Sunday, 23 August 2015

Is contemporary classical music 'likeable'?

As facebook 'likes' are concerned, the latest release of Mauricio Kagel's piece 'Rrrrrr...: I. Rrrrrrrr...'  is probably not going to ratch up a lot. Neither will it be graced with a platinum disc any time soon. But perhaps measuring contemporary classical music by its instant appeal to the wider audience may be unfair. Some of Berlioz's operas were not exactly joyfully embraced by contemporary audiences, and Bach's music wasn't even played much in music halls for more than a century after his death.

The argument that undercuts this view to see lack of popularity as a sign of quality is of course Mozart. Mozart's music did not just enrapture its audiences, he deliberately tried to please them to achieve popularity as a way to be commercially successful (amongst other things).

So, where does that leave contemporary classical music? As I have argued before, there are essentially two types of music afficiniados. The first type tries to 'understand' the music and believes that its appeal lies somewhere buried in the minutiae of harmonic construction. The second type sees music as a tool to evoke emotions. Doubtless there are both of these types in many of us, but I have to confess that my 'understanding' of Bach's fugues does not extend much beyond the first motif.

This leaves me with the oddity that I might actually enjoy what some call the 'noise' of contemporary classical music. Affirmative! The most recent manifestation of this strange fascination of mine is Ginastera's Second Cello Concerto, something you rarely hear in concert halls, even the most adventurous ones.

Still, I think that basing any musical appeal on the belief that obscure musical constructions can be 'understood' is to indulge in a questionable form of joy. It's a bit like the member in the audience who all of a sudden laughs out loud while watching a cryptic piece of modern dance. His enjoyment is likely to be a pretty solitary affair. Trusting the emotional appeal of contemporary classical music may just give us a more secure foundation. After all, we are all strangers in the realm of the aesthetics of sound.

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