April 9, 2009

Classical composers: scholarly vs. popular favorites

At GNXP.com, Agnostic has created a spreadsheet of Western classical composers ranked in two manners:

- Their popularity with the classical music-buying public (as determined by the number of recordings of their music offered for sale by Amazon.com--Mozart leads with 13,540, followed by Bach and Beethoven, and then there's a big leap down to Schubert, Brahms, Verdi, and Tchaikovsky, all with 6000-7000 recordings.)

- Versus their prominence in scholarly histories and encyclopedias of music, as tabulated by Charles Murray in Human Accomplishment (Mozart and Beethoven are tied for most eminent, followed by Bach and Wagner).

Counting the number of recordings on sale at Amazon seems like a reasonable metric of marketplace popularity, although at the Mozart v. Beethoven battle of the titans level, Mozart probably has an advantage because he wrote more music than Beethoven (e.g., 41 symphonies v. 9). If you are an obscure musician, you might try to pick up a few bucks from Mozart completists by recording an obscure Mozart piece. So, number of recordings on sale doesn't necessarily match up to sales. But, it seems likely to be good enough.

As you can see, overall, scholars and classical CD-buyers don't disagree all that much. Still, the scholars value early composers (pre-Vivaldi) more than the public. Vivaldi, Bach, and Handel were standing on the shoulders of giants; it's unfair that the public doesn't enjoy the music of their great predecessors as much, but that's just the way it is.

The other main area of disagreement between Amazon's and Murray's rankings is over 20th Century composers, especially atonal ones such as Schoenberg, Webern and Berg. (If you are not familiar with the music of Arnold, Anton, and Alban, this KTEL-like 1977 infomercial for a greatest hits album entitled "Beloved Hits of Arnie Schoenberg and the Second Viennese School" will get you up to speed. [Okay, this video version is even funnier.]) They were very talented at impressing scholars with the idea that they were the Next Big Thing in the History of Music, but the public has been less impressed. (It turned out that, so far, there really hasn't been a Next Big Thing. Western art music, which has been so productively changing styles for a couple of centuries, more or less ran out of gas in the 20th Century just as the cultural world became obsessed with style-changing as the mark of true greatness.)

The only two major composers from the second quarter of the 20th Century to be more popular with the public than with the scholars are Prokofiev and Shostakovitch, both of whom had to worry that if they let their compositions get too avant-garde, the middle-brow (but highly opinionated) Stalin would have them shot. So, the classical music-buying public evidently owes Stalin a debt of gratitude.

The composers who are most popular with the public relative to their importance to music historians tend to be melodic Romantics from the second half of the 19th Century and early 20th Century. The scholars rate opera composer Giacomo Puccini (Madame Butterfly) only 10% as important as Mozart, but Amazon carries 30% as many Puccini titles as Mozart titles. (Puccini's aria "Nessun Dorma" from Turandot has become a staple of television talent shows in the last few years.) Next in line is Bizet (Carmen), then Tchaikovsky (The Nutcracker), and Dvorak (The New World Symphony).

Then comes the early 18th Century Baroque composer Vivaldi (The Four Seasons). It's possible that the scholars are underrating Vivaldi's importance in music history because most of his compositions were lost from the late 18th Century until the 1920s. However, he was known to J.S. Bach, and had some influence on him.

Others more popular than their degree of scholarly eminence would suggest include Grieg, Verdi, Gounod, Saint-Saens, and Brahms (although, obviously, Verdi and Brahms are giants by any measure).

I wonder if opera fans are more likely to buy multiple versions of an opera than are symphony fans, which might account for opera composers doing well in terms of number of recordings on sale. To my untrained ear, it's easier to be a fan of a particular singer than a particular conductor or orchestras, so there might be more demand for multiple versions of operas. On the other hand, operas are expensive.

At the other end of the scale--composers more written about than played--we find, besides a lot of early composers and the late 12-tone boys, Cherubini. I had never heard of Cherubini, but Beethoven saw him as his greatest contemporary. Other big names on the Important-but-not-Popular list include Stravinsky, Berlioz, Weber, and Wagner.

Murray's methodology might overrate Berlioz's representation in music reference books because one of Murray's techniques is to look at the index and count the number of pages a composer's name appears on. Berlioz was not only a great composer (Symphonie Fantastique), but also a great music journalist. So, he gets quoted a lot about other people, which inflates the number of times his name appears in indexes relative to a composer who let his music do all the talking for him.

Evidently, the craft of composition had reached maturity in the second half of the 19th Century. By then, most of the tools to appeal to the music-literate public had been created. (Most film score music today sounds like late 19th century orchestral music, stylistically.)

After about 1900, however, the enormous richness of the 19th Century repertoire weighed down composers, driving them into experimentation, most of which has not proven enduringly popular with the CD-buying public. Strikingly, the composer universally believed by musicians to be the greatest genius of the second half of the 19th Century, Wagner, is not particularly popular these days compared to the awe with which he was regarded a century ago. Wagner got there first, and was able to create popular interest in his innovations that lasted for a few generations, but without him around to blow his own horn, public appreciation for Wagner seems to be fading relative to his Italian and Viennese rivals.

My impression is that 18th Century orchestral music has been growing in popularity at the expense of 19th Century orchestral music. We're just not profound enough anymore for the Romantics. Most pre-Beethoven stuff tends to sound like the composer introduced it with the words, "And here, your Archdukeness, is a little something to brighten your day," while post-Beethoven 19th Century music tends to sound like the composer is inviting you to "Come with me on journey to plumb the most profound depths of my infinite soul." Yeah, hey, that sounds great, but first I've got to check my, uh, Twitter account, so can I have a raincheck on the soul-plumbing?

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

108 comments:

David Davenport said...

Strikingly, the composer universally believed by musicians to be the greatest genius of the second half of the 19th Century, Wagner, is not particularly popular these days.

Not popular because not pee cee.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=20RldhK9354

Try this:

Strikingly, Steve Sailer, universally believed by connoisseurs of bon ton blogs to be the greatest journalist of the early 21st Century, doesn't make as much money as Macolm Gladwell these days.

Anonymous said...

What about Rachmaninoff as a popular 20th century composer?

Anonymous said...

"Evidently, the craft of composition had reached maturity in the second half of the 19th Century."

I don't think it's a coincidence that the peak of Western music happened at the peak of Western civilization. Western architecture peaked at the same time.

-Steve Johnson

Warner Brother said...

i think wagner's popularity was driven by bugs bunny. not the other way around.

Anonymous said...

I think Mozart's popularity among Amazon's CD-buying customers is largely caused by two things: the supposed "Mozart effect" on IQ (quite a few of the Mozart CDs are "Baby Genius" stuff), and the movie Amadeus, which seems to appeal hugely to people who don't otherwise listen to classical music. Not that Mozart isn't one of the very greatest composers ever, but I doubt many of the Amazon customers would be able to tell the difference between him and Salieri in a blind, side-by-side comparison.

Wagner is highly regarded by two groups: musicians and Dungeons & Dragons nerds (I don't know why the latter group is so into Wagner). Wagner's popular appeal is limited by two things. First, he was almost exclusively an opera composer, and opera doesn't appeal as much to the public as instrumental music does (Puccini seems to be the big exception to this rule). Second, he's now irrevocably associated with swaggering, bombastic Teutonic militarism. The fact that Hitler worshipped Wagner has probably tainted the composer forever, however unfair it may be. To this day there are riots in Israel whenever a visiting conductor tries to perform Wagner there.

steve wood said...

Strikingly, the composer universally believed by musicians to be the greatest genius of the second half of the 19th Century, Wagner, is not particularly popular these days.

Wagner's reputation has suffered for [ahem] political reasons. Also, a lot of his music is rather heavy and bombastic, whereas popular classical music tends to be lighter and "prettier."

Anonymous said...

Also, let's not forget that the number of recordings for sale is partly the result of the number of works a popular composer has left behind. Mozart and Bach (the top two Amazon classical guys) were extraordinarily prolific. If Beethoven had composed as many works as Bach or Mozart had, he might very well be at number one in the Amazon classical catalog.

robert said...

Fascinating research on Mr. Sailer's part.

I'm not sure about Wagner's appeal fading, though. It's true that the days where excerpts from his operas would routinely appear in orchestral concerts are largely gone; but his CD sales are still healthy, and there are still active Wagner Societies in several countries. (These tend to be populated by entirely sane people, not Dungeons and Dragons nerds or unreconstructed war criminals.) The Wagner festivals in Bayreuth are sold out for years in advance, I understand. (Of course the scholarly literature on Wagner continues to be gigantic, though the same, as Mr. Sailer observes, could be said of Schoenberg, so that doesn't mean anything of itself in terms of popularity.)

I've been told, by someone who lived in Israel for many years, that the de facto ban there on Wagner is easing and that the de facto ban there on Richard Strauss is largely a dead letter now. Since you can't train classical orchestral musicians adequately unless you expose them to both composers, and since Western classical music is more popular than ever in Israel, this is just as well.

No harm in not having heard of Cherubini. Few have these days. But in his own lifetime (1760-1842) he was at least as famous and respected as Beethoven. Joseph Sobran had an agreeable anecdote about Cherubini in one of his columns:

http://www.sobran.com/columns/2006/060126.shtml

d.c. watcher said...

Recently I've been listening to the Trout Symphony by Schubert. While i'd heard the music before (it's the theme for the Britcom, Waiting for God), I was sort of floored by how "modern" it sounds and the final voice song after all the instrumental pieces is striking and glad with the catchiest tune this side of the Alps. Listening to it made me understand why everyone always told me German was great for singing while French (my favorite) was bad. Languages that don't sound so great in speaking often sound gorgreous in singing.

Dutch reader said...

