Monday, September 25, 2006

Quiet Applause For The Retiring Humanist Music Critic Who Gave The Public 12,000 Articles About Classical Music And The Arts

"One of the questions a retiring music critic is most often asked is about what kind of future music is going to have , or even whether classical music will have a future.

There is only one answer: No one can say what the future of music will be, but that music will have a future is certain.

We've heard from the doomsayers for decades, and they aren't entirely wrong. There's no doubt that this is a difficult moment for classical music. We know that the financial situation of many orchestras, opera companies, and smaller ensembles is perilous, support is drying up, the public is graying, and nobody is buying subscriptions anymore.

Part of the public is understandably bored by the endless repetition of core masterpieces that weren't meant to be heard as often as they are, weren't intended to lapse into routine. Another part of the public is resolutely opposed to anything new in music, no matter how much they welcome or even seek out innovation and change in the other arts. And the whole mess, we hear, is the fault of the schools, which are not educating new audiences, and of the media, which are more interested in sensation than in substance.

This is not the whole story of course, but one wonders if the situation has ever been much different. All you have to do is read the letters of Mozart or the memoirs of Berlioz to realize that circumstances have never been easy for musicians, or for anyone who wants to accomplish anything worthwhile.

The history of music is among other things a history of difficult moments that visionary figures have found new and unexpected ways to get through. And while musical institutions and the funding structures that supported them -- the church, the aristocracy, governments, foundations, individuals -- have flourished and withered, come and gone, music itself survives.

The reason for this is that music has qualities in it that can't be found anywhere else. And people are always going to listen to it because it addresses fundamental human needs.

This is not to repeat the old cliché that music is a universal language; it isn't. The cliché arises because a lot of music communicates in nonverbal ways, but there is also a huge body of music that works with and through words that set up boundaries

Also, comparatively few people have no response to music, but almost no one responds to every kind of music. There are highly evolved forms of music in India, China, Africa, the Arab world, and elsewhere that most Western ears find difficult to understand; the opposite is probably true. But most people do respond to music of one kind or another, and often to several kinds.

Art music in every culture will always have a smaller audience than popular music, which represents a different kind of art. But popular music and art music have always been interdependent; many composers of both kinds of music have borrowed from one another -- and some have written both kinds.

Music has a future because every minute someone is born who wants to create it, perform it, or listen to it. How the connections will be made among creators, performers, and listeners will change as often and as quickly in the next generations as it has in the past. This is not a musical issue but a business question: how the music business will operate.

Most major works of music have come into the world despite major obstacles; the case is no different in the visual arts, theater, film, or, for that matter, the popular arts. Often it takes at least 50 years for challenging work to establish itself. Half a century ago, who could have predicted the present-day prominence of the symphonies of Mahler, the operas of Janacek, and the works of Ives? Or the virtual disappearance of figures once as popular as Victor Herbert or Sigmund Romberg, or of the whole genre in which they worked, operetta? Although Mahler, Janacek, and Ives had an unshakable conviction in the value of their own work, even they could not have foreseen how successful it would become." ...

Richard Dyer "One thing is certain: Music has a future -- A departing critic argues for its staying power" The Boston Globe September 24, 2006 [via Alex Ross's The Rest Is Noise. With thanks.].

One of the numerous figurative sculptures of Berkeley, California-based artist Stephen De Staebler.

Photo credit: Iowa State University Art Parks Library and e-Library. With thanks.


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