in God and were religious.
Don't leave out Eastern Classical Music...or Eastern Music in general, it's just as good, even if some of it does sound like Wailing Goats and a bunch of Shepherds ringing bells and blowing horns and stuff like that, I happen to love Kawali Music, especially Nusrat Fateh Ali Kahn, he was an incredible singer, I went to see them live, and they had this guy who sounded just like a sacrificial goat, so we called him Goatman from then on... :wink:
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Re: Is Classical Music Superior To Other Kinds Of Music?

Post by John F » Sat May 29, 2010 4:19 am

jbuck919 wrote:Art has its own rules.
And what are they? That's the question which lies behind the subject header for this discussion, "Is classical music superior to other kinds of music?"
jbuck919 wrote:Andy Warhol is commonly considered one of the half dozen most important artists of the last half century. I'm not a trained connoisseur, but those who are do not consider his work remotely to be schlock.
If they did, his stuff wouldn't be fetching tens of millions of $$$ at Christie's. But you said that deciding how to rank Rembrandt, Currier and Ives, and billboards is not particularly difficult, at least not for you, and I introduced Andy Warhol as a more testing case to see if you would find it more difficult. Apparently you do, and defer to the opinion of some "trained connoisseurs" instead.

Seems to me that this evades the substance of THEHORN's question and others like it. If we have no good reasons of our own why Andy Warhol's stuff is superior to billboards, or why classical music (undefined) is superior to other kinds of music (unspecified), if we have to defer to the judgments of "connoisseurs" and passively accept what they say, it's hardly worth asking the question, is it? Since we here are incapable of answering it.

And this kind of deference is a trap for the unwary. You say, "the standard is always a consensus of connoisseurs developed over time, with composers as well as with visual artists." But the consensus shifts over time, and indeed has shifted in our lifetimes. Today's connoisseurs and experts accept Mahler as a master composer, but this was not always so. Here's a representative assessment from the 1950s, by Geoffrey Sharp in Ralph Hill's Penguin guide "The Symphony" (1950):
Geoffrey Sharp wrote:Mahler's aim undoubtedly was "expression," but it is doubtful whether what he wanted to express was worth the trouble he took over it.

There remain two criticisms of Mahler's music which cannot be dismissed lightly: those two cornerstones of contemporary disparagement - pseudo-naïveté and banality. But let us have them in basic English so that we know what we are talking about: childishness (which Mahler, like some of his critics, confused with naïveté) and vulgarity or triteness. Neither charge can be refuted. Mahler's attempts to come to terms with the realms of childlike fantasy were always childishly inadequate and there is no doubt at all that he was often vulgar.
This from a writer chosen to make the case for Mahler in a popular guide for lay listeners, just the kind of "connoisseur" you would presumably defer to. But 17 years later, Penguin replaced Hill's guide with another, also titled "The Symphony" but now edited by Robert Simpson, who entrusted the chapter on Mahler to Harold Truscott. Who says:
Harold Truscott wrote:Mahler, whose musical experiences reflected to an exceptional degree his experience of life, was (like Beethoven) the ordinary man with an extraordinary gift for expressing and analysing those experiences in musical language, both creative and recreative.
And goes on to appreciate, among other things, the same elements of Mahler's expressive language that Sharp bad-mouths. This raises the general question of what kind of expertise "connoisseurs" actually have, what authority they have to dictate taste, that we should passively nod our heads and take their word for it. Whose word do we choose to take, and how do we make that choice?

You yourself defer to no one when you call Franck's "Panis Angelus" "ghastly" and "crap"; do you count yourself among the tastemakers, where classical music is concerned, or do you simply assert your own opinion as adequately informed to be valid? As it happens, I've just listened to the piece, as sung by Renée Fleming, and think it's quite lovely and an entirely appropriate setting of the words, a hymn by St. Thomas Aquinas for the feast of Corpus Christi. Here, so all can judge for themselves:



Latin text / An English translation (from Wikipedia)

Panis angelicus / The angelic bread
fit panis hominum; / becomes the bread of men;
Dat panis coelicus / The heavenly bread
figuris terminum: / ends all prefigurations:
O res mirabilis! / What wonder!
Manducat Dominum / consumes the Lord
Pauper, servus et humilis. / a poor and humble servant.

Anyone want to argue that this is not art? On what grounds?
John Francis

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Re: Is Classical Music Superior To Other Kinds Of Music?

