Classical Music Forum banner
1 - 20 of 30 Posts

·
Registered
Sibelius, Beethoven, Satie, Debussy
Joined
·
2,099 Posts
Still I choose to be polite, tolerate many kinds of utterances and not over-simplify complicated matters just because it’s easier.
Polite is good.

I don't think SM "over-simplifies" (and certainly not "just because it's easier").

My own current exploration of Schubert's Symphony No 9 inevitably raises comparison with Beethoven's. One of the differences is that, to me, the Schubert sounds more like Haydn than Beethoven, is more readily accessible than Beethoven and easier to get to grips with than the Beethoven. Others may agree with me, but even so, these are all just my opinions. My conclusion might be that not only do I prefer the Beethoven, but it's "better" than the Schubert. I know others agree with me on that last, because we've had a thread dedicated to the Beethoven - but there were some who hear it differently, and don't rate it very highly.

I can't get past the feeling that if a definitive case could be made for the Beethoven's being "the best" in the same way that a case might be made for it's being "better", it would have appeared by now. I guarantee that any posts that follow this one will fail to make that case. The best they might succeed in doing is offer a detailed analysis of the kinds of criteria that might be used and a decent effort at seeing how those criteria might apply. But at the end of the analysis, it will remain an opinion, not a statement of fact, if a conclusion is reached.
 

·
Registered
Sibelius, Beethoven, Satie, Debussy
Joined
·
2,099 Posts
The problem is your position has little to do with what discussions of aesthetic value are about and how they are conducted and structured in the real world (that is, anywhere but on TC;)). No one serious about such discussions will make a free-floating claim that a work is objectively great[...]
Ay, there's the rub!

At TC, there are people who will make free-floating claims. It's very unlikely that any serious discussion about aesthetic values could ever take place without constant free-flating claims...
 

·
Registered
Sibelius, Beethoven, Satie, Debussy
Joined
·
2,099 Posts
Good question. The artist sets, accepts, and fulfills (or not) the premises on which the work is based. He doesn't, for the most part, invent those premises - they are largely derived from his culture and profession - but he does, if he's not a mere imitator, find new ways of using those premises and of extending and modifying them. He is then admired for both his ability to grasp and exploit an inherited, common expressive language and for his creative originality.
So the artist effectively sets their own criteria by which their work shall be estimated, usually based on the prevailing aesthetic, though sometimes on a countervailing aesthetic.

Given that the Baroque aesthetic and Romantic aesthetic are different, how do we determine comparative qualities across the years?
 

·
Registered
Sibelius, Beethoven, Satie, Debussy
Joined
·
2,099 Posts
That depends on what we mean by "comparative qualities," doesn't it? What do we want to compare, and to what end?
Well it also depends on the "we", doesn't it. As I thought I'd said earlier, in a post that seems to have disappeared (I'll blame the new website), the "we" might be the many folks who like to compare stuff at TC and come up with endless lists of the greatest. They'd welcome a leg-up with this business, to be able to declare definitively, the top 3, the top tiers, the best Baroque, Handel's operas v Wagner's...you get the idea?
 

·
Registered
Sibelius, Beethoven, Satie, Debussy
Joined
·
2,099 Posts
I think The current discussion is a little more profound than one symphony can be said to be better than another.
Well, if direct comparison between two works is good enough for Woodduck, it's good enough for me...

Good example. We have two operas called Falstaff to compare (and we can throw in Nicolai's Die lustigen Weiber von Windsor as well). Why is Verdi's a masterpiece among comic operas, Nicolai's a pleasant work enjoyed in German- speaking countries but rarely elsewhere, and Salieri's a worthy curiosity which hasn't held the stage and - you can bank on it - never will?
Besides, even the most recondite philosophising needs practical exemplification.
 

