The Finch Formerly Known As Gold

6 May 2004

How high the wall?

Lynn S poses two questions:

[W]ho gets to decide what is classical and what isn't?

[W]ho will be the great composers of the future and who will be the also-rans?

On the second question, at least, she's made up her mind: it will be the verdict of history that determines future entries to the Pantheon. And certainly she's right, although one inevitable side-effect will be the eventual neglect of composers who just missed the cut, which is unfortunate but probably unavoidable, and we won't always have Karl Haas to dig up "Rare and Well-Done" works for us.

But that still leaves the first question unanswered: by whose authority does a musical work become worthy of consideration for admission to the Basic Repertoire? What process weeds out pieces A and B in favor of C? In this era, the music that sounds most "classical" is film music, but clearly not everything that makes it into a motion-picture soundtrack isn't classical.

That leaves the field open to gatekeepers, with, says Lynn, mixed results:

An academic elite has assumed the role of preserving quality and tradition. This is good. But has this elite gone too far? It's one thing to protect an ancient and living tradition from the ravages of pop culture but quite another to lock it in an ivory tower so high and remote that few dare approach if they even know it exists at all.

She dismisses "trash classical" like Bach for Dummies, which fits with the premise of avoiding contact with that horrid pop stuff. Here I demur. Even if it's pitched at "dummies," it's still Bach and can still be appreciated by someone who knows the name of Schmieder's catalog. I'm not worried that the classical "market," as it were, is going to be overrun by barbarians: classical music will always be a minority taste. But there's no reason it shouldn't be a minority of, say, twenty percent, instead of two or three.

Posted at 7:44 AM to Tongue and Groove