Post by jbuck919 » Sat May 29, 2010 6:44 am

John F wrote:
jbuck919 wrote:Art has its own rules.
And what are they? That's the question which lies behind the subject header for this discussion, "Is classical music superior to other kinds of music?"
jbuck919 wrote:Andy Warhol is commonly considered one of the half dozen most important artists of the last half century. I'm not a trained connoisseur, but those who are do not consider his work remotely to be schlock.
If they did, his stuff wouldn't be fetching tens of millions of $$$ at Christie's. But you said that deciding how to rank Rembrandt, Currier and Ives, and billboards is not particularly difficult, at least not for you, and I introduced Andy Warhol as a more testing case to see if you would find it more difficult. Apparently you do, and defer to the opinion of some "trained connoisseurs" instead.

And this kind of deference is a trap for the unwary. You say, "the standard is always a consensus of connoisseurs developed over time, with composers as well as with visual artists." But the consensus shifts over time, and indeed has shifted in our lifetimes. Today's connoisseurs and experts accept Mahler as a master composer, but this was not always so. Here's a representative assessment from the 1950s, by Geoffrey Sharp in Ralph Hill's Penguin guide "The Symphony" (1950):
Geoffrey Sharp wrote:Mahler's aim undoubtedly was "expression," but it is doubtful whether what he wanted to express was worth the trouble he took over it.

There remain two criticisms of Mahler's music which cannot be dismissed lightly: those two cornerstones of contemporary disparagement - pseudo-naïveté and banality. But let us have them in basic English so that we know what we are talking about: childishness (which Mahler, like some of his critics, confused with naïveté) and vulgarity or triteness. Neither charge can be refuted. Mahler's attempts to come to terms with the realms of childlike fantasy were always childishly inadequate and there is no doubt at all that he was often vulgar.
This from a writer chosen to make the case for Mahler in a popular guide for lay listeners, just the kind of "connoisseur" you would presumably defer to. But 17 years later, Penguin replaced Hill's guide with another, also titled "The Symphony" but now edited by Robert Simpson, who entrusted the chapter on Mahler to Harold Truscott. Who says:
Harold Truscott wrote:Mahler, whose musical experiences reflected to an exceptional degree his experience of life, was (like Beethoven) the ordinary man with an extraordinary gift for expressing and analysing those experiences in musical language, both creative and recreative.
And goes on to appreciate, among other things, the same elements of Mahler's expressive language that Sharp bad-mouths. This raises the general question of what kind of expertise "connoisseurs" actually have, what authority they have to dictate taste, that we should passively nod our heads and take their word for it. Whose word do we choose to take, and how do we make that choice?
Your example does not support what you say about assessing Warhol. Geoffrey Sharp is not denying that Mahler is art--he is saying that it is not all that great. Every poster here would make the same judgment of some classical music, with different composers or compositions, though there would still be a remarkable degree of consensus. Personally, I think Sharp's assessment of Mahler, which you consider outdated, points out a real problem in his music, though Sharp is too harsh, reductionist, and dismissive. I happen to think that Mahler appreciation rather than my opinion of him is overly influenced by conformism, and then don't get me started on Sibelius. However, I consider myself qualified to participate in such a discussion as are you and virtually everyone who posts here. If we walked into a room full of serious "art people" and opined that Warhol, whom I personally don't care for as a matter of preference, is "nothing but over-hyped schlock," we should rightly expect the same reaction, ranging from polite silence to angry dismissal depending on the the context, that we would give an unsolicited Philistine opinion about any serious music, which God knows is something we have to endure often enough as is.
You yourself defer to no one when you call Franck's "Panis Angelus" "ghastly" and "crap"; do you count yourself among the tastemakers, where classical music is concerned, or do you simply assert your own opinion as adequately informed to be valid? As it happens, I've just listened to the piece, as sung by Renée Fleming, and think it's quite lovely and an entirely appropriate setting of the words, a hymn by St. Thomas Aquinas for the feast of Corpus Christi. Here, so all can judge for themselves:


Anyone want to argue that this is not art? On what grounds?
I would argue that it is not rendered such by a famously authored text (of no poetic value, BTW) and a performance by Renée Fleming. Neither was the song "Over There" when Caruso sang it, and it is a more stirring piece. Have you considered the possibility that Franck intended no more than to compose a devotional ditty?

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Re: Is Classical Music Superior To Other Kinds Of Music?

