My post of a couple of days ago on "Popular Culture and High Culture" inspired some heated commentary which I recommend you go and read. I really appreciate people who are serious lovers of classical music. In fact, if someone asks me if I like classical music sometimes I answer, "no, I'm more of a hard-core classical fanatic. If you look up "classical snob" in the dictionary there is a picture of me, grinning evilly!" Sometimes I mutter that there are only five composers worth listening to: Bach, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven and Shostakovich.
However, I am interested in every aspect of music, including its history and ideology. One of the most interesting things about music is in fact what we might call the history of the ideology. One of my commentators wrote this: "While I don't advocate romantic ideas about artistic immortality necessarily, and I don't think many composers actually attempt to write for history as you say, it is a noble pursuit." I think this is an excellent example of the romantic ideology surrounding composition. It is not surprising that this view should linger as it was during the 19th century that music achieved probably its greatest stature in society. People really did think that music manifested the transcendent Will (in Schopenhauer's view) or the Spirit of the Age (in Hegel's view). This was the ideology that inspired works like the Mahler symphonies.
Where the confusion comes from, I think, is that the noble intention of the composer is no guarantee of the aesthetic quality of the results. Mozart may have tossed off his "Linz" symphony in four days while on stopover there, simply because they needed something for a concert that was announced on his arrival. But this does not mean that the work is less good aesthetically than, say, a symphony by Bruckner that was written with the most profound intentions over a period of years. The New Grove describes Bruckner's symphonic writing like this:
Bruckner created a new and monumental type of symphonic organism, which abjured the tense, dynamic continuity of Beethoven, and the broad, fluid continuity of Wagner, in order to express something profoundly different from either composer, something elemental and metaphysical.Ah yes, the elemental and metaphysical! These words make me philosophically suspicious as this is what people say when they want to convince you that what they are talking about is profound and "good" because it is profound. These words are not an argument, they substitute for an argument. What does it mean to say that a piece of music is "elemental and metaphysical"? I have no idea: do you?
Let's listen to Bruckner's Symphony No. 7:
And Mozart's "Linz" Symphony:
The Mozart is half as long, written in four days, but it is not half as good aesthetically.