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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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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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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.
Excellent point. As Hume's comments (quoted by me above) can be applied equally to hip-hop, prog, electronic, noise music, and pop music, I've got you covered.
 

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Heh. You would have to convince me that film music is classical music. Film music is whatever it needs to be for films. According to a professor of mine, it's good or bad music. What does that mean? Classical music has to be excellent enough to look towards a serious future, as any serious art. Its intent is serious and hopefully universal, not situational.
I agree with this, but we now have 90 years worth of film music to consider, and plenty of it should be considered "classic" in my opinion. Of course, most of it is dross, but that is true of most genres of music.

I gave what I consider to be a dramatic example of the distinction (pun intended), earlier. In 1954, Leonard Bernstein's great score for On the Waterfront was nominated for an Academy Award, but lost to Dmitri Tomkin's (imo) workmanlike but pedestrian and uninteresting score for The High and the Mighty. Of course, today, On The Waterfront, directed by Elia Kazan and starring Marlon Brando and Karl Malden, is considered one of the greatest classic movies. OTOH, The High and the Mighty, starring John Wayne and Robert Stack, has not aged well. In fact, it was ridiculed by the Zucker brothers in their famous, and imo hilarious, 1980 parody, Airplane!

Bernstein turned his score into a suite that continues to be performed in concert by major orchestras, as is the "cantata" for chorus and orchestra that Prokofiev made from his 1938 score for Alexander Nevsky, another very famous classic movie directed by the great Sergei Eisenstein.

For me, Bernstein and Prokofiev, like Kazan and Eisenstein, were great artists who created memorable classics for film. The fact that most movies and their music are unremarkable at best and often downright dreadful is of no relevance.
 

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I suspect that neither Lenny nor Prok nor John Williams said, or wanted to say/explain, that they were composing CM in those projects. I could be wrong. But look at the CM they did compose. Look at the differences.
Obviously, music composed as incidental theatrical music is not the same as a symphony or a string quartet. Perhaps it is closer to opera overtures or intermezzi, or to ballet music. Of course, incidental music has a long tradition, Mendelssohn's incidental music for A Midsummer Night's Dream probably being the most famous example. That is consistently ranked as one of the most popular pieces of classical music of all time here at TC, and probably with good reason, considering the frequency with which it is performed. Copland's Quiet City and Bernstein's On the Waterfront suites are in the same tradition, as are Prokofiev's Alexander Nevsky cantata and Lieutenant Kije suite and a number of works by Shostakovich.

These works are adapted from music originally composed to accompany a theatrical work, rather than to stand on its own. If you listen to them in their original form without the work they were intended to accompany, they sometimes lack the structure and coherence needed to effectively stand on their own, though sometimes this isn't an issue. However, the works I cite above all were modified by their composers for concert performance.

These works all easily satisfy your definition of 'classical music', which is as good as any.
 

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How did they advance the art of music? and how did they develop from the earlier champions of the art of music? This is what I look for. This is what all the great composers did.
I do agree with that, and imo Copland, Bernstein, Prokofiev and Shostakovich all qualify as great composers by that standard, and by a comfortable margin. Perhaps Bernstein is the least of these illustrious four, and even he was a revolutionary who had an enormous cultural impact. It's almost hard to imagine that West Side Story dates back to 1957 and lost the Tony award to The Music Man, a nostalgic look back at small town America and the days of John Philip Sousa.

 

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Outstanding dancing and musicians. But listening to the music alone, how many times? studying the score for ideas? Yes, it's interesting enough.
I've recently found the full score of JC Superstar on an old HD of mine. Good ideas in it and it's fun to follow along with the movie.
JC Superstar, which imo is the best thing Andrew Lloyd Webber ever did, still is derivative and mediocre. Webber does not qualify as a great composer, to put it mildly, and is not remotely in the same league as Bernstein. I would put Webber in the same general class as Tiomkin, but a couple of steps lower.

