Music Makes the Bourgeoisie and the Rebels

Today I randomly came across two reviews of Tim Blanning’s The Triumph of Music. I’m already convinced that I need to read it, but I think it’s interesting that both reviewers griped about the same thing.

Here’s the Telegraph:

For Blanning, all music is music, and the ‘triumph’ of his title is an unbroken ascent from the 19th-century composers to the 20th-century rock stars.

But a breach has surely occurred, and I wish he had said more about it.

The gap between classical and pop music is greater now than any equivalent difference in the other arts – between, say, highbrow drama andHollywood, or between Booker Prize novels and Mills & Boon. In those other cases, the highbrow and the popular form parts of a single spectrum.

In the case of music we now have two vastly different worlds; and only one of them, I fear, is ‘triumphing’.

Egads! People are listening to contemporary pop music, instead of the pop music of 300 years ago!

And here’s The New Criterion:

“When modes of music change,” wrote Plato in The Republic, “the fundamental laws of the state always change with them.” But the author seems to have little patience for describing the mechanics of how music stimulated social and cultural change. He treats music as a commodity—classical music, Romantic music, and jazz are all one with the sole criterion for musical greatness being the ability to survive the passage of time.

It sounds radical, but I don’t see any reason to make a qualitative distinction between any two kinds of music. If you love opera, go listen to it. If you love trance, have at it.

Every generation sees its own musical expression as the default, and the following generation’s as a usurper. The Sinatra generation hated Elvis. The Elvis generation hated the Beatles. The Beatles generation hated Guns N Roses. The Guns N Roses generation hated Nirvana. The Nirvana generation hated Blink 182.

I have no doubt that that 30 years after the first caveman ever pounded his fists rhythmically on a rock, he and his friends were bitching about their kids banging on it with sticks: ‘It’s just noise!

Hell, the Telegraph reviewer even begins his review with an anecdote illustrating the same bias he demonstrates 600 words later:

In 1771 Archduke Ferdinand ofAustriaasked his mother whether she thought he should employ a 15-year-old musician called Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

‘I can’t think why you should,’ replied the Empress Maria Theresa, ‘for you don’t need a composer or any other useless people for that matter. I don’t want you lumbering yourself with good-for-nothing folk.

I haven’t read the book yet, obviously, but I see no reason why historians—or politicians or listeners—should make a qualitative distinction between classical music and, say, Detroit house. Music makes people happy, it makes the world a better place and it inspires us all to build castles in our heads and fill them with waving fabric.

If you don’t like or don’t want to understand pop music, then don’t. But it’s a waste of time for every generation to fight for the recognition of its expression as legitimate.

Spending a night at the symphony doesn’t make you any smarter than a Justin Bieber concert. A musical instrument does not cease to be so when it includes the capacity to plug into the wall. And an opera house has no more inherent worth than a square of breakdancing cardboard on the sidewalk. If you’re lucky enough to find a cathedral, no one gets to tell you how to clasp your hands.

1 Comment

Filed under Music, Personal, Serious

One response to “Music Makes the Bourgeoisie and the Rebels

  1. This, exactly this. Also, don’t read The Age of Absurdity, by Michael Foley – a typical example of such a person. I don’t know why I read it, but I just did and got annoyed 😉

    “Everything used to be better in the old days!”