Still Hating Modern Classical Music

If you’ve been around this blog a while, you may remember that I linked to an article analyzing the unpopularity of modern classical music a few months ago. I just came across another interesting piece analyzing the economics of classical music production that I thought I’d share with you.

The article is titled “Why Do We Hate Modern Classical Music?” The author, Robert Blumen, explores the tendency of modernist composers and conductors to attribute the unpopularity of contemporary classical music to audience philistinism. He relates an anecdote about a music director on a radio program who answered a caller’s question about the necessity of programming music that sounds like automobile accidents by saying, “Sir, you’re living in the wrong century.”

Meanwhile, composers like John Williams and Howard Shore, who write melodic music people actually like to hear, are derided by the modernist elites who control arts funding in most government-sponsored agencies.

Blumen concludes that modernism in music is not “here to stay” as many composers assume; there is no reason to take its permanence in the musical landscape for granted. In fact, if state support for such music ended tomorrow, this genre would probably die a rapid and unlamented death. A change in the source of funding for classical music would result in new compositions that people like, rather than the commissioned works of today that are almost always only performed once.

Also see the comments section at the bottom of Blumen’s article for some interesting discussion.

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About Dr. J

I am an Associate Professor and head of the Department of Humanities at Faulkner University. I am also Associate Editor of the Journal of Faith and the Academy.
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6 Responses to Still Hating Modern Classical Music

  1. worldtake says:

    I couldn’t agree more. I could choose to listen to modern classical as an alternative to say listening to my finger nails scratching across a blackboard, but then I probably would not be doing that either.

  2. Matthew says:

    If people want to find a modern heir to classical music worth listening to, they need look no further than the soundtracks of movies and video games.

    • Dr. J says:

      There really are many great film scores out there. Back when I had a CD-buying budget (pre-marriage) I purchased orchestral soundtracks pretty regularly. I’m not as familiar with the universe of video-game soundtracks, but have heard several really nice pieces in Lord of the Rings Online.

      • Jolly says:

        In theory at least the premise of some of the “modern heirs of classical music” being in video games and movies makes sense. Dr. J himself stated “A change in the source of funding for classical music would result in new compositions that people like, rather than the commissioned works of today that are almost always only performed once.” and there is big money in music for movies and video games.

        Example: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zAS8KivZX5s (1st month alone brought in 3 million copies @ $40-$60 a copy)

        I will admit though, much video game music has a video game sound, but it is often a specific style, of which sometimes I rather enjoy. I also think that over time video game music has obtained a more “cultural” sound rather than “video gamey”, probably due to the digital and financial ability to pack higher quality sound in a game rather than cheaper, low quality MIDI. Course, even modern popular music can often sound like classic video games. :-) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RfAz35yhn7U

  3. James says:

    I think it’s unfair to lump all modern “art” music in the same unlistenable category. I agree that certain composers, such as Schoenberg, Cage, Boulez, etc., are very difficult to listen to, but there are many 20th-century composers who experimented with tonality and dissonance, and still have great mainstream appeal: Copland, Stravinsky, Prokofiev, etc. Even the harsh and dissonant Rite of Spring is still listened to today, and its influence can be heard in scores for many blockbuster movies.

    Maybe government doesn’t have any business funding the arts, but I don’t think there’s much to worry about. The really good music will still be heard in a hundred years, while the bad music will be forgotten.

    • Dr. J says:

      The article is critiquing contemporary classical music, stuff that is being composed today. I imagine that the author would find Copland et al worthwhile.

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