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Thread: Do good people make good music?

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    Senior Member Enthusiast's Avatar
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    Default Do good people make good music?

    We touch on these sorts of things quite often but I couldn't find a thread dedicated to them.

    Does it matter to you whether a composer was a nice person and lived a good life or not? And how much does it matter or not to you? And why?

    In this thread I would like to avoid their broadly political and even philosophical views and actions but to concentrate on how they lived their lives. Were they good partners, friends, neighbours, colleagues etc and what made them tick as people? Even without the political, quite a lot of this will concern behaviour that was quite normal in their time but perhaps less widely approved of now. So particular cases among recent and contemporary composers - and some of us may even know or have known some of them - may be the most interesting.

    In all cases how does their behaviour and character influence how well you like their music?

    For me the answer is that I appreciate a composer's music for itself (and often I know little about how they were as people, anyway). But I do wonder if actually knowing a composer - whether in life or through public exposure on TV etc - would influence how I like what I hear from them. But composers are rarely introduced to us in the mainstream media these days and I have never sought out more specialised sources.

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    Interesting question.

    I assume that by Good people you are meaning some sort of moral judgement about them, whereas by Good music you mean something like high quality in a sense which does not relate to morality. I will also ignore music with words, as the words may then come into the picture.

    First point is I can see little reason why there would be an correlation between the morality of a composer and the technical quality of their compositions. I would be interested if someone could suggest why you would expect such a thing.

    On the question of whether it matters to me, I think the answer is "No - provided that they are dead".

    I do not want to contribute positively to the life of someone I judge as "bad", so I might avoid listening to something by a living composer who I feel is trying to use their position to advance objectives that I dislike (and indeed, I'm not too keen on them using their position to advance objectives that I support). However, once someone is dead then I don't much care what they thought, as they are no longer there to benefit.

    It's not just musicians. I dislike it intensely when people who are well known for (say) acting or being good at a sport use their fame to advance causes, and I dislike it whether I agree with them or not. The same (and perhaps even worse) with companies, where they use their advertising budget to spread a message about some morally-weighted issue, rather than just to tell us that their savoury snacks are very tasty (or whatever). I'd rather not know what they think, but if they publicise it then I will tend to see that as a negative, whatever their stated position - as I dislike people trying to manipulate me and/or playing at virtue-signalling.

    Regarding the long dead, I think it is pretty fatuous to judge them by the standards of today. After all, who knows how we will be judged by people living in 100 years' time. I can only form my own judgements and live to values I have come to based on what is going on now or what is believed about the past. I am not willing to be judged by people in 100 years' time, and therefore I am also not justified in judging people who were around 100 years before now.
    Last edited by Eclectic Al; Sep-16-2020 at 17:00.

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    Senior Member Phil loves classical's Avatar
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    Only pointing out the cases where talent and high morals don't meet. Not-so-nice composers who were great: Wagner and Miles Davis.

    Many contemporary Christian composers/musicians are just not naturally gifted or refined in their music, but at least some seemed very sincere. The music drove me nuts, but i felt I should like it at the time, and member was telling me it was Spirit-inspired.
    "Forgive me, Majesty. I'm a vulgar man. But I assure you, my music is not.“ Mozart

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    We once thought Catholic priests were all wonderful people. Then we learned otherwise.

    Schubert, Smetana and many other composers died of syphilis they acquired from prostitutes. Does that make their music suspect or bad? Wagner and many, many, many other German and European conductors disliked or hated Jews. Does that make their music suspect?

    I doubt the level of a person's talent has much to do with their morals or ethics. It isn't true in any other field; why would it be in music?

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    When you read composer biographies it becomes apparent that many of them had an unpleasant demeanor. Genius often presents itself this way. There were some who seemed to be genuinely "nice": Haydn, Rossini, Mendelssohn, Dvorak, Bruckner, Korngold. Some were notoriously not so nice: Beethoven, Raff, Mahler, Pfitzner. Some just couldn't abide lesser musicians: Brahms, Schmidt, Prokofiev, even Elgar. But are these assessments accurate? or were their reputations made better or worse by their biographers? Hard to know for sure. I have in my time gotten to know several minor masters. Some I shared a drink with or walked the woods with. Alfred Reed, Norman Dello Joio, Bruce Boughton, Lee Holdridge, H. Owen Reed come to mind. And I can say without any hesitation that everyone of them was as nice, helpful and pleasant as could be. No sense of superiority. No condescension. Of course, none of them ranks alongside Beethoven or Brahms. Now, have a thread about conductors: the nice ones are rarely great, and the great ones rarely nice.