·
Registered
Sibelius, Beethoven, Satie, Debussy
Joined
·
2,099 Posts
[...]
What is helpful and accurate is to ask what there is about the music that justifies the attribution of greatness to it. One extreme answer to this question is that nothing can justify doing so, that greatness - or any judgment of quality - can never properly be attributed to art, that the nearest we can come to legitimizing such terms is to recognize that an artist has done some specific thing well, while keeping in mind that doing one sort of thing well is just as artistiscally meaningful and impressive as doing any other thing well, and that all other assessments of quality or value are matters of individual or collective taste. Thus a stick man which perfectly renders every feature necessary to a stick man is not artistically inferior to Bernini's David, and is only considered to be so, carelessly, by cultural snobs who think that what the sculptor of the David is doing is more intrinsically interesting or admirable than what the maker of the stick man is doing.
[...]
Of course that isn't an explanation, either of why popular music is more popular, or of why classical music's greatest achievements have reached artistic levels considered higher. I'll suggest that opposing popular to classical music is unnecessary and likely to obfuscate things further. There are many categories of music, but the questions at issue apply to all of them.
You asked me a question earlier, but to answer it now would seem to turn the discussion back unnecessarily. Instead, I'll just observe that while I'm very happy with these points, not everyone on the 'objective' side of the debate will be.

There are those here who wish to debate this issue to the nth degree (that is, at length within a thread and over time over a number of related threads) perhaps because the matter is not amenable to a simple resolution, but at any rate, because they find the topic of, shall we say 'abstract' interest. They might also read books about it and take a deep interest in matters of aesthetics.

There are others here who are wedded to their views and only wish to debate so far as it will prove their opinion to be a Universal Truth - that Bach or Cage or Carter or whoever is the Supreme Being and is so because of the intrinsic worth of his mighty compositions; not because of mere popularity; not just because of an establishment truth handed down over the years; not because he is the best of just the classical genre...

The reason this debate happens on a regular basis (and which the stalwarts tend to find tiresome) is not because no-one can agree a position, but partly because new people happen along who've not had the debate before; and partly because the prevailing view across, I would say, the majority of threads, is that there is an absolute hierarchy from sublime to crap, and this needs either reasserting or rebutting from time to time. Indeed, there is an explicit TC thread to establish a hierarchy which some enjoy debating for fun and others enjoy debating because they want to get it right.

Well, you're really talking to the wrong person. I don't participate in compiling lists and rankings. The only value of such discussions is in the possibility of sharpening our perception and appreciation of things.
And that's fine for me too. I join these discussions because when there is someone "wrong" on the internet, I like to put in my two penn'orth. Not because I am wedded to an absolutist, extreme subjective viewpoint which must be asserted, but because I enjoy the opportunity to turn the issue over and test what I think (which includes taking on those who have the "extreme objective viewpoint"). That said, I have my own temporary hierarchy which is simply of works - classical, rock, pop, etc - that have enduring value for me, regardless of what value it has for others. I fully expect that more pop/rock will be played at my funeral than classical, but that suits me - it's not a statement about the relative intrinsic merits of the music.

I just wish that there weren't so many members here who would think it is, and despair.
 

·
Registered
Sibelius, Beethoven, Satie, Debussy
Joined
·
2,099 Posts
@Strange Magic

Well, I got it. I'm not sure why it's so hard to see it - the difference between an 'art' object and 'art'. Not only did I get it, I find it an entirely helpful clarification.

Speaking only of the CP era music,
I noticed earlier your declaration that as far as you were concerned, you only wanted to refer to CP music. Why? AFAIK, while we might all bring the same two or three tiresome suspects to mind when we talk about CM, none of us is so determined to exclude other eras as you.

I suspect there is some subtle denigrating going on.
 

·
Registered
Sibelius, Beethoven, Satie, Debussy
Joined
·
2,099 Posts
It is not a clarification but an arbitrary ontological extra status invented to free the listener from any exhausting bindings to the reality. It allows false omnipotency. It is the easy way.
That's your interpretation and you're welcome to it. You only have to have attempted to follow the several threads that have discussed what is 'Beauty', or 'Music', or 'Art' to know that such matters are never resolved into a final consensus definition: it's up to us to settle on what serves us best. If this 'clarification' doesn't suit you, that's fine.
 

·
Registered
Sibelius, Beethoven, Satie, Debussy
Joined
·
2,099 Posts
It really is an arbitrary and false ontological choice created to allow omnipotency for the listener. It is also an excuse to ignore the reality behind art. It is not a valid choice for anyone, only a handy abstract tool for listeners who want to bath in their own imagined independency.
It took me ten seconds to find an exploration of 'art as a human concept' that questionns the investment in objects by an academic - so you don't have to take the word of a stranger on the internet. It doesn't "explain" what Strange Magic has been going on about, it just illustrates that there is a debate out there about what Art is, and it's not settled.

