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I obviously wasn't asking you for a treatise on the Mozart G minor quintet in detail.
I know you weren't. But there just so happens to be a really fabulous treatise that you will enjoy. Rosen devotes an entire chapter in his section on Mozart to the viola quintets, mainly discussing the G minor and C major ones. But even more important than that, imho, is the first section of his book, "Introduction" (after a lengthy 'new preface' where he responds to some criticism of the first edition and expands on some of his ideas) with three chapters: The Musical Language of the Late Eighteenth Century, Theories of Form, and The Origins of the Style. He wrote those precisely because he is not, to use Prof. Kennick's words, "corrupted by aesthetics." He knows he has to acknowledge the premises and historical context behind the music before critiquing specific pieces as "great" works of art. Even then, he carefully writes, "By general consent, Mozart's greatest achievement in chamber music is the group of string quintets with two violas." Do you suppose he's read David Hume?
 

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Why is it always Bach's B minor mass that's brought into comparison with other genres?
If we're so confident about the greatness of classical music, what can we say about (in terms of objective greatness):
"Any randomly selected Bach cantata vs. The best pop/rock/jazz hits?"


I hear the echoes of Beethoven's battle symphony (which Allerius actually enjoys, and I personally prefer over the grindy organ stuff of many 17th century composers) in his 9th,
( 0:50 ~ 1:00 )
( 3:57 ~ 4:07 )

I never understood the logic that Beethoven's battle symphony is objectively "trash", while Beethoven's 9th is objectively a "miracle of music".
The bottom line is that Beethoven's music only matters to those who find his musical temperament appealing -The same goes for all other artists of classical music. (And I personally do think of Beethoven as a "force of nature").
 

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That also applies to a lot of classical music.
Agreed! I don't think any music should be listened to in reverent silence and agree with Peter Gay (among others) that it violates basic human impulses. We are all tempted to hum along with a tune, sway to a beat, tap feet, drum fingers, shake heads, etc.; the very meaning of music is realized through the corporeal pleasures that it can inspire.
 

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I think you make a lot of assumptions based on your experience, which is (as is the case with everyone) limited. There is no music which cannot be listened to closely and reveal artistry, 2pac and the rest. And it is also true that classical music is not immune from becoming boring after extended listening.
I mostly agree. We all make assumptions based on our experiences but, ultimately, no one has jumped in and claimed that he will devote his whole attention to Tupac for two hours and I think this is telling. Again, I don't think this is at all an insult to Tupac's music as this wasn't its intended purpose; it isn't an insult to Mozart to claim that he probably isn't the best choice for an introduction to a rap concert.

Listening to music is subjective and many variables will influence our response to it. Judging the music because of your response would seem to be the opposite of what I think is your contention that music can be judged objectively.
I have already explained how I base my views on more than just my response to the music; I base it on others responses and on mine and others knowledge and understanding of the music.
 

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I mostly agree. We all make assumptions based on our experiences but, ultimately, no one has jumped in and claimed that he will devote his whole attention to Tupac for two hours and I think this is telling.
I don't often listen to any music for two hours straight. Your implication seems to be that Mozart, or classical music, could be listened to for two hours whereas other music cannot is a hypothetical claim that can never be proven.

However, if asked to - I could listen to 2pac for two hours, his music is certainly good enough to sustain that kind of exposure. Or I could listen to Hank Williams for 2 hours, for the same reason. But, I would probably grow tired quicker listening to Mozart, because his music is not as interesting to me as the other two. There are other classical composers whose music is sufficiently interesting to me to sustain my interest for two hours. And there is a lot of non-classical music that I could listen to for long periods of time.

I have already explained how I base my views on more than just my response to the music; I base it on others responses and on mine and others knowledge and understanding of the music.
What is your point? Why do you think this positions you as an authority?
 

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Discussion Starter · #926 ·
Agreed! I don't think any music should be listened to in reverent silence and agree with Peter Gay (among others) that it violates basic human impulses. We are all tempted to hum along with a tune, sway to a beat, tap feet, drum fingers, shake heads, etc.; the very meaning of music is realized through the corporeal pleasures that it can inspire.
I would extend this by thinking about the social nature of the music: we sway together with the musicians and each other, we tap our feet together, we move our bodies together.

