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What is it exactly though? Let's face the inconvenient truth; in the end, it's all about popularity. Again, a certain member in the past made a good point by posting the following in another thread (something for us to think about):

"All of the factors contributing to greatness are interrelated and dependent on each other. For example, one factor mentioned above is the tradition of received wisdom: belief in A's greatness has been passed down from generation to generation, reinforced by music textbooks and concert performances and internet forums, while belief in B's greatness has not. Another factor mentioned above is the test of time: A seems greater than B because the former's music has survived till today while the latter's has not. But these two factors are mutually reinforcing: if music textbooks have chapters on A but not B, then of course the former is going to have a leg up on the latter when it comes to the test of time. Conversely, if A's music is still performed today while B's is not, then of course music textbooks are going to have chapters on the former but not the latter. Likewise, another factor that has been mentioned is influence: A has demonstrably had a lasting influence on later composers, even today, while B has not. This is also inherently connected to the above factors: since A appears in textbooks and is more widely performed than B, then of course he is going to have a greater influence on later composers than B will.

In other words, the concept of greatness is a complex and circular system. By this point in time it's also a self-sustaining one, precisely because of the circularity. After all, this system is basically what we call a canon, and it is the very purpose of a canon to be self-perpetuating. As I wrote about in another thread some years ago, it is difficult to imagine any canonical composer being removed from the cycle and losing their canonical status, and it's difficult to imagine any non-canonical composer being inserted into the cycle and acquiring canonical status. I don't think the canon was always closed, and I don't want to think it is now, but if I'm being honest with myself then I have to think realistically that it is."
Perhaps we could go back and correct the canon, with our modern knowledge and our modern resources.
 

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What is it exactly though? Let's face the inconvenient truth; in the end, it's all about popularity. Again, a certain member in the past made a good point by posting the following in another thread (something for us to think about):

"All of the factors contributing to greatness are interrelated and dependent on each other. For example, one factor mentioned above is the tradition of received wisdom: belief in A's greatness has been passed down from generation to generation, reinforced by music textbooks and concert performances and internet forums, while belief in B's greatness has not. Another factor mentioned above is the test of time: A seems greater than B because the former's music has survived till today while the latter's has not. But these two factors are mutually reinforcing: if music textbooks have chapters on A but not B, then of course the former is going to have a leg up on the latter when it comes to the test of time. Conversely, if A's music is still performed today while B's is not, then of course music textbooks are going to have chapters on the former but not the latter. Likewise, another factor that has been mentioned is influence: A has demonstrably had a lasting influence on later composers, even today, while B has not. This is also inherently connected to the above factors: since A appears in textbooks and is more widely performed than B, then of course he is going to have a greater influence on later composers than B will.

In other words, the concept of greatness is a complex and circular system. By this point in time it's also a self-sustaining one, precisely because of the circularity. After all, this system is basically what we call a canon, and it is the very purpose of a canon to be self-perpetuating. As I wrote about in another thread some years ago, it is difficult to imagine any canonical composer being removed from the cycle and losing their canonical status, and it's difficult to imagine any non-canonical composer being inserted into the cycle and acquiring canonical status. I don't think the canon was always closed, and I don't want to think it is now, but if I'm being honest with myself then I have to think realistically that it is."
The only thing that's "all about popularity" is popularity. There are various reasons why one thing is more popular than another, but your attempt to prove that it has nothing to do with inherent quality proves no such thing.

You begin with conclusions and look for quotes that you think demonstrate them. Yet some quotes attempt to show that greatness can't be real because estimates of composers and works change over time, while others (as here) attempt to show that greatness can't be real by arguing that the canon won't allow for change. Which is it?

The "canon" is not closed, and it - whatever it's thought to consist of - hasn't prevented an incredible amount of non-canonical music from circulating via recordings. Meanwhile, many works have entered or left the standard repertoires of orchestras and opera companies. This is to be expected as audiences become accustomed to new sounds or hear old works in fresh perspective, while other works that spoke to their own time come to feel like period pieces. Mahler is now central, and Meyerbeer puts in only the occasional appearance. Both developments are warranted: we've come to understand how much Mahler had to say about us, generation after generation, and how little Meyerbeer did.

