Curiosities

I’ve added a section in the sidebar, just underneath the Search box, which I will use to post pointers to items that caught my interest but need little or no comment from me.

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4 thoughts on “Curiosities

  1. Re curiosities: I’ve read that Taruskin essay on music through once, and I’m not sure I quite have the wherewithal to comb through it again. One the one hand, I’m very interested in the subject of classical music and where it’s going. I would also tend to agree that if it dies, some strains of modern music may have killed it with pretense. But on the other hand (and this one may have more fingers), this guy is not a winsome debater! Even if he doesn’t come out and advocate for pop music over classical, he seems to imply it, then to backtrack, and to finally settle for some abstruse and half-spoken insinuation. Does he want orchestras to play only Eine Kleine because it sells? Perhaps they should play the Beatles instead? Or that stuff that sets off car alarms on my street at 2 a.m.? I actually think the concert venues do a pretty decent job of mixing old pieces in with the new. You can go to Carnegie Hall and hear just about anything these days. And Anthony Minghella’s new Madame Butterfly last year was something of a sensation.

    Maybe I’m missing something (like his insider perspective, perhaps), but I see a lot of people around me who genuinely love music and are willing to take side jobs in order to pursue what they love. And as an amateur listener, I don’t mind the extra effort that it requires to accustom myself to classical music. Admittedly, most of it is *old* classical music, but it still has lots of appeal, without being merely salient. (I feel the same about bluegrass, BTW.) I find that new music is branch that sets up the false dichotomy between entertainment and “virtue.” But it’s not like pop music sews it back together.

    Perhaps someone has read this and can tell me what he’s after?

  2. Laura,

    The point that intrigued me was this: excellence should be able to make its own way, and the success or failure of a cultural artifact tells us something important about whether it is in fact excellent. What I thought Taruskin was railing against was the common defense used by artists to explain their failure to engage an audience—the audience is somehow incapable of grasping the excellence they are being offered. Classical music is a particularly interesting example to study, since a number of factors conspired for quite awhile to keep its purported excellence from being put to the test.

    There are other musical genres (e.g. old time music) which resort to a similar elitism to explain away the fact that not many people like to listen to it (and then demand public dollars for musicians who can’t attract paying audiences). And other art forms, I suppose; I’ve heard it said that modern poetry journals all have a circulation of about one thousand—the same one thousand, all poets, all contributors to the journals.

    I think Taruskin would agree that the burden of making art viable should be on the artist, and no one else. Classical music (or old time music, or poetry) should be a precious thing for the people who enjoy and appreciate it, not a moral or intellectual reproach to the people who don’t.

  3. “…the success or failure of a cultural artifact tells us something important about whether it is in fact excellent.”

    In many ways, I agree. And I too have problems with public dollars, and the ironically (considering some of the work) moral reproach that goes on.

    But on the other hand, I can’t help but remember the number of now-acclaimed artists whose works were never appreciated in their lifetime, and the amount of pure junk that makes money. I’m not saying that all these currently unappreciated artists should be funded, merely that I’m not willing to take a purely democratic stance on the value of a work of art. Success tells us something, but not everything. I may be wrong, and I think I must be considering this guy’s background, but I kept getting the idea that he was practically cheering on the decline in classical music.

    But next time, I’ll read the article twice before commenting, so that I can say something more intelligent. Thanks for responding!

  4. Laura,

    I can’t help but remember the number of now-acclaimed artists whose works were never appreciated in their lifetime, and the amount of pure junk that makes money. I’m not saying that all these currently unappreciated artists should be funded, merely that I’m not willing to take a purely democratic stance on the value of a work of art.

    There was an East Kentucky banjo player, Morgan Sexton, who rarely played publicly until the end of his life; in fact, his family hated it and insisted he only play in the barn. He was “discovered” a few years before he died, even won a National Heritage award, which I suppose attests to the excellence of his work. And I suppose that if he had never been discovered, us consumers of excellence might have been a bit poorer as a result. But from Sexton’s point of view, I think he had already reached his goal, which wasn’t to achieve acclaim or even to bequeath something to future generations, but simply to make something excellent for the pleasure it brought to him and the glory it brought to God. I think of the rumors (which I hope are true) that beautifully crafted figures lurk in parts of cathedrals where the artist could only have expected God to see them.

    But next time, I’ll read the article twice before commenting, so that I can say something more intelligent.

    I don’t think I could have read that article twice! It was quite a mess, and I think the only reason I was able to extract a point from it was that most of the insider stuff was so incomprehensible to me that my brain just filtered it out, leaving very little to think about.

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