Using Amazon as a data source is a good start, but may I suggest a more supply driven one: YouTube.

Some Wagner pieces are apparently quite popular, e.g. Ride Of The Valkyries from the Nibelungen cycle (243 videos posted on YouTube, and I have heard it as a cell phone ring tone on several occasions) or his Bridal Chorus (Bridal March, Wedding March etc, each good voor a few hundred hits). Just the name Wagner gets 40400 hits on YouTube.

Beethoven (66400) and Bach (64400) both outscore Mozart (54400). (on a sidenote, does anybody know why YouTube's search result estimates all seem to end on "400" above a certain number?)

By contrast, there are only about 3000 in total hits for Schonberg/Schoenberg, and each of his pieces gets a few tens of hits, about one tenth of Wagner's, or Stravinsky's (Firebird/Oiseau de Feu, The Sacraments of Spring/Sacre du Printemp, and Petruschka seem quite popular).

GMR said...

Certain pieces of classical music have become almost nauseatingly popular. These few pieces (or at least albums with these pieces) likely account for a huge portion of the sales of certain composers. Among these:

Dvorak. New World Symphony.

Mozart. Eine Kleine Nachtmusik.

Pachelbel. Canon in D is not all he composed. However, it's difficult to find other stuff he wrote.

Vivaldi. The Four Seasons. Particularly the first movmeent of Spring.

So if you go to Amazon, you'll find 1,651 items by Pachelbel. On the first page, all of them were the Canon. I think that these popular pieces skew the results, as most of the people buying one of these albums with the canon are people that own 10 or so classical CDs to play every now and then... How many of the Mozart items for sale at Amazon feature EKNM or the Magic Flute or something else really "popular" for the people who want a few classical CDs (or maybe now, MP3s ont heir ipods).

agnostic said...

Re: maturing in the 19th C, it's also bizarre that Western high music began so late. There's no musical equivalent of Sophocles or Kallicrates.

In roughly half a millennium, it was born and peaked.

Music is the most abstract art form, unlike visual and verbal forms. So perhaps there was simply less fruit for mortals to pick from the tree of music than that of literary or visual art.

Argent Paladin said...

I don't think that you can infer a decline in interest in Wagner from the fact that there is a large gap in interest between critics and the general public.
I agree that it has a lot to do with the genre. Operas are long, and the Ring Cycle is legendarily long. It costs millions of dollars to stage it properly (compare that to Bach's organ work, which only requires one person). In addition, it takes more work and concentration to listen to Wagner. It is in a foreign language, has a convoluted plot (based on unfamiliar mythology) and has many instruments and singers. Obviously, Mozart wrote several operas, but they are often lighter or comic in nature. (Note that no critic considers Arthur Sullivan to be a top tier musical genius, but I would venture to guess that his comic operettas have been seen by more people than Mozart and Wagner's combined).
Finally, much contemporary classical music is relegated to background music: to keep the kids away outside a fast food restaurant, converted into muzak, played to babies or studying students and to help people sleep. Wagner doesn't sooth babies, aid studying or cure insomnia.

Darwin's Sh*tlist said...

Fun and interesting thread.

I wonder to what extent the amazon list includes cds where all that's included from a given composer is an excerpt. For example, there are tons of cheap wedding cds that will almost always include Pachelbel, Mendelsohn, Wagner, Bach, and Vivaldi. Similar compilations are available for Christmas, which get you Handel and some lesser-known guys like Correlli.

Also, some of the big composers will sometimes have all of their works put out by lesser known labels, particularly to appeal to collectors. My public library, for example, has every one of Bach's 300+ Cantatas on disk - but I doubt it was a big seller. I also remember in 1991, Philips released a suitcase-sized box set of everything that Mozart ever wrote. Sure, Wolfgang is plenty popular in his own right (and deservedly so) but that has to inflate the numbers somewhat.

And, agnostic, you raise an interesting point. I think the maturation of classical music was slow because it's the art form most dependent on economic and social conditions for viability. Prior to the classical era, the church and royal courts were the central patrons for music. It wasn't until the 1800s that a growing middle class was able to support and patronize larger symphony halls to hear largely secular music.

Compare this slow development with that of jazz, which didn't come about until the recording and radio era. Jazz changed several times and pretty much exhausted itself within 50 years of its creation (roughly 1920-1970).

Anonymous said...

This informercial for twelve-tone music has the same words but different images. I think it's better.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LACCAF04wSs

Anonymous said...

Strikingly, the composer universally believed by musicians to be the greatest genius of the second half of the 19th Century, Wagner, is not particularly popular these days.

same goes for the artists of that period - bogeroue , germone, et al - were considered the greatest of the 19th century at the end of the 19th century.......

Searchtastic said...

For what it's worth here are the top names and the google search results:

Mozart 37,600,000
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart 4,400,000
"Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart" 4,400,000

Beethoven 23,900,000
Ludwig van Beethoven 3,720,000
"Ludwig van Beethoven" 3,730,000

Bach 51,200,000
Johann Sebastian Bach 4,040,000
"Johann Sebastian Bach" 4,790,000

Wagner 58,500,000
Richard Wagner 4,170,000
"Richard Wagner" 3,780,000

It seems to me that google used to make a greater distinction between the terms with quotes or without quotes. Obviously the AI is now making an assumption and doesn't need the quotes?

Anonymous said...

Hmmm, what was invented in the early 20th C. that might've really started to screw things up? Recorded music, the motion picture, the radio, the idiot box. Culture as easily consumable; entertainment as ever-present. It's changed our world in ways we seldom appreciate.

Insightful said...

Compare this slow development with that of jazz, which didn't come about until the recording and radio era. Jazz changed several times and pretty much exhausted itself within 50 years of its creation (roughly 1920-1970).

Where have you been? Jazz is more popular than classical music. Think Wynton Marsalis...

Anonymous said...

"It's like if you were writing a scholarly history of the Beatles, you'd have to write about the skiffle groups of Liverpool in the 1950s that John and Paul listened to as adolescents, but the public doesn't want to listen to skiffle, it wants to listen to the Beatles"

This analogy does not make much sense. If "early music" means Renaissance music then it bears little resemblance to anything from Haydn onwards, and apart from church music would have been completely unknown to famous composers from, again, Haydn or so on to the 20th century.

In his early letters, when Mozart says "Bach" he means Johann Christian; later he noticed that JC's dad was actually some kind of composer too, but generally musicians of that time were not very historically-minded. This changed in the 19th century, but only to the point of celebrating the Baroque and Classical periods; as far as the 16th and 17th centuries, people knew a bit of church music (Palestrina especially) but not much else.

I don't know if there is a logical reason for the relative unpopularity of Renaissance music, but if there is, it might be that classical/baroque/romantic music has to be played by musicians with specific skills, and when you're looking at, say, a "boke" of "fantasyes" that demands a real virtuoso lutenist, a dab hand on some extinct violin-family instrument, and someone who plays something called a theorbe - well guess what, the Beaux Arts Trio is not gonna play it, Maurizio Pollini is not gonna jackhammer his way through it, Sir Neville Mariner and the Academy of blah-blah-blah are not gonna take a nap and claim they just recorded it - it's just different music, for different instruments and with a different sensibility.

As for Wagner, I think Wagner fans are a different class of people from classical and baroque listeners (and perhaps from homo sapiens), so he is not so much "less popular than Mozart, Bach and Beethoven" as "popular with a different, and as it happens smaller, group".

As for Shostakovitch and Prokofiev, I'm not sure their popular appeal can be laid at the feet of Uncle Joe; Rachmaninoff, who had little to fear from Stalin, is another Russian who kept something of an older, Romantic sound. And the Englishmen - Elgar, Vaughan Williams, Holst, Grainger - never went atonal; I think the "triumph of the tone row" did not actually happen outside the fantasies of music critics, who basically see music as nothing more than an excuse to paint wildly inaccurate word-pictures, and wanted to be able to write that they supported a "revolutionary", "new" music.

So I don't think you can apply to modern music the same narrative as in modern painting or poetry or architecture, where "idea-driven" or "critic-driven" art really did win out over, you know, actual art.

testing99 said...

Sibelius, a 20th Century composer, is still popular. As is Aram Khatchaturian, and Aaron Copland and Bela Bartok.

Rimsky-Korsakov, and Mussorgsky are quite popular on KUSC-FM LA.

I would suggest the playlist for KUSC (at KUSC.org) would be a better indication:

Musical pieces must be popular to a broad range of listeners, and so on. Meanwhile the pieces played are both DJ favorites and fan favorites (too much obscure music drives away listeners).

I would say several broad trends emerge if you listen regularly to KUSC.

One: music that is played is "emotion-evoking" and mostly from the period 1860-1950.

Two: Orchestral works are more popular than quartets, etc.

Three: the works and composers most popular seemed to based on European, either Spanish or East European at that, folk music and traditions.

Four: of Operas, Puccini and Verdi are the most popular, because they are the most emotionally evocative.
--------------
What's really interesting is how few film composers other than John Williams are able to work in the classical orchestral mode. A good adventure/comic-book movie is made or unmade by the soundtrack.

Stewart Copeland comes closest to Wiliams, often mixing syncopation with orchestral movements and various folk songs (his soundtrack for Rapa Nui is to be heard to be believed). James Newton-Howard is OK at times (Bourne movies, Batman Begins).

But most modern sound-track composers just can't use the same musical vocabulary. It's all rock-pop and that ironically just doesn't sound "right" to the modern ear expecting grand emotional moments. [Hilariously parodied in Mel Brooks "High Anxiety" movie that poked fun at Hitchcock Films.]

Anonymous said...

"They were very talented at impressing scholars with the idea that they were the Next Big Thing in the History of Music, but the public has been less impressed."

Is this another case of a Jewish artist(Schoenberg) coming up with something that can be better appreciated with words rather than for what it actually is?