 

·
Registered
Sibelius, Beethoven, Satie, Debussy
Joined
·
2,099 Posts
Multiple practical approaches and the absolute freedom of a listener I accept but not fundamental ontological claims motivated solely by convenience of an individual. Ontology is hard science.
I don't agree that SM is defining art solely to suit himself. The ontology of Art is hard, but at the end of the day, we can all decide for ourselves what the word means and what art objects should be included or excluded. If all this deciding works for philosophers over the years, there's no reason why we can't do it too.

 

·
Registered
Sibelius, Beethoven, Satie, Debussy
Joined
·
2,099 Posts
Strange Magic said:

"I'm not sure why it's so hard to see it - the difference between an 'art' object and 'art'. Not only did I get it, I find it an entirely helpful clarification."
SM didn't say this - I did. But the 'it' I was referring to was what SM had posted.

One of the things that comes across very strongly in Woodduck's post is the view of the artist. It's one of the reasons why differences of opinion arise in this subject: the amateur consumer (like me), the musicologist, the musician, the composer etc all bring not only different perspectives, but different levels of commitment to certain ideas. I have no investment as an artist; Woodduck has an overwhelming investment as an artist. Consequently, we see 'art' from substantially different perspectives and describe our responses to it in different ways and, perhaps, talk past each other in doing so. It's one os the reasons why musicologists get such a bad press, as they criticise what they themselves don't do (on the whole - I'm sure there are some who are also composers, but I hope my point remains valid).

It also means that when Waehnen started talking about 'ontology', the language of the philosopher is introduced. I only started talking in those terms because the philosophical perspective had been introduced and merited a response. It nevertheless remains a legitimate approach to discuss what 'art' is from the philosophical perspective, even though the artist may feel slighted by the process. I disagree that what SM was about was sleight of hand, but I can see why such a claim might be made.

Earlier, my musing on my own listening experience (dismissed by one as not profound enough for where this discussion was going) nevertheless highlighted my own perspective - and one which has been repeated in one way or another by others: that is the "why". Why do I think that Beethoven is "better" than Schubert (when talking about symphonies)? He is, isn't he? Not am I not the only one who thinks it, not only do many people - artists, composers, music historians etc - think so, but it is pretty universally accepted that this is the case. I don't accept the answer that no matter how many people agree, "it's still all "subjective"" as a sufficient explanation. But I can't also believe that, say, Art Rock is in some way deficient in his hearing or evaluative faculties when he says he doesn't like and doesn't accept the extent of the greatness of LvB's 9th. Subjectivity - the personal response of the individual - still comes into it.

So why do I struggle to offer an objective explanation? I don't know that there is one. The kind of mathematical analysis simulated by mmsbls is a useful illustration that any attempt at a quantifiable explanation is nigh on impossible.

Maybe there is only wonder. I certainly wonder that some find Brightman an appealing performer!
 

·
Registered
Sibelius, Beethoven, Satie, Debussy
Joined
·
2,099 Posts
I don't think the metrics for #2 are perfectly agreed upon, and in fact, I believe the variation in metrics introduces subjectivity.
I think so too, but I suspect that the very notion of 'metrics' is what might be getting in the way of the discussion. If I get Woodduck right, the most important 'metrics' are those chosen by the artist. We should judge the quality of a work by comparing the output with the artist's chosen standards.

But if that's not subjective, I don't know what is.

As for what the experts think, we know that despite some big agreements, there are also some big disagreements. You only have to look at the oft-cited, oft-reviled poll in the BBC Music Magazine on the Greatest Symphony to see that while there was some convergence of views among the 100+ 'experts', there was also some very sharp divergence. I'm not interested in retreading who was top and who was not, I'm only interested in the facts of the disagreement. This isn't about comparing a Mona Lisa with a Stick Man (an amusing but hopelessly unhelpful Straw Man), but about the process of evaluating the quality of the best of the symphony over 300 years through a process of comparison of the symphonies and the 'metrics' by which their quality might be measured. Suffice to say that the broad metrics on offer there were not only too broad, but easy to ignore, subvert, interpret.

