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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Seriously, what do we mean when we say "elitism" or "elitist" about classical music?

Oxford Words defines "elitism" as: "the advocacy or existence of an elite as a dominating element in a system or society." Elitism also means, "the attitude or behavior of a person or group who regard themselves as an elite." A graph showing amount of usage has the term entering English around 1950, reaching a peak near 2000, and staying near there since.

I'm seriously concerned about the use of the word now in respect to classical music. It seems to me that a good place to start is understanding what we mean, and what others mean, by "elitism" and "elitist." The above definitions apply in the plural and the singular. Perhaps classical music is a system in the sense of its interlocking institutions, personnel, music, literature, and so on. Concerning groups or individuals, while attitudes are important I think what we say on TalkClassical counts as behavior.

In any case, what do you mean by "elitism" and "elitist" as used in 2021?
 

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You answer your own question by resourcing the dictionary.

"the attitude or behavior of a person or group who regard themselves as an elite"

This is certainly the perception of those outside of classical music toward classical music enthusiasts. In fact, it is often the attitude displayed here from one poster to another.
 
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Oxford Words defines "elitism" as: "the advocacy or existence of an elite as a dominating element in a system or society." Elitism also means, "the attitude or behavior of a person or group who regard themselves as an elite." A graph showing amount of usage has the term entering English around 1950, reaching a peak near 2000, and staying near there since.

I'm seriously concerned about the use of the word now in respect to classical music. It seems to me that a good place to start is understanding what we mean, and what others mean, by "elitism" and "elitist." The above definitions apply in the plural and the singular. Perhaps classical music is a system in the sense of its interlocking institutions, personnel, music, literature, and so on. Concerning groups or individuals, while attitudes are important I think what we say on TalkClassical counts as behavior.

In any case, what do you mean by "elitism" and "elitist" as used in 2021?
Yet again, I'll quote the basic source for the modern view on this:

Thus, though the principles of taste be universal, and, nearly, if not entirely the same in all men; yet few are qualified to give judgment on any work of art, or establish their own sentiment as the standard of beauty. The organs of internal sensation are seldom so perfect as to allow the general principles their full play, and produce a feeling correspondent to those principles. They either labour under some defect, or are vitiated by some disorder; and by that means, excite a sentiment, which may be pronounced erroneous. When the critic has no delicacy, he judges without any distinction, and is only affected by the grosser and more palpable qualities of the object: The finer touches pass unnoticed and disregarded. Where he is not aided by practice, his verdict is attended with confusion and hesitation. Where no comparison has been employed, the most frivolous beauties, such as rather merit the name of defects., are the object of his admiration. Where he lies under the influence of prejudice, all his natural sentiments are perverted. Where good sense is wanting, he is not qualified to discern the beauties of design and reasoning, which are the highest and most excellent. Under some or other of these imperfections, the generality of men labour; and hence a true judge in the finer arts is observed, even during the most polished ages, to be so rare a character; Strong sense, united to delicate sentiment, improved by practice, perfected by comparison, and cleared of all prejudice, can alone entitle critics to this valuable character; and the joint verdict of such, wherever they are to be found, is the true standard of taste and beauty.
 

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Elite is a potentially loaded word.

I basically distinguish between its use as an adjective and noun. As an adjective, it can be used to describe someone as being very skilled at what they do, e.g. elite athlete, elite performer, elite musician. We run into trouble when its used as a noun, as a label of someone being elite but not related to any particular activity. This latter sense is how the word relates to certain attitudes or behaviours (elitism, elitist) in the definition quoted above by eljr.

The way I see it is that actually achieving something at a high level may warrant a person being labelled as an elite in their field. I distinguish this from a person who merely thinks they are superior to others, but doesn't have any concrete reason to back this up. The latter is almost oxymoronic - these people are not elite at anything in particular, although they think they are, so they may as well be called elite elites.
 

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Being a minority interest shouldn't automatically earn the epithet 'elitist'.
Classical music - for an audience member - ought to be about the least elitist activity there is.
Unlike a nightclub, there's no bouncer to bar entry for wearing the wrong clothes or not being hip enough.
Tickets are way cheaper than headline pop acts.
You're unlikely to cop any flak from other audience unless you're a prize ******** in your behavior.
Most concert halls are even a bit wheelchair accessible.
Any elitism is a figment of imagination.
 

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I think our Western society might be one of the most hypocritical and mendacious about "elites" and "elitism" ever. But this would lead away.

For me, elitism as something negative is connected with unfair, intransparent or unprincipled exclusion. To exclude students who have not passed pre-calculus from calculus class is not elitism but grounded in a plausible sequence of maths learning. To have only students whose parents are in a particular country club in the school drama club is unfair exclusion.