Theodor Adorno liked him.

http://www.moyak.com/papers/adorno-schoenberg-atonality.html

ziel said...

In roughly half a millennium, it was born and peaked.

Yeah, what's the deal with that? I don't know much about Eastern music, but from what I've heard here and there it sounds no more advanced than Celtic or Appalachian folk music. Could there have been some genetic development in Western Europe a millenium ago that brought this revolution about?

Anonymous said...

Oh, man. Taste in music debates are about as interesting as taste in food debates. Nobody really cares what music other people like. Especially in this age of ear buds. Yeah you might listen to something one time on a trusted recommendation but music is intensely personal and by the age of about 13 people refuse to be force fed the cold spinach by their supposed betters.

Anonymous said...

I have to say that this discussion is rather biased towards the situation in America. While most comments are no doubt from Americans it has to be accepted that the classical music world does not necessarily have its centre in the USA. If you are going to make comments on a global, or at least western-wide, art form you do need to consider the situation elsewhere.

If you look at the repertoire of American orchestras it is much more limited than, say, European ones. While this may be attributed to subsidized orchestras not worrying about audiences it also applies to British orchestras who are worried about bums on seats. You will find a lot more Sibelius, Nielsen, Shostakovich, Mahler and Janacek performed there. All of them first half of the 20C. Interestingly, apart from specialist ensembles, atonal music is no more common, perhaps lees so in fact, than in the US.

Reg Cæsar said...

I have several of Schoenberg's textbooks on harmony and composition. They are surprisingly conservative. His theory of "regions" , in fact, takes tonality to its extreme. Maybe he cracked... or didn't think he could compete with the masters, so went into uncharted territory.

Where's Leroy Anderson on this list? Now there's popular-and-underrated!

Someone anonymously mentioned that the English never went atonal; the Scandinavians were even more ear-friendly: Sibelius, Nielsen, Alfvén, Halvorsen, Wirén... (ABBA, Roxette, A-ha, Ace of Base...)

Grieg was hardly alone. "When You Wish Upon a Star" is pretty stirring as an orchestral arrangement, and was written by Leigh Harline, an ethnic Swede like Sibelius and Anderson.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...
Oh, man. Taste in music debates are about as interesting as taste in food debates. Nobody really cares what music other people like. Especially in this age of ear buds. Yeah you might listen to something one time on a trusted recommendation but music is intensely personal and by the age of about 13 people refuse to be force fed the cold spinach by their supposed betters.


Translation: "I hate classical music. Write about politics, please."

Anonymous said...

Re Sibelius: In the forties or fifties, the BBC conducted a poll of its listeners to determine the most popular classical composer. Sibelius was the winner by a significant margin. Beethoven came in second. (There was even a British detective movie from that time in which the murderer's alibi fell apart because he didn't know that the orchestra had substituted Sibelius at the last minute, thus proving that he wasn't really at the concert.)

symphonies suck said...

I had no idea you were all music professors. I mean, Reg is plausible due to his typical online persona but t99? You had me going until I read that section.

Anonymous said...

One thing that helped Wagner's immense popularity in the late 19th century was his considerable personal charisma and megalomaniacal ambition. Wagner had a way of convincing everyone he met that Wagner was the greatest artistic genius who ever walked the earth and that you needed to go out in the world and proselytize on his behalf. Even the young Nietzsche fell under his sway for many years, happily turning himself into a tireless propagandist for the great composer. (Nietzsche, of course, did a complete about-face and spent his later years relentlessly bashing Wagner.)

Wagnerism really did have very cult-like aspects--and most cults tend to fade after the Dear Leader departs our world for the great beyond.

By the way, despite my unease with certain aspects of Wagner, I do consider him one of the ten greatest composers ever.

michael said...

One big problem with Wagner now is that his works are _very_ hard to cast.

Basically, his operas require big voices with a lot of stamina and most of the classical music establishment works against producing such singers.

Big voices comes into focus (become usable and agreeable to listen to) later than small voices which means that big-voiced singers can't win singing contests at early ages (a big part of career making now). The second rank state-supported repetory houses of Europe used to be where potentially great singers went while they waited for things to come together but ... big voices tend to come in big bodies (not necessarily fat but big) and directors want to cast everything with pretty young things (male and female).

The big trend in opera performances over the last twenty years has been towards pre-baroque works for two main reasons:

Firstly they suit the young slender things that directors want to cast (who tend to have young slender voices not capable of much expression). Secondly they're amorphous enought in structure so that the director can make whatever parallels he wants with modern politics and no one can disagree.

Finally, one of the reasons Verdi is the greatest opera composer ever is that even mediocre performers can make an impact in them. Mediocre Wagner or Mozart or Handel are a chore to watch and listen to. But Verdi's visceral understanding of stagecraft and ability to write simple but memorable tunes mean that Rigoletto and Aida are much surer audience pleasers than Tannhauser or Cosi Fan Tutte.

Anonymous said...

http://www.scena.org/columns/lebrecht/010708-NL-Schoenberg.html

IT is a measure of the immensity of the man's achievement that, 50 years after his death, he can still empty any hall on earth. Arnold Schoenberg is box office poison. Put his music on a programme and the patrons will abscond or riot, just as they did at the premiere of the Verklarte Nacht sextet in February 1902 when Schoenberg's big brother, Heinrich, had to eject the disrupters.

Anonymous said...

Reg Cæsar said...
I have several of Schoenberg's textbooks on harmony and composition. They are surprisingly conservative. His theory of "regions" , in fact, takes tonality to its extreme. Maybe he cracked... or didn't think he could compete with the masters, so went into uncharted territory.


Schoenberg himself claimed that he thought that diatonic and chromatic tonality had gone as far as it could go and that by using tone rows he could extend the life of German classical music for another fifty years. He said he considered himself as more of a curator and caretaker of a great tradition than a revolutionary innovator. He seems to have been sincere. While I can't really listen to his twelvetone stuff at all, I do enjoy his early compositions, esp. his tone poem Pelleas und Melisande. He wasn't a fraud or a no-talent, but he was misguided.

And yes, Leroy Anderson is underrated. The man was a genuine talent.

Anonymous said...

I wonder if opera fans are more likely to buy multiple versions of an opera than are symphony fans, which might account for opera composers doing well in terms of number of recordings on sale.

Interesting question. In my case, no. I buy multiple versions of operas and instrumental works, more or less equally. So that's one data point.

Martin Regnen said...

Yup, Wagner is difficult to cast. Plus most musicians hate him because his works tend to be long and loud - meaning hard work when you're unamplified. Plenty of sore joints afterwards.

I also agree with Reg Caesar that Schoenberg is rated highly by encyclopedia writers in part because of his textbooks and other writings, especially if you like random political digressions in the footnotes.

R J Stove said...

Examining the above comments about Wagner made me realize something that had never occurred to me before. Fully six years have elapsed since I, as a church organist, was last asked to perform at a wedding the Bridal March from Wagner's Lohengrin.

In preceding decades, I was asked to play that piece again and again. I suspect that other church organists would report a similar decline in the Bridal March's popularity.

Meanwhile, if my experience is any indication, brides are still requesting that the organist play the Wedding March from Mendelssohn's Midsummer Night's Dream. That's if they want church nuptials (and an organist) at all. Far fewer of them do than would have wanted them 20 years back.

Anonymous said...

There seems to be a clear demarcation line as to when classical music stopped being good - World War I. Not just classical music, but art and literature suffered as well. It probably was reflective of the times - optimism and soulfulness had been replaced by negativism and cynicism.

Anonymous said...

Agnostic
'In roughly half a millennium, it was born and peaked.'

Five hundred years of wonderful music is pretty good, by any standards.

Anonymous said...

Martin Regnen said...
Yup, Wagner is difficult to cast. Plus most musicians hate him because his works tend to be long and loud - meaning hard work when you're unamplified. Plenty of sore joints afterwards.


Interesting. Most orchestral musicians I've known, especially trombonists, love playing Wagner.

R J Stove said...
Examining the above comments about Wagner made me realize something that had never occurred to me before. Fully six years have elapsed since I, as a church organist, was last asked to perform at a wedding the Bridal March from Wagner's Lohengrin.


I too have noticed less Wagner and more Mendelssohn at weddings these last two decades. On the other hand, I've noticed church organists including a transcription of Wagner's Meistersinger prelude more and more often in their recitals. It seems to go down well with audiences.

Lucille said...

What's really interesting is how few film composers other than John Williams are able to work in the classical orchestral mode.

Maybe you're not watching the same movies I'm watching, because I can think of plenty of such composers such as Howard Shore and Hans Zimmer.

Reg Cæsar said...

Schoenberg himself claimed that he thought that diatonic and chromatic tonality had gone as far as it could go and that by using tone rows he could extend the life of German classical music for another fifty years. --anonymous

On the other hand, this is the man who said there's plenty left to be written in C major-- one of my favorite musical quotes of the 20th century.

Anonymous said...

As for Shostakovitch and Prokofiev, I'm not sure their popular appeal can be laid at the feet of Uncle Joe; Rachmaninoff, who had little to fear from Stalin, is another Russian who kept something of an older, Romantic sound.

Even among modern composers from the Soviet/Eastern-European bloc -- Part, Penderecki, Kancheli, Vasks, Gorecki, etc. -- there is a stronger melodic tradition than in Western "serious" music, making their work listenable, even when there's no tonal center and the melodies are just fragments. Gubaidulina is really the only composer I've listened to, from that background, that I find difficult.