The main thing that puts Bernstein so far ahead of Webber or Tiomkin is the originality of his ideas. Cool, which I linked to above, owes more to Le Sacre du printemps than to the Broadway musical tradition. It may be harder to appreciate its originality now, but Brooks Atkinson immediately picked up on it in his review of the original production when it opened in New York.
 

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I wasn't thinking about economics, that to me is not the issue. Both opera and musicals are examples of musical theater, period.
In fact, many consider West Side Story to be a legitimate operatic masterpiece, for example the critic and conductor Will Crutchfield. He said as much when he reviewed the 1984 Deutsche Grammophon recording (featuring Kiri Te Kanawa, Jose Carreras, Titania Troyanos, Marilyn Horne, et al., and led by Bernstein himself). Of course, that recording received decidedly mixed reviews from him and others, justifiably, in my opinion.

For me, that is because, while West Side Story is a great work, and certainly can be called an "opera" with a reasonably broad definition of that term, it is not within a particular 18th and 19th century European musical, vocal and dramatic tradition, a tradition that Te Kanawa, Carreras et al. all are thoroughly trained and steeped in.

The issue is, not whether one defines "opera" solely as including works within the 18th and 19th century European tradition, and defines 20th and 21st century musical theater works such as Broadway shows as something else. That is just a question of semantics. The issue is, whether 20th and 21st century works such as West Side Story deserve to be included in the standard repertoire of opera companies, and whether opera singers should be trained to perform in that tradition. I say the answer to that is yes, especially after enough time passes so that the tradition needs a formal program of preservation. Many here disagree with me on that, which is fine, I've said my piece about that in other threads.
 

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I've long suspected that since travel has become so much easier and broadcasting technology so much better, we might find that we have too many operas, symphonies, ballets, and so on. For example, unless a very wealthy person is willing to put up a huge amount of money, it's not clear to me that a town of two million people can afford an orchestra. For an opera, I don't know the numbers but I'd guess you either need state support or perhaps ten million people. But in places (Vienna, Milan, etc.) where the opera is an important part of the country's cultural tradition and/or a big tourist draw, state support could make sense as an investment, since people who travel to experience the opera there will spend a lot of money on hotels, restaurants, shopping and so on.
Yes, and technology really is a double-edged sword in this context. Musicians can develop an audience in the millions with modest equipment and studios through youtube, for example, and make real money from it. If you think this doesn't apply to classical music in the 18th and 19th century European tradition, check out TwoSet Violin's youtube channel, with 3.5 million subscribers. But staging a traditional opera or symphony orchestra work for a live audience is a very expensive proposition, and as you say, increasingly impractical for all but the deepest-pocketed institutions.

People dismissed Glenn Gould as an eccentric back in the 1960s for daring to claim that the live classical concert was passe, even though he himself had a highly successful career in the recording studio, and on TV and radio, after retiring from the stage permanently when only in his early 30s. True, his personal life and conduct did little to dispel the idea he was eccentric, though some of that likely was shrewd showmanship on his part. But as the decades pass, his basic thesis seems less and less eccentric.
 

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Yeah this is a good point. To some extent popular music basically originated as recorded folk music, even though there was something like low-class music for performance ("Home Sweet Home" and so on) even before recording.
I think Sid James is right that the development of popular music as a major commercial phenomenon goes back to the mid-19th century and the creation of a middle class with money and leisure time that could afford to buy a piano for the parlor and lessons on how to play it. Before there were records there was sheet music, and lots of it. But where did the music itself come from? Partly from folk traditions, no doubt about it, and some transcriptions from the opera and symphonic worlds as well, but mainly from a growing group of song writers looking to write money-making hits.

And that, imo, is the fundamental difference between popular music and classical and folk music of any time or culture, or any other longstanding musical tradition. Popular music is created to be the biggest possible hit with as large an audience as possible as quickly as possible. It can and does borrow from longstanding musical traditions, and in turn can be a source for and influence on longstanding music traditions or even result in the genesis of new ones. Its practitioners can be highly skilled and innovative. But most of it exists for its own time, to be forgotten soon afterwards. If you disagree, go to an antique shop that has a huge pile of 19th and early 20th century sheet music and patiently look through it all.
 