I don't believe in the simplistic and misrepresentational "everything is subjective" (and the implication that 'anything goes' which seems to follow) which is a stupid reduction of a serious position on the subject. But I do think that the divergence of opinions I referred to above go some way to show that it's almost impossible to agree the criteria for a judgement, never mind apply the criteria to specific works: the personal human response always finds a way, and though many responses may correspond sufficiently to be able to say that LvB's 9th is "one of the greatest achievements in the field of symphonic music", that tells us only that humans are wired more or less the same: something floats our boat, musically, but it's not the same something for everyone.
 

·
Registered
Sibelius, Beethoven, Satie, Debussy
Joined
·
2,099 Posts
my experience is that people listen to a new piece of music and then establish whether they like it and, if so, how much. Then, are we to assume that the usual CM listener, or any listener to any genre, then retroactively reviews in their mind why they like it and why therefore they ought to like it? I believe that few enter into hearing a piece of music wondering to themselves whether specific criteria are going to be met and how successfully.
I'm not going to negate your experience, but I am going to query the conclusion.

True, I didn't sit down with pencil, paper, and a set of criteria to evaluate RVW's Pastoral Symphony when I first set out to listen to it. But in my head, there were undoubtedly 'criteria', though not in some coherent or ordered form, merely the kind of criteria that would swim in my mind while doing anything new. To what extent will this new experience be anything like I've encountered before - in the affective sense - and also in the technical sense (sonata? breadth of instrumentation? use of motifs? And in so doing, I was already assembling the criteria by which I would be deciding if I "like" it (such an innocuous word!)

That of course is not the whole of the experience. My first encounter was not reduced to ticking off some list. Even if such decisions were part of the process, it was a messy business. Listening to new music is a messy business - so, for that matter, is listening to music that is to some degree familiar. Emotion makes sure of that, if you're lucky.
 

·
Registered
Sibelius, Beethoven, Satie, Debussy
Joined
·
2,099 Posts
Judging by the likes this post received I'm assuming that either many people (including the poster) think it made a good point, or they're just cheering because "their side" got a jab in at "the other side." If it's the former, though, I can't for the life of me think of what point anyone thinks it made. It seems predicated on the completely false assumption that people who are "subjectivists" about music evaluation are subjectivists about everything. This is clearly not the case. I have made it very clear that I think there is a realm of facts and a realm of things based on opinions and that music evaluation resides in the realm of the latter. There are indeed many things that reside in the realm of the former, and I include in that category discussions on meta-aesthetics that involve the question of whether evaluations are subjective or objective. I believe there is a factual answer to that issue and that "it's fundamentally/ultimately subjective" is the correct answer.

This dichotomy of believing a meta-aesthetic answer is objective but that aesthetic evaluations are subjective would only be "weird" to someone who has no understanding of what my (and other subjectivists') position is.
Does this mean that "the objectivists" are not confident, I wonder? Or confident, but not weirdly so? Or...
 

·
Registered
Sibelius, Beethoven, Satie, Debussy
Joined
·
2,099 Posts
I think experts will have less variation.
Maybe - it would seem likely. Even so, if we refer to the BBC Music Magazine Poll I mentioned earlier, there is considerable variation. If Leif Segerstam might be permitted the label, 'expert', his choice of symphonies by Sibelius, Brahms and Mahler is not so wide of the mark, but is nevertheless at variance with the majority view of Beethoven's Eroica. More useful is the comment by Robert Spano, also an 'expert', giving his choice of Mahler's 3rd. His criteria include 'philosophy' and 'an incomparable expression of love'. Kirill Karabits chose Lyatoshynsky's 3rd because it's "the sound of Kiev and Ukraine". Daniel Harding said of Mozart's Jupiter, "It's the ultimate demonstration of the rhetorical gesture."

Someone else did the work here (I think) on totting up the numbers of who voted for what, so I'm not about to do it again. Suffice to say that the Eroica was a majority choice, not a unanimous one and there were plenty of examples that were, shall we say, unexpected - Pettersson, Berio, Terterian, Brian, van Gilse, Stenhammar, Sumera...
 