It has been normal, perhaps for thousands of years, for people living in state societies to regard people living in more natural conditions as wild, beyond the pale, pagan, heathen, uncivilized.... But perhaps we've created these complex states with as much subtraction as addition. In the context of this thread, I probably should cautiously point out that I'm of course unaware of anything like "the objectively correct" way to use music, not falling into an appeal to nature, but I am observing that human beings who live in complete freedom from formal hierarchical restraints ordinarily make music and dance together, often without a hard boundary between performers and audience (although there might be certain ritual music and dances that are, for example, only for adult males, so that the others are explicitly excluded).

In the tradition we've chosen, by contrast, the audience and the performers all exercise a strict discipline, performing the ritual -- entering the concert hall, finding our seats, shushing ourselves, clapping for the conductor, being very quiet during the music, coughing in the pauses between movements [very strictly required]... and so on, step by step, until we are walking away, commenting on some detail of the music to demonstrate that we observed it as thoughtfully as we were supposed to. Of course the performers are in general far more restricted: they must play each note to an exact standard, no deviation will be tolerated. We admire their exemplary ability to obey complex, precise instructions. The performance embodies the hierarchy and disciplined obedience that our societies prize and require.

But we constantly find ourselves aching to break away from these restraints. The most rebellious among us may even perhaps sometimes wish to clap between movements like an absolute Ice Age savage.
 

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I don't often listen to any music for two hours straight. Your implication seems to be that Mozart, or classical music, could be listened to for two hours whereas other music cannot is a hypothetical claim that can never be proven.

However, if asked to - I could listen to 2pac for two hours, his music is certainly good enough to sustain that kind of exposure. Or I could listen to Hank Williams for 2 hours, for the same reason. But, I would probably grow tired quicker listening to Mozart, because his music is not as interesting to me as the other two. There are other classical composers whose music is sufficiently interesting to me to sustain my interest for two hours. And there is a lot of non-classical music that I could listen to for long periods of time.
My point is not whether or not this hypothetically could be done (I'm not sure how you would even measure this because, evidently, you can force yourself to sit in a chair and listen to anything the question at hand is engagement and it being a worthwhile use of one's time) but whether or not people actually do it. I am very confident that many members of this forum, myself included, will spend two hours just listening to music in much the same way someone will spend two hours just watching a movie and I am quite confident that this mode of music appreciation is, with some exception, largely exclusive to classical music. My point, then, is that this says something about the music itself. It doesn't make classical music universally "better" (whatever that means) in much the same way classical music not making people want to dance doesn't make dance music universally "better", but I believe this phenomena does exist and is worth examining in the context of this debate.

What is your point? Why do you think this positions you as an authority?
It doesn't. I'm not sure why you should think I'm claiming authority; I'm providing my perspective on the issues being discussed: nothing more, nothing less.
 

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With respect, I did not describe some attributes I perceive in art, though some art historians have done a good job of that. By definition (at least by some standard definitions that I accept), art is a concept of something that is perceived. All of its attributes are things that are perceived. What I said was, art always has individual, and thus subjective attributes, social, and thus political attributes, and universal, and thus objective attributes.

