Thursday, June 4, 2015

The Shocking Truth

My headline echoes so many headlines in the mainstream media, which always tries to shock us, startle us and generally pose as the source of exciting and unusual facts and truths. The reality, however, is the exact opposite. How often do we click on a tempting link, posing as the revelation of something new and interesting only to find out that it is the Same Old Crap?

We learn over time to avoid the most obvious red herrings, bait-and-switch tactics and clickbait, but grow oblivious to the routine pablum. Here is a typical example from Drudge:


And here is the actual article: "Greek leader meets eurozone creditors--but as expected, no deal yet." So, just another meeting, very like the innumerable meetings they have been having for many months now. The most dramatic moment was captured in this paragraph:
“We will continue our talks in a few days,” Dijsselbloem, the Dutch finance minister, told reporters after emerging in the early hours of Thursday morning from the meeting.
No actual "confrontation", then. This, as I said, is typical because the mainstream media has to come up with things to entice us 24 hours a day so most of their headlines are misleading clickbait.

But blogging in general, and the Music Salon in particular, is not the mainstream media. I don't get paid according to how many people are deceptively lured to the site. In fact, I don't get paid at all. I do this just for the satisfaction of exploring the world of music and interacting with my very knowledgeable commentators.

So what you get at the Music Salon is not The Official Story, the Consensus View, the Approved Truth. What you get is one opinion, mine. Which is, usually, an informed opinion based on roughly fifty years of listening to, playing, studying and composing music.

I just got a comment from someone who said he was "startled" at my opinion of a certain American composer. Yes, I know that my opinions might be considered unusual by some, but frankly anyone who is genuinely an independent thinker is going to have independent thoughts leading to independent opinions. I can't stand much of Mahler, for example. To me, he represents the going-to-seed of German Romanticism, puffed up beyond all plausible aesthetic bounds. His music sounds to me like neurosis run wild. It is the perfect representation of the turn-of-the-century Viennese sensibility that we also find in Sigmund Freud--whom I also cannot stand! This is a very unusual stance, but I am willing to discuss it with anyone who wants to argue the point. It is an informed opinion, based on knowledge and sensitivity, not ignorance and received wisdom. I fully expect that many if not most will disagree with me for very good reasons of their own. But, short of convincing evidence to the contrary, I will retain my opinion.

If you want the Conventional Wisdom, with Judicious Adherence to all the Idols of the Marketplace then you should hasten over to the New Yorker where people like Alex Ross are paid a lot of money to tell you exactly what you expect to hear: the classical music world oppresses women, there should be a lot more new music on concert programs, Radiohead are a group of English composers, the leading figures in the classical music world are always impressive and charismatic and so on. As long as you are perfectly programmed to adhere to all of the criteria of political correctness, ignoring the inconvenient truths and always telling the necessary lies, then the prose almost writes itself.

But here, you will get the Shocking Truth. And you are free to disagree vehemently with me, though I expect that you will adhere to the standards of courtesy appropriate to a civilized art form like classical music.

From time to time I make mistakes, which are usually corrected by my informed commentators. Thanks to you all!

Now, as is customary, let's listen to an appropriate piece of music. Not Mahler, of course. How about the anti-Mahler, a figure from the periphery who escaped the cumulative pomposity of the central tradition and created a fresh musical vocabulary? Sibelius, of course. Here is his Symphony No. 2 with the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra conducted by Gustavo Dudamel:


David said...

Bryan, thanks for your dedication to the "unvarnished" truth, which is bound to disappoint those who are seeking the "shocking" stuff. It amuses me to see how frequently the "headlines" on items on NL's classical music news site are hyperbolic. Actually, it is a rarity to find one that is not sensationalist.

There is hardly a place left where one is not bombarded by news and information. Even the ride up the elevator to the office is enhanced with tiny screens that provide nuggets of news and advice. For example, this morning I learned on my vertical commute that Swedish researchers have found that singing contributes to better health (in the singer).

I was really pleased to read this post because I was starting to think that I was the only one who doesn't "get" Mahler. I have tried. I think your description of the music as over-full and too ambitious is what I hear too. From my little corner, classical music might be less "dead" if it put more effort into the simple, easily accessed joys of Haydn and less into the might of Mahler (it seems to me that every second recording these days is somebody's contribution to the Mahler discography).

Stay the course. Your readers (even the not-so-knowledgeable ones, like me) appreciate it.


Bryan Townsend said...

Heh. And here are some of the rewards for just thinking for yourself and calling them as you see them: people might agree with you!

Thanks, David, for these supportive words.

And, you know, I think we DO get Mahler.

This blog, while benefitting greatly from a number of knowledgeable readers, is really dedicated to those lovers of music who are not-so-knowledgeable. We need you!