And the Englishmen - Elgar, Vaughan Williams, Holst, Grainger - never went atonal

Well. That generation. I'm not familiar with Grainger, but Elgar, Vaughan Williams, and Holst are all composers who developed their individual styles before the Great War, along with other worthies like Bantock, Delius, and Butterworth. And even Vaughan Williams and Holst were not immune from modern compositional trends, even if they were able to avoid the worst of it -- look at VW's fourth symphony. The generation after, though -- Britten and his ilk -- didn't really continue in that idiom.

Holst & Vaughan Williams are essentially contemporaries of continental composers like Max Reger and Franz Schmidt -- the same generation as Schoenberg, and the last generation before the deluge.

MTV said...

Let's not forget that Wagner, along with his well known musical role, was nearly as prolific a writer as Sailer, touching on numerous aspects of society, many times from a stance of what would be viewed as "far left" in today's clime (anti-vivisectionism for instance).

Relevant to this current post is Wagner's serial "Publikum und Popularitat" (Public and Popularity), which opens with the words of an Indian proverb:

"The bad is not the worst, for seldom can it deceive; the middling is far worse, so many it good believe."

Acilius said...

@agnostic: The ancient Greeks tell us about a number of composers whom they regarded highly, but since we can't fully decipher the bits of their musical notation system that have survived and they didn't have sound recording technology we don't know what that music sounded like or how it relates to what came after.

Anonymous said...

http://www.fantasticmetropolis.com/i/beethoven/

Anonymous said...

I recall when I got married
(15 years ago) the priest
would not allow Wagner's wedding
march. Priest's have veto
over wedding music.

RGH said...

As Mark Twain supposedly said, Wagner's music is better than it sounds.

Perhaps that's why he doesn't sell a lot of CD's.

PRCalDude said...

check this out, steve:
http://newsroom.ucla.edu/portal/ucla/u-s-civil-war-illustrates-costs-77940.aspx

RGH said...

As to why creativity seems to have peaked in the late 19th century (you see that in Murray's book across the board), that's when mass public schooling really kicked in. It seems obvious that spending your childhood in a desk being told what to do every second is going to dull your creative impulses.

David said...

symphonies suck said

I had no idea you were all music professors.

Nah, just intelligent adults, suck.

Beethoven studied Palestrina, and Brahms studied all the early music he could get his hands on. Mendelssohn almost single-handed rescued J.S. Bach from obscurity (at least the Passion), and Schumann saved Schubert's "Great" Symphony from a similar fate. So influence (in Murray's sense) is real but is often narrow. Much of Chopin was inspired by Bach and Field and some obscure Polish near-contemporaries; Tchaikovsky worshiped Mozart "as I worship Christ," he said; Wagner was a Beethoven fanboy.

As for the Beatles analogy, it's a good one. The conscious models of many composers are earlier people whom we never heard of, sometimes much earlier. Bartok studied Hungarian peasant music (Liszt studied gypsy music), which is as old as the hills. J.S. Bach was marinated in primitive stuff that few people after him would sit through.

Has anyone else noted the collapse of modern music snobbery among critics? Rachmaninoff, Sibelius, etc. are now largely "reformed." It's as if the political battle is over, the fight has gone out of the classical music field and moved on to other fields. Almost no one sneers at the old enemies or boot-licks the 12-toners anymore. It's sort of like the fall of the Communist Party...

James Kabala said...

I haven't been to a wedding in a while, but I think the Bridal Chorus still popular in the U.S. In fact, it is popularly known as "Here Comes the Bride" and most people probably don't know it was written by Wagner

Not to try to out-Catholic the devout and erudite Mr. Stove, but traditionally the Church in the U.S. looks down on both pieces. To quote one diocesan website:

"The so-called 'traditional wedding marches' by Wagner and Mendelssohn are not to be used. Both are 'theater' pieces which have nothing to do with the Sacred Liturgy. The 'Bridal Chorus' from Wagner’s opera, Lohengrin, actually accompanies the couple to the bedroom, not the altar! Mendelssohn’s incidental music to Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream accompanies a farcical wedding (the play is a comedy). More importantly, they have been used to accompany 'weddings' in countless movies, TV shows and game shows. The majority of images these pieces conjure in the minds of the congregation may have a lot to do with sentimentality but very little to do with worship. Because of this, even though they are frequently used in the United States in Protestant churches or non-religious wedding settings, they are rarely used in Catholic churches."

Anonymous said...

What's really interesting is how few film composers other than John Williams are able to work in the classical orchestral mode.

You're retarded and what blog am I on again? There's Joe Hishaishi, Howard Shore, James Horner, Jerry Goldsmith, just off the top of my head. Jimmy Webb wrote an classical orchestral score for the Last Unicorn - Jimmy freaking Wichita lineman left his cake in the rain in Phoenix Webb. Marc Knopfler wrote one for the Princess Bride. The rise of the cheesy jazzy Broadway score against the symphonic score is all about demographics, doofus.

josh said...

"Cherubini"? That sounds like a Chico Marx character.

Anonymous said...

The interesting thing about Renaissance and earlier music is that when people are exposed to it, they adore it and become big fans, particularly complex vocal music like this:

http://www.last.fm/music/Ensemble+Project+Ars+Nova/_/Le+ray+au+soleyl%3A+Canon

This music is accessible but also rewarding of close study. There are active early music guilds in all major American cities.

The material is also mined by popular artists like Lorena McKennit and Lisa Gerard, and endless goth bands.

Anonymous said...

One reason classical music sales are robust while contemporary music is declining is that generation slacker has learned how to download or steal music off the internet while the average upper crust type who likes classical does not mind paying $20 for a cd. All of these hip rebels are canibalizing their idols.

Dan Kurt said...

re: "My impression is that 18th Century orchestral music has been growing in popularity at the expense of 19th Century orchestral music. We're just not profound enough anymore for the Romantics."

A writer has analyzed music as a cultural civilizational marker of the rise and fall of same. Music is but a small part of the analysis. His work is a tour de force. Be warned he is a socialist but oh so brilliant.

The author is Pitirim Sorokin. The book(s) is Social and Cultural Dynamics (4 vol., 1937–41; rev. and abridged ed. 1957), easily available is the abridged one:Social and Cultural Dynamics: A Study of Change in Major Systems of Art, Truth, Ethics, Law, and Social Relationships (Social Science Classics Series) (Paperback) ISBN-10: 0878557873
ISBN-13: 978-0878557875. More accessible is his book for the general, yet intelligent, reader Crisis of Our Age, 1941, (Paperback) ISBN-10: 1851680284
ISBN-13: 978-1851680283.

Dan Kurt

Ryman Cuplet said...

One could do the same with poetry, albeit I understand that the sales figures for modern free verse poetry are woeful. I guess poetry as an artform became so introspective that, having nowehere else to go, it finally disappeared up its own backside.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...
There seems to be a clear demarcation line as to when classical music stopped being good - World War I. Not just classical music, but art and literature suffered as well.


For classical music, I'd put the date a little further forward, maybe ca. 1950. After all, we had Janacek, Bartok, Prokofiev, Stravinsky, Shostakovich, Copland, Piston, Britten and a few others writing a lot of excellent and even great music post-WWI.

Anonymous said...

How could you not mention the Pilgrim's Chorus from Tannhauser? Somber and muted rising to triumphant.

Wagner and other classical music was used in Bugs Bunny cartoons because it is stirring in an immediate way that even kids can relate to. Not sure if they used the Pilgrim's Chorus, though.

Kevin Foy said...

Poor Bruckner, not even a passing mention.

Darwin's Sh*tlist said...

Compare this slow development with that of jazz, which didn't come about until the recording and radio era. Jazz changed several times and pretty much exhausted itself within 50 years of its creation (roughly 1920-1970).

Where have you been? Jazz is more popular than classical music. Think Wynton Marsalis...


Actually, I've been playing jazz with other musicians for the past few years!

By exhausted, I don't mean current popularity. I mean whether there's still significant, vital creativity in the music. John Coltrane was really the last innovator in jazz. After that everything else is pretty much derivative. While I admire Wynton Marsalis as an advocate and steward of the music, neither he nor anyone else has really done anything in the past 40 years that hasn't been done before.

If you were going to recommend ten jazz discs to a new listener, how many would have been recorded after 1970?

Anonymous said...

Sibelius was not an fully ethnic Swede at least from his fathers side. It was common in Finland at that time, that when you rose up in the ladder you started to speak "svenska". Many still swedish talking families are not ethnich swedes except in the coastal rural areas, where my own family also came. Here is the family tree of the father of Jean Sibelius in finnish, you will see (maybe) that the names change from finnish to swedish.
Sibelius family
I have no expertise in classical music, but I notice that here in Finland our national radio plays a lot of Mahler. Some finns are really enthuastic fans of his music. Maybe it is because of the melancholy.

-The first anonymous

Anonymous said...

Part of the Pilgrim's Chorus theme is used in Bugs Bunny: it's what Elmer sings "Oh, Bwunhilll-da, yoah so wuvvv-wy" on when he's at the base of the steps leading up to Bugs's pavillion.

It's a very brief snippet, though, and immediately turns into something else.

-bushrod

michael farris said...

"I notice that here in Finland our national radio plays a lot of Mahler. Some finns are really enthuastic fans of his music. Maybe it is because of the melancholy"

FWIW one of my favorite modern operas (composed since 1950) is Punainen Viiva (the red line) about desperately poor frontier Finns in the forests of the far north hoping that voting for communists will improve their miserable lot.

a brief excerpt (not one of the better passages but all that's available on youtube):

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZoKRzDKFNec

R J Stove said...

Anonymous writes:

"One reason classical music sales are robust while contemporary music is declining is that generation slacker has learned how to download or steal music off the internet while the average upper crust type who likes classical does not mind paying $20 for a cd."

But also, classical CD buyers - in my experience anyway - enjoy getting the ancillary stuff that comes with CDs (as it came with LPs) and doesn't come with downloads: the words of operas, choral works, and song cycles (plus translations into English when appropriate); essays on the music's historical background; biographies of the performers, etc. I feel almost naked without these things to hand, and I don't mind paying for them.