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    Quote Originally Posted by mbhaub View Post
    When you read composer biographies it becomes apparent that many of them had an unpleasant demeanor. Genius often presents itself this way. There were some who seemed to be genuinely "nice": Haydn, Rossini, Mendelssohn, Dvorak, Bruckner, Korngold. Some were notoriously not so nice: Beethoven, Raff, Mahler, Pfitzner. Some just couldn't abide lesser musicians: Brahms, Schmidt, Prokofiev, even Elgar. But are these assessments accurate? or were their reputations made better or worse by their biographers? Hard to know for sure. I have in my time gotten to know several minor masters. Some I shared a drink with or walked the woods with. Alfred Reed, Norman Dello Joio, Bruce Boughton, Lee Holdridge, H. Owen Reed come to mind. And I can say without any hesitation that everyone of them was as nice, helpful and pleasant as could be. No sense of superiority. No condescension. Of course, none of them ranks alongside Beethoven or Brahms. Now, have a thread about conductors: the nice ones are rarely great, and the great ones rarely nice.
    I'll add one more idea to this. For example Wagner gets singled out because he was just super talkative and we know much more about him than about some others. We have no idea how many antisemitic ideas might have crossed the minds of his contemporaries but they simply didn't put them into writing. Thus, saying that this or that person was nicer than this one isn't necessarily accurate if we are talking about people who lived 200 years ago and whom none of us have personally known. The reputation plays an immense role here.
    Last edited by annaw; Sep-16-2020 at 17:31.

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    I could not care less what the composer, artist, author, or musician were like - and in most cases I don't even know. I only care for the creations.
    I treat my music like I treat my pets. It’s something to own, care about and curate with attention to detail. From a blog by hjr.

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    Senior Member JAS's Avatar
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    Although you need to deal with others to get the music performed, composition itself is, I presume, a fairly solitary activity (like writing). It may be that it tends to attract people who are not good at working with others.

    Edit: People did seem to like Haydn as a person.
    Last edited by JAS; Sep-16-2020 at 16:01.

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    Quote Originally Posted by mbhaub View Post
    Now, have a thread about conductors: the nice ones are rarely great, and the great ones rarely nice.
    these positions attract narcissists, where they can bask in the spotlight of attention. And narcissist are not pleasant people. You have the same in academia, where half the professors are narcissists.

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    No. No. Only interested in Art.

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    ^ ... but if you felt or knew somehow that an artist was a wonderful person would that affect the way you found their art?

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    Quote Originally Posted by Enthusiast View Post
    We touch on these sorts of things quite often but I couldn't find a thread dedicated to them.

    [B][I]Does it matter to you whether a composer was a nice person and lived a good life or not? And how much does it matter or not to you? And why? In all cases how does their behaviour and character influence how well you like their music?
    There are some composers that I am drawn to because their worldview/spiritual view matches mine, like Bach and Bruckner; there are some I find interesting because I can sense they are searching for the ineffable, like Mahler; and there are some who present their suffering/pain/trouble with such authenticity that I can understand the human condition through them, like Beethoven and Shostakovich. Then there are those whose music is just fun, like Telemann and Grieg. I'm not so much concerned with their personal lives as I am with what they communicate to me.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Enthusiast View Post
    ^ ... but if you felt or knew somehow that an artist was a wonderful person would that affect the way you found their art?
    Personally, that kind of thing would make me want to begin to explore their art. Whether that continues is another thing. I have a friend who is a dedicated Christian and an insanely talented musician, and he works in the prog rock genre, so I have two of his CDs. Unfortunately, that style doesn't speak to me, so I rarely listen to them. I kind of feel bad about it, but it's okay; he's incredibly successful without me.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Enthusiast View Post
    ^ ... but if you felt or knew somehow that an artist was a wonderful person would that affect the way you found their art?
    For me, it is a side question, and mostly a matter of curiosity. Now, if Charles Manson wrote music that I liked, it might be an issue, but as far as I know, that is not the case.

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    Interesting question (and I wonder if you are thinking along the lines of Plato's idealized Form of the Good) applied personally... For me, no, a composer's behavior or beliefs, positive or negative, carries no weight for me aesthetically. However, if I know of a characteristic or attribute of a composer I may (or may not) attempt to read some of that into his or her music. For example, Sibelius was a dipsomaniac and I have often wondered what the effect of that might have had on his composing. (Some musicologist must have written about this, but I have never pursued that research and ought to...)
    Last edited by Ich muss Caligari werden; Sep-16-2020 at 17:20. Reason: punctuation
    De la musique avant toute chose... Paul Verlaine

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