More than once in recent years, I've had the experience of attending an exhilarating musical event and of reading immediately afterward about the ongoing classical music crisis: drops in attendance figures, graying audiences, demise of the recording industry, and on and on.

Sometimes, I feel like an updated but down-at-the-heel version of the protagonist of Delacroix's celebrated painting, "The Death of Sardanapalus," in which the ancient Assyrian king, defeated by his enemies but determined not to let them enjoy the spoils of war, looks on calmly as he himself, his opulent palace, and all of his possessions -- including a white steed, a few slaves, and some lovely concubines (in varying states of undress, naturally) -- are about to go up in flames, by his own command.

My fifth-floor Manhattan walkup doesn't bear much resemblance to Sardanapalus's palace, and I'm a little low on horses, slaves, and concubines these days. But as I look at a reproduction of Delacroix's marvelous canvas, I wonder about my own attitudes. There's Sardanpalus, reclining on his bed, propping his head up on one hand, and staring into space, as if he were thinking, "I've had a wonderful time, I have no regrets about dying, but if I have to die, what do I care if everything I love dies with me?"

Sardanapalus's beard is black; mine, if I let it grow out, would be gray and white. I'm heading toward my sixty-second birthday, and for more than fifty of these years I've had the privilege and joy of getting to know vast quantities of wonderful music of all epochs and of hearing these works performed by outstanding musicians. I may not be very old by present-day standards, but now that I'm well into the phase of my life that may euphemistically be called late middle age, maybe I ought to give more thought than ever before to the question of why I, and millions of other people around the world, listen to and love this music, and why I hope that millions of people younger than myself and in generations yet unborn will be listening to it and loving it as long as our civilization survives.

Sardanapalus may never have existed, and if he did, he left no traces of his thoughts about posterity -- although Byron put quite a few interesting words in his mouth some twenty-five centuries after the presumed king's presumed death. But as far as I can tell, I do exist, and as a music historian, writer, and journalist, I make my living (such as it is) by spouting off. So what I propose to do in my blog, which begins with this brief introduction, is to offer my thoughts, on an irregular but frequent basis, on the music I hear today and the music I've heard over the last half-century, and how it all relates to the larger subject of art for our sake, as opposed to art for art's sake - whatever that might be.

January 27, 2008 4:39 PM | | Comments (0)


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Me Elsewhere


Ensemble for the Romantic Century


(These are two organizations that any music lovers in the New York area should get to know.)

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This page contains a single entry by Douglas McLennan published on January 27, 2008 4:39 PM.

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