Friday, July 08, 2005

The Peak of Music?

The first thing music does is banish silence. Silence is at once a metaphor for loneliness and the thing itself: It’s a loneliness of the senses. Music overcomes silence, replaces it. It provides us with a companion by occupying our senses—and, through our senses, our minds, our thoughts. It has, quite literally, a presence. We know that sound and touch are the only sensual stimuli that literally move us, that make parts of us move: Sound waves make the tiny hairs in our inner ears vibrate, and, if sound waves are strong enough, they can make our whole bodies vibrate. We might even say, therefore, that sound is a form of touch, and that in its own way music is able to reach out and put an arm around us.

...From a distance of centuries, knowledgeable observers can usually discern when specific cultural developments within societies or civilizations reached their peaks. The experts may argue over precise dates and details, but the existence of the peaks themselves is rarely in question. In the case of Western music, we don’t have to wait centuries for a verdict. We can say with confidence that the system of tonal harmony that flowered from the 1600s to the mid-1900s represents the broad summit of human accomplishment, and that our subsequent attempts to find successors or substitutes for that system are efforts—more or less noble—along a downhill slope.

- From Music Without Magic, by Miles Hoffman, violist and artistic director of the American Chamber Players, and music commentator for NPR’s Morning Edition, in the Spring 2005 Wilson Quarterly.

Has classical music peaked? Or are we just on a temporary downslide on a roller coaster of creativity? Is the lure of pop stardom diverting dreams and stealing young musical talent? Or is pop music evolving into a marriage of sound and lyric that has the potential to exceed the great classics? Does pop music provide greater empathy than classical?


jim wood said...

The "triumph" of serial music in the late 1950s-60s produced a serious break in the continuity of western classical music. Classical music became a series of deliberately obscure gestures aimed exclusively at impressing colleagues in the academic community, but without any reference points for the general music-loving public. Many of the disciplines that formed the basic foundations of tonal music were jettisoned as irrelevant. So when composers came to their senses again in the 1970s, they basically had to re-invent the whole classical tradition. Aside from those societies which discouraged serial music (mostly former Soviet states), it seems little has been produced of any value whatsoever.

By comparison, popular music, which broke out of its fairly simplistic limits by the mid-60s, offered a way to create music that was not merely suffered through, but actively appreciated. The time constraints of the best popular music also work in its favor-- there's no room for filler. If Mozart had been born mid-20th century, he probably would have chosen to be a popular musician.

Canowine said...

jim wood - are you Jim Wood, the Tennessee Fiddle Champion?? I'll allow myself to be tickled and assume you are.

"Classical music became a series of deliberately obscure gestures aimed exclusively at impressing colleagues in the academic community, but without any reference points for the general music-loving public..."

Classical music, and a lot of modern poetry. Sure we got rid of the almighty apostrophe (learn'd) and the single O, but where's the verse that touches our nerves, rather than makes us marvel at the poet's technical wizardry, or simply makes us feel uneasy? It's out there, but you have to read a lot of rubbish to get to it.

Arethusa said...

I am not all hip to what's going on currently in classical music (with the minor exception of Opera (kinda)).

So in having nothing relevant to add I'll just say that the lovely Charlotte Church has gone pop (UGH) and has somehow morphed her voice into sounding like every other teen starlet out there (:cries:). I have her latest single if you wanna hear it.

Canowine said...

hey arethusa,

Sure, I'm down for a listen. If it's really that bad I can at least torture my office-mates with it.