Nowadays classical music does not even have the "justified elitism" of the restricted access to the advanced maths class. There are no restrictions for access to classical music beyond being able to afford a ticket and normal clean everyday clothing. It is far less "elitist" than the bouncer at a popular dance club who will not admit people he thinks don't fit with "the crowd".
 

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Liszt, Bruckner, Chopin, Wallace, Bortkiewicz.
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I use these terms also, when I speak for classical music. Elite / Elitism (the way I use it at least) has nothing to do with greatness, fame etc but with the perfection to certain aspects of the performances an artist gave due his carrier. Also his / her repertoire is of importance. Elite performer is Francesco Nicolosi for example. He is performing and occupying his self only with Thalberg to perfection. He isn't widely well known. Andre Hegedüs (Liszt) is also a kind of elite performer (with his wife) Other than this I find no use of this term into classical music.
 
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Elitism is often illogical. We humans claim to value logic but are utterly incapable of fully adhering to it. Humanity is capable of great technological feats but is ultimately suicidal. We are slaves to our base corrupt nature and no philosophy or political ideology can ever change that. Contrary to the zeitgeist, we do not have the power to define ourselves.
 

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Elitism is often illogical. We humans claim to value logic but are utterly incapable of fully adhering to it. Humanity is capable of great technological feats but is ultimately suicidal. We are slaves to our base corrupt nature and no philosophy or political ideology can ever change that. Contrary to the zeitgeist, we do not have the power to define ourselves.
I suppose art is one of those endless attempts to define ourselves, none of which will ever fully succeed.
 

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Discussion Starter · #11 ·
Thanks for these ideas! Here are brief notes on the above 10 posts. Hope I'm not putting words in anyone's mouth:

OP#1: Elitism means both (1) the social phenomenon and (2) the individual elitist's attitude or behavior
#2. Classical music (CM) elitism identified in CM by people outside of it, and also among CM enthusiasts towards each other
#3. Good judgement and taste found only in a few (RK: are these an elite?)
#4. "Elite" as adjective is applied toward the very skilled in a certain area, but as a noun is applied more generally by people who regard themselves as an elite
#5. CM for the audience member is not elite, in appearance, cost, acceptance, accessibility
#6. Unlike club music CM is not elite, doesn't require that you fit with the crowd
#7. Doesn't care about meaning, pleased to be part of CM elite as would father
#8. "Elite" used only to refer to perfection of particular artists
#9. Elitism is illogical - we don't have power to define ourselves.
#10. Art is attempt to define ourselves that won't succeed fully.

From the above it seems to me that elitism means a number of different things. It is applied to society and the individual, and from outside and within CM. It applies of necessity to some artists and the most perceptive judges. Used negatively it is unfair to apply the label to CM audiences, and the whole idea may be illogical.

I guess I'm more aggravated about people calling CM elitist than some. Perhaps because I worked in CM and have been called "elitist" in a negative way. I avoid using the word because I believe it causes confusion and discord. But I'm not saying it shouldn't be used.

IMO classical music can be elitist but should not be assumed to be. We shouldn't allow ourselves to be bullied by this word.
 

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To an extent its a bit of a boogeyman. The aspects of classical music which have "actual" elitist connotations (for instance-the association with the literal social elite which was the clergy) are of far less importance nowadays.

Usually I hear elitist in one of two connotations - one is the concern that classical music has a small, generally well educated, wealthy and old audience that the speaker would like to expand - whether due to marketing concerns, or simply because they want the music to spread more.

The other use of "elitist" I tend to see is to describe disdain at other musical practices as explicitly having less cultural or musical value - though this is not a practice limited to classical music. I've seen hip-hop, prog, electronic, noise music, and pop music elitists.
 

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It's often a boogeyman used by people who either generally dislike "high culture" or (understandably) dislike the snobbishness of some people in or into high culture. Such snobs do sometimes exhibit elitist exclusionary behavior but IMO they are so marginal nowadays that to use them for an attack against e.g. classical is strawmanning.

As I ocassionally wrote in other threads, classical music has tried to cater to a broader audience for many decades now. There has been some but limited success but to me it seems the zenith has been passed. This has several reasons, from the continued growth of popular culture, the corresponding devaluation of "high culture" (it used to be something to "aspire to" but now it's just one genre among countless others), but most importantly probably the change in media.
When I was kid in the 80s we had 3 TV channels and there was classical music on public TV (admittedly usually only sunday or after 10 pm). "Light classical" occurred in Saturday night game/quiz shows (the singer Anneliese Rothenberger had her own TV show for a while in the 70s or 80s), along with popular music.

Now one never needs to stray beyong the bubble of preferences and most suggestions by current media are for stuff close to what one already likes.
 

