What would Mahler have posted on Facebook?
The current paucity of truly great classical musicians is often lamented. To achieve true greatness requires an awful lot of talent and hard work, but it also requires the cultivation of mystique. A definition of mystique is 'a quality of mystery', and that essential and elusive quality of mystery is being destroyed by the petty revelations of social media. I now find it almost impossible to listen to the sublime music making of a certain young and very talented virtuoso without being distracted by flashbacks to the candid photos posted on Facebook of the lifestyles of the rich and famous summer vacation that the musician recently enjoyed.
Elsewhere on Facebook my enthusiasm for the music of more than one contemporary composers is being solely tested by the unremitting and uncritical self-promotion of those composers, while my respect for a leading conductor was seriously challenged when he publicly bit the hand that feeds him in order to achieve fifteen minutes of social media fame. And much that I lament Brexit, the unrelenting and unproductive Twitter outpourings on the subject by some musicians leaves me wondering how they find time to play any music. Moreover musicians who automatically re-tweet and 'like' favourable comments and reviews about themselves are, in my eyes, guilty of trading mystique for self-aggrandisement.
Whether we like it or not classical music is rooted in the past both in repertoire and conventions, which means we cannot totally discount the past. So if social media had been available, what would charismatic figures such as Britten, Toscanini and Mahler have used it for? Would Ben have posted home movies of himself cavorting with Peter Pears on the beach in Bali? Would Toscanini have kept the world informed via Twitter of his falling-out with the fascist regime at the Salzburg Festival? Would Mahler have instagrammed a daguerreotype of the Hotel Belvedere's tafelspitz and flowed exclusive updates on his deteriorating heart condition to Norman Lebrecht?
That classical music is undervalued is now a constant complaint of insiders. But value is a function of scarcity, and almost without exception every current promotional strategy involves increasing what is already an oversupply of classical music, with social media and streaming being the prime culprits. As Leopold Stokowski explained: 'A painter paints his pictures on canvas. But musicians paint their pictures on silence...' The rule of 'no silence means no music' applies just as much on social media as it does in the concert hall.
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