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Thread: Does music progress?

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    Senior Member Woodduck's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by DaveM View Post
    A lot of 19th century CM was ‘forgotten’, but a remarkable amount of it has been, and continues to be re-discovered and recorded. From my reading and understanding of the development of 18th & 19th century composers and their music, the very nature of their education and moving up through the ranks acted as a built-in quality control system. Composers who were composing ‘crap” didn’t survive so I doubt that 90% of music of that era was crap. I don’t see those same quality control constraints being applied practically at all with latter 20th, into the 21st century CM.
    It's largely impossible to compare the musical outputs of eras in which musical genres and the social groups that listened to them are not strictly comparable. Our society is far more diverse than Mozart's, and musical genres are correspondingly more diverse. But even with regard to a single so-called genre, what music should we include when we speak of the "classical" music of 19th-century Vienna or 21st-century New York? Do we include Johann Strauss and Stephen Sondheim? Can the music of today's university-based "classical" composers be rated meaningfully against that of the court composers of 18th-century Europe? When we ask whether 90% of some era's music is crap, the antecedent question should be: which music? - and the next question should be: for which audience?

    That said, I think you're right to point out that among composers working in more complex genres for more sophisticated audiences, there was a higher prevailing standard in Mozart's time than there is now, and that's simply because of the simple existence back then of standards of craftsmanship. Since the later 20th century, a person with no standards of craftsmanship whatever, operating under the assumption that craftsmanship is irrelevant, may freely call himself an artist and will be accepted as one if what he does tickles someone's fancy, makes someone some money, or garners some social cachet. "Art" is whatever someone says it is, and "good" art is whatever earns prizes in juried competitions or gets parked in the courtyards of public buildings at public expense and to public bafflement.

    Most of the music of any era is not distinctive or memorable and will disappear unless some enterprising, historical-minded musicians and recording companies revive it as an exhibit in the world museum we all live in. That doesn't mean that forgotten music is bad. The difference is that in earlier times it was generally possible to tell, at least after a couple of hearings, whether it met some recognized criteria of excellence. That has become less and less true as music has "progressed."
    Last edited by Woodduck; Jan-20-2020 at 03:17.

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  3. #62
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    Quote Originally Posted by Woodduck View Post
    That doesn't mean that forgotten music is bad. The difference is that in earlier times it was generally possible to tell, at least after a couple of hearings, whether it met some recognized criteria of excellence. That has become less and less true as music has "progressed."
    Not at all, music has been ignored and revived, they didn't know much better back then. Many composers and painters for that matter have been ignored, and only with time has the public gained the competence to understand their art.

    Every artist, even bad ones, get their 15 minutes, it's only great art that lasts through the ages.

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    Senior Member Woodduck's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by 1996D View Post
    Not at all, music has been ignored and revived, they didn't know much better back then. Many composers and painters for that matter have been ignored, and only with time has the public gained the competence to understand their art.
    I think that's largely a Romantic fantasy - the old "misunderstood artist starving in a garret" cliche. All the composers of the past we regard highly were recognized in their day for composing fine music. In some cases full appreciation may come slowly - contemporaries can't foresee a composer's place in the longer development of the art - but that isn't the question I was addressing.

    Every artist, even bad ones, get their 15 minutes, it's only great art that lasts through the ages.
    This too is wrong. We enjoy plenty of music from the past that's less than "great" but still offers pleasure

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    Quote Originally Posted by Woodduck View Post
    I think that's largely a Romantic fantasy - the old "misunderstood artist starving in a garret" cliche. All the composers of the past we regard highly were recognized in their day for composing fine music. In some cases full appreciation may come slowly - contemporaries can't foresee a composer's place in the longer development of the art - but that isn't the question I was addressing.
    They were only recognized by the aristocracy or by their contemporaries/small circles, and after their deaths many had their music buried, only to be revived much later. Mahler and Bach are good examples of this.

    Every artist gets his 15 minutes during his lifetime but this means nothing, the true measure of art is time.

    We enjoy plenty of music from the past that's less than "great" but still offers pleasure
    Like what? From 200+ years ago? No.
    Last edited by 1996D; Jan-20-2020 at 04:48.

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    Quote Originally Posted by 1996D View Post
    Like what? From 200+ years ago? No.
    Certainly. I've listened to many of Händel's Concerto Grosso for pleasure and, although they are expertly done, would not consider them great in the way Messiah is.

