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Thread: Camp in classical music

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    Default Camp in classical music

    Because of the European Song Festival I (re)read Susan Sontag's "Notes on Camp":
    http://faculty.georgetown.edu/irvine...Camp-1964.html

    The European Song Festival seems to be the ultimate celebration of bad taste, of travesty and ridiculous theatricality, thus of Camp. According to Sontag "The whole point of Camp is to dethrone the serious. Camp is playful, anti-serious. More precisely, Camp involves a new, more complex relation to "the serious." One can be serious about the frivolous, frivolous about the serious." So perhaps you would think that classcial music which is serious music and high art can not be Camp. yet Susan Sontag mentions also examples of classical music which is Camp: Swan Lake and Bellini's operas (in general ballet and opera are Camp-genres), "the operas of Richard Strauss, but not those of Wagner", "La Traviata (which has some small development of character) is less campy than Il Trovatore (which has none)" and even Pergolesi and "much of Mozart".

    What do you think of this (and of Sontag's article)?

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    I think she may be assessing Swan Lake as camp 'after the fact' and putting that interpretation on it where it was never intended in the original.
    I've read a lot of essays like this. The last was an essay about the 'parodic intent' in Satie's humorous period works. With distinctions between 'true parody', 'genuine parody' and all sorts of other ideas about the uses of humour. Also to 'dethrone the serious' and to undermine and move past a fossilised artistic authority.

    Some of the ideas in these essays are good, but the method of expressing them wears me out. All the 'dimensions', 'counter-hegemonic forms of discourse', 'historicity', 'hermeneutic and formalist styles of criticism'.... help! Good, but fairly comprehensible ideas suffocating under a layer of unnecessary jargon.

    To me camp means The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Dick Emery, Kenneth Williams, corny musicals. But I'm just a cultural barbarian (that's an example of humorist intentionality).

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    Quote Originally Posted by eugeneonagain View Post
    I think she may be assessing Swan Lake as camp 'after the fact' and putting that interpretation on it where it was never intended in the original.
    I think Susan Sontag adresses this issue: "The pure examples of Camp are unintentional; they are dead serious." The best Camp is always Camp in retrospect. As I understand her the working of time is often crucial: through the passage of time we become less involved so what was serious in his own time we can not take seriously anymore. We only see extravagance, a failed attempt to seriousness. So:

    "Thus, things are campy, not when they become old - but when we become less involved in them, and can enjoy, instead of be frustrated by, the failure of the attempt."

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    One concept of camp, more modern than Sontag, is where the the complexity and difficulty of the means exceeds the ends so much that some sort of irony is unavoidable. A very clear example of this was on French TV recently, where some top French pastry chefs were asked to rise to the challenge of making a Jaffa Cake by hand.

    DA60C23B-3136-4C86-9777-6C2AA0D2557C.jpeg




    I think quite some Mahler would fit this definition of camp. Mahler 6 for example.
    Last edited by Mandryka; May-19-2019 at 13:10.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Agamemnon View Post
    I think Susan Sontag adresses this issue: "The pure examples of Camp are unintentional; they are dead serious." The best Camp is always Camp in retrospect. As I understand her the working of time is often crucial: through the passage of time we become less involved so what was serious in his own time we can not take seriously anymore. We only see extravagance, a failed attempt to seriousness. So:

    "Thus, things are campy, not when they become old - but when we become less involved in them, and can enjoy, instead of be frustrated by, the failure of the attempt."
    Well I think she's wrong. Who are 'we'? Some people or one artistic point-of-view may become 'less involved', while others don't. Who decides? What she is describing is 'ironic detachment' better known now as postmodern irony.

    Many things in the arts have been intentionally 'camp', not later becoming so through loss of serious involvement. The Eurovision song contest has simply had a lot of strange contestants over the decades who are selected by each country and thus must be 'entertained' as 'serious' entries. The modern approach to Eurovision reflects the now very common approach to almost everything which isn't overtly serious (e.g. death, bad news) which is a comedy approach.

    I think she confuses 'camp' with simple embarrassment masked as irony and reborn as 'cult' popularity. This is not camp.

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    Camp is an aesthetic style and sensibility that regards something as appealing because of its bad taste and ironic value...That's appalling
    ...I read a bit of the article and thought it was entertaining.

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    “Camp: something so outrageously artificial, affected, inappropriate, or out-of-date as to be considered amusing; a style or mode of personal or creative expression that is absurdly exaggerated and often fuses elements of high and popular culture.”

    OK, now I’m taking the subject too seriously. But I think of the Bellini operas that Sontag mentions as beautiful singing rather than as “Camp”. I believe that true Camp is intentionally playful and free of the intent of malice, ridicule, and exaggerates its excesses out of love and affection. Is the Nutcracker Suite Camp or is it fantasy, especially for children? Would they see it as Camp?
    Last edited by Larkenfield; May-19-2019 at 15:02.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mandryka View Post
    I think quite some Mahler would fit this definition of camp. Mahler 6 for example.
    This reminds me of the prevailing view of Mahler in Britain as vulgar before he became fashionable in the late 1960s. It isn't a view I share.
    Last edited by Enthusiast; May-19-2019 at 13:14.

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    The recent sale of Jeff Koons' Rabbit for $91,000,000 brings the subject of kitsch into a discussion of camp, as the two attitudes may show a strange relationship. Roger Scruton here writes of artists today creating "pre-emptive kitsch" in order to evade the charge that their art could be interpreted as naïve kitsch. But Scruton notes that it's working for some--that's where the money is.

    https://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-30439633
    Last edited by Strange Magic; May-19-2019 at 13:25.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Enthusiast View Post
    This reminds me of the prevailing view of Mahler in Britain as vulgar before he became fashionable in the late 1960s. It isn't a view I share.
    I mentioned it because when I was a kid I went to a concert with Mahler 6, or maybe it was Mahler 5, I can’t remember. Anyway there were these enormous bells hanging from a frame and I was fascinated and I couldn’t wait for them to be played. Time passed, the bells just hung there, and I could hardly control my impatience.

    And then, at some point quite late in the proceedings, some bloke took a stick, climbed on to a chair, and tapped one of the bells. And there was so much other music going on at the same time you could hardly hear it.

    This seems to me an example of the means exceeding the end and hence an example of my post-Sontag definition of camp. The Symphony of 1000 would be another, for obvious reasons.
    Last edited by Mandryka; May-19-2019 at 14:38.

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    There are a whole cluster of related ideas here: camp, kitsch, vulgar.

    The one that interests me a bit is gay. There does seem to be a connection between people of the gay persuasion and camp kitsch vulgarity.

    Can we say that Mahler 6 is a gay symphony?

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    FYI: For those too young to remember, the word "camp" in this meaning did not exist until the mid-1960s, when it was coined expressly to describe things like the Adam West "Batman" TV series and the song "Winchester Cathedral." It was extended to apply to such things "mod" clothing, artworks by Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein and other things that at the time were thought to be on the borderline of art and nostalgia and kitsch. That it became the subject of pedantic essays was inevitable, but amusing nonetheless.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Mandryka View Post
    Can we say that Mahler 6 is a gay symphony?
    It is such a brutal work so it might have to be gay of the uniformed S&M variety?

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    Giving it some more thought, I think camp requires some intention. Plastic flamingos are kitsch, but only campy if deployed in the right way. Tiny Tim singing "Tiptoe through the Tulips" to a ukelele is camp, Don Ho isn't. Perhaps one synonym might be "professionally amateurish."

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