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Thread: Was classical music ever popular music?

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    Senior Member Edward Elgar's Avatar
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    Default Was classical music ever popular music?

    Classical music (i.e. Haydn, Mozart) seemed to be aimed at the aristocracy and people with money. Only the super-rich it seems had court composers in their employ.

    Nowardays it seems classical music is still a pirsuit of the the well-off. Why is this?

    Might it be that educated composers just can't see eye to eye with the great unwashed?

    Do we want the great unwashed to listen to classical music?

    What was pop music like in Mozart's day?

    Was classical music ever universally popular?

    Will classical music ever be popular?

    Should classical music be popular?

    What are the social ideals that classical music promotes?

    I do not have strong views about these subjects because I merely enjoy the listening and study of classical music. Perhaps classical music isn't popular because you have to know a bit about it to enjoy it. Who knows?!
    When all the paint has been dried, when all the stone has been carved, music shall remain, and we shall work with what remains.

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    Senior Member Tapkaara's Avatar
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    I say, if they cannot afford caviar, Bentleys or Italian villas in Tuscany, no, hey have no right listening to classical. That is a divine honor that only we in this forum should be allowed.

    I'm off to attend my afternoon banquet. If you need to get a hold of me, contact my assistant.
    "Music is not philosophy." --Akira Ifukube

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    Super Moderator jhar26's Avatar
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    Well, you sometimes read about the man in the street whistling tunes from this or that opera in 19th century Italy, so I suppose it must been quite popular at the time.

    As for if classical music SHOULD be popular - let's just say that it DESERVES to be popular and that many people don't realize how much it could potentially enrich their lifes if they gave it a chance. Sure - knowing a bit about it always helps, but you learn as you go along. Besides, even though most of it is less complicated than classical music, knowing a bit about the history of popular music and the differences in styles and so on makes one enjoy pop/rock/jazz/whatever more also. What doesn't help is prejudice, and unfortunately many of the uninitiated suffer from that when it comes to classical music.

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    Senior Member Edward Elgar's Avatar
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    Tapkaara, from your banal sarcasm, I deduce that you believe classical music should be universally enjoyed. Please correct me if you were in fact being serious!

    jhar26, it's interesting you should mention prejudice being the inhibitor of classical music. Maybe the prejudice people have is that classical music is only for posh/interlectual snobs. What do you think?
    When all the paint has been dried, when all the stone has been carved, music shall remain, and we shall work with what remains.

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    Senior Member Elgarian's Avatar
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    Doesn't the success of Classic FM suggest that there are lots of people enjoying 'popular classics'? There seem to be an awful lot of people who like 'The Lark Ascending', for instance.

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    Senior Member Tapkaara's Avatar
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    Well, if "popular" means "of the people," then no, classical is not popular music. Not saying that it is not worthy of being popular, just saying it is not.

    Mozart and Haydn wrote for aristrocrats, not for pub-goers. Perhaps it was here where "classical" got off on the wrong foot.

    Ever since, classical music...or shall we say art music...has always been a dressy, black-tie type of affair. I think this is how the tradition was started.

    Plus, the meandering, rhetorical nature of a lot of classical music also makes it a turn off, I think. People have short attention spans. If there is not a distinct tune with a persistant back beat to hold it all together, you're going to lose people's interest. As a classical fan, even I have trouble sitting through works where the music just kind of keeps going and going. I've never sat through Verdi's Requiem in one sitting, for example. Usually takes me a weekend. So, in a world of 2.5 minutes radio jams, who wants to listen to an epic symphonic ork lasting an hour or more...what's next in the rotation?

    Long story short, I believe there are two things that prevent it from being truly popular: the "music for aristocrats" tradition that has permeated to the present day (yes, it is still very much in effect) and the not-always-tuneful aspect which can come off as "boring" or "too complicated" to someone who hasn't any patience. And let's face it, not a lot of people do not like anything that lies outside the realm of instant gratification.
    "Music is not philosophy." --Akira Ifukube

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    Super Moderator jhar26's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Edward Elgar View Post
    jhar26, it's interesting you should mention prejudice being the inhibitor of classical music. Maybe the prejudice people have is that classical music is only for posh/interlectual snobs. What do you think?
    Yes, I think that's unfortunately part of the problem. Also the lack of new works that have any popular appeal (not speaking of artistic merit here). Although I obviously wasn't there I imagine that in the past the premiere of, say a new Puccini opera or Elgar symphony raised some interest in the media and among the public whereas now classical music is seen by many as a museum art form. Most people don't even know that there is such a thing as modern classical music. To them U2 is modern music and classical music is something from the 18th and 19th centuries.

