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June 16, 2007

Past and present

by Robert Levine

Greg wrote:

To Robert Levine (hi, Robert): I think, if you were plunked down in Mozart's time, yes, you'd find other violists playing music you know, but I don't think you'd entirely recognize the musical world you'd suddenly be in. ...

So -- Mozart's time. The first thing we'd find surprising (to put it mildly) would be the behavior of the audience. They wouldn't be quiet. They'd talk while the music was playing, and applaud the moment they heard something they liked, right in the middle of the performance... What it adds up to is a much more populist, much less canonic, much less "artistic," much more populist musical world than we have now, at least in classical music. It was noisier, more audience-based. Much more, in fact, like the pop world is today.

Opera is still a bit like that, of course. I've always wondered about the talking that apparently went on at concerts (and it is well-documented). Especially given the reduced volume of the older instruments, I'm surprised anyone heard much of anything. That's one difference from today's pop world. Say what one wants about the amplification levels at pop concerts; it's always possible to hear the performers.

...Secondly, performances would be, by our standards, pretty disorganized. There wasn't much rehearsal.

You'd be surprised at how used to that most orchestra musicians today are.

And third, the orchestras improvised. This was a shock for me when I read it. ..
Me too. It still happens on occasion, but it's not supposed to. I suspect that, once the age of the "composer as genius" dawned, with Beethoven leading the way, that kind of fun was stamped out. I doubt that Wagner or Mendelssohn (to say nothing of Mahler, that gonzo control freak) tolerated much in the way of artistic freedom on anyone else's part.
And about classical downloads: Yes, it's well known that younger people are downloading classical music, ... It doesn't mean that kids are listening to entire symphonies, and especially it doesn't mean that they're going to classical concerts, or that they'd want to. Who doesn't like the sound of classical music? Its appeal, simply as something you'd listen to, isn't in question.
I misunderstood some of your earlier remarks about canonical music. I'm glad we agree that the music per se doesn't need protection. How people hear the canon in 50 or 100 years is far less predictable than that people will hear it, one way or another.

Posted by rlevine at June 16, 2007 10:39 AM


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