Not that one always does have to pay much for them. Naxos classical CDs do include this information, while being moderately priced.

steve wood said...

I suspect that other church organists would report a similar decline in the Bridal March's popularity.

Meanwhile, if my experience is any indication, brides are still requesting that the organist play the Wedding March from Mendelssohn's Midsummer Night's Dream.


I think the Lohengrin march became too stereotyped for most brides. Its use fell out of fashion because it came to seem corny.

On the other hand, the Mendelssohn march, with its vivid opening fanfare and striking chords, is a powerful (and loud) evocation of "hey! I'm married!" The association remains thrilling enough to triumph over stereotype.

Anonymous said...

the future of western art muslc is in China. Chinese orchestras make American ones sound plebian and flat

Epicurean said...

Wagner was the first nerd (or nuuuuuurd, if you prefer) composer that wrote nerd music for nerd audiences. The fact that he was actually popular at one time speaks for itself. The fact that his greatest foes are tony liberal prostitutes masquerading as intellectuals also speaks for itself.

Mr. Anon said...

"R J Stove said...

But also, classical CD buyers - in my experience anyway - enjoy getting the ancillary stuff that comes with CDs (as it came with LPs) and doesn't come with downloads: the words of operas, choral works, and song cycles (plus translations into English when appropriate); essays on the music's historical background; biographies of the performers, etc. I feel almost naked without these things to hand, and I don't mind paying for them."

Another reason might be that us old fogies who listen to classical music don't mind paying artists for their art, realizing that if NO ONE EVER pays artists for thier art, eventually there won't be any. The casual disregard that many young people today have for copyright (it shows up in thier writing too - they think nothing of plagiarizing) is scandalous.

Anonymous said...

Epicurean said...
Wagner was the first nerd (or nuuuuuurd, if you prefer) composer that wrote nerd music for nerd audiences. The fact that he was actually popular at one time speaks for itself. The fact that his greatest foes are tony liberal prostitutes masquerading as intellectuals also speaks for itself.


Hey, I love Wagner's music. I merely noted that, aside from musicians, the only other group I found that listened regularly to Wagner were some D&D fanboys. Take that for what it's worth.


Anonymous said...
What about Rachmaninoff as a popular 20th century composer?


The critical tide seems to be turning for Rach. The bashing has pretty much stopped and appraisals nowadays tend to single out for praise the structural ingenuity of his compositions. He's become OK to like.

My impression is that 18th Century orchestral music has been growing in popularity at the expense of 19th Century orchestral music. We're just not profound enough anymore for the Romantics.

Definitely true for the musically illiterate yuppie types. They just want something light and pretty to use as sonic wallpaper at their parties. Vivaldi usually fits the bill. And since the success of Baby Genius and Amadeus marketing, Mozart gets drafted for this purpose, too. But you won't find Bach's St. Matthew Passion tinkling away in the background. Too heavy, gloomy, and Christian. Besides, JSB's scowling countenance makes him look like the kind of uptight judgmental dude who wouldn't approve of your übercool Swipple guests, so out he goes.

R J Stove said...

Mr. Anon pointed out:

"Another reason might be that us old fogies who listen to classical music don't mind paying artists for their art, realizing that if NO ONE EVER pays artists for their art, eventually there won't be any. The casual disregard that many young people today have for copyright (it shows up in their writing too - they think nothing of plagiarizing) is scandalous."

True. And I think our host Steve Sailer would agree. Back in April 2004 he rightly assailed Lawrence Lessig's anti-copyright ideology:

"As a pixel-stained wretch who would like to someday make at least a lower-middle class living writing books for pay, I say, 'Forget you, Larry. I want every penny that's coming to me, my kids, grandkids, great-grandkids and on, unto the 7th generation.' It makes no sense that web libertarians are for cutting down intellectual property rights. Libertarians are supposed to be for property rights. The reason Lessig's obsession is so popular with web libertarians is because they are greedy people who want something for nothing."

Which reminds me, it's about time I made another donation to Mr. Sailer's account, so that, with luck, he can get around to writing Son of the Half-Blood Prince.

Anonymous said...

"Back in the old days, when all the REALLY GOOD MUSIC was being written, composers were TRULY INSPIRED, had a DEEP MEANING in their works and SUFFERED INTENSE EMOTIONAL DISCOMFORT as these GREAT WORKS were 'BORN'."

Yes, people still believe in this kind of stuff. In truth, the situation was pretty much the same as now, (with a few slight variations).

THEN: The composer had to write for the specific tastes (no matter how bad) of, THE KING, THE POLITICAL DICTATOR, or THE CHURCH. Failure to do so resulted in unemployment, torture or death. The public was not consulted. They simply were not equipped to make assessments of relative merit from gavotte to gavotte. If the KING couldn't gavotte to it, then it had no right to exist.

ALL OF THE SWILL PRODUCED UNDER THESE CONSTRAINTS IS WHAT WE NOW ADMIRE AS 'REAL CLASSICAL MUSIC'. Forget what it sounds like . . . forget whether or not you happen to enjoy it . . . that's how it got made . . . and when music is taught in schools, it is the 'taste norms' of those KINGS, DICTATORS, and CLERICS which are perpetuated in the harmony and counterpoint classes.


From an address (Bingo! There goes your tenure!) to the American Society of University Composers (ASUC) given by Frank Zappa in 1984

;-)

Anonymous said...

Anonymous, quoting Frank Zappa, said...
ALL OF THE SWILL PRODUCED UNDER THESE CONSTRAINTS IS WHAT WE NOW ADMIRE AS 'REAL CLASSICAL MUSIC'. Forget what it sounds like . . . forget whether or not you happen to enjoy it . . . that's how it got made . . . and when music is taught in schools, it is the 'taste norms' of those KINGS, DICTATORS, and CLERICS which are perpetuated in the harmony and counterpoint classes.


Truth, is that you?

Nice little Marxist rant there and a splendid example of the genetic fallacy. One problem with it, though. From Mozart on, most composers were writing largely for the public, not for kings, dictators, and clerics. In fact, Mozart and Beethoven were quite contemptuous of the aristocracy. (Beethoven's political views tended toward the revolutionary.)

So much for your (and Frank's) kindergarten Marxist interpretation of 19th-century classical music.

Reg Cæsar said...

"The bad is not the worst, for seldom can it deceive; the middling is far worse, so many it good believe." --anonymous Hindoo via Wagner via MTV (the commenter, not the network)

I've been trying to tell people for years that moderates are much more dangerous than radicals. I should have been quoting this guy instead.

Of course, his wisdom hasn't done much for India, has it now?

michael farris said...

"But also, classical CD buyers - in my experience anyway - enjoy getting the ancillary stuff that comes with CDs (as it came with LPs) and doesn't come with downloads"

I'm always saying that back in the days of the lp the packaging was as much the product as the music. The music industry never really realized this and welcomed any chance to downsize on packaging. What they were doing was training their audience to find them dispensable - never a good strategy.

I don't get the libertarian anti-IP stance either (except as part of the self-centered short term orientation of most libertarians). On the other hand the tendency for rights holders to try to extend protection forever is not a good trend either (and further breeds contempt for the law and IP).

My own idea is that 30 years or the death the creator (whichever comes last) would/should be sufficient in most cases - reasonable guideline.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous @ 4/10: Nice little Marxist rant there and a splendid example of the genetic fallacy. One problem with it, though. From Mozart on, most composers were writing largely for the public, not for kings, dictators, and clerics.

Don't know that there's anything particularly Marxist about what Zappa had to say there. It's just an observation that clearly the vast majority of classical music from the past that we know has been passed down to us because the composers had wealthy sponsors. Those that didn't have wealthy sponsors, well we don't know anything about them do we 'cause they would've lived and worked and died in obscurity.

From Wikipedia on Mozart:

During Mozart's formative years, his family made several European journeys in which he and Nannerl were shown as child prodigies. These began with an exhibition in 1762 at the Court of the Elector of Bavaria in Munich, then in the same year at the Imperial Court in Vienna and Prague. A long concert tour spanning three and a half years followed, taking the family to the courts of Munich, Mannheim, Paris, London, The Hague, again to Paris, and back home via Zürich, Donaueschingen, and Munich....

1773–1777: The Salzburg court

After finally returning with his father from Italy on 13 March 1773, Mozart was employed as a court musician by the ruler of Salzburg Prince-Archbishop Hieronymus Colloredo....

1777–1778: The Paris journey

While Wolfgang was in Paris, Leopold was energetically pursuing opportunities for him back in Salzburg,[27], and with the support of local nobility secured him a better post as court organist and concertmaster.... Mozart finally reached home on 15 January 1779 and took up the new position, but his discontent with Salzburg was undiminished....

1781: Departure to Vienna

The following March the composer was summoned to Vienna, where his employer, Archbishop Colloredo, was attending the celebrations for the accession of Joseph II to the Austrian throne....

1786–1787: Return to opera

In December 1787 Mozart finally obtained a steady post under aristocratic patronage. Emperor Joseph II appointed him as his "chamber composer"....

1791

Mozart's financial situation, a source of extreme anxiety in 1790, finally began to improve. Although the evidence is inconclusive it appears that wealthy patrons in Hungary and Amsterdam pledged annuities to Mozart, in return for the occasional composition. He probably also benefited from the sale of dance music written in his role as Imperial chamber composer....