Post by lennygoran » Sat May 29, 2010 7:29 am

>I've just listened to the piece, as sung by Renée Fleming, and think it's quite lovely<

Well now I listened and it is very lovely--aamof more lovely than anything in that Ligeti opera Sue and I saw last night. :D Regards, Len [fleeing]

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Re: Is Classical Music Superior To Other Kinds Of Music?

Post by John F » Sat May 29, 2010 8:31 am

Geoffrey Sharp is saying in effect that Mahler's music is schlock, just as you say that "Panis Angelicus" is schlock. The difference is that he gives reasons, which as I recall were not just his own but a consensus back then.

Neither Sharp nor most writers about music ask the question, "But is it art?" Or how "art music" differs from music that is not art, if there is such a thing. You've said that in such matters, we have to rely on the judgment of "connoisseurs" over time. I've pointed out that the judgment of connoisseurs over time is not fixed and can actually reverse itself rather quickly. Mahler is only one of several such cases in our lifetimes (some of ours, anyway :)), Shostakovich being another. Slonimsky's "Lexicon of Musical Invective" is full of older examples. For that matter, if you go back far enough, the leading theorists and philosophers of music once held that music without words is ipso facto inferior to music with words, pretty much the opposite of the 21st-century view.

As for Andy Warhol, the current consensus may take him seriously, but this was not always so. If you'd walked into a room of serious "art people" in, say, 1965 or 1970 and opined that "Campbell's Soup Cans" is not just commercial graphics hyped as art ("Pop Art" was the term), but a serious and even important work of true art, you'd have branded yourself a philistine as surely as you might today for saying the opposite.

Actually, there is one writer - not a critic or connoisseur but a philosopher in the esthetics of music, Peter Kivy - who does concern himself with such questions. In the essay "Is Music an Art?" he says yes it is - but music without words is not a fine art but a decorative art. This is controversial, of course; it's as if we've been talking of Beethoven symphonies as if they were Rembrandts, only to find that they're wallpaper or, perhaps, oriental carpets. This view doesn't require him to distinguish between "art music" and music that doesn't qualify as art - indeed he may believe there's no such thing.

As for "Panis Angelicus":
jbuck919 wrote:Have you considered the possibility that Franck intended no more than to compose a devotional ditty?
Franck's intention is unknown, though as a deeply religious Catholic I should think it unlikely that his intention can have been as trivial as that. Anyway, intentions don't count; the road to Hell is paved etc. etc. For all we know, Mozart intended no more when writing the "Ave verum corpus" than to compose a "devotional ditty." No, the music has to make its own case. And while "Panis Angelicus" obviously rubs you the wrong way, you haven't said why it should be dismissed as schlock. If you did, then we'd have something we can actually discuss, instead of battling subjectivities. But it doesn't look like that's going to happen.
John Francis

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Re: Is Classical Music Superior To Other Kinds Of Music?

Post by lennygoran » Sat May 29, 2010 8:59 am

>but music without words is not a fine art but a decorative art.<

Exactly--that's why opera is so much better than classical music--if only Beethoven had realized that--just one opera-what a loss! Regards, Len :) :) :)

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Re: Is Classical Music Superior To Other Kinds Of Music?

Post by jbuck919 » Sat May 29, 2010 9:42 am

John F wrote:Geoffrey Sharp is saying in effect that Mahler's music is schlock, just as you say that "Panis Angelicus" is schlock.
That is not the way I read it. He is explaining his reasons why he doesn't take Mahler too seriously as a composer. It is a common, chiefly British failing in publishing survey guides to appreciation to allow the author's individual feelings to come to the fore. Of course, the opposite, chiefly American problem is such a homogenization that the inexperienced listener would never guess that there is a qualitative difference between Beethoven and Bruckner.
Neither Sharp nor most writers about music ask the question, "But is it art?" Or how "art music" differs from music that is not art, if there is such a thing. You've said that in such matters, we have to rely on the judgment of "connoisseurs" over time. I've pointed out that the judgment of connoisseurs over time is not fixed and can actually reverse itself rather quickly. Mahler is only one of several such cases in our lifetimes (some of ours, anyway :)), Shostakovich being another. Slonimsky's "Lexicon of Musical Invective" is full of older examples. For that matter, if you go back far enough, the leading theorists and philosophers of music once held that music without words is ipso facto inferior to music with words, pretty much the opposite of the 21st-century view.
The factious history of music appreciation shouldn't be confused with what eventually emerges. No one we would take seriously is going to revisit Beethoven because someone closer to his time thought that in his late works he had gone "stark, raving mad." On the other hand, every composer after Brahms had to struggle with insuperable artistic difficulties inherent in the art and not necessarily reflective of the talent of the composer, and concern over how they addressed these difficulties with more or less success is probably a permanent feature of their appreciation. Neither situation is to be confused with the fact that some people have gotten into print by being just plain wrong about some composers, or that Shostakovich and Mahler or any other composer since 1900 may have fluctuated over the years in the frequency with which they are programmed.

