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HPSCHD-L  November 1998

HPSCHD-L November 1998

Subject:

Re: Is Classical Music Dying, or Dead?

From:

robert john utterback <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

robert john utterback <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Tue, 24 Nov 1998 13:26:25 -0500

Content-Type:

TEXT/PLAIN

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

TEXT/PLAIN (89 lines)

In response to Lee's lengthy and thoughtful comments on my earlier
posting:
 
On Mon, 23 Nov 1998, Lee Davis wrote:
 
> First, I am inclined to understand that what we in the US call classical
> music is an import from Europe which some, who value it, or, at least,
> believe it ought to be valued, have tried to graft on a basically frontier
> culture.  [snip]
> So I see no golden age of interest in classical music in the US which has
> fallen away.
 
I was not thinking specifically of the United States when I stated, "Art
music once thrived on a musically literate audience," although I do
believe that such an audience once flourished in the U.S.
 
> Second, I cannot at all relate to household, amateur experience in the
> decades following WWII as moving from active music-making to passive
> music-listening.  There was no music making in my parent's household and
> the only music listening was whatever came over AM radio (mostly what today
> is called country and western).  In my barren part of the country within
> the households where music was actively made, it was, again, overwhelmingly
> country and western or what was called popular music.  I suspect few of
> these real music making families "matured" into an interest in art music.
> [As it happens my own interest in classical music was originally tweaked by
> recorded music, but I have no idea how general this experience might be].
 
I suspect that what happened was that interest in amateur music-making
died off with successive generations, and that advances in recorded sound
hastened that development.  I didn't mean to imply that interest within a
particular household waned.
 
[snip]
> However, I am disinclined to attribute much of any decline in US interest
> in art music to the advent of radio classical music or to records or CDs.
 
I wouldn't attribute the (international) decline solely to recorded sound,
but I do see the proliferation of high-fidelity recordings as part of a
larger cultural shift from amaterism or connoisseurship--where recordings
*supplement* the actual experience--to consumerism--where recordings serve
as surrogates for live music-making.  Why bother to learn the Goldbergs
when one can drop a CD into a player and hear them flawlessly rendered in
pristine digital sound?
 
I thought I might find a passage supporting my contentions in Calvin
Elliker's dissertation "The Periodical Literature of Music:  Trends from
1952 to 1987" (Urbana, 1996), insofar as changes in periodical literature
mirror cultural changes.  I found it:
 
"Beginning with the period after World War I, and increasingly during the
period after World War II, the number of musically educated amateurs
declined ...
 
"The musically literate, participative amateur of the nineteenth century
has largely disappeared, and so have most of their periodicals.  The
Musical Times--published since 1844--remains a notable exception, yet even
this stalwart was obliged to cease publishing its musical supplement
around 1980.  Yet a small audience of skilled amateurs survives, and a few
periodicals continue to serve it through scores or pedagogical
discussions, among the Sheet Music Magazine and Piano Quarterly.
 
"The contemporary amateur audience consists mostly of passive listeners.
Indeed, it seems inappropriate to call these inactive listeners
"amateurs"--the terms "devotees," "admirers," "spectators," "enthusiasts,"
or "fans" offering more accurate descriptions of their function.  The
passive fan--often lacking any training in notation, theory, and
instrumental or vocal techniques--is unable to enter into the forum
traditionally presented by the *Kenner und Liebhaber* [=connoisseurs or
amateurs] periodicals, and unfortunately the meeting ground for discourse
between amateurs and professionals has largely been lost as a result.
Additionally, much of this audience's interest focuses on recorded sound,
and not the somewhat more participative activity of concert attendance.
It is telling, for example, that a subscription to the BBC Music Magazine
comes not with a supplemental music section, but with a supplemental
compact disc.  One commentator [Nicholas E. Tawa] has attributed this
development to global commercialism and consumerism." (p. 119-20)
 
> ****************************************************
> At 03:04 PM 11/23/98 -0500, Rob Utterback wrote:
> >Art music once thrived on a musically literate audience, in whose lives it
> >was considered vital.  Classical music is moribund because the household,
> >amateur experience has shifted in the decades following World War II from
> >active music-making to passive music-listening (due, at least in part, to
> >the advent of "high-fidelity" recording).  In this light, the classical
> >recording industry has hastened its own demise.
> >
> >Rob Utterback
> >
>

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