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    Senior Member Woodduck's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by 1996D View Post
    They were only recognized by the aristocracy or by their contemporaries/small circles, and after their deaths many had their music buried, only to be revived much later. Mahler and Bach are good examples of this.
    Obviously, a composer can be recognized only by people who have the opportunity to hear his music. Those who had larger audiences had wider recognition. With the growth of public concerts any number of composers were widely known and enjoyed, their music even disseminated in piano arrangements for use at home by people who couldn't get to concerts and theaters.

    Every artist gets his 15 minutes during his lifetime but this means nothing, the true measure of art is time.
    Nice-sounding aphorism.

    Like what? From 200+ years ago? No.
    Yes, now that we have recordings, all sorts of minor but very capable composers are eagerly listened to. Hmmm... I haven't heard any Thuille for a while. No Brahms, for sure, but there's some lovely music there.
    Last edited by Woodduck; Jan-20-2020 at 06:08.

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    Quote Originally Posted by BachIsBest View Post
    Certainly. I've listened to many of Händel's Concerto Grosso for pleasure and, although they are expertly done, would not consider them great in the way Messiah is.
    It's still by a great name

    Quote Originally Posted by Woodduck View Post
    Obviously, a composer can be recognized only by people who have the opportunity to hear his music. Those who had larger audiences had wider recognition. With the growth of public concerts any number of composers were widely known and enjoyed, their music even disseminated in piano arrangements for use at home by people who couldn't get to concerts and theaters.
    It wouldn't have made a difference, music is free today and still there is a very small percentage of the world that listens to it.

    As far as judging composers by the audiences they had, there doesn't seem to be a solid case. By this measure Justin Bieber is the greatest musician and composer of all time, but just wait some time for him to be buried forever.

    Art is like philosophy, science, and mathematics, fields only those with substance and intellect will ever appreciate. In a way high culture is useless to 99% of people, and is really only rediscovered, because most everything has already been accomplished. You're lucky if you're able to add a brick to the already large and beautiful house, and still then it's only the man that will add the brick on top of yours that will see the full measure of your talent.

    That's the tragedy of excellence, but it's fair, because we're all equal under God.

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    Senior Member KenOC's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Woodduck View Post
    This is hopeless as analysis or criticism, as well as just another pointless, context-free attack on a composer you don't happen to appreciate. Lucky for Schubert, he has a huge audience of appreciators who are bright enough not to think that being prolific is a fault.
    The member in question seems intent on reminding us, repeatedly, of his inability to appreciate great music. While we naturally feel a sincere sympathy for his misfortune, such feelings are gradually eroded over time by an increasing sense of impatience.


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  11. #69
    Senior Member Woodduck's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by KenOC View Post
    The member in question seems intent on reminding us, repeatedly, of his inability to appreciate great music. While we naturally feel a sincere sympathy for his misfortune, such feelings are gradually eroded over time by an increasing sense of impatience.
    Deftly understated.

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    Senior Member Woodduck's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by 1996D View Post
    As far as judging composers by the audiences they had, there doesn't seem to be a solid case. By this measure Justin Bieber is the greatest musician and composer of all time, but just wait some time for him to be buried forever.

    Art is like philosophy, science, and mathematics, fields only those with substance and intellect will ever appreciate. In a way high culture is useless to 99% of people,
    I didn't suggest judging composers by the size of their audience. I merely said that composers who had audiences larger than the "aristocracy or...their contemporaries/small circles" that you were limiting everyone up to Mahler to were appreciated by those audiences. The absolute size of the audience is beside the point; there's a limited audience for everything. I have never known a single person who would dream of listening to Justin Bieber, who must be getting so old now that even he's tired of listening to Justin Bieber.
    Last edited by Woodduck; Jan-20-2020 at 07:23.

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    Senior Member KenOC's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Woodduck View Post
    ...I have never known a single person who would dream of listening to Justin Bieber, who must be getting so old now that even he's tired of listening to Justin Bieber.
    The nightmare of TC: That Justin Bieber will, within our lifetimes, be universally recognized as one of the greatest musicians of our age. Of course it could be Taylor Swift...


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    Quote Originally Posted by KenOC View Post
    The nightmare of TC: That Justin Bieber will, within our lifetimes, be universally recognized as one of the greatest musicians of our age. Of course it could be Taylor Swift...
    At least she'll never be confused with Biber.

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    Senior Member DaveM's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Woodduck View Post
    That said, I think you're right to point out that among composers working in more complex genres for more sophisticated audiences, there was a higher prevailing standard in Mozart's time than there is now, and that's simply because of the simple existence back then of standards of craftsmanship. Since the later 20th century, a person with no standards of craftsmanship whatever, operating under the assumption that craftsmanship is irrelevant, may freely call himself an artist and will be accepted as one if what he does tickles someone's fancy, makes someone some money, or garners some social cachet. "Art" is whatever someone says it is, and "good" art is whatever earns prizes in juried competitions or gets parked in the courtyards of public buildings at public expense and to public bafflement.
    The above is more the core of what I was getting at without getting too far afield with the topic of your first paragraph (Johann Strauss, Stephen Sondheim etc.)