·
Registered
Sibelius, Beethoven, Satie, Debussy
Joined
·
2,099 Posts
The Return of Stick Man

A thought experiment. One is transported into a society wherein Stick Man is declared by all experts as being at the pinnacle of art: ("fresh, clean, stark, direct"), whereas a painting by Rembrandt, say, The Rape of Proserpina, is described as dark, muddy, hackneyed. What does one then believe and say?
Is that likely? I don't see how these thought experiments do anything other than accentuate the absurdity of the 'subjectivist's' apparent position - that anything goes.

You yourself said that you exercise judgements and have preferred musical compositions, so your allegedly extreme position is undermined by reality. Was it Eva Y who said this was like the debate about ethics? That the subjectivist view that all ethics are derived from humans and have no objective authority upsets the objectivists who think the subjectivists immoral for therefore believing that, morally, anything goes. Yet that is not what subjectivists would argue in reality. They would argue for a moral society just as much as the rest of the moral crowd, in reality.
 

·
Registered
Sibelius, Beethoven, Satie, Debussy
Joined
·
2,099 Posts
But it isn't just "polling", is it? It's usually "polling with criteria". Those being polled are expected to exercise some critical faculties, not merely choose, crudely, "what they like". It is true that that is sometimes what happens here, and why some (like me) won't participate in polls, but it's probably true that while I will often ask what criteria are we using, some who participate in the polls are taking for granted that their fellow members are all experienced and qualified listeners and no criteria need be made explicit.
 

·
Registered
Sibelius, Beethoven, Satie, Debussy
Joined
·
2,099 Posts
Herein lies a basic problem with this discussion. I'm picking on you here because you're actually attempting to speak in well-defined terms. It's good to have something besides repetitive rants and self-important bloviation to argue with.

The problem, and my argument with you here? There are no "objectivists," as far as I can determine, who claim that aesthetic meanings and values exist as entities or substances independent of human minds. Arguing against that position is arguing against a belief no one holds.

Art is a product of the mind and is addressed to the mind, and wouldn't exist otherwise. This is obvious. You cite it as proof of the "absolute subjectivity" of aesthetic evaluation and, by implication, of an artist's creative choices. Well, in that philosophically impeccable sense of the term '"subjective," your position is unassailable. But now that we all know the formal definition of "subjective," how can we use it to come to grips with art and the challenges of evaluating it? Are such philosophical proprieties the least bit useful in answering such questions as whether Tristan und Isolde would be a better opera if the lovers lived on, married, and inherited the crown of Cornwall, or whether Beethoven's Fifth Symphony would be improved by the omission, or the elaboration to twice its length, of the oboe solo in the first movement? Practical, mundane, real-life questions - questions about art down and dirty, on the ground where it lives - and critical questions for Wagner and Beethoven as they sat at their pianos struggling with innumerable dilemmas about form and substance, critical for the artistic integrity of their works and, consequently, for the reception and reputation of their works for the rest of time. Did Wagner and Beethoven make the right choices, thus producing great works of art, or should they have chosen differently?

Well, let me answer that question right away so that no one has to remain sunk in the doldrums of philosophical masochism. Wagner and Beethoven made the right choices. [etc]
All in your opinion of course.

You object to others' ranting, but your own frustration at the idiocies of others' opinions when to you, Beethoven and Wagner so obviously got everything right (for example), comes across as a suppressed rant.

You're doing no more than telling us all we're wrong and you're right. Of course, you're entitled to do so, but let's not pretend that what you've just written is a calm and cogent counter to the various points made by others who hold different views from you. It's contempt.
 

·
Registered
Sibelius, Beethoven, Satie, Debussy
Joined
·
2,099 Posts
Well in that case it's contempt in response to condescension. I'm comforted to know that Strange Magic and Eva Yojimbo and yourself know more about what motivates my "likes" and the motivation of artists than I do. Anyway, it's getting late, and my guess is this version of Objective vs Subjective Gladiators is running out of steam. And so we await the next thrilling episode.
I regret if I've been condescending; please quote the post.
 
1 - 20 of 30 Posts
Top