An actual dishcloth is not just perceived, it is a piece of absorbent fabric about the same size or slightly larger than a typical human hand, regardless of how it is perceived or used, leaving aside the limits of empiricism and cartesian skepticism. Art is only a concept and doesn't have that kind of objective attribute. Art appeals in some way to human aesthetic values, individual, social and universal, but not always the same values, and not always in the same way. So art can never be defined in the way I just defined a dishcloth.
A dishcloth is a concept. The piece of fabric is one thing, a perceived object in the physical world. It is perceived by sight and touch (and maybe smell if it is a bit disgusting). You could probably even taste it. Why don't you normally taste it or focus on its smell, whereas with another piece of stuff - say a piece of coffee cake - you would focus a lot on the taste and the smell? Because the concepts are different. We conceptualise the one as being for cleaning dishes, and we conceptualise the coffee cake as for eating. Sure, we could eat the dishcloth (probably by chopping it up first, and it probably wouldn't kill us), and we could try and clean dishes by wiping the coffee cake on them, but that would probably worsen the situation rather than improve it. A dishcloth (even a great one) is a rubbish piece of food (without changing its physical essence in any way); a piece of coffee cake (even a great one) is a rubbish dishcloth. Note that I might say this is a great piece of coffee cake, and you might disagree (because you don't like the taste of coffee, so it is not something you recognise, or because you do like coffee cake but you are gluten-intolerant so you need to use different flour). We don't all have to agree what is a great piece of coffee cake in order for it to be called great validly (for the non gluten intolerant). If I don't like coffee that doesn't allow me to challenge that a particular coffee cake is great coffee cake - the purpose of coffee cake is to be eaten with enjoyment by people who like coffee cake, and the fact that some people do not like coffee is not relevant to the greatness of the coffee cake.

I really don't see the difference. Music is sounds, which are aspects of the physical universe which we can sense (using hearing). We conceptualise music as being for listening to in a particular way to achieve certain ends. Some people might find that vision helps appreciate music (pop videos), or moving around (dance music, involving proprioception?), in a way that would not apply in listening to a fire alarm (sounds with a different conceptual purpose). They might also move around on hearing a fire alarm, but that would be for a different purpose. We would judge great music different from great fire alarms, because they have a different conceptual purpose.

The only difference I can see is that the purposes of music (and other art) seem generally to be less practical, but even that is problematic. Some music is very much practical (say a military march); some non artistic matters are very "spiritual" (becoming a parent - which is very much a concept as well as a physical event) or give "sensory pleasure" in themselves (many smells, but not some others!) by stimulating the brain somehow and may (for example) trigger associations.

I wonder if there is a connection. Is it that those who wish not to grant special status to "great music" feel like that because they want to grant special status to "music"? I don't grant special status to music, so I'm quite happy that some music is "great" as music, because that's no big deal. One possible definition might be that great classical music is classical music which stimulates those who are stimulated by classical music to a more than usual extent, just like for the coffee cake.

I just want to use "great" as a word in its normal sense, to qualify something like "music", just as I might use it to qualify something like a piece of software or a dishcloth or an axe or a perfume or an experience like going down a ski run. Oh, and that can be objective once you have (via agreement) determined the purpose in question for that piece of cloth or whatever (a great dishcloth might be a rubbish bra, but it's the same piece of cloth in either case).
 

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Oh, and to follow up on #929, it makes little sense to talk about "great cloth". There is not enough of an indication of purpose in the word cloth to judge greatness against.

Cloth is really just a word for a sort of stuff without much connotation of what it is for. It is only once you conceptualise the cloth to be a dishcloth and so give it a purpose that you can start to assess how good it may be. And the granting of purpose is something only a thinking entity can do.

That doesn't make the exercise subjective, though. It is about the need to agree what the thing is for before you can assess it, and that is done (in normal situations) via agreement with others.

You see something packaged on the shelf and it says it is a dishcloth. You don't challenge that and say that that is subjective. It is just a way of conceptualising the cloth that most reasonable people would likely say makes sense. Of course you could decide to use the dishcloth as a small curtain, but that's just being perverse.

The fact that it is people who determine the concepts does not make this all subjective. It is just the way people behave when they get together to talk about stuff and they have to "agree terms" as the expression is.

This thread is largely a continued refusal by people to agree terms.
 

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Discussion Starter · #931 · (Edited)
The fact that it is people who determine the concepts does not make this all subjective. It is just the way people behave when they get together to talk about stuff and they have to "agree terms" as the expression is.

This thread is largely a continued refusal by people to agree terms.
Yeah, because agreement about values does not make the values objective.

Agreement doesn't turn is into ought.
 

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Who said "ought"? I am not saying anyone ought to like anything, or believe anything is great.

Part of the problem seems to be this obsession with subjective and objective. As UrbanK posted, why this obsession?

Apparently we can't talk about these things purely objectively because we are subjects, but on the other hand we cannot talk about anything purely subjectively because we need to agree the meanings of words.