From Wikipedia on Beethoven:

Background and early life

Beethoven soon began working with Neefe as assistant organist, first on an unpaid basis (1781), and then as paid employee (1784) of the court chapel conducted by the Kapellmeister Andrea Luchesi. His first three piano sonatas, named "Kurfürst" ("Elector") for their dedication to the Elector Maximilian Frederick, were published in 1783. Maximilian Frederick, who died in 1784, not long after Beethoven's appointment as assistant organist, had noticed Beethoven's talent early, and had subsidized and encouraged the young Beethoven's musical studies.

In 1787 another of Beethoven's early patrons, Count Waldstein, enabled him to travel to Vienna for the first time, hoping to study with Mozart....

Establishing his career in Vienna

Although his stipend from the Elector expired, a number of Viennese noblemen had already recognized his ability and offered him financial support, among them Prince Joseph Franz Lobkowicz, Prince Karl Lichnowsky, and Baron Gottfried van Swieten....

n this time he settled into a career pattern he would follow for the remainder of his life: rather than working for the church or a noble court (as most composers before him had done), he supported himself through a combination of annual stipends or single gifts from members of the aristocracy; income from subscription concerts, concerts, and lessons; and proceeds from sales of his works....

Teaching and financial support

Beethoven had few students.... Perhaps Beethoven's most important aristocratic patron was Archduke Rudolph, youngest son of Emperor Leopold II, who in 1803 or 1804 began to study piano and composition with Beethoven.... Other important patrons were Prince Lichnowsky, with whom Beethoven had a falling out in 1806, Count Franz Joseph Kinsky, and Prince Joseph Franz Maximilian Lobkowitz.

In the fall of 1808, after having been rejected for a position at the royal theatre, Beethoven received an offer from Napoleon's brother Jérôme Bonaparte, then king of Westphalia, for a well-paid position as Kapellmeister at the court in Cassel....

The Middle period

During this time Beethoven earned his living partly from the sale and performance of his work, and partly from subsidies granted by various wealthy nobles who recognized his ability....


Etc., etc.

Anonymous said...

"Part of the Pilgrim's Chorus theme is used in Bugs Bunny: it's what Elmer sings "Oh, Bwunhilll-da, yoah so wuvvv-wy" on when he's at the base of the steps leading up to Bugs's pavillion."

Found it: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VDwDo_hTs2Q

These are beautiful, moving melodies.

Speaking of deconstructions, the new comedy "Observe and Report" should provide much grist for the mill of Testing99 and anyone else are concerned with the radical critique of Western masculinity.

Symphonies Suck said...

"Most pre-Beethoven stuff tends to sound like the composer introduced it with the words, "And here, your Archdukeness, is a little something to brighten your day," while post-Beethoven 19th Century music tends to sound like the composer is inviting you to "Come with me on journey to plumb the most profound depths of my infinite soul."

Weren't there critics at one time who viewed the Romantic composers as degenerates? Had they had the terms I think the emerging trend towards emotionality would've been described as music for depressives and adolescents. I see nothing wrong with the fact that Bach and Rameau create a pleasant atmosphere conducive to studying or improving digestion at a formal get together.

All this preference for dissonance and movements more fitting for a horror film soundtrack than the drawing room demonstrates the degeneracy is universal nowadays, also goes a long way towards explaining why society tolerates citizens being pounded with brief snippets of rap songs about anger and violence alternated with graphic depictions of sexual acts.

Ha! I'm going to spend my day in a pleasant reverie induced by Debussy, Bach, and Chopin to be followed by more somber but not unpleasant Gregorian chants around sunset. What do I care if all this preference for sonority means I'm intellectually stunted.

albertosaurus said...

There are several themes in this thread so the nonsense covers a broad spectrum. I'll try to straighten out a couple of the more egregous examples.

Someone thinks most people couldn't distinguish Salieri from Mozart. I've sung all the five great Mozart operas (mostly the Bussani roles) and I've sung in Salieri's Prima la Musica poi le Parole. Trust me Salieri is dross compared with Mozart. Much better Enlightenment opera composers were Haydn, JC Bach and Cimmarosa (I've sung Geronimo in Il Matrimonio Segreto too.) Mozart's reputation derives not from twentieth century marketing but from the genius that he put in the scores.

Hitler's favorite composer was Bruckner not Wagner. The association of Hitler with Wagner probably comes from the politics of Wagner's children. Although I guess that Wagner himself would have supported the Nazis too.

Most of the remarks about Wagner seem to have been written by people who have never heard any Wagner much less performed it. Wagner fans are the most devoted - period. They are indeed a bit cultlike. When I sang Fasolt and Fafner in Rheingold, people literally came from hundreds of miles away. Trust me, it wasn't me that got them on those planes. In every American city there are Wagner fans who will travel great distances for a performance. I know of no other composer who excites such a following.

The reason Wagner attracks such loyalty is that its so good. The Entrance of the Gods into Valhalla is just overwhelming. Similarly Lohengrin's entrance is stunning. These scenes take a long time to prepare on stage. Wagner builds and builds. Many people are not prepared to wait long enough. They then post nonsense about Wagner rather than admit that the limitation lies in themselves.

Opera is hard to write - harder than symphonic music. Beethoven tried and failed to write an opera. He rewrote over and over until he finally got Fidelio right. More than half of Schubert's total musical output is operatic but all his operas were failures.

There were more than 2000 operas written by American composers in the nineteenth century (mostly about cowboys and Indians). Not a single note from any of them survives.

The answer to the question about multiple recordings is yes opera fans have duplicates. At one time I had every recording of Lucia in print. I think I have thirty full versions of Tosca. I think I have every Don Carlos DVD ever made. I also have almost all of the Semiramide recordings. This is not unusual. I remember reading about someone who had thirty Tristans.

I never would have guessed that Cerrubini would be considered obscure. I founded a small opera company years ago dedicated to mounting the works of little known composers. Cherubini would have been too well known for us.

I had a friend in a doctoral program in pyschology when I was a student. He was in psychophysics. He claimed that the 12 tone composer's music stopped sounding strange after about ten hours of listening. Years later I sang in Cardillac by Hindemith. That was not Schoenberg or Berg but it certainly was "modern". During the whole first run of performances it just sounded like meaningless noise to me. Then two years later the production was revived and again I and my wife sang in it. The cast was essentially identical but somehow the noise had become the most sublime music. Something clicked in my head. Another couple years later we attended a concert of the San Franciso Symphony and a Hindemith piece was played. The audience was very muted in its applause except for my wife and I who kept screaming "Bravo". We understood Hindemith. We got it. Only because we had had an exposure to his ideas. For the rest of the audience it was just noise. I suspect that my college friend was right. A few hours of listening to Berg or Schoenberg and your brain adapts.

Wagner is indeed hard to cast. But not as hard as it is to cast Rossini for example. Your posters seem to think Wagner requires the biggest voices. That's true in America but not everywhere. The average European opera house has about 2,300 seats. The average major American house has about 3,800 seats. Bayreauth the opera house built by Wagner, has only 1,800 seats and a covered orchestra. It's true the singer has to sing over a big orchestra in Wagner, but that orchestra is intended to be blended and muffled. When Wagner is mounted on an American stage it requires a bigger voices than Wagner expected.

For example Windgassen sounded pathetic as Tristan in America. He had a medium sized voice that presented well in European halls with 2,000 seats but came a cropper in American halls with 4,000 seats.

Jess Thomas made his career as a Wagnerian Heldentenor yet his voice was not as large as his contemporary Franco Corelli. Many if not most top Verdi tenors have bigger voices than Wagnerian Heldentenors. You don't sing louder just because it's in German.

Someone states that Verdi is easier to cast than Mozart. Huh? Every college in the country will mount a production this year of one of the great five Mozart operas. They won't do Verdi. Why? About 99% of all women singers can sing Cherubino or Susanna. There are four bass/baritone roles in Don Giovanni and none of them go above an E. Mozart wrote roles for gifted singers (Osmin) and he wrote roles for limited singers (Cherubino).

Verdi wrote only for gifted professionals. The true Verdi baritone has always been rare.

It is true that it has long been difficult to cast Fiordiligi but not as hard as it is to cast Abigaille.

Finally there is a musicological theory that all Western music stopped developing in 1928. This is intersting because there is a theory in physics that progress in physics also stopped in 1928.

Acilius said...

@Michael Farris: "My own idea is that 30 years or the death the creator (whichever comes last) would/should be sufficient in most cases - reasonable guideline."

I agree. The current situation is pretty bad. The terms of protection that the laws set are far too long, especially in the EU, where many works are still under copyright 75 years after the death of the author and some even longer. Those sorts of excessive restrictions only encourage a lax attitude towards the rights of intellectual property owners in general.

Anonymous said...

Don't know that there's anything particularly Marxist about what Zappa had to say there. It's just an observation ...

Just an observation with no value judgments implied, eh? Is that why he described it as "SWILL PRODUCED UNDER THESE CONSTRAINTS"? Sounds like more than just an idle observation.

It's a classic example of the genetic fallacy so beloved of dime-store Marxists and tinpot Foucauldians. Patriarchal oppression has been subtly encoded into the very rules of harmony and counterpoint in order to perpetuate false consciousness among the masses. To the barricades!

And the fact that a few intelligent aristocrats recognized the artistic worth of Mozart and Beethoven and occasionally supported them doesn't change the fact that Mozart after 1777 and Beethoven after about 1800 were writing primarily for the public. And it certainly didn't make them sycophantic puppets of the Powers That Be. I suppose you think that Diego Rivera must have been a big fan of capitalism because he was once hired by Nelson Rockefeller to paint a mural for the RCA building.

michael farris said...

Albert, I had no idea you were a singer before. Maximum respect.

At the same time, I didn't write that Verdi is easier to cast, I wrote that a mediocre performance of a Verdi opera is more satisfying than a mediocre performance of a Wagner (or Mozart) opera. I get a lot more pleasure from a third rate Forza than a second rate Nozze or Walkuere.

