Monday, January 22, 2018

Huffpost Explains Why Classical Music Is So Awful

This reminds me of an occasion, years ago, when I was walking through the central plaza just a few days before the chamber music festival was due to begin and I overheard one visitor say to another "chamber music is so boring!" Well, so are superhero movies, dear.

The article over at Huffpost is titled: The Awfulness of Classical Music Explained and you should follow the link and read the whole thing. Here is an excerpt:
there are a great many “clap here, not there” cloak-and-dagger protocols to abide by. I found myself a bit preoccupied — as I believe are many classical concert goers — by the imposing restrictions of ritual behavior on offer: all the shushing and silence and stony faced non-expression of the audience around me, presumably enraptured, certainly deferential, possibly catatonic; a thousand dead looking eyes, flickering silently in the darkness, as if a star field were about to be swallowed by a black hole.
I don’t think classical music was intended to be listened to in this way. And I don’t think it honors the art form for us to maintain such a cadaverous body of rules.
One step therefore we might take to make classical music less boring again is simply for audiences to quit being so blasted reverential.
The most common practices in classical musical venues today represent a contrite response to a totalitarian belief system no one in America buys into anymore. To participate obediently is to act as a slave. It is counter to our culture. And it is not, I am certain, what composers would have wanted: A musical North Korea. Who but a bondservant would desire such a ghastly fate? Quickly now: Rise to your feet and applaud. The Dear Leader is coming on stage to conduct. He will guide us, ever so worshipfully through the necrocracy of composers we are obliged to forever adore.
All this falls into the general category of what I would call "let's make classical music palatable to those people who have no experience of it by making the experience as much like pop music as possible." But Mr. Dare goes overboard with his purple prose, doesn't he? A "thousand dead looking eyes?" Eww. Classical music is just like slavery! Or North Korea! And this is the guy that Huffpost lets write about classical music?

Let me break it down for you. Yes, in the past the etiquette of concerts was quite different. In the 18th century the nobility liked to sit in their private boxes when they attended opera performances so that they could not only eat and drink, but also have liaisons with their mistresses. However, as time went by, a certain etiquette grew up along with the development of public concert halls and subscription series that was designed to reduce the annoying behaviour of some concert-goers and allow the others to hear the music without distractions. Honestly, you can learn this etiquette in about two minutes. None of this applies to pop music, of course, but since it is normally performed with the aid of massive stacks of amplifiers and speakers, it is virtually impossible for any kind of behaviour, no matter how noisy, to actually distract from the deafeningly loud music. The same is not true of a Beethoven adagio.

I could deliver a similar, equally baseless, critique of pop music performances. I find them very unpleasant because of the crush of people, the confusion, the deafening amplification and not least the mechanical drum machine rhythms.

Let's listen to some of that awful music. This is the Emerson Quartet performing the "Dissonance" quartet by Mozart:


Gavin said...

Although he lays it on a bit thick, I'm mostly in sympathy with the writer.

The end of a movement does seem like a natural place to clap, and it was a natural place to clap until all of a sudden it wasn't. I'm not suggesting we turn back the clock, but I think that looking down our noses at the barbarians who dare to clap is really off-putting to novices who attend a concert.

I still remember a time from my youth when the conductor of the Philadelphia Orchestra scolded people for clapping between movements of a Beethoven symphony, something to the effect of "putting one's hands together is noise, and we do not tolerate noise in the concert hall." This was waaay back in my college days, and I had several friends who wanted to explore the world of classical music -- a comment like that is a good way to say to those people "you're not wanted here."

Bryan Townsend said...

Well, sure. Not entirely in sympathy because I think this is, for him, a bit of a pose. I was at a string quartet concert last night and they did an early Haydn quartet, in five movements, a Bartók in three and ended with a Beethoven in six movements. The viola player apologized for causing us extra difficulty! It was rather charming.

This is, of course, a never-ending discussion. I think what it boils down to is that North American audiences who seem to be too wrapped up in their own responses to notice much body language from the performers, are the ones who tend to clap too soon.

Attending several concerts in Europe last summer I noticed that no-one ever seemed tempted to clap too soon.

But hey, we never want to make people uncomfortable by acting high and mighty! It is not the clapping that bothers me anyway, it is the coughing!