Extreme interpretations of words rule out any real discussion. Hence, the debate (if that is what it is) rumbles on endlessly.

Music is just some sounds that we decide to conceptualise in a particular way.
Great music is just music (potentially of a particular type) that fulfils the brief implied by that conceptualisation particularly well (- empirically).

No platonic ideals, no "ought", no elite. Just a decision about what something is for (which others may or may not share) and that this example is particularly successful. Not particularly subjective; not particularly objective. Just people talking, rules of thumb, best endeavours, good faith.

Isn't that enough? I think it is what the word "great" means.
 

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Discussion Starter · #933 ·
Not particularly subjective; not particularly objective.
I honestly can't make sense of this.

But it's true (and should be obviously so) that if we agree what it means for something to be good (which you characterize as a decision), then we might be able to objectively observe or even measure how good (according to that agreement) various things are.

But that initial agreement is exactly where the problem is.
 

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I honestly can't make sense of this.

But it's true (and should be obviously so) that if we agree what it means for something to be good (which you characterize as a decision), then we might be able to objectively observe or even measure how good (according to that agreement) various things are.

But that initial agreement is exactly where the problem is.
On the objective versus subjective point, I was trying to observe that words only have meanings if we move away from the purely subjective, as we need to manage some sort of sharing of understanding between subjects in order to give the words a meaning which we can use to communicate. Hence, you cannot talk about anything at all "subjectively" if you push terms to an unreasonable extreme. I only raise that because I think people are pushing objective to an unreasonable extreme.

However, I am not too bothered about the subjective/objective thing.

I agree with your main point that we need to achieve some sort of agreement.

I think it is conceivable that you can identify great classical music, or great dance music or great hip hop, because one might be able to agree the purpose of classical music or dance music or hip hop, and they might have different purposes and methods of assessment. So far so good.

I am quite happy to accept that there could be great hip hop even if I have no liking for it at all; the same is true for classical music or dance music, so long as each is assessed according to its own purpose.

It may be possible that there is "great music", but that might be more problematic. Perhaps the purposes of these different categories of music are too different to allow comparison in that way.
Picking up on an earlier post it might be that music is like "cloth". It is difficult to say that something is a "great cloth", but you might be able to say it is a "great dishcloth" or a "great towel". Cloth is not a sufficiently "purposeful" word to be assessed. Maybe music is like that, requiring further classification in order to be given enough specificity to be assessed.
 

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A dishcloth is a concept.
I can't agree with anything in your post, as you fall hook, line and sinker for the essentialism fallacy. A dischcloth can be defined both as a concept and as a piece of absorbent fabric of a certain size. Art can be defined as a concept only. Art has no necessary and sufficient attributes. You can say, music is always sound, but not all sound is music (unless you believe John Cage). So sound is a necessary, but not a sufficient, attribute of music.

You seem to assume art has a definable purpose. Many, like Kennick, argue that art has no purpose. I think art has a sociological purpose. It is a celebration of our humanity, but we have many different ways of doing that. That is why art, and great art, can never be defined with objective criteria. Living in a certain society at a certain time and place, and with a certain experience and education in our lives, we have our own particular aesthetic values and conventions, so we know what art, and great art, is for us. That doesn't mean it has objective attributes that apply to anyone, anywhere at any time.

I also think that celebrating, recognizing and respecting our humanity helps us live together, which we need to do as social animals. I see that as art's purpose. I also think Prof. Kennick might agree with that, but he waves of "sociology" as not worthy of his time and consideration. He was a rigorous logician, not a sentimentalist.
 

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I am quite happy to accept that there could be great hip hop even if I have no liking for it at all; the same is true for classical music or dance music, so long as each is assessed according to its own purpose.

It may be possible that there is "great music", but that might be more problematic. Perhaps the purposes of these different categories of music are too different to allow comparison in that way.
I agree with this, and have posted similar thoughts in other threads (they've been so many of them it's hard to keep track).

This is a classical music forum so it can be expected that classical music would be seen as special, or having a higher purpose or higher value because of certain priorities and attributes. However, if we were in a hip-hop forum or a rock forum all that would be reversed.