At the same time a sublime performance of a Verdi opera is less likely to provoke the insane cultish reaction that a sublime performance of a Wagner opera will.

And I stand by my statement that most of the classical infrastructure is aimed against producing viable Wagnerian singers. How many credible Isoldes have there been in the last 20 years (compared with the 40's and 50's and 60's)?
Let alone Tristans, and without a gifted singer, the third act of Tristan is as painful and ordeal as anything Berg ever dished up.

I personally find Wagner full of amazing musical and dramatic episodes but padded as badly as brazenly as any bel canto or grand opera boilerplate (just substitute interminable tuneless bass-baritone mumblings for generic cabalettas and peasant choruses).

Anonymous said...

Someone thinks most people couldn't distinguish Salieri from Mozart.

Well, I was being a bit hyperbolic there. I was talking about the people who buy all those Mozart's Greatest Hits and Boost Baby's IQ CDs that make up about half of the hits you get when you search Amazon Music for "Mozart". I doubt most of the customers buying those CDs know or care much about music. They just want pretty background sounds that they hope might also somehow make their precious kids get a perfect SAT score.

And yes, Wagnerites are the most devoted fans, but definitely not the most numerous. That was Steve's point, I believe.

Anonymous said...

"Ha! I'm going to spend my day in a pleasant reverie induced by Debussy, Bach, and Chopin to be followed by more somber but not unpleasant Gregorian chants around sunset."

Just be sure you avoid Bach's religious music, which often depicts the torments of Christ crucified and the damnation that awaits all unrepentant sinners, etc.

Good idea switching to monophonic Gregorian chants around sunset, because Bach's densely textured polyphonic writing might keep you up at night if you excite your neurons by trying to follow along.

Mr. Anon said...

"Anonymous said...

Don't know that there's anything particularly Marxist about what Zappa had to say there."

Neither is there anything particularly true about what Zappa had to say there.

"THEN: The composer had to write for the specific tastes (no matter how bad) of, THE KING, THE POLITICAL DICTATOR, or THE CHURCH. Failure to do so resulted in unemployment, torture or death."

Really? Did Beethoven face torture and death in Austria for dedicating a symphony to Napoleon? Did Smetana face torture and death for overtly promoting czech themes in his music?

Zappa was a jerk, and not nearly as smart as he thought he was (he thought AIDS was a CIA plot). A moderately talented musician, he squandered his talent writing songs about deviant sexual practices - just because he wanted to shock the squares.

Anonymous said...

Really, is someone seriously denying that Beethoven mostly earned his living from publishing rather than patronage? It's a matter of record.

Mozart was more of an in-between case, before that patronage was quite important. Unlike today, where powerful corporations more wealthy than any 18th century aristocrat have absolutely no say over who gets to be popular and who gets to be nobody.

The difference is that some of these patrons had real taste, and even when they didn't, they at least wanted to hear good music. The record companies only want music that they think they can sell.

Albertosaurus, I had no idea that Schubert had failed so spectacularly at writing operas. It only heightens my admiration for this greatest of composers - like Brahms's inability to write a scherzo, as if he inwardly knew they should not be written (after Haydn).

MQ said...

There was a direct connection between 20th century "art" composers like Schoenberg and Bartok and film music in the 1950s and 1960s -- some of their students went to Hollywood. That's why a lot of early 20th century classical music reminds the modern listener of their last time at a Hitchcock film.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous @ 4/11: Just an observation with no value judgments implied, eh? Is that why he described it as "SWILL PRODUCED UNDER THESE CONSTRAINTS"? Sounds like more than just an idle observation.

It's a classic example of the genetic fallacy so beloved of dime-store Marxists and tinpot Foucauldians. Patriarchal oppression has been subtly encoded into the very rules of harmony and counterpoint in order to perpetuate false consciousness among the masses.


What on EARTH have you been smoking?! Just because someone doesn't like certain forms of music (i.e. calls them 'swill') doesn't make them a Marxist. You're making connections that just don't exist. Frank Zappa was the farthest thing from a Marxist that anyone could imagine. He was a good ol' fashioned, red-blooded American capitalist through and through. He thought communism was stupid, with a capital 'S'.

He said nothing about "patriarchal oppression" being "subtly encoded into the very rules of harmony and counterpoint in order to perpetuate false consciousness among the masses". You're just making sh*t up as you go along.

His point was simply that the vast majority of the music from the past that people today are aware of was paid for by people with money -- at the time that happened to be princes, kings, archbishops, whatever. Zappa was drawing a parallel with the modern day rock/pop music industry which is a business and for business reasons does not publish all sorts of music from all sorts of composers. The rock/pop music that today's people are familiar with has been produced by a certain set of people (record industry folks) and that has clearly influenced what has gotten produced. Same in the past, just different players.

Chill out with all the Marxist bs already.

Reg Cæsar said...

Wagner fans are the most devoted - period. They are indeed a bit cultlike. When I sang Fasolt and Fafner in Rheingold, people literally came from hundreds of miles away... In every American city there are Wagner fans who will travel great distances for a performance. --Albertosaurus

Not just Americans. Takeo Fujisawa was the co-founder of Honda Motors and ran the day-to-day operations there for decades. But he would drop whatever he was doing to fly to Bayreuth for the festivals. Upon his retirement, he said, "As for me, I’ll spend the rest of my days listening to Wagner and reading everything Soseki and Tanizaki ever wrote."

Anonymous said...

Frank Zappa was the farthest thing from a Marxist that anyone could imagine. He was a good ol' fashioned, red-blooded American capitalist through and through.

Frank Zappa had no particular political ideology. He was just a professional contrarian and enfant terrible trying to maintain his image. OMG, an anti-drug rocker who writes for symphony orchestras! OMG, he gave a speech to ASUC in which he claims classical music is tainted by its roots in the church and the royal courts! Zzzzzz....

He was just looking to shock, so he reached into his grab-bag and came up with a stale old gutter-radical charge of "elitism!" and "hirelings!".

He said nothing about "patriarchal oppression" being "subtly encoded into the very rules of harmony and counterpoint in order to perpetuate false consciousness among the masses". You're just making sh*t up as you go along.

*ahem*

"that's how it got made . . . and when music is taught in schools, it is the 'taste norms' of those KINGS, DICTATORS, and CLERICS which are perpetuated in the harmony and counterpoint classes."

As I said, this is the genetic fallacy so beloved of campus Marxists and postmodernists. Same old fallacy, same old charge. Of course Zappa isn't a dues-paying commie or anything. But it's telling that he resorted to this lame old accusation in order to "shock" his audience.

Épater les bourgeois. THAT was Zappa's point. What's yours?

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...
the future of western art muslc is in China. Chinese orchestras make American ones sound plebian and flat


I suspect you're right about the future stewards of the Western classical tradition. Most of the students at the music academies nowadays are East Asians. Nearly half the musicians in our orchestras are East Asian. (Interesting how there are so few South Asians in Western classical music. Zubin Mehta is the only one who comes to mind.)

I disagree about Chinese orchestras leaving American ones in the dust. There are some very good ones, but none yet comes close to the Big Five (Philadelphia, Chicago, NY, Cleveland, Boston) or even to, say, the Los Angeles Philharmonic or the San Francisco Symphony. Give 'em time, though.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous @ 4/11: *ahem*

No 'ahems'. YOU'RE the one who added the phrase "in order to perpetuate false consciousness among the masses" to Zappa's quote in order to make it sound Marxist or something. (I can't tell what.) He didn't talk about any consciousness amongst the masses, false or otherwise. There was nothing Marxist or communist about what he said or meant. THAT is the nonsense that you made up to which I was referring.

Shocking the middle class was not Zappa's point either (nor is it mine). Like I said, he (for obvious reasons) experienced that working with the musical publishing industry was a struggle, dealing with payola was a major hassle, and fighting those who wanted to censor rock music was a major pain (remember Tipper Gore and all her whacked out friends in the '80s?).

What becomes popular in music (and art and literature and every other human endeavour) is strongly influenced by those who have influence. That was his point. And that was my only point, too. I thought it might be interesting to bring up in a discussion of what classical music is popular.

Vico said...

Albertosaurus said:

BEGINS Wagner fans are the most devoted - period. They are indeed a bit cultlike. When I sang Fasolt and Fafner in Rheingold, people literally came from hundreds of miles away. ENDS

When I was in Singapore a couple of years ago, I went to a performance of the first act of Die Walkure. I was sitting beside an old ethnic Chinese guy. He kept humming along with the music, & at first I was annoyed. But eventually, I became touched that this person from the other side of the world had been so affected by Wagner's music. It showed what an overwhelming effect that music could have, even for someone thousand of miles away from the intended audience. Wagner might be the archetypal northern European, but he can also control the emotions of any member of the human race.

Epicurean said...

Anonymous said...
Hey, I love Wagner's music. I merely noted that, aside from musicians, the only other group I found that listened regularly to Wagner were some D&D fanboys. Take that for what it's worth.

I am not surprised that D&D fanboys love Wagner. The same applies to comics fanboys, Tolkien fanboys (who are often the same persons as D&Ders), Star Wars fanboys, Star Trek fanboys....

There's something about Wagner that appeals to nerds (and nerds of Northern European descent most of all), and horrifies leftoids. Even without any explicit Nazi connections, Wagner would still be hated by leftoids.

Epicurean said...

IMHO, Zappa just wanted to shock with his thesis on classical music, issued during an era when there was not much fundamental criticism of classical music.

He is certainly right that some composers laboured for "off with his head" political masters. That applies just as much to Prokofiev, Shostakovich, and Khachaturian than to medieval and renaissance composers.

But many of the later composers (particularly in Britain and America) did write for the general public, and did not have any sword of Damocles hanging over their heads. Elgar, Britten, Gershwin, Copeland, anyone?