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    Senior Member Tapkaara's Avatar
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    Very good points, jhar.

    Very true, much "modern classical" has very little popular appeal, but, as far as I'm concerend, it does not appeal to lot of classical fans, either. I am certainly a devotee of classical music, but a lot of the modern masterworks that are being produced since the 1950s till today are pieces of fussy, intellectual nonesense.

    Film soundtracks (yes I know there is a thread about this) are, in my humble estimation, legit works of classical music. At least they are classical in term of their conception and scope. Film scores often have very popular appeal, and how many time have you heard someone say they got into classical becuase they loved the Star Wars soundtrack? (We should embrace good film scores, not poo poo on them because they are not the demented musings of some 'modernist' hack from Eastern Europe.)

    Since when did it become a sin to admit you like music that is tonal, a little bombastic and has great stick-in-your-head melodies? And so what if the music accompanied a dogfight in outer space?

    But even the most popular film soundtrack will still be obscure next to the latest hit from Beyonce.
    Last edited by Tapkaara; Feb-04-2009 at 23:00.
    "Music is not philosophy." --Akira Ifukube

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    Senior Member Elgarian's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Tapkaara View Post
    Ever since, classical music...or shall we say art music...has always been a dressy, black-tie type of affair.
    But has it? Even though there is a certain social group that operates like that, there seem to be a quite a lot of listeners who simply don't make much of a fuss about it. Here in the UK they phone requests in to Classic FM, and get something played that they like, and they don't care too much (it seems) about the fact that it's just a single movement of a symphony, or something. And the station seems to thrive on this, issuing CDs of popular classics that (I presume) sell quite well. Certainly their magazine is sold in all the major supermarkets around here (while Gramophone is not). I'm not suggesting that it attracts the sizes of audience that true pop music does, but it seems to have carved a significant niche in popular listening culture here.

    This isn't my way of enjoying classical music, but it's a way of enjoying it. Classic FM makes me squirm quite a bit because it so often seems to miss a lot of the real richness of classical music, but so what? We tend to get a bit snooty, ourselves about all this, don't we? - but that's no more defensible that the Glyndebourne-going social elite's attitude. It seems to me that classical music does have a significant foothold in popular consciousness, in its own unembarrassed 'picking out the plums' way.

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    Senior Member David C Coleman's Avatar
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    I think one problem why classical music is not appreciated by the masses, is because they think it's too damn long!!....The attention span of modern homo-sapiens is not attuned to sitting down for two/three hours and watching or listening to ear-splitting sopranos over-acting anymore and you can't get up and jig around like you can to Kylie! So...it's appreciated by only a few elites..

    Classic FM is only popular because it tries to reduce classical music to bight-size portions...

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    Senior Member Elgarian's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by David C Coleman View Post
    Classic FM is only popular because it tries to reduce classical music to bight-size portions...
    But my point is that it is popular, and it does play classical music - no matter how small the chunks, and even if they are bleeding. And after all, many classical pieces are short. We don't sniff at a Boyce symphony because it only lasts 10 minutes. Size doesn't always matter.

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    Senior Member Tapkaara's Avatar
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    Well, maybe I should have said that classical is MOSTLY a black tie affair. But, when you go to enjoy a symphonic concert, the performers are (usually) dressed to the 9s and concert goes also like to pull out tgeir formal attire that doesn;t fit anymore. I used to like getting all gussied up to go to the symphony, but nowadays, I just go in jeans with a sweater or something like that. I'm more comfortable that way, and I'm certainly not the only one who isn't in tophat and tails.