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The charge of ‘elitism’ only sticks if one group thinks itself in some way superior to another, because I enjoy classical music I do not think myself superior to people who have different tastes in music. Why on earth should I? I just happen to be very blessed with an ability to appreciate the classics. My son who is vastly more talented than me as a musician plays other sorts of music.
 

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I've seen and been involved in 'discussions' between non-readers of music who are composers and trained composers where the charge of elitism has underpinned many an exchange. It's clear to me that composing does not need training, but it is obviously rather dependant on what one wants to write. Some however have a different view.

In the media world where composing is dominated by the DAW, the irony is that most non readers have access to orchestral samples which they can manipulate in any way they want, without caring about knowing and understanding the best way of composing for an orchestra. It goes without saying that most of the music produced this way, that purports to be orchestral and therefore falling within the bastion of a highly specialised discipline that requires many skills and experience, will fall short musically speaking when compared to the best in the genre - or worse still, if the music is ever performed live. (I've witnessed myself some poor results in orchestral studio recordings from untrained composers and it's not pretty. Musicians know instantly whether the part in front of them is competent or not).

If one points out shortcomings to non-reader composers with orchestral aspirations and suggests a period of learning and practise, the 'E' word is in danger of making a vehement appearance. So these days, I am apparently old "skool" elitist, seemingly because I know and can confirm that knowledge of your orchestral onions is a prerequisite to being professional in that genre. Some do not want to hear that specialisation and training will yield the best results outside the DAW, such is the false confidence sample manipulation and production in a computer can give.

There is a big proviso here. If any 'orchestral' sampled music produced by someone without training is not intended to be played solely by real players, then much creative production and inventive, genre bending and rule destroying music can and has been written, some of which I absolutley love btw.

But hey, generally speaking these seem to be the days when some think that a lifetime of learning, practise and growth in composition and associated skills can be gleaned in a few 10 minute how-to YT videos. So I ask is it elitist of me to think that the immediate satisfaction gained by moving digital blocks of orchestral samples around on an arrange page could ultimately hamper and worse still, harm the fullest of any creative potential - a potential that could be honed and enhanced by training? Well the answer is no, not at all.

(sorry if this has drifted too far off-topic Roger)
 

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I've seen and been involved in 'discussions' between non-readers of music who are composers and trained composers where the charge of elitism has underpinned many an exchange. It's clear to me that composing does not need training, but it is obviously rather dependant on what one wants to write. Some however have a different view.

In the media world where composing is dominated by the DAW, the irony is that most non readers have access to orchestral samples which they can manipulate in any way they want, without caring about knowing and understanding the best way of composing for an orchestra. It goes without saying that most of the music produced this way, that purports to be orchestral and therefore falling within the bastion of a highly specialised discipline that requires many skills and experience, will fall short musically speaking when compared to the best in the genre - or worse still, if the music is ever performed live. (I've witnessed myself some poor results in orchestral studio recordings from untrained composers and it's not pretty. Musicians know instantly whether the part in front of them is competent or not).

If one points out shortcomings to non-reader composers with orchestral aspirations and suggests a period of learning and practise, the 'E' word is in danger of making a vehement appearance. So these days, I am apparently old "skool" elitist, seemingly because I know and can confirm that knowledge of your orchestral onions is a prerequisite to being professional in that genre. Some do not want to hear that specialisation and training will yield the best results outside the DAW, such is the false confidence sample manipulation and production in a computer can give.

There is a big proviso here. If any 'orchestral' sampled music produced by someone without training is not intended to be played solely by real players, then much creative production and inventive, genre bending and rule destroying music can and has been written, some of which I absolutley love btw.

But hey, generally speaking these seem to be the days when some think that a lifetime of learning, practise and growth in composition and associated skills can be gleaned in a few 10 minute how-to YT videos. So I ask is it elitist of me to think that the immediate satisfaction gained by moving digital blocks of orchestral samples around on an arrange page could ultimately hamper and worse still, harm the fullest of any creative potential - a potential that could be honed and enhanced by training? Well the answer is no, not at all.

(sorry if this has drifted too far off-topic Roger)
Some people are already envisioning the VR future. A large room in your house will be dedicated to VR and you'll be able to manipulate orchestra players to perform anything that you can think of, with the aid of advanced AI.

No more years of learning and composing and practicing.. As I see it this will change humans, and NOT for the better.
 

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Some people are already envisioning the VR future. A large room in your house will be dedicated to VR and you'll be able to manipulate orchestra players to perform anything that you can think of, with the aid of advanced AI.

No more years of learning and composing and practicing.. As I see it this will change humans, and NOT for the better.
Why would it not be for the better?
 
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