The Pretentiousness of Classical Music

Do you think Classical music is pretentious? Can Classical music be intimidating to an average concert-goer? I want to hear your thoughts! Comment below!



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3 responses to “The Pretentiousness of Classical Music

  1. In the words W. H. Auden,

    “From Life to Art by painstaking adaption,
    relying on us to cover the rift,
    only your notes are pure contraption,
    only your song is an absolute gift.”

    Auden recognizes that music is the only art form that comes directly to the audience, that there is no effort involved in experiencing music. It’s intelligence and deep-rooted connections may make its intents and purposes elusive, but no-one should be intimidated by a piece of music. Its just sound – it can’t hurt you.

    That classical music is pretentious is the continuation of the trend begun in the mid-twentieth century. After the war, there were two camps of music – the serialists and the avant-garde. The serialists, because they were merely fascinated with the little puzzles they could work out and their music caused aural indigestion, could only make a living by teaching. This perpetuated the high-class, academia stereotype of the stuffy composer whose music was pretentious and there was a disconnect between music and audience. With the serialists, it was literally impossible to understand the piece without it being explained. It was an exercise in control, in reclaiming their lives after the war had shattered civilization. These composers were not concerned with how their music sounded, merely that it existed and that it was theirs.

    The avante-garde, on the other hand, were a group that cared deeply how their music was received. John Cage’s mission in his music was to write something so ugly or surreal that normal life became beautiful again. They were succeeded by the minimalists. Steve Reich and Terry Riley were performers influenced heavily by jazz, a genre known for its connectability.

    Unfortunately, it has only been recently that serial composers have been slowly ousted from the academic world. We have not had the adequate passage of time that is required to change the perception of the academic music world from stuck-up egotists to down-to-earth performers. Nobody writes or performs serial music anymore; it has given way to music to entertain audiences, music to be performed and listened to. But it is still the perception of audiences that they must possess some intuitive knowledge just to be considered worthy of attending a concert.

    So sit back and relax, and let the music wash over you. Find your own meaning, your own story, and your own enjoyment. You don’t have to understand form or function or intent or structure to appreciate the amount of intelligence and work it took to put these masterpieces together. You must only have the capacity to understand that this music is one person’s self-expression to you as an audience member, that they are giving you the absolute gift of music. They expect no understanding, no analysis, no criticism. They write so that you enjoy the magnificent soundscape they have created. Go enjoy!

    • Kevin, wow! What a fantastic point of view and historical perspective! I am so glad you’re sharing your insight here! I do think that the seperation of jazz and popular music was also a reason there was a rift created between classical music and what people “normally listen to.” This I don’t identify as good or bad (especially with how incredibly awesome and intellictual jazz and some pop music is!) but it is a divide that started in multiple places. Thoughts?


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