The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music trend: Is classical music today in decline? Or is it enjoying a Golden Age? Read this article and see what you think.

July 25, 2010

By Jacob Stockinger

A very close friend and loyal fan of the blog sent The Ear this article by Heather Mac Donald in the City Journal.

It’s a rather long article, so I won’t waste your time with a lot of introductory remarks.

Suffice it to say that Mac Donald — often described as a conservative or right-wing intellectual who is affiliated with the Manhattan Institute —  offers a very interesting, eclectic and, to my mind, informative piece of analysis. I tend to dismiss a lot of conservative viewpoints today, especially conservative culture critics who focus on so-called “family values” even while they are hurting families. But conservatives can be right at times — and this, I think is one on those times.

Mac Donald (below) tracks the early music and period-instrument movement and its repercussions throughout later periods and styles, right up to the state of classical music today — which she describes, contrary to many observers and doom-sayers, as a “golden age of classical music.”

Contrary to those who see a decline in classical taking place today, Mac Donald sees us in a golden age with more and better classical musicians than ever before. That rings true to what I see and hear in Madison and elsewhere.

It is a deeply thought out and original analysis, even if you don’t agree with it — though I find it persuasive and convincing.

Along the way you learn some interesting facts about individual composers and works, and about Western classical music in China and Venezuela. The article is full of details and examples, and cites many specific composers, works, performers and recordings or performances.

It makes you wonder: Maybe Western classical music is the real world music, no matter what sales figures and publicists say.

It also takes on and counters modern critics who insist that programming modern or contemporary music is the way to revitalize the concert hall.

Just what constitutes “new” music? the article wisely asks and then goes on to answer the question.

All is all, it is a fascinating read and analysis that should interest a lot of people with divergent tastes and points of view.

Here’s hoping you enjoy it and find it as thought-provoking as much as I did.

As a treat, here is a comparison clip — using Chopin’s etude Op. 10, no. 1 — of current virtuoso Martha Argerich and much earlier turn-of-the century virtuoso Vladimir de Pachmann, the self-described “Chopinzee” who is mentioned in the story as an example of how taste changes and remolds our perceptions of what is old and new:

What do you think of the Mac Donald’s main arguments?

Do you agree with the article’s main points or not?

Is classical music today in decline or enjoying a golden age?

The Ear wants to hear.

Posted in Classical music

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