The Rest Is Silence Dept.


The Last Symphony | Jacobin

For many, classical music, its refusal to engage in high-volume harangues, its reliance on aural logic rather than visual spectacle, its commitment to achieving often barely perceptible standards of formal perfection, all serves as a repudiation of late capitalism — a refuge from hideous strip malls, the 24-hour assault of advertising copy, and marketing hype. Ultimately, it is a protest against the cruder, meaner and self-destructive society we have become.

One of the usual comebacks levied at classical music's decline goes something like this: what we now call "classical" music was the "rock" of its day (actually, no, it wasn't), so this is just a matter of a market for one set of tastes driving out another. The problem with this pure-capitalism approach is that it forces us to ignore the whole wealth of understanding about music as a discipline — an art form, a science, a whole host of other things — that studying classical music, even if only as a casual listener, requires of someone.

Every time we shrug and say the reason classical music is dying because there's no market for it, maybe we need to wonder about whether a market-based economy is the best way to preserve and transmit such things. But then the whole discussion bogs down in a welter of arguments: who pays for it; how do we know the people charged with the preservation of such stuff aren't just ripping us off; and how much of this is really worth preserving anyway? And so on.

Maybe we need to think of the point of having music preservation as being more for the sake of those who keep the tradition alive — the performers — than for the sake of a prospective audience. Yes, every art form needs an audience, but a good audience of ten is better than an indifferent audience of a thousand.


Tags: classical music economics music




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