Anonymous said...

There's something about Wagner that appeals to nerds (and nerds of Northern European descent most of all), and horrifies leftoids.

And what might that something be that horrifies leftoids? There were lots of late-19th-century lefty intellectuals who dug Wagner. G. B. Shaw, for one. Anti-German feeling during WWI put a crimp in Wagnerism in the English-speaking world. Hitler's appropriation of Wagnerism may have permanently tarnished it. It's testimony to Wagner's towering musical genius that he still gets played today, despite the disastrous PR during 1914-1945.

Ronduck said...

@Albertosaurus

If such roles are that hard to cast then it would be best if they were adapted to film, although I'm not sure how well Hollywood could produce such scripts. The only way I could see such complex pieces performed well on screen is if such films were created by former stage directors who had performed such operas on stage.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...
No 'ahems'. YOU'RE the one who added the phrase "in order to perpetuate false consciousness among the masses" to Zappa's quote in order to make it sound Marxist or something.


Keep missing the point, why don't you? Okay, let me put it as plainly as I can: While Zappa obviously wasn't a Marxist and probably never even heard of Foucault, he witlessly used a typical Marxian/Foucauldian trope in his foolish, ignorant diatribe. That better for you?

Like I said, he (for obvious reasons) experienced that working with the musical publishing industry was a struggle, dealing with payola was a major hassle, and fighting those who wanted to censor rock music was a major pain

Then he's a self-dramatizing ignoramus who can't construct a good historical analogy. The economic & social dilemmas of a rock band trying to cut a record deal are so different from the position of a Baroque court composer that the analogy is not only useless but downright misleading. Besides, his overheated rhetoric and cheesy innuendo imply much more that a desire to illuminate the difficulties of a raunchy rocker trying to get around annoying record execs and pandering politicians. It's laughable that you think Zappa wasn't all about playing the bad boy and shocking the squares.

I'm done with the topic of Zappa's silly little rant.

Anonymous said...

I thought it might be interesting to bring up in a discussion of what classical music is popular.

You thought wrong, but if you're serious about which classical music becomes popular and stays popular, it's not so hard to figure out.

It has to appeal to both the ordinary public and the sophisticated music lover. That means it has to contain appealing melodies, interesting but not too jarring harmonies, and a structure that's ingenious but also accessible to the layman. Get all these ingredients into a piece of music and it stands a good chance of remaining popular for generations.

Anonymous said...

I had no idea that Schubert had failed so spectacularly at writing operas. It only heightens my admiration for this greatest of composers - like Brahms's inability to write a scherzo, as if he inwardly knew they should not be written (after Haydn).

Even though I disapprove of your anti-opera, anti-scherzo beliefs, I gotta admit that's pretty damn funny.

Jabari said...

Anonymous said...
the future of western art muslc is in China. Chinese orchestras make American ones sound plebian and flat

Anonymous repiled...
I suspect you're right about the future stewards of the Western classical tradition. Most of the students at the music academies nowadays are East Asians. Nearly half the musicians in our orchestras are East Asian. (Interesting how there are so few South Asians in Western classical music. Zubin Mehta is the only one who comes to mind.)


One other "data point" for this as well - some of the "most classical" styled music these days comes from Japan. Composers like Nobou Uematsu and Yasunori Mitsuda produce great symphonic pieces.

(Of course, the music is for video game soundtracks instead of concert or film, but it's still awesome...)

Anonymous said...

"The other main area of disagreement between Amazon's and Murray's rankings is over 20th Century composers, especially atonal ones such as Schoenberg, Webern and Berg. (If you are not familiar with the music of Arnold, Anton, and Alban, this KTEL-like 1977 infomercial for a greatest hits album entitled "Beloved Hits of Arnie Schoenberg and the Second Viennese School" will get you up to speed. [Okay, this video version is even funnier.]) "

I never knew that there was a Culture of Critique brand of classical music. I always just assumed that that would be hard to pull off.

But they did. I shouldn't have been such a naif.

Anonymous said...

I cannot grasp it but it seems that some musicians and composers really do see the brilliance in atonal music. I wonder if this is any different than contemporary art which often strikes me as simply fraudulent.

CHOMSKY: Take, for example, the aesthetic sense. We like and understand Beethoven because we are humans, with a particular, genetically determined mental constitution. But that same human nature also means there are other conceivable forms of aesthetic expression that will be totally meaningless to us. The same thing is as true for art as it is for science: the fact that we can understand and appreciate certain kinds of art has a flip side. There must be all kinds of domains of artistic achievement that are beyond our mind's capacities to understand.

QUESTION: Do you think genetic barriers to further progress are becoming obvious in some areas of art and science?

CHOMSKY: You could give an argument that something like this has happened in quite a few fields. It was possible in the late nineteenth century for an intelligent person of much leisure and wealth to be about as much at home as he wanted to be in the arts and sciences. But forty years later that goal had become hopeless. Much of the new work in art and science since then is meaningless to the ordinary person. Take modern music -- post-Schšnbergian music. Many artists say that if you don't understand modern music it's because you just haven't listened enough. But modern music wouldn't be accessible to me if I listened to it forever. Modern music is accessible to professionals, and maybe to people with a special bent, but it's not accessible to the ordinary person who doesn't have a particular quirk of mind that enables him to grasp modern music, let alone make him want to deal with it.

QUESTION: And you think that something similar has happened in some scientific fields?

CHOMSKY: I think it has happened in physics and mathematics, for example. There's this idea, which goes back to the French mathematicians known collectively as Bourbaki, that the development of mathematics was originally the exploration of everyday intuitions of space and number. That is probably somewhat true through the end of the nineteenth century. But I don't think it's true now. As for physics, in talking to students at MIT, I notice that many of the very brightest ones, who would have gone into physics twenty years ago, are now going into biology. I think part of the reason for this shift is that there are discoveries to be made in biology that are within the range of an intelligent human being. This may not be true in other areas.

QUESTION: You seem to be saying two things. First, that whatever defines our common human nature will turn out to be a shared set of intuitions that owe much of their strength and character to our common genetic heritage -- our species genotype. Second, that the exhaustion of these intuitions in many areas is producing a peculiar kind of artistic and scientific specialization. Further progress in music or mathematics, for example, requires a scientist or artist with an unusual heredity.

CHOMSKY: Well, it's a different mental constitution -- something like being a chess freak or a runner who can do a three-and-one-half minute mile. It's almost a matter of logic that this change is going to occur sooner or later. Has it happened already? That's a matter of judgment. It's a matter of looking at, say, the twentieth century and seeing whether there are signs of this change. Is it the case, for example, that contemporary work in the arts and sciences is no longer part of our common aesthetic and intellectual experience? Well, there are signs. But whether the signs are realistic or whether we are just going through a sort of sea change and something will develop, who knows? Maybe a thousand years from now we'll know.

Anonymous said...

Chomsky seems to assume that because some experts like atonal music it must have some inherent value. More likely, its popularity, like that of postmodernist art and feminism is the sign of an intellectual cultural that is sick.

Felix said...

Ronduck said ... "The only way I could see such complex pieces performed well on screen is if such films were created by former stage directors who had performed such operas on stage".

Wagner is made for animated film.

We'd have credible dwarves, heroes and gods with a soundtrack featuring unphotogenic singers.

It would be superb. Hopefully newer technology will enable this to be made for the admittedly smallish demand.

Anonymous said...

Felix said...
Wagner is made for animated film. We'd have credible dwarves, heroes and gods with a soundtrack featuring unphotogenic singers. It would be superb. Hopefully newer technology will enable this to be made for the admittedly smallish demand
.

I've long thought that certain hard-to-stage operas would work best as animated films. (A few unsuccessful attempts have been made. The BBC, for instance, made a disappointing animated film of Cunning Little Vixen. This just shows that a good animated opera film would have to be made as expertly as, say, a Pixar production, with the same careful attention to detail.)

Epicurean said...

>There's something about Wagner that appeals to nerds (and nerds of Northern European descent most of all), and horrifies leftoids.

And what might that something be that horrifies leftoids?Obviously, something intrinsic to Wagner's music. He composed for Northern Europeans, after all, and his music does have that Northern European-ness. And Wagner was proud of it, with even less "white guilt" than his contemporaries. Modern leftoids can't stand this.

There were lots of late-19th-century lefty intellectuals who dug Wagner. G. B. Shaw, for one.That was when the Left still had some common sense, and before it turned away from the West. The Left was always anti-religious to a certain extent, anti-Christian, and anti-clerical. In 1890, they saw a healthy alternative in the lusty germanic paganism of Wagner. In 1990, the Left treated Western paganism the same way as Christianity, and any alternatives they saw had to be from Africa or India.

Anti-German feeling during WWI put a crimp in Wagnerism in the English-speaking world. Hitler's appropriation of Wagnerism may have permanently tarnished it.That "crimp" affected other German composers and their Anglospheric reputation - even Beethoven and Bach - in both World Wars. Liberals needed a cultural scapegoat, and they found it in the lusty, sensual, incorrigible, unapologetic, guilt-free Wagner.

It's testimony to Wagner's towering musical genius that he still gets played today, despite the disastrous PR during 1914-1945.And I agree. His fans carried him through - and they were typically people who didn't care what was PC or not. That is the most important common ground between Wagner fans, and nerds (whether computer, D&D, Tolkien, etc.)

Epicurean said...

Chomsky seems to assume that because some experts like atonal music it must have some inherent value.It has value to the people who like it. I would say that atonal music is an acquired taste - except that it rarely is. Perhaps the brains of atonal musicians (Berg, Schoenberg, Attenberg, and whatever other "bergs") are wired in a peculiar way. The same with their devotees.

This could is another Northern European "quirk", an extreme musical genre, the polar opposite of Wagner?