Why is the masterpiece phenomenon so specific to classical music? Could you imagine how foolish someone would sound if they said the following:Comments Chris Foley on No more masterpieces please. Chris makes a very good point. But I do think the problem is partly of our own making. Surely, the current obsession among certain movers and shakers with all things new, creates resistance, rather than acceptance, among some audiences? The obsession is not just with new music, it is also with new artists and new recordings.
"Angels in America has some topical interest, but it's no Hamlet" ... "Vladimir Nabokov's novels are somewhat interesting but a bit on the modern side--I much prefer the novels of Sir Walter Scott" ... "I don't know what all the fuss is about this Picasso. Why can't people enjoy proper artists like Rembrandt?" ... "Schindler's List has a message but it's much too revolutionary for me. Why don't they make films the way they used to, like Gone With The Wind?"
Comparing the new music directly to works written several hundred years ago is a fruitless proposition. Yet in the opera world, people diss perfectly good operas all the time in stating their preference for operas out of a completely different time, place, and tradition.
Why can't the classical music world (most specifically the traditional opera lover) celebrate new work the way that the film, literary, art, and theater world celebrate new work: as works that exist alongside those of the traditions that came before them, but need to be appreciated on their own merits?
But is the tide turning? In all the excitement in Washington on Tuesday, some people overlooked that those four commendably multi-cultural and multi-gender musicians were miming to a very old tune reworked by a 77 year old white man who is more familiar with Hollywood than Darmstadt. There was an interesting article in yesterday's Guardian by Simon Jenkins inspired by Barack Obama's Inaugaration, which opined:
I am more convinced than ever that old is new. Neophilia was the raging obsession of the boom years. It threw out the good (such as responsible banking) with the bad, and ignored any emotional attachment to the familiar. It was for wimps. Now the storm clouds of recession gather and there is a rush for the security of the past, for custom and practice. The results are often bizarre. Open any newspaper, turn on any broadcast, and you will be inundated with throwbacks. In vogue are Karl Marx, Nazi movies, Afghan wars, the class struggle, James Bond, nationalisation, Pooh Bear, ballroom dancing and Kenneth Clarke. Vests, Woodbines and Ovaltine cannot be far behind. An increasingly deranged Gordon Brown may even wake up one morning and declare war on Germany.John Cage once observed, 'I'm afraid I'm more traditional than all those traditionalists'. Duality is the real enemy. We do not need to choose between old and new, masterpiece and repertoire piece, black and white, or female and male. Chris Foley is quite right. They should all be appreciated on their own merits.
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