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I don't separate how I think about Bach, Debussy, or Boulez from Louis Armstrong, Frank Zappa, or Drake. Their music either interests me or not and I listen to and often enjoy it all.
Indeed. But Louis Armstrong and Frank Zappa (and perhaps Drake too) are prime examples of popular musicians so creative and innovative they were able to transcend the popular music genre their work could nominally be categorized within and create something of lasting cultural influence and significance. For me, the jazz of Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington has already reached the status of a classical music tradition, and I think Zappa won't be far behind.
 

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I don't even consider what I hear as uninteresting music, including that among Classical music. So I won't talk about any composers or musicians unless I find their work interesting and of a certain quality.
Fine, but a lot of the music of 18th and early 19th century Europe was never published and likely is lost for good, so you won't be hearing it, interesting or not. As for that huge pile of mid- to late 19th and early 20th century sheet music I alluded to earlier, most of that has never been recorded, at least not by a major commercial label, so you won't be hearing most of that, either.

I'm not really disagreeing with you, except that there is a process of selection over the centuries where most of the uninteresting music disappears before we can hear it. Even with modern technology, I suspect that won't change much.
 

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Oh, not nearly enough has disappeared. ;) And more is being recorded every year.
:lol::lol: Too many doctoral music graduate students needing to submit a thesis, only to become musicologists needing to publish in academic journals!

Though I must admit, to this day unpublished 18th century music is sometimes found that is truly worthwhile. For example, Luigi Boccherini, himself a cellist, wrote a large amount of chamber music, including many flute quintets (for flute and strings). But in the late 20th century, another set of six flute quintets was discovered in a library in Madrid, where the composer worked for many years, that is attributed to him, I think correctly. These are noteworthy among other reasons for being scored for two cellos.

The late Jean-Pierre Rampal, always on the lookout for new flute music to perform and record, recorded them as one of his last commercial CD releases. These are terrific performances of what I consider to be high quality examples of Boccherini's work, at least as good if not better than his other, long-known flute quintets, for example.

So I can't say all discoveries of long lost unpublished music are worthless. Of course, there are occasional major finds, like that of Debussy's Les soirs illuminés par l'ardeur du charbon, apparently written for his coal merchant to obtain coal to heat his home during the wartime shortages of the winter of 1917. But for the most part, imo, long unpublished music is unpublished for a reason.
 

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Its also interesting how folk music was particularly vulnerable to the changes brought by progress. The concept of leisure time basically emerges with the industrial revolution. So too, with rail travel, the mobility of populations. Villages started emptying out, people consumed music rather than making their own. So what we had at the turn of the 20th century is a situation where European folk music was threatened, and those who foresaw its demise as a living tradition started to document it (e.g. Grainger was a pioneer, then came Bartok and Kodaly, Holst and Vaughan Williams). Similar things where happening in other places, anthropology starts to emerge as a serious discipline.

There's a rather poignant anecdote relating to this. When he was a child during the early years of the 20th century, Michael Tippett remembered folk songs being sung in his hometown. These had been passed on, from generation to generation. When he returned later as a young man, there where no signs of this. By then, people where probably whistling tunes they'd heard in the music halls or perhaps on the gramophone.

I think its also useful to look at the ways other music has enriched classical - be it folk, jazz, world music, rock and so on. Without this sort of nourishment, its doubtful that classical would have gone beyond the churches and courts - and indeed, even when it was more or less limited to those, they weren't totally sealed off from the music of the outside world anyway.
Well said. It's a mistake to look at various musical traditions as static, isolated and unrelated genres. But it's a common mistake, I suspect mainly because such rigid categorizing is a convenient and largely effective way for the music industry to market its product. We see that here. It is no accident that Talk Classical, a commercial enterprise, is based on the principle that there is a specific definable category of music known as Western Classical Music, with all or nearly all music one could think of either clearly within or without that category.

Such categorization can be useful for other purposes, too. But I think it leads to a lot of the acrimonious and lengthy debate here, including the "elitism" issue that is the topic of this particular thread.
 
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