    Most of the music of any era is not distinctive or memorable and will disappear unless some enterprising, historical-minded musicians and recording companies revive it as an exhibit in the world museum we all live in. That doesn't mean that forgotten music is bad. The difference is that in earlier times it was generally possible to tell, at least after a couple of hearings, whether it met some recognized criteria of excellence. That has become less and less true as music has "progressed."
    In the pre-recording days, the CM cream tended to rise to the top (though not always) given that live performances were the only venue and hearing much of the music being composed for any group of listeners would have been a challenge. Hyperion and a few other labels are constantly coming out with newly revived works from that era that are pretty good (at least by my standards ). Good enough to deserve being recorded and IMO are often a darn sight better than much that is passing for CM today.

    The Goetz (1840-1876] Piano Concerto 1 is an example of the rigorous requirements to succeed in 19th century CM. It was composed in 1862 when he was 22 and was submitted as a student as part of what appears to have been comparable to part of a final exam requirement. Partly as a result of it, Reinecke recommended Goetz for a position as a pianist and choirmaster at Winterthur, Switzerland. The Adagio is not a masterpiece, but is remarkable for a ‘student-level’ work. The sequence starting at 3:25 alone is worth the time spent listening to the whole Concerto. (It is only recently that this Concerto was revived and recorded.)

    Last edited by DaveM; Jan-20-2020 at 08:13.

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  18. #74
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    Quote Originally Posted by BachIsBest View Post
    Certainly. I've listened to many of Händel's Concerto Grosso for pleasure and, although they are expertly done, would not consider them great in the way Messiah is.
    Which is a bit like saying that the Brandenburg Concertos are not as great as the B minor Mass.

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    Quote Originally Posted by BachIsBest View Post
    I do agree that this term has become a bit hopelessly ambiguous in overuse. The sense I was using it, and the sense in which I understand it to mean, is a true cultural relativist believes that everything an individual does can only be interpreted through the cultural experience of that individual. Thus, specifically in music, a cultural relativist would believe that there is no music that is universally 'good', but rather, music can only be established to be 'good' within a certain culture. In my post, I attempted to argue (or rather just avered it to be the case; the point of the post was not whether cultural relativism can be applied to music) that there are universal characteristics in music that both make music appealing and transcend culture. Thus my opposition to so-called cultural relativism.
    Thanks for your reply.

    To be honest, I'm not clear what the term does mean, though my brief research suggests that what it doesn't mean is that all art is of equal merit.

    According to Marcus and Fischer, when the principle of cultural relativism was popularized after World War II, it came to be understood "more as a doctrine, or position, than as a method". As a consequence, people misinterpreted cultural relativism to mean that all cultures are both separate and equal, and that all value systems, however different, are equally valid.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cultural_relativism

    In the case of music, it is easily misused as a term of abuse to hurl at anyone who, they would claim, asserts that the works of Billy Eilish, Glenn Miller, Garth Brooks, 50 Cent, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Reich and Mozart are all of equal merit, equal value. Since, AFAIR, no serious contributor here has ever made such a claim, the only "cultural relativists" are the trolls who swing by to make a provocative declaration and then leave us to our ruffled feathers.

    My own answer to the question, "Does music progress?" is to say that since there is no such thing as one single homogeneous thing called music (except as an abstract) the question is unanswerable. "It" can't progress, because it is not a thing that can make progress.

    Even the narrower question, "Does classical music progress?" hits similar difficulties (certainly at TC) because there is no one single definition of what CM is that can be agreed upon in the first place. In any case, the very act of defining leads in part to pre-answering the question, since including this or that within the definition is dependent on a framework of definition biased towards either embracing or rejecting works in relation to their place in a chronology.

    I have to say that even if you exclude all that might be included in DaveM's 'dinking, dunking etc' (and I wonder just how much of that there really is) on the grounds that it is not music, what you are presumably left with is what looks like and sounds like the CM we all know and love from, say, 1750 to 1850. In which case, the answer would be, "No, because the only music worth considering in this question is the music I define as that which most closely resembles what has already been."

    As a passing thought, I don't think John Cage did seriously mean that anything must be considered music, but that there is a serious philosophical question to answer about what constitutes music, and that he found mischievous, humorous and provocative ways to pose that question.
    "I left TC for a hiatus, but since no-one noticed my absence, I came back again."

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