As for words and no words, in the period I assume you mean by "far enough" all of the really important music was choral/vocal. After 1600 that changed, and any theorist who continued to argue for the inherent inferiority of instrumental music is simply not to be taken seriously far as that opinion goes.

As for Andy Warhol, the current consensus may take him seriously, but this was not always so. If you'd walked into a room of serious "art people" in, say, 1965 or 1970 and opined that "Campbell's Soup Cans" is not just commercial graphics hyped as art ("Pop Art" was the term), but a serious and even important work of true art, you'd have branded yourself a philistine as surely as you might today for saying the opposite.
This is simply not true. Pop art was always considered a serious art movement, not a popular one. That does not mean that it was immediately accepted or loved by art critics, collectors, professors, artists themselves, etc., or that everybody loves it now (it is not a favorite of mine, though I do enjoy some artists whose work overlaps with it). There were those who accepted it immediately, and those who came around, if at all, a little later. But it was always taken on its own terms as art, not schlock someone was trying to pass off as art. The dismissive ones who laughed out of the room anyone who took it seriously were always the Philistines, no matter how cultured they appeared on the surface.
Actually, there is one writer - not a critic or connoisseur but a philosopher in the esthetics of music, Peter Kivy - who does concern himself with such questions. In the essay "Is Music an Art?" he says yes it is - but music without words is not a fine art but a decorative art. This is controversial, of course.
There is nothing controversial about it, except in the sense that people will latch onto anything for the sake of argument. Kivy is clearly wrong.
As for "Panis Angelicus":
jbuck919 wrote:Have you considered the possibility that Franck intended no more than to compose a devotional ditty?
Franck's intention is unknown, though as a deeply religious Catholic I should think it unlikely that his intention can have been as trivial as that. Anyway, intentions don't count; the road to Hell is paved etc. etc. For all we know, Mozart intended no more when writing the "Ave verum corpus" than to compose a "devotional ditty." No, the music has to make its own case. And while "Panis Angelicus" obviously rubs you the wrong way, you haven't said why it should be dismissed as schlock. If you did, then we'd have something we can actually discuss, instead of battling subjectivities. But it doesn't look like that's going to happen.
Do I have to explicate the concept of "simplistic"? It has all of the characteristics of a sentimental popular devotional number on the order of "Birthday of a King," "The Holy City," "The Palms," "The Lost Chord," and the like, with which it is often anthologized. The best that can be said of it is that it is not as cloying as those other pieces, but in place of cloyingness it has blandness, which doesn't make it much better.

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Re: Is Classical Music Superior To Other Kinds Of Music?

Post by 7flat5 » Sat May 29, 2010 9:16 pm

John F wrote:We don't really need to argue whether classical music is superior to other kinds of music. We can only get away with it when preaching to the choir. What we do need is to make the case that classical music is valuable and important in itself
This, I can absolutely agree with. And, it's sometimes a hard sell, and subject to all the definitional challenges alluded to above. Some seem to think that it's essential that it be "superior" in order to be of worth. Aren't going to change their minds.

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Re: Is Classical Music Superior To Other Kinds Of Music?

Post by slofstra » Sun May 30, 2010 3:58 pm

John F wrote:
slofstra wrote:I get two quite different readings for the Hammerklavier versus Louie, Louie.
Likewise the Hammerklavier Sonata vs. "An die Musik." Schubert's song took no time at all to write; he dated it March 1817 along with 10 other songs, a piano sonata, and the choral "Gesang der Geister über den Wasser." (That's just before Beethoven began work on his sonata, which took over a year to complete.) It can be sung at sight or by ear by anyone who can carry a tune, no special vocal skill and training needed, and played at sight by a modestly competent amateur pianist. A perfect thing of its kind, it's no less classical music, and good classical music, than the Beethoven sonata.
My main point is that the question of whether a given piece of music is more complex or not is much easier to assess. Generally speaking, classical music is more complex. It's difficult to develop criteria for defining classical music intrinsically. Had that particular Schubert piece, or some portion of it, been written by a pop tunesmith, we would call it pop music. (And pop music is not necessarily simple either. ) The only reason we say that your example is classical music is because Schubert wrote it, and most of Schubert's music is quite complex.

