Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Yesterday and Today

I know what you are thinking, "He's going to talk about that Beatles' album with the withdrawn cover."

Au contraire, mon ami! Actually I'm just going to do a very brief comparison of the music scene two hundred years ago with the music scene today.

Who were the most famous musicians in the world (well, actually, Europe) two hundred years ago? There will certainly be those who might argue for the opera composer Rossini, but in 1813 he was only twenty-one years old and still to achieve his great renown. I think it would be a fairly easy case to make that the three most famous musicians around 1813 were Mozart, who had passed away in 1790, but was still very well-known and more highly regarded than during his life; Haydn, who passed away in 1809 and was at the time the most highly-renowned musician in Europe and Beethoven, forty-three years old and with the triumphs of his Third, Fifth and Seventh Symphonies just recently in the public's ear.

But who are the most famous musicians of today, 2013? Ah, that is where it gets interesting. You could certainly argue over this a lot, but just looking at album sales, the biggest selling albums since 2010 were by Adele and Eminem. Let's add a third artist: Jay-Z? Rihanna? Beyoncé, Katy Perry? Take your pick really, it won't affect my point.

Now let's compare them. I'll just pick the first individual piece that comes up for each artist/composer on YouTube. First, Mozart, Symphony No. 40, first movement:

Haydn, Symphony No. 94, "Surprise", 2nd movement:

Beethoven, Symphony No. 5, first movement:

Adele, "Rolling in the Deep":

Eminem, "Not Afraid":

The best-selling single so far in 2013 is apparently "Get Lucky" by Daft Punk:

Any questions?

Any doubt that music certainly and civilization probably is in decline?


Rickard Dahl said...

I agree that music (at least what most people listen to) is in decline. But in which ways do you think civilisation is in decline?

Bryan Townsend said...

That was a bit tongue in cheek! I was mulling over that very question: in what ways is civilization in decline? Certainly not in things like dental care, which is better than it has ever been, or technology generally. My iMac is a marvel of technological accomplishment. But in cultural things I am more doubtful: we seem to have a very questionable political class, unable to look past their own ambitions to the general good (and, also, apparently unable to tell the truth). Our public intellectuals seem rather corrupted as well. I don't want to go any farther as it gets into things that this blog is intended to be a refuge from!