Saturday, October 27, 2012

The Status of Music

Back in August I put up a couple of posts on music and architecture and I started with the example of the consecration of the cathedral of Florence in 1436 that was the event kicking off the Renaissance and the modern world generally. For this a very special piece of music was commissioned from the leading composer of the day, Guillaume DuFay.

Keeping that in mind, you should read this article about a couple of recent state dinners held at the White House. The story is about the cost of the dinners, but in relation to what the federal government spends, frankly, the costs were insignificant. But what interests me was the music chosen for the dinner in honor of Felipe Calderon, president of Mexico, a very important nation next door to the US with whom is shared an important trade treaty and some important problems involving drugs, gun-running and immigration. The music chosen? Emphatically not a commission from the leading composer of the day. No, indeed. The Florentines recognized the seriousness of the occasion of the consecration of their Duomo. The Washington politicians decided that a formal state dinner in honor of the president of an important ally just called for a party. So the music was provided by Beyoncé.

A little research on the web does not reveal much about the musical tastes of President Calderon. Perhaps he is a big Beyoncé fan. Perhaps not. In one post I associated the music of Beyoncé with vulgar gaiety. But the point I want to make here is that the Florentines seemed to take themselves seriously in a way that we no longer do. They built a cathedral that is still one of the architectural wonders of the world and choose music of similar stature. Nowadays even an important state dinner musically is no different from a frat party. Here is a brief excerpt from a performance by Beyoncé in Trinidad in February 2010, the month before the dinner in Washington that should give you an idea:

The thought in my mind when I started this post was to say that we like Beyoncé and think her music is suitable for state occasions because we no longer take classical music seriously. But I've changed my mind: the problem is that we listen to someone like Beyoncé instead of classical music on supposedly serious occasions because we don't take ourselves seriously.

UPDATE: I reworded the last sentence to make it a bit clearer.

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