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Re: Is Classical Music Superior To Other Kinds Of Music?

Post by John F » Sun May 30, 2010 4:56 pm

slofstra wrote:My main point is that the question of whether a given piece of music is more complex or not is much easier to assess. Generally speaking, classical music is more complex. It's difficult to develop criteria for defining classical music intrinsically. Had that particular Schubert piece, or some portion of it, been written by a pop tunesmith, we would call it pop music. (And pop music is not necessarily simple either. ) The only reason we say that your example is classical music is because Schubert wrote it, and most of Schubert's music is quite complex.
Can't argue with most of what you say, up to the last sentence.

The only reason we say that "An die Musik" is classical music is because Schubert wrote it, and we say that he is a classical composer. Most of Schubert's compositions are not complex; about 2/3 of them are songs for solo voice and piano, and a large number of these are strophic - and anyway, as you say, pop music is not necessarily simple either.

As you also say, it certainly is difficult to develop criteria for defining classical music intrinsically. And if we can't, then where's the basis for saying that it's superior to other kinds of music? I'm not saying there can be no such basis, but that I haven't thought or read of any that holds water.

While I'm writing, and just as a curiosity: the formidable Milton Babbitt actually wrote a Broadway-type musical called "Fabulous Voyage," based on the "Odyssey." It's never been produced or recorded; I'd be curious to hear some of it. Doesn't make Babbitt any less a classical composer, of course, nor does it make "Fabulous Voyage" classical music.
John Francis

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Re: Is Classical Music Superior To Other Kinds Of Music?

Post by jbuck919 » Sun May 30, 2010 5:38 pm

John F wrote: The only reason we say that "An die Musik" is classical music is because Schubert wrote it, and we say that he is a classical composer. Most of Schubert's compositions are not complex; about 2/3 of them are songs for solo voice and piano, and a large number of these are strophic - and anyway, as you say, pop music is not necessarily simple either.
:shock: It astonishes me to hear you say or suggest that an exquisite compositional miniature like An die Musik, or presumably pretty much any song of Schubert's (or Schumann's or Brahms'?) that one might care to mention is only considered in a category separate from any cleverly or skillfully composed song that is never considered to be classical music because the composer is considered a classical composer. Or that most of Schubert's compositions are not complex. Or that the fact that most of them are songs is of any relevance in judging his accomplishment. Or that it is not a correct commonplace that a strophic art song actually requires more (or at least separate but equal) skill than a through-composed one. I cannot allow such an assessment to go unchallenged, yet I cannot refute it, for I am speechless. No wait! Edit edit edit. Have you ever tried singing An die Musik? It is an infallible indicator that a classical song, even a deceptively simple-sounding one like this, is on a different level that a straightforward performance of it is (1) the only allowable or conceivable one, i.e., it would never occur to a singer to make a new "cover" of it, and (2) far more difficult than any popular song, in areas including but not limited to breath control and consistency of production over the (usually extensive) range of the piece.

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Re: Is Classical Music Superior To Other Kinds Of Music?

Post by John F » Mon May 31, 2010 1:30 am

In the Corner Pub, I don't think you would take someone's professed astonishment at something you said to be a refutation of it. So setting your astonishment aside, let's look at what you're saying.
jbuck919 wrote:It astonishes me to hear you say or suggest that an exquisite compositional miniature like An die Musik, or presumably pretty much any song of Schubert's (or Schumann's or Brahms'?) that one might care to mention is only considered in a category separate from any cleverly or skillfully composed song that is never considered to be classical music because the composer is considered a classical composer.
How is "An die Musik" any less an "exquisite compositional miniature" than, say, "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes?" Yet we don't question that Schubert's song is classical music, and Jerome Kern's is pop music. Elisabeth Schwarzkopf never sang "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes," at least not in public, and Al Jolson never sang "An die Musik" (though Barbra Streisand might have). Why is this, do you think?
jbuck919 wrote:Or that most of Schubert's compositions are not complex.
But it's the truth, by any measure of complexity that isn't special pleading. As I said, about 2/3 of them are songs for solo voice and piano, and a large number of these are strophic; we're not talking Grosse Fuge here.