So your research, while interesting at times, is far from dispositive in the present discussion. My ears and brain tell me that Don Giovanni is far superior to Haydn's Man in the Moon, and that the former will be a repertory staple approximately forever while the latter will remain a pleasant curiosity worth an occasional mounting (but definitely worth recording, as are many works unlikely to make it in the concert hall or opera house). I don't need to dig up quotes or consult polls to tell the difference between such works. But if I did, I'd likely find that posterity agreed with me. That has a tendency to happen to any number of perceptive listeners, and it's a tendency your quotes conveniently fail to address.
 

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Whether one uses the term 'profound' with regard to music...or art....or any other sphere of life...might depend on the way you quantify or evaluate the business of existence.

If we're all just waiting for Godot, then discovering a small pebble in your shoe is as 'profound' as the birth of your first child, or listening to a Wagnerian opera, or the discovery of penicillin. People are welcome to read 'profundity' into music and then, if they will, explain what they mean by it, but it's not a term I personally choose to use.

I may have said something like this before, but this is a thread full of repetitions, so I feel quite at liberty...
 

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Discussion Starter · #185 ·
I do not find any music profound... simply because I don't know what it means.
I think it would be fruitful to turn to the old thread on musical profundity and look again at the ways of identifying and of evaluating such profundity--Posts #26 through #34 will do nicely. Here, for example, is my speculation--old post #28-- that musical profundity might be identified and defined by our body's/nervous system's reaction to certain elements in our experiencing of particular moments in the unfolding of a musical work. I offer it as food for thought.

"Crudblud offers a definition of musical profundity that says it is a listening experience that appears to bypass the brain and is instead directly felt by the body. If by this formulation, Crudblud refers to gooseflesh, chills and thrills, "skin orgasms" and the like, there is a growing body of research and literature on this subject, wherein the interaction between the stimuli, the brain, and the limbic system is being shown to be key. I have discussed a little of this previously, positing the importance of "cusp" musical experiences in inducing these reactions; also trance experiences may be involved, and what one could call cumulative experiences. An example of a cusp would be the sudden organ blast that heralds the final passages of the Saint-Saens 3rd Symphony, or the growing rush that begins the finale of Sibelius' Pohjola's Daughter; I also spoke of the cusp in The Waiting by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. For trance we look again to the ostinato effects of Sibelius: 2nd Symphony, final movement, or maybe Rachmaninoff Isle of the Dead; also the Isley Brothers' That Lady, long version. For cumulative, the Hallelujah Chorus, or Bolero, though Bolero combines both trance and cumulative effects.

But surely Crudblud is saying there must be more to musical profundity than thrills and chills, which can be found in the most unusual places in all of music, and so there is more to it, but it again is inseparably tied, in my view, to the subjective experience of music. So, if musical profundity is to be spoken of, it should be remembered that it is merely convention, like our conversations about greatness, reflecting only our own individual experiences of music. In this sense, Woodduck's and Crudblud's analyses are but different facets of the same argument, with neither getting us much closer to a compelling definition of musical profundity."


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My ears and brain tell me that Don Giovanni is far superior to Haydn's Man in the Moon, and that the former will be a repertory staple approximately forever while the latter will remain a pleasant curiosity worth an occasional mounting (but definitely worth recording, as are many works unlikely to make it in the concert hall or opera house).
I see what you're saying, but if I think like that, I still end up arriving at disturbing conclusions (what seem to me like "an elephant in the room", based on what I've observed). Any late 18th century composer/work can be thought to be objectively better/equal/worse than another, for instance? On what grounds do we think Mozart is guaranteed to win that contest in all aspects objectively? And by what criteria are we judging? The composers' sense in harmony and sophistication of counterpoint?
For example - Haydn, a composer even lesser-known than Boccherini not many people care about, wrote
Christus factus est, MH38 (1761) OLAK5uy_nMi5KOC_1JKTnHcO9E88D4UBlaVtEweq8&index=13
as his (roughly) "38th" work,
Missa sanctae Crucis MH56 (1762) Nbr83TnFL-g&list=PLBSULQah5VycDjSqGgwApQL4iyR8aaQR3
as his (roughly) "56th" work,
symphony No.4 in B flat MH62 (1763), (which would later have an influence on Mozart's 25th in terms of the mood changes and structure of the slow movement) watch?v=w-t1JKs_L3U&t=10m53s
as his (roughly) "62nd" work,
the quintet from the singspiel 'Die Hochzeit auf der Alm' MH107 (1768) youtube.com/watch?v=M2SHuHCivRI
as his (roughly) "107th" work,
and so on..

