Well, we seem to have moved from disconnects — classical music not connecting to the world around us — to ornamentation, and (this would be one way to put it) classical music not connecting to its own past. I’m happy to see so many comments, and I’ll have something of my own to add in not too long.
But I want to return for some last thoughts on disconnects, in this and one more post. I’ll also have to make my tentative final list of disconnects, drawing on ideas from so many of you, which I hope you’ll also supply in reaction to the new list.
Here’s a thought, though, about somethingn fairly big that might belong on the list. It’s a disconnect about performance. In classical music, the point of performances — according to orthodox thinking — is to bring us to the music, which is defined as something more or less unchanging that lies behind all performances. So if I play a Beethoven piano sonata, Beethoven is more important than I am. My role is to realize his intentions. (Or is it His, with a capital H?)
But in other kinds of music, things are much more flexible. You go to a performance to see a show. You also go, more often than not, to see and hear a musician. The music the musician plays is music she’s written. And, when the music is jazz, music she’s written and also improvises on. So musicians play a much more creative role.
And no, I’m not saying that classical musicians aren’t creative, or that two performances of the same masterwork can’t differ from each other, or that we don’t often go to concerts because we want to hear a musician we like. I’m saying that, in the larger scheme of things, the musician — no matter how big a star she might be, no matter how much we’re attracted to hear her — is, in the last analysis, on stage to serve the composer. This gives them — as I think is evident, if we compare classical performances with pop or jazz — less flexibility, and a more circumscribed role.
It wasn’t that way in the past. Even in the 1950s, classical musicians had more personality — differend more from each other — than they do now, and in the 18th century, the music that wasn’t yet called classical functioned surprisingly much like the way pop functions now. You’d go to hear somebody play, and they’d play their own music. Very likely they’d play a new piece, something you hadn’t heard before. They’d improvise. (I’ve said all this before.)
So there’s the disconnect. Classical musicians have a much more limited conception of their role than pop or jazz musicians do, and it shows in their performance (and also in the relative formality of the classical concert setting). If classical music functioned more like music in other genres — or, to put it more strongly, if it satisfied the expectations people have developed from hearing other kinds of music — things would be looser, more expressive, and more flexible. And classical musicians would often play pieces they themselves had composed.
Which would be pretty wonderful, wouldn’t it? Especially the part about musicians composing. You’d go to a concert, and have a vivid encounter with a flesh and blood human being.