In what way is "An die Musik" complex? The form is simple, the texture likewise, harmonically it is diatonic throughout and never budges from its home key. slofstra's example of complexity was the hammerklavier sonata, which I suggested is making the classical/other comparison too easy, but at least no one could deny that the sonata is complex. One can deny this of many Schubert songs, and I do. Why does this upset you? Simplicity in itself is not a defect, sometimes it is a virtue, and Schubert's simplicity is not banal, to say the least.
jbuck919 wrote:Or that the fact that most of them are songs is of any relevance in judging his accomplishment.
Now you astonish me. :) Anyway, the issue isn't Schubert's accomplishment, for which I have the highest appreciation, but whether complexity as such is a valid criterion for distinguishing classical music from other music, or for establishing the superiority of classical music. Classical works like "An die Musik" make this difficult if not impossible to defend.
jbuck919 wrote:Or that it is not a correct commonplace that a strophic art song actually requires more (or at least separate but equal) skill than a through-composed one.

Is it? If so, then the "commonplace" applies equally to pop music, and doesn't help us. But I don't see how this is relevant to our topic, which isn't about the skill of the composer but the nature of the composition.
jbuck919 wrote:Have you ever tried singing An die Musik?
Yes, before mentioning it in this thread. Nobody would mistake my untrained voice for Fritz Wunderlich's, but the measure of a song's difficulty is not what it takes to produce a concert-quality performance, but to sing it at all. Transposed to a key that suits my voice, I can reach the top and bottom notes without much effort, and can sing the musical phrases legato from rest to rest without even thinking of breath control.
jbuck919 wrote:It is an infallible indicator that a classical song, even a deceptively simple-sounding one like this, is on a different level that a straightforward performance of it is the only allowable or conceivable one, i.e., it would never occur to a singer to make a new "cover" of it
Providing you allow for key transpositions, this is certainly true of Schubert's songs. Go back to the previous century and it's no longer true, as you know. Singers were not only allowed but expected to do as they pleased with the vocal line, adding ornaments ad lib, and some HIP recordings of 18th century arias are very far indeed from what the composers wrote. Cecilia Bartoli's modestly ornamented and very beautiful "cover" recording of "Ombra mai fu" differs from Caruso's, whose deviations from the notes on the page are more sparing and not the same ones. Of course there are "straightforward," literalistic recordings as well, but that approach is definitely not the only allowable or conceivable one in this repertoire. In fact it isn't even the preferred approach nowadays, any more than in Handel's time.

Seems to me that any generalization we might make about classical music as an undifferentiated category requires a very low common denominator that does not really exclude other kinds of music, at least using the criteria we've brought up so far. If that is so, then how can we argue whether classical music is superior to all other music?
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Re: Is Classical Music Superior To Other Kinds Of Music?

Post by jbuck919 » Mon May 31, 2010 5:51 am

John F wrote:
jbuck919 wrote:Have you ever tried singing An die Musik?
Yes, before mentioning it in this thread. Nobody would mistake my untrained voice for Fritz Wunderlich's, but the measure of a song's difficulty is not what it takes to produce a concert-quality performance, but to sing it at all. Transposed to a key that suits my voice, I can reach the top and bottom notes without much effort, and can sing the musical phrases legato from rest to rest without even thinking of breath control.
Congratulations. :wink:
jbuck919 wrote:It is an infallible indicator that a classical song, even a deceptively simple-sounding one like this, is on a different level that a straightforward performance of it is the only allowable or conceivable one, i.e., it would never occur to a singer to make a new "cover" of it
Providing you allow for key transpositions, this is certainly true of Schubert's songs. Go back to the previous century and it's no longer true, as you know. Singers were not only allowed but expected to do as they pleased with the vocal line, adding ornaments ad lib, and some HIP recordings of 18th century arias are very far indeed from what the composers wrote. Cecilia Bartoli's modestly ornamented and very beautiful "cover" recording of "Ombra mai fu" differs from Caruso's, whose deviations from the notes on the page are more sparing and not the same ones. Of course there are "straightforward," literalistic recordings as well, but that approach is definitely not the only allowable or conceivable one in this repertoire. In fact it isn't even the preferred approach nowadays, any more than in Handel's time.
I would not confuse baroque ornamentation, which is an inherent feature that enhances the music but does not change its character and integrity, with the kinds of "variation" represented by, say, the different versions of "Blue Moon." No one would jazz up He Was Despised from Messiah, or offer a ballad version of Thou Shalt Break Him.
Seems to me that any generalization we might make about classical music as an undifferentiated category requires a very low common denominator that does not really exclude other kinds of music, at least using the criteria we've brought up so far. If that is so, then how can we argue whether classical music is superior to all other music?
You have a point, if your low common denominator is Panis Angelicus.

