Classical Music is Awful – But the Music is GreatMarch 13, 2012 by: Simon
That’s right, I said it. Going to the symphony hall or Opera house, buying expensive tickets, dressing up in a fancy suit, staying silent the whole time, being told when to clap, strictly forbidden to enjoy a drink during the performance… What a stuffy, terrible experience. The are much better and funner ways to spend my time.
Now, if I want to hear some good music, I’ll find some down-tempo house music on SomaFM, some James Brown if I want an acid flashback, The Beatles or Pink Floyd if I want to rock out, some Miles Davis if I want to feel cool and/or kind of blue (get it? lol), maybe a Mozart sonata if I’m in a pleasant mood, some Schumann if I’m feeling bi-polar, Shostakovich when I’m feeling oppressed by The State, some Bach when —
Hey, now wait just a gosh darned minute.
This heavy-handed, totally-not-subtle-at-all rant raises an interesting point. Ignoring how all the names I listed are already old anyway (I’m a boring, uninteresting person), there are some names that definitely fit into the Classical Music camp. “But Simon, didn’t you just say that Classical Music su–”, yes.
Yes I did.
You see, when I think of my favorite composers, I couldn’t care less about the etiquette, how the music is written down, what edition is being played, what key the music is in (it could be in F-triple-flat minor for all I care), the Opus number, how historically accurate it is, blah blah blah. All that matters to me is that I hear something expressive that speaks to me in a way that only music can. Aphex Twin and Rachmaninoff both do this, but in different ways. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t enticed by the grandeur of a giant symphony orchestra with a soloist performing superhuman feats out in front, but on the same token, if I went to a rock concert and didn’t see visuals cranked up to 11, I’d go home disappointed.
So, when it comes to my favorite sub-sub-genre of 20th century piano literature, there are some things that get me upset. It doesn’t bother me if so-and-so missed a note in the 125th measure. I don’t understand why the length of a pianist’s dress is a relevant issue. I couldn’t care less how much precomposition went into a ridiculously complex piece of music if it fails to communicate with an audience via sound. I don’t need to read about a Sonata’s ABACC’BA’C”DAEA” form in the booklet or program notes to appreciate it any more than I would for Gershwin.
Granted, I’m a music nerd and a composer, so I do have an interest in the subtlest, nit-picky details like staccato duration, rhythmic accuracy in 3-against-5 patterns, and appropriate pedaling in Bach fugues. However, the craft of the music is not the music itself. If my car doesn’t get me where I need to go, I really don’t care what space-age material the tailpipe is made of. Likewise, you’d be wrong if you said the details under the hood didn’t matter at all. Fine craftsmanship is necessary in any art form, but it doesn’t need an academic, cultural stamp of approval to be relevant. Nice cars are just nice. Good music is just good. Consider this: The Chopin “Raindrop” prelude became popular as “The Halo commercial song”, and Debussy’s Claire de Lune was everywhere after Ocean’s 11 came out. Now, if you’re a musician and this sort of thing makes you cringe, you have to admit that good music becoming mainstream is an excellent thing. Besides, nobody complains that Rossini and Wagner are in Looney Tunes. It should serve as a very, very good lesson this stuff becomes popular when none of the Classical Music performance practices are present. You probably didn’t even learn the Opus numbers from Looney Tunes.
Classical Music sucks, and I think it’s time we finally admitted it. But, there are many, many composers during this long stretch of musical history that were amazing and phenomenally expressive musical geniuses. I suggest you go check them out and download their stuff into your music library.
– Simon Bielman, Mar. 14, 2012