You see what I'm saying?
People talk about how Mozart never wrote any "bad work". But (as far as harmony and counterpoint are concerned) this Haydn guy seems to have gone even farther by never writing any "bad or immature work". Here's a guy who seems to have had a grip on counterpoint from his earliest opuses (in the 1760s), and consistently kept or went above that level of "quality" in some 800 works that followed (up until 1805), many of which have not been recorded yet.
By comparison, it could be thought that Mozart really had only about 15 years of "mature period". Some day, when all of Haydn's works are recorded, it could may be shown that Mozart cannot beat Haydn in terms of average level of quality of works, a legitimate criterion of "artistic achievement".
What are the "Mozart equivalents" of the arias of the serenata, Endimione MH186 (1776) -maybe the arias of Litaniae K.243 or Il re Pastore K.208?
Which one is more "profound", if we're trying to judge things fairly?
 

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A lot of the qualities we associate with profundity in music come out of the 19th century, e.g.:
  • seriousness, depth often with a philosophical or religious basis
  • thematic unity, every note related to the other
  • overwhelming scale, sprawling length of a piece

There's also a lot to be said for qualities not usually associated with profundity in music, like clarity, simplicity and transparency of texture.

There's danger in creating a dichotomy between one being the authentic and cohesive expression of a composer's vision and the other showing the composer to be applying technique like a mimic, without sincerity or passion.

In any case, profundity might be little more than a byproduct of the music. Inspiration coming from deep inner voices come out in various ways - profound, sublime, pretentious, banal and so on. No matter whether the composer aims at profundity or not, there's not much to separate their works in terms of quality. While having modest aims can still bring out the best from a composer, aiming high can waste energy and produce music which is written under pressure to create something profound (composers usually did this when composing something big, like an opera, whether or not it was their area of strength).
 

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With your idea of collective memories, I submit that you are in poll country, willing or not. Do more people love Bach than love Elvis? I don't know but I am sure we could find out, given enough time and money.
A poll is where a representative cross section of a population is selected and asked a series of predetermined questions or subjected to predetermined tests. It is a valid statistical technique for many purposes when done correctly. The tricky aspect to using polls to determine what music is most culturally significant or profound is that mere popularity, or size and enthusiasm of audience, doesn't do it. One indirect sign of cultural significance, pointed out by Hume, is when an artist is remembered and recognized decades or centuries after their own lifetime. (I've picked 75 years, or the approximate length of an average human life, as a measure.) But cultural influence can be quite subtle, and not easily revealed by polls. One's tastes can be profoundly influenced by art of previous eras without even realizing it.
 

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A poll is where a representative cross section of a population is selected and asked a series of predetermined questions or subjected to predetermined tests. It is a valid statistical technique for many purposes when done correctly. The tricky aspect to using polls to determine what music is most culturally significant or profound is that mere popularity, or size and enthusiasm of audience, doesn't do it. One indirect sign of cultural significance, pointed out by Hume, is when an artist is remembered and recognized decades or centuries after their own lifetime. (I've picked 75 years, or the approximate length of an average human life, as a measure.) But cultural influence can be quite subtle, and not easily revealed by polls. One's tastes can be profoundly influenced by art of previous eras without even realizing it.
I suspect SM is using the term more simply: a count of people with, metaphorically speaking, raised hands.
 

