Monday, September 05, 2016
Music blogging #itsover
In April 1963 the Third Symphony of Robert Simpson - who is seen above - was given its first performance by the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra conducted by Hugo Rignold - an unjustly forgotten figure today - and its London premiere by the same forces followed less than a month later at the Festival Hall. The account by Donald Macauley in his biography of Robert Simpson of those first two performances puts the state of music journalism today into sharp perspective. Eight reviews of the new symphony are quoted in depth, ranging from national publications such as the mass market Daily Herald and up market Financial Times, through the Musical Times to regional titles such as the Wolverhampton Express & Star.
Simpson's Third Symphony was reprised at the Festival Hall a year later by the London Philharmonic and Charles Groves and then in 1970 by Jascha Horenstein - who championed Simpson's music - and the London Symphony Orchestra, and no less than twelve reviews of these further performances are quoted by Donald Macauley. The critics penning those reviews are a role call of the art of music journalism - David Cairns, Gilliam Widdicombe, Edward Greenfield, Stephen Walsh, Noel Goodwin, Anthony Payne, Ronald Crichton and Felix Aprahamian. Writing in the Listener in 1964 Deryck Cooke recalled that the symphony was 'defiantly praised by one eclectic intellectual critic despite its unfashionable musical language while one ordinary music lover of a musical journalist could protest that it was "a long way out - a gala night for the avant-garde"'.
Thirty years later the tide had turned, with the deregulation of broadcast media starting a race to the bottom that print media joined with alacrity. By the start of the 21st century that great generation of music writers was fading away, and the developing mass market fixation of both print and broadcast media provided little encouragement for their replacements. In the early noughties new media in the form of blogs arrived offering a platform that was free from the commercial agendas of mainstream media. As lively, informed and free-thinking writing was squeezed out of the mainstream, the hope was that blogs would provide a platform for the defiant viewpoints that Deryck Cooke praised in 1964. But the dream never became reality. As traditional media atrophied, those with something to sell - and there are very many of those in classical music - realised that blogs offered the perfect platform for their sales pitches. So music blogs progressively became vehicles for scarcely hidden self-interest and disingenuous spin pandering to the foolishness of crowds.
In a series of recent tweets Charles Downey assessed the state of music blogs by tracking those in Alex Ross' seminal 2004 listing, and concluded that "Year of last update often somewhere around 2014. Some completely disappeared. Some with one post so far this year. #itsover" Elsewhere attempts have been made to explain the slow and painful death of music blogging, with everything being blamed except the real reason. Music blogs are dying because with very few exceptions they are not worth reading. They are not worth reading because they have become just another expression of the compromised ethics and scarcely disguised self-interest that pervades classical music. In fact most music blogs, like so much social media, are no more than selfies in print posted by a new breed of prosecco activists .
Music blogs are now just another part of a tacky global marketplace where people have principles, but are prepared to change them if the price is right. There is no place in the blogging community for the rich range of independent viewpoints that Deryck Cooke cherished or the constructive debate that such richness of opinions fosters. Charles Downey is right when he observes that music blogging #itsover. Classical music desperately needs a wider and more diverse journalistic constituency. However it is not to be. A golden opportunity has been squandered by music bloggers, and I am in that group. But given the dire state that music blogging is in today, its demise will be regrettable but not a major loss.
No review samples used in this post. Photo via BBC. Any copyrighted material is included as "fair use" for critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Also on Facebook and Twitter.