    As for Classic FM, I've only heard it over the internet as I live in the US. Bot I know what you mean. Our National Public Radio plays classical music over night, but they rarely will play a whole symphony and, if the do, it's a short one. At least this has been my experience.

    Our local FM classical outlet here in San Diego is atrocious. Not only is their rotation stale and predictable, but they are VERY guilty of only playing one movement from a multi-movement work. This makes no sense to me, but I guess this is applealing to our "grab and go" culture.

    Yes, length of pieces can be dauntiing, and not only for the general public. I mentioned earlier I cannot sit through Verdi's Requiem, for example, except if I take it in chunks. Perhaps I am a heretic for doing so, but even I can only take so much. I can usually sit throgh Mahler, though, in one stting, but he keeps my attention much longer than Verdi.
    "Music is not philosophy." --Akira Ifukube

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    Senior Member Ciel_Rouge's Avatar
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    I suppose we already have the latter half of the 20th century behind us, with its rapid expansion of mass culture and its "instant gratification" and oversimplified bubble gum-like "products". Therefore, I am not buying that "short attention spans in modern homo sapiens" slogan. Just because we are made into working faster and thinking less about our own delights, we do not become a new species that is unable to listen to pieces of music that are longer than 2 minutes. In the 21st century we no longer spend our days in front of a tv screen feeding us with preselected worthless pulp. We sit in front of the computer which gives us CHOICE. And by the way, not being able to sit the whole Verdi requiem and being able to take the whole Mahler at once may simply mean that you like Mahler a bit more than Verdi and perhaps not necessarily that we turned into a new species that can only listen to short tunes

    Also, I think the actual state of "general public" is rather different than the stereotypical assumptions that mass culture is trying to make us believe. I think people are smarter and fond of more complex things than is generally assumed. I even tend to believe that the "general public" is so bored with mass culture "products" that a lot of people become very interested when they find something that goes beyond the usual "pulp".

    Just to give you an example, if the classical is so "boring" and "unappealing" to general public, why do we have the aria from Lakme sampled in this hip hop piece:

    http://youtube.com/watch?v=FOpcE0wAfH8

    By the way, I also think that Beyonce, Kylie and others also get more sophisticated and complex and tend towards the world beyond "pulp", "pop", "soda", "plastic" or whatever you call it. If you compare 1980s Kylie and 2000s Kylie there is a HUGE difference, isn't there?

    So, just to sum things up - I think if popular means that 90 % of Western population listens to the classical then no, it is not popular by any means. However, if popular means being one of the directions the more sensitive listeners will go, then yes, it IS popular now even more than before and since records are bought on Amazon and elsewhere on a daily basis, one has to disagree with the assumption that the general public is not "smart enough" to discover classical for themselves. As for Classic FM and such, even though they are something in between pop and classical as far as the format is concerned, they still prove there is some longing for a better world and a better sound among the more general public.
    Last edited by Ciel_Rouge; Feb-05-2009 at 01:17.

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    Senior Member Tapkaara's Avatar
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    Well, very true...I do like Mahler more than Verdi. So, it all kind of comes together, doesn't it?

    Points all well taken, Ciel rouge. And I think that classical music has to be popular to some extant, thus classical radio stations exist, live concerts still go on, etc. But I still think it is a terra incognita to the general public, and thus cannot truly be deemed "popular music." It may be music that is enduringly popular, but its mass appeal is obviously less than the Top 40 Countdown.
    "Music is not philosophy." --Akira Ifukube

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    Senior Member Ciel_Rouge's Avatar
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    Yes, I just think the top 40 popularity does not mean much as the music is simply forced upon some kind of an "imaginary listener" Another funny thing is that some of the pop icons, after they accumulate substantial wealth, simply start travelling and getting familiar with many other flavours of music. I suppose this is why we sometimes get pop artists involved with some folk music or other projects on the side and bits and pieces of that actually get into their pop albums later on. However, I still wonder how hip hop artists come across classical pieces like the Flower Duet aria used in the video that I linked earlier or how techno artists get familiar with pieces like Adagio For Strings or why heavy metal artists occasionally play Bach or Beethoven on their electric guitars and why there are such genres as "symphonic metal" and "sort of operatic" voices in some pieces. Any ideas?

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