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If a question admits of no answer, then it's hardly worth asking. I think there ARE answers, and that more answers are possible. The demand for complete knowledge of what makes art variable in its power and scope, and the retreat into a sort of egalitarian subjectivism, is just an evasion of everything interesting about art and the experience of it. I'm not accusing you of that, but...
What's funny is that I kind of see this going on in the other direction! I've said it before but the frustrating thing about "polling" (once again - not just popularity, but the general historical and contemporary reputation of composers and works) is that it bypasses the phenomenon of aesthetic reaction itself, and prefers to measure the effects that reaction has. This makes a lot of sense, as if you can't directly measure something, you can sometimes measure the effect it has on its surroundings - but this is an indirect measurement that - at least to my mind - doesn't explain aesthetic pleasure so much as measure the impact it has.

Popularity, historical repute, contemporary reactions, current-day reactions, etc - all those are effects. The source of pleasure in music, though (at least, my pleasure) is the cause. And that's much harder to pin down - the creation of such strong reactions from abstract form is such a mystery that - to me - it's no surprise that many ascribed mystical and religious powers to music.
 

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A poll is where a representative cross section of a population is selected and asked a series of predetermined questions or subjected to predetermined tests. It is a valid statistical technique for many purposes when done correctly. The tricky aspect to using polls to determine what music is most culturally significant or profound is that mere popularity, or size and enthusiasm of audience, doesn't do it. One indirect sign of cultural significance, pointed out by Hume, is when an artist is remembered and recognized decades or centuries after their own lifetime. (I've picked 75 years, or the approximate length of an average human life, as a measure.) But cultural influence can be quite subtle, and not easily revealed by polls. One's tastes can be profoundly influenced by art of previous eras without even realizing it.
I've sort of seen "polling" as a general shorthand for not just popularity, but measurable, or - at least semi-measurable - effects such as historical reputation, reputation among scholars, difference between contemporary and current reputation ("staying power"), and literal popularity polls.
 

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I see what you're saying, but if I think like that, I still end up arriving at disturbing conclusions (what seem to me like "an elephant in the room", based on what I've observed). Any late 18th century composer/work can be thought to be objectively better/equal/worse than another, for instance? On what grounds do we think Mozart is guaranteed to win that contest in all aspects objectively? And by what criteria are we judging? ...
If you demonstrate absolutely 100% that every single bit of it is strictly subjective, that's where "so what?" comes in. It's not going to change my opinion of Michael Haydn or Bach or Mozart. It would just be descriptive of a reality that's already there. That's why the whole "debate" goes nowhere.
 

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Discussion Starter · #194 ·
A poll is where a representative cross section of a population is selected and asked a series of predetermined questions or subjected to predetermined tests. It is a valid statistical technique for many purposes when done correctly. The tricky aspect to using polls to determine what music is most culturally significant or profound is that mere popularity, or size and enthusiasm of audience, doesn't do it. One indirect sign of cultural significance, pointed out by Hume, is when an artist is remembered and recognized decades or centuries after their own lifetime. (I've picked 75 years, or the approximate length of an average human life, as a measure.) But cultural influence can be quite subtle, and not easily revealed by polls. One's tastes can be profoundly influenced by art of previous eras without even realizing it.
I think we would agree that who are polled is the most important parameter in judging the results of the poll. Oppenheimer's advice to his brother was essentially to poll the "Best People". Who are the best people to poll on any given topic in the arts? And if their assessment differs markedly from one's own does one throw away one's own brain and substitute the group brain? I think most art lovers (secretly) would balk at the idea.
 

