On Monday, I’ll be posting a new episode, the first since last
spring, of my in-progress online book
on the future of classical music.
In the last few episodes, all still available online, I
looked at the days when composers like Haydn and Mozart were active, but the
concept of classical music didn’t yet exist. Concerts were lively; audiences
reacted freely; most of the music played was new; and the musicians often
improvised. I don’t claim that this was a golden age (concerts also weren’t
well rehearsed, and the sound of all the first violins in a German orchestra
improvising ornaments independently would surely shock us, if we heard anything
like that now). But we could use something of that spirit, which in any case
informs much of the music written back then, which we now play with too much
reverence. And with not enough fun!
Now I’m going to show how all this changed — how the concept
of classical music emerged in the 19th century, and how concerts began to be formal,
solemn, and removed from everyday life. And, not least, full of old music. Add
two 20th century developments, the rise of modernism and the rise of a popular
culture far removed from any form of classical art (but often very artistic),
and we’ve got major trouble, an art form cut off from the world around it.
Which is not, by the way, to say that modernist music is
awful. But the idea that it ought to be the norm for new classical composition,
and that audiences have to hear it,
whether they like it or not — that’s disastrous. And it grows in part from the
very concept of classical music, which helped create the idea that the audience
can’t possibly know what’s good for it.
All this, and more, starts on Monday.