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Thread: Your opinions on making comparisons in music. . .

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    Default Your opinions on making comparisons in music. . .

    Australian pianist Simon Tedeschi had this to say about comparisons in a recent article (reference & link below). Its part of an article about the types of questions that audience members inevitably ask him after a rectial.

    [One question is 'Who is your favourite composer?']
    Why are humans so addicted to comparisons? Why must there be a best? This is like asking me what my mood is like on Thursdays at 5.23pm. The sum total of keyboard literature is enough to satisfy even the most prolific of pianists, such that we will never master it in ten lifetimes. As I have said before, the music will always be greater than us. Aside from this cornucopia, there is the simple matter of mood. One day I may feel angry and so will gravitate towards Beethoven's seamier works. Before bed, my old friend dopamine will ensure that a Bill Evans ballad does what the doctor ordered. Bach, I feel, is the 'greatest' composer that ever lived, and yet his music is perhaps not my 'personal favourite.' These are the kind of variables that pillage my brain after being asked this well-meaning but futile question. I call it hiatus interruptus - the unwillingness to grant a performer a break from all mental activity after a huge night. . .

    [Another question is 'What do you like more, jazz or classical?']
    I would give classical 9.7 out of 10, but jazz only 8.2. [this 'statistical' answer is obviously a joke, but Mr. Tedeschi plays not only classical but also jazz music]

    I mean this quote as a stimulus to discussion and debate.

    So just seeking your opinion on the issue of making comparisons about music. An open discussion about that.

    You can discuss comparisons you find useful and those that you don't. You can give examples.


    Article: Well meaning questions that annoy me after a concert! by Simon Tedeschi. In Fine Music FM magazine, September 2012 issue, Page 3.

    http://issuu.com/finemusic/docs/fine...olor=%23222222 (this link I think has a time limit, after then its archived)
    Last edited by Sid James; Sep-18-2012 at 06:02.

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    I think maybe comparisons are inevitable. We hear or see or read something that's new to us, and we immediately seek to make sense of it by comparing it to what we already know. A university professor I admired once said that that was the whole point of education, to show how to make useful comparisons.

    I have come to think that there's even more value in responding to something on its own terms, without reference to anything else. But that takes a bit of courage, a modicum of experience, a moiety of wisdom, an ort of humility.

    It is certainly true that the bulk of comparisons I see on classical music forums seem designed with only one end in view, to prove that new music is not as good as old music. That kind of comparison I can do without! New music is more recent than old music. I'm fine with that.

    Also bad, of course, but not seen nearly as often, is that new music is better than old music. Again, do without. Old music is older than new music. Fine. (I only bring this up to forestall the inevitable wiseacre who will say, but what about people who say "new music is better than old music"? You know, the three who will do that out of thousands....)

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    Senior Member Couchie's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by some guy View Post
    I have come to think that there's even more value in responding to something on its own terms, without reference to anything else.
    A nice sentiment, but the reality is that without a benchmark you actually have no basis for evaluating anything whatsoever in any manner that has meaning.
    Doch dieses Wörtlein: und, -wär' es zerstört,
    wie anders als mit Isoldes eignem Leben wär' Tristan der Tod gegeben?

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    There's a difference between "Who's your favourite composer?" and "Who's the best composer?". If nothing else, it's because "favourite" doesn't need to be defined, but "best" does. "Favourite" grants subjectivity, "best" implies universal truth. Even though many times, people woukd probably give the same answer to both questions, the two couldn't be more different.

    We like to compare, I guess, because any such judgement implies absolute authority over the issue. Usually we misspeak: We say "X is better than Y", when all we really mean to say is "I like X better than Y". When you read such statements and you make that substitution in your head, you can calmly take in even the most outrageous propositions.

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    Senior Member PetrB's Avatar
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    Pity the performer used the word 'mood.' That's all I have to say....

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    Senior Member Arsakes's Avatar
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    Why are humans so addicted to comparisons?
    Because Analogy is a good way to understand things?

    I would give classical 9.9 and Jazz (at its best) 8!

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    Senior Member Ukko's Avatar
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    "Your opinions on making comparisons in music. . ."

    In cases other than those measured with musicological precision? They are of temporary use to the 1st person; possibly useful to close associates; conversational filler otherwise.

    The statement "My opinions are my own" is often indicative of delusion. Regarding music that should not be the case. Listen without thinking, then think about what you heard - not what you've read > Listen again, picking up details > Think about what you heard > Listen again without analyzing > "Solidify" an opinion about the music.

    Do all that and you have something you can put in your journal about that performance, along with a guess about what other performances might have for you.

    That's how valuable your opinion can be for others.

    I spent a fortune on deodorant before I realized that people don't like me anyway.

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    i like making comparisons

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    I think comparisons are essential to personal experience, and useless to shared experience.

    When I consider to myself how I like Brahms more than Beethoven, I am not making a rational survey of their relative compositional strengths, even if I consciously think I am. Every thought I have is tainted - the piano concerto is a stimulus to remember my first love, the symphonies stir memories of depression, and the requiem is a force for sublime nostalgia. When I think that all this is better than Beethoven, what I really mean is that Beethoven's music, neither better nor worse, is not tied to my heart so intimately.