P.S. I think we can be deeply grateful that pop singers hardly ever attempt art song. And while Schwarzkopf may not have been a cross-over artist, I did hear her recording of "O Danny Boy" once, and she could not manage the "th" sound among other things (it is easy to understand why she stated that singers should only sing in their own language).

There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
-- Johann Sebastian Bach

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Re: Is Classical Music Superior To Other Kinds Of Music?

Post by diegobueno » Mon May 31, 2010 9:15 pm

As a general statement, I have no problem saying that classical music, or art music, or serious music, is better than other kinds of music. For one thing it contains a wider variety of music than any other, and is deeper in terms of history. To be sure, it's a catch-all term for a whole universe of musical experience, 1000 years of musical history and in any period therin with multiple styles and genres, and work by the best minds in the musical business. The various genres of popular music tend to be exclusive. Any tiny variation in style needs a new label (techno, ambient techno, house, being examples from 10 years ago or so). If classical music were defined in those terms there would be billions and billions of labels based on time period, instrumentation, etc. There is so much more to be found within the bounds of classical music simply because it is defined so broadly.
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Re: Is Classical Music Superior To Other Kinds Of Music?

Post by RichardMitnick » Fri Jun 18, 2010 3:13 pm

I just received my copy of my friend Alan Rich's book So Iv'e Heard. Alan was acknowledged as the Dean of American critics of classical music.

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On page xxix, Alan gives a link to a blog piece by Alex Ross, http://www.therestisnoise.com/listen_to_this/index.html .

Alex' first line is, "I hate 'classical music': not the thing but the name". I recommend this article. BTW, at II para 1, Alex refers back to my friend Greg Sandow, http://www.artsjournal.com/sandow/, and this whole thread started with Greg.
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Re: Is Classical Music Superior To Other Kinds Of Music?

Post by John F » Fri Jun 18, 2010 10:59 pm

jbuck919 wrote:I would not confuse baroque ornamentation, which is an inherent feature that enhances the music but does not change its character and integrity, with the kinds of "variation" represented by, say, the different versions of "Blue Moon." No one would jazz up He Was Despised from Messiah, or offer a ballad version of Thou Shalt Break Him.
An elaborately ornamented version of a slow aria definitely does change its character and may or may not "enhance the music," depending on the ornaments and your personal taste. And how does jazz or afro ornamentation "change its integrity," while Baroque or other ornamentation does not? You claim a distinction here but don't explain it.

"Messiah" may not be a prime candidate for crossover, but a great deal of other music certainly has been "jazzed up," by classical performers and composers as well as others. Vladimir de Pachmann recorded Chopin's Minute Waltz with each section in a different style, the B section exaggeratedly "staccato alla Paganini"; Josef Hofmann used to play it with the reprise in thirds, or the closing chords reharmonized; Alexander Michalowski added a little prelude and coda of his own, making it a 1 1/2-minute waltz. All of it good entertainment.

I mentioned previously that Schubert's "Der Lindenbaum" had become a popular or folk song. And so it did, but I've also come across a "cover" recording by Nana Mouskouri, "normalizing" the last strophe and singing with her own little ornaments:



You said:
jbuck919 wrote:It is an infallible indicator that a classical song, even a deceptively simple-sounding one like this, is on a different level that a straightforward performance of it is the only allowable or conceivable one, i.e., it would never occur to a singer to make a new "cover" of it
Sorry, John, the limb you got out on is now definitively sawn off. :)

And that's without counting sets of variations, whether improvised in concert or written down, whose whole point is to "jazz up" a tune, whether the composer's own or someone else's. What the Marcels do with "Blue Moon" is nothing compared with what Beethoven does with Diabelli's little dance tune, or Brahms with the St. Antoni Chorale.