Context is important. One thing I would hope we could avoid is buying into a hierarchy of genres. Since we are not expert or deeply experienced in many genres, what ends up happening is the most superficial assumptions are expressed about genres we know little about.

I have no trouble saying that in every genre there are potentially some artists/writers/performers and works which are express sufficient high artistic value, according to the specific values, priorities and attributes of that genre, to rival the best in any other genre.
 

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Obviously my sample size is small; it just consists of people I have known personally throughout my life. I have multiple people tell me that they go to concerts for the show rather than the music or that they use music as background noise or that they only focus on the lyrics. Of course not everyone is so extreme, for many it is a combination and of course this is not completely absolute, there are certainly people who seriously listen to Jazz, for example. But this idea that people would sit down and absolutely focus on Tupac's music for two hours is ridiculous. That's not the point of it. Heck, I would guess Tupac himself would have found the idea stupid.

Edit: realising this has made me enjoy popular music more, not less. Before I learned this, I would attempt to engage with much popular music by sitting and listening with my full attention. When I told this to the person who recommended me the more popular music, he told me that that's not how one should appreciate this music.
I virtually never listen to music in the "serious" style as in, the yuppie guy in the Memorex ad sitting in a chair in front of a massive stereo or something. My brain doesn't work that way, I need to be doing *something* while listening, even if it's as simple as fidgeting with a stress ball, or taking a walk with headphones.

I actually wonder how many people do that. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but that kind of listening is just foreign to me.
 

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I virtually never listen to music in the "serious" style as in, the yuppie guy in the Memorex ad sitting in a chair in front of a massive stereo or something. My brain doesn't work that way, I need to be doing *something* while listening, even if it's as simple as fidgeting with a stress ball, or taking a walk with headphones.

I actually wonder how many people do that. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but that kind of listening is just foreign to me.
I don't either, most of the time. But I do listen to hip-hop very closely. You have to, otherwise you can't follow the lyrics, which is the whole point.

This got me thinking about other non-classical music, also where lyrics play an important role. There are many country songs which are story songs, and you have to listen closely to them, too. Charlie Parker was a fan of country music and when asked why he said, "the stories, man, listen to the stories." Lester Young knew the lyrics to the standards he played and based his solos on the lyrics as much as the melodies and chord changes.

Listening closely is not just something that happens with classical music, nor are long form works.

I listen to an album like Kind of Blue closely, and for me it is the equivalent of a five movement symphony. The same is true for Coltrane's A Love Supreme, which is made up of four parts, or movements.

Duke Ellington's suites.

Sometimes I will listen to a classical work of two hours or more, but that is only for a specific reason. But rock audiences routinely are very engaged in a Springsteen concert for 2-4 hours, the same for The Grateful Dead and many other acts who perform in stadiums to tens of thousands of fans.

The assumptions expressed here about the superiority of classical music based on a superficial knowledge of other genres is not really surprising, but is still disturbing.
 

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... I actually wonder how many people do that. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but that kind of listening is just foreign to me.
I used to. I recall the time I purchased Ry Cooder's, "Bop till You Drop", the first digitally recorded album. I set up my system - Rega Planar 3, Nytech CA202 and Kef Celeste IIIs (the best I could afford back then) - and did a Memorex Ad guy impression.

I don't anymore.
 

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I actually wonder if listening habits/preferences have correspondence to genre preferences. "background music" is a bit of a pejorative, but there's some music that absolutely works the best when "viewed from a distance"- ambient works are an obvious example (I really do think my love of electronic and/or ambient music is probably why I'm receptive to minimalism). I guess you could call it "macroscopic" listening, or something - it helps a lot with minimalism and avant-garde stuff, when you aren't deeply focused from moment-to-moment and sort of let the music carry you on a more longer-scale level.

Country as storytelling makes sense- it's maybe the most personality-driven form of popular music, and good storytelling relies on personality. There's so many great country songs which are - lyrically - ridiculously maudlin and hokey- except the singer has such a strong personality that it doesn't matter (Half of George Jones' greatest output couldn't have been sung by anyone else- it'd sound like the ridiculous sappy stuff it looks on paper).
 
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