    This complex web of private experience is unique to all of us, but it is such a powerful part of our lives that we are compelled to ask others about their preferences, forgetting that a simple answer - if given - will conceal years of sentimental associations that are central to that person's assessment.

    Nevertheless, this can act as a door to discovery - the questions of comparisons themselves are all quite pointless, but if you prise the answers apart enough, you can start to open someone else's world of inner experience that is otherwise closed to you.

    If I ask, "Who is your favourite composer?" I don't mean to acquire little more than a name that I can add to list, I mean to ask, by way of a common formula, what music has conspired to touch you more than anything else, and maybe even where, when, why, how, and who with?
    Last edited by Mephistopheles; Sep-18-2012 at 21:41.

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    (1) Subjective comparison: Bach on the piano versus Bach on a period harpsichord

    (2) Scholarly comparison: Influence of Corellian multi-movement concerto format versus Vivaldian three-movement concerto format on later concerto writing and development

    (3) Spurious comparison: Monteverdi versus Merzbow, who is greater

    (4) HarpsichordConcerto comparison: Fart versus non-fart
    All composers are equal but some are more equal than others.

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    Thanks to all. I really like what Mephistopheles said relating comparisons to "this complex web of private experience is unique to all of us."

    I would say that some comparisons are worth making and some aren't. For me, that is. I don't think they serve much of a purpose just to push some agenda (re what some guy is saying, but I'd say its not only about new music, but any music the 'critic' does not like or accept as 'real' or 'good' music).

    If I was asked what Simon Tedeschi was asked, I could not name one favourite composer. Maybe it's easier to name composers I don't like (maybe I would say 'virtually everything but Wagner'). Seriously, that's what I sometimes do say. Or end up saying. Its similar to one of TEdeschi's whimsical answers to another 'question' in that article, re who is his favourite pianist. All he basically says to that it is "not Horowitz."

    What Harpsichord Concerto is saying above also is a good point (if partly whimsical). There's many types of comparison, from just a layman's viewpoint (like mine, I'm not a muso) to that of a trained musician or scholar focusing on technique or history, etc. Its good to keep these in mind. Of course, these guys can and often disagree, just as we do on this forum. I just don't like it when others overly diss something, I mean let's face it, musicians can be their own toughest critics.
    Last edited by Sid James; Sep-19-2012 at 01:20.

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    Senior Member quack's Avatar
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    The DJ John Peel whenever asked what his favorite song was, would answer Teenage Kicks by The Undertones. It is a great song, but really, a DJ that did so much to promote new music, who always played such a diverse mix and had a huge library of rare and unusual music would focus on one fun, poppy hit. It was clearly a defense mechanism to deflect all those annoying people with reductionist views who wanted a shortcut to musical knowledge. Even if he truly did believe it was the greatest song ever it was just one of millions he played and he certainly wasn't the kind of music lover to be satisfied with a nostalgic list of hits.

    This should probably go in the "topics that work people up" thread, but I think ranking music is decidedly anti-musical. Music isn't a competition, it is an art form, placing one above another devalues both. Yes we all have our preferences, and making top ten lists is relatively harmless fun but it soon devolves into proving, usually by arguing others into submission, that your personal taste should be universally accepted.

    The negative formulation of our likes that you mention, "not Wagner" or "not Horowitz" is I think significant. It is difficult to describe what we like, we like it because to an extent it is beyond us, transcendental, it defies explanation whereas what we don't like we can easily find criticism for: too noisy, to slow, too souless, too sentimental. The liking often comes from the perfect position between the negatives, the Goldilocks of taste.

    On a simpler note, Zemlinsky is the greatest composer EVAR! (because I happen to be listening to him at the moment)

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    Quote Originally Posted by quack View Post
    The DJ John Peel whenever asked what his favorite song was, would answer Teenage Kicks by The Undertones. It is a great song, but really, a DJ that did so much to promote new music, who always played such a diverse mix and had a huge library of rare and unusual music would focus on one fun, poppy hit. It was clearly a defense mechanism to deflect all those annoying people with reductionist views who wanted a shortcut to musical knowledge. Even if he truly did believe it was the greatest song ever it was just one of millions he played and he certainly wasn't the kind of music lover to be satisfied with a nostalgic list of hits.

    This should probably go in the "topics that work people up" thread, but I think ranking music is decidedly anti-musical. Music isn't a competition, it is an art form, placing one above another devalues both. Yes we all have our preferences, and making top ten lists is relatively harmless fun but it soon devolves into proving, usually by arguing others into submission, that your personal taste should be universally accepted.

    The negative formulation of our likes that you mention, "not Wagner" or "not Horowitz" is I think significant. It is difficult to describe what we like, we like it because to an extent it is beyond us, transcendental, it defies explanation whereas what we don't like we can easily find criticism for: too noisy, to slow, too souless, too sentimental. The liking often comes from the perfect position between the negatives, the Goldilocks of taste.

    On a simpler note, Zemlinsky is the greatest composer EVAR! (because I happen to be listening to him at the moment)
    Beautifully said, especially the bit I put in bold

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    I try to campare Telemann with Grofe, but I don't come to any conclusion.

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