The "integrity" of a piece of music is a very complex question, rather blurred by the moral implications the word has come to carry. In what does a piece of music's integrity reside? Historically, composers, performers, critics, and listeners have been all over the lot about this, and one can quote an authority and precedent for just about any answer one might give. The literalist extreme has Stravinsky demanding that his music never be interpreted, only executed, and the philosopher Nelson Goodman arguing that any departure from the written text, even one wrong note, means it isn't a performance of the music at all. On the other hand, many composer/performers at least up to Liszt often took the written text as the starting point for whatever improvisation or recomposition they might choose to do, whether premeditated or on the spur of the moment, and often wrote their texts to allow themselves such "liberties." Talk to Mozart about the integrity of his score of the Coronation Concerto, in which he's only sketched the piano part, and he'd think you were joking, or nuts.
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Re: Is Classical Music Superior To Other Kinds Of Music?

Post by jbuck919 » Sat Jun 19, 2010 6:03 am

John F wrote:
jbuck919 wrote:It is an infallible indicator that a classical song, even a deceptively simple-sounding one like this, is on a different level that a straightforward performance of it is the only allowable or conceivable one, i.e., it would never occur to a singer to make a new "cover" of it
Sorry, John, the limb you got out on is now definitively sawn off. :)
Would any serious singer sing any song by Schumann or Schubert other than "straight"? I think not. (Re-use of the same tune in another serious composition such as a theme and variations, or mauling it for unabashed and dubious novelty effect by a recitalist are not what is at issue.) But "straight" renditions of Cole Porter and Irving Berlin scarcely exist, even in concept, though the extent to which performers took liberty with their tunes drove those composers nuts. Nobody sings "An die Musik" except one way. Nobody, including Judy Garland after the Wizard of Oz, ever sings "Over the Rainbow" without in effect making his or her own arrangement.

There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
-- Johann Sebastian Bach

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Re: Is Classical Music Superior To Other Kinds Of Music?

Post by diegobueno » Sat Jun 19, 2010 10:51 am

John F wrote:
Sorry, John, the limb you got out on is now definitively sawn off. :)

And that's without counting sets of variations, whether improvised in concert or written down, whose whole point is to "jazz up" a tune, whether the composer's own or someone else's. What the Marcels do with "Blue Moon" is nothing compared with what Beethoven does with Diabelli's little dance tune, or Brahms with the St. Antoni Chorale.

The "integrity" of a piece of music is a very complex question, rather blurred by the moral implications the word has come to carry. In what does a piece of music's integrity reside? Historically, composers, performers, critics, and listeners have been all over the lot about this, and one can quote an authority and precedent for just about any answer one might give. The literalist extreme has Stravinsky demanding that his music never be interpreted, only executed, and the philosopher Nelson Goodman arguing that any departure from the written text, even one wrong note, means it isn't a performance of the music at all. On the other hand, many composer/performers at least up to Liszt often took the written text as the starting point for whatever improvisation or recomposition they might choose to do, whether premeditated or on the spur of the moment, and often wrote their texts to allow themselves such "liberties." Talk to Mozart about the integrity of his score of the Coronation Concerto, in which he's only sketched the piano part, and he'd think you were joking, or nuts.
John F., you've completely missed the point. When someone sings "Blue Moon" in a different arrangement, it's still "Blue Moon". When Brahms messes around with the St. Antoni Chorale, it's no longer the St. Antoni Chorale, it's Brahms' Variations on a theme of Haydn. You see, the musical responsibility shifts to the person doing the messing around. There's a whole thread about "remixes" that covers works based on other works, and that's an extension of another thread that discusses more examples.

The farther back in music history you go, the more performer reworkings become an acceptable part of the performance practice. For old medieval dances like Trotto or Istampita Ghaetta anything goes. You can play them with any instrumentation, add any kind of accompaniments you want, play them fast or slow, whatever you like. Same with dances by Susato, as long as you cover the 4 or 5 written parts, you can add percussion, ornamentation, change tempos, link them up with other dances. For baroque music, there are any number of possibilities for ornamentation within the style. If you ornament Handel with blues licks, that's out of bounds. Part of learning to perform baroque music is to learn what kind of ornamentation was used during that period. Once you get to the 19th century, the music is all written out and you have to play what's written, or else take responsibility for the reworking.

And of course there's aleatory music where you're instructed to play whatever you want within certain boundaries. But the main tendency is, in classical music, for a score that spells everything out in as great a detail as possible, and in popular music for a vocal line with chord symbols which can be interpreted however the peformer wants.
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