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Discussion Starter · #195 ·
fluteman: "One indirect sign of cultural significance, pointed out by Hume, is when an artist is remembered and recognized decades or centuries after their own lifetime. (I've picked 75 years, or the approximate length of an average human life, as a measure.) But cultural influence can be quite subtle, and not easily revealed by polls. One's tastes can be profoundly influenced by art of previous eras without even realizing it".
I completely agree. This is another example of the subjectivity that polling reveals. Only the art that has survived by virtue of either popularity (polling) or by escaping never being discovered (Lucretius' poetry would be an example) is left to influence the minds of later generations. If the treasures of Tutankhamen's tomb and ancient Egyptian art were still sealed in the chamber or otherwise destroyed, the influence upon subsequent art would be probably non-existent.
 

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Discussion Starter · #196 ·
What's funny is that I kind of see this going on in the other direction! I've said it before but the frustrating thing about "polling" (once again - not just popularity, but the general historical and contemporary reputation of composers and works) is that it bypasses the phenomenon of aesthetic reaction itself, and prefers to measure the effects that reaction has. This makes a lot of sense, as if you can't directly measure something, you can sometimes measure the effect it has on its surroundings - but this is an indirect measurement that - at least to my mind - doesn't explain aesthetic pleasure so much as measure the impact it has.

Popularity, historical repute, contemporary reactions, current-day reactions, etc - all those are effects. The source of pleasure in music, though (at least, my pleasure) is the cause. And that's much harder to pin down - the creation of such strong reactions from abstract form is such a mystery that - to me - it's no surprise that many ascribed mystical and religious powers to music.
One path forward, though an extremely difficult one, is through research into neurology, physiology, brain chemistry in response to certain musical stimuli.
 

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One path forward, though an extremely difficult one, is through research into neurology, physiology, brain chemistry in response to certain musical stimuli.
It's a path forward but not one I have too much personal interest in. Not to be all mystical, but the "magic" of abstract music provoking strong reactions, while a source of fascination, isn't quite something I care about "explaining" so much as experiencing.
 

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Discussion Starter · #198 ·
It's a path forward but not one I have too much personal interest in. Not to be all mystical, but the "magic" of abstract music provoking strong reactions, while a source of fascination, isn't quite something I care about "explaining" so much as experiencing.
I agree. But whether we are interested or not, research goes forward on the physiology/neurochemistry of our reactions to music. Just as there is research on the chemistry of love. One step forward has been the identification of limerence as a well-defined psychosexual/emotional state that shares characteristics with what is generally spoken of as love and may be a precursor to love, or may wither and die. Dorothy Tennov's masterful book Love and Limerence is the seminal work in this area and points the way toward understanding the physiology of attraction. Wikipedia has an excellent article on limerence. There are many examples in literature of limerence--one I particularly recall is in Anna Karenina when Anna "falls in love" with Vronsky. Those who have experienced limerence themselves will know just what it is about. It is very powerful.
 

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We will then question every individual separately and publish a record of everyone's particular candidates for profundity. No clusters. Who will begin? This may mire us in the quagmire of the subjective, and we wouldn't want that, surely. But all are given their moment of Warholian fame: a chance to tell their story
The results would probably still be pretty much the same. So then again, so what? A cluster is merely a bunch of individual stories that are similar. The question to be answered -- and which you studiously avoid -- is, why is there this or that "cluster" to begin with? And then we're back to the "they like X because X is liked by a lot of people" circularity. It doesn't address why X is popular in the first place. We'll then get unprovable answers like "well Bernhard Schrankenkopf said in a diary entry in 1848 that Mozart was the acme of musical genius and so that's part of the reason you think that way about Mozart today."
 

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Discussion Starter · #200 ·
The results would probably still be pretty much the same. So then again, so what? A cluster is merely a bunch of individual stories that are similar. The question to be answered -- and which you studiously avoid -- is, why is there this or that "cluster" to begin with? And then we're back to the "they like X because X is liked by a lot of people" circularity. It doesn't address why X is popular in the first place. We'll then get unprovable answers like "well Bernhard Schrankenkopf said in a diary entry in 1848 that Mozart was the acme of musical genius and so that's part of the reason you think that way about Mozart today."
To repeat: neurology/psychology/brain chemistry will provide the general details. Personal history will likely remain the final variable to be teased out. Likely not to happen. Everyone will continue to be unique.
 
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