Date: 02/12/2021
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Decline of Western Civ, Series 11,984

All art aspires to be music, someone once said. That being the case, the rottenness of current art, about which I posted yesterday, presumably has its counterpart in current music. So it seems, at least according to this reader:


... Perhaps the emergence of unlistenable modern "art" music can be explained by the tape recorder/record player. The argument would go like this: The record democratized music. Since more people could now buy what they wanted to hear, it created a large market for accessible (i.e., popular) music, while decreasing the market for the more difficult "art" music. Only the very best classical artists could make a living: after all, even if you like classical music, why listen to second rate players in Peoria play Beethoven's Fifth when you can just buy the Chicago Symphony playing it? And who has the time to go to a concert to hear something new that you don't know and that you're never going to hear again? So, there is only a small market for new art music, no living to be made (except to score movies in Hollywood), and the talented go do something else. Thus, the creation of "serious" new art music becomes the province of academia, where the less talented dwell and toil under the protection of tenure.

I don't have any data to demonstrate any of this, just hunches. For example, whilst a music major, I heard students ridiculed if they dared to compose tonal music—even if it by accident ("Oh, dear, dear—the theme for your Concerto No. 6 for Broken Garden Tools is based on a I-IV-V-I progression. We can't have that!" "Oh yes, sorry, didn't mean to do that."). I always had the impression that if any of these professors were to write a piece in the "classical" style it would be god-awful. The curriculum also ensures the demise of the art music craft. There is no training for young composers—only training for performers. And in college, a composition professor might spend one week on the elements of a fugue, and then require students to spend the rest of the semester splicing tape of screeches, wails, and toilets flushes, all in an effort to expand musical horizons (or to follow the lemmings off the cliff). (Although, I must admit, as a performance major I was required to study theory and voice-leading).

But it's not that we can't write good tonal music any more, we are told, it's because we shouldn't. One of my musicology professors practically drummed me out of the class when I suggested that Milton Babbitt's article, "Who Cares If You Listen?" should have been titled "Who Cares If I Write?"

I could rant all day on this issue.


[Me] Rant away, Sir. That's what the internet is for.

Here is the only modern-music joke I know.

A student of musicology said to his professor one day: "I want to make a name for myself in the world of avant-garde music. What's the best fast way to do that?" After a few moments' thought, the professor replied: "Try this. Get the sheet music for some work of just that kind of music. Rewrite the score, but backwards, note for note. You will have a wonderful new work of avant-garde music!"

The student did so. When he had finished writing out the notes, he assembled a modest orchestra to perform his new piece. With the first page of his score in front of them, the musicians bent over their instruments and began. The notes rang out across the hall: DAH, di-DAH, di-DAH-di-DAH-di-DAAAH... (i.e. Eine Kleine Nachtmusik).