Where does classical music take us?

A followup to my last post, from Nick Hornby’s Songbook, the most thoughtful and engaging book on music that I’ve read in a long time (and which I’ve quoted here before):

You could, if you were perverse, argue that you’ll never hear England by listening to English pop music. The Beatles and the Stones were, in their formative years, American cover bands who sang with American accents; the Sex Pistols were the Stooges with bad teeth and a canny manager, and Bowie was an art-school version of Jackson Browne until he saw the New York Dolls. But you’ll never hear England by listening to Elgar or Vaughn Williams, either: too much has happened since then. Where’s the lager-fueled violence? Where’s the lip, or the self-deprecation, or the lethargy, or the irreverence? Where are the jokes? Where’s the curry? You may not want to think about any of that when you lie back and think of England, but it’s all undeniably there, and if you’re English, the odds are that you’ll eat a curry more often than you see an ascending lark.

That’s one of the best descriptions I’ve seen of why classical music — as encountered in classical concert halls — smells like the past. Someone, though, is bound to say, “But I don’t want lager-fueled violence! I want larks!” So do I, so do I. But if we don’t admit, in our art, that the lager-fueled violence is there, then our art is just escapism. And so if you flee, for your larks, into the classical concert hall…

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