Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Contemporary Classical Music

In the latest New Yorker, Alex Ross, perhaps best known among list members
for his relentless bashing of the current Met Ring production, comes up
with a howler of an oxymoron in his floridly written article "Even The
Score - Female Composers Edge Forward."

Classical music was originally a term used to define the period in music
roughly from Bach to Beethoven as a style, and not as a definition of a
type of music. More recently, as other forms like Ragtime, Jazz, Pop, Rock
came into being, it has been used to designate "serious" music.The term now
reads like an epitaph. If Puccini had been called a "classical composer" to
his face, I'm sure he would have been angry about it, he was the most
popular composer of music in the world during his prime years, Lehar
perhaps excepted .

Thus we learn from Ross about an essay by a composer Amy Beth Kirsten "The
'Woman Composer Is Dead". published in NewMusicBox. NewMusicBox currently
has an article about the latest winner of the Pulitzer Prize in music,
Caroline Shaw. I don't know Ms. Shaw's music (how many people do?), but I
wonder, did the Pulitzer committee ever consider awarding a music prize to
the female composers who actually matter to the great unwashed public in
this day and age, say the impossibly talented and young Taylor Swift or
perhaps the juggernaut known as Beyonce? Those female composers and
performers are hardly "edging forward." They are in fact gargantuan
successes on a scale that would make Puccini envious. Undoubtedly these
lasses have earned more in any given month than all the female "classical"
composers of the last fifty years put together. No matter what one thinks
of Swift or Beyonce, they are unquestionably powerful cultural forces; they
and not the academics Ross lionizes are the dominant musical voices of our
time, and no amount of Pulitzer prizes or flowery New Yorker essays can
change that fact.

It is the changing nature of these powerful cultural forces, and the
changing nature of music, art, and the revolutionary nature of the internet
that is causing the decay of our beloved music and theater forms and
the institutions dedicated to performing them, and is the reason why the
general public is running away from them as fast as they can and why the
majority of the audience that remains for them is closer in age and outlook
to Puccini's time than the 21st Century.

"Contemporary Classical Music." It is a howling oxymoron, to call something
brand new, "classical." It's like seeing a sign on a furniture store
"Contemporary antiques." Contemporary classical music" -- RIP.

James Camner

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