Friday, August 31, 2007

The tools have changed, but composition remains the same

Do you know your Brahms from your Liszt? Your Schubert from your Mozart? Well I don't really. I may well be a classically taught violinist - who wasn't very good before you ask - but that doesn't mean I am an expert in 'classical music'.

I usually make educated guesses when the classical music round appears on University Challenge, and, often like the contestants, if my guess is wrong first time round I stick to it on the assumption that t will be right at least once and I can salvage some sort of intellectual snobbery at getting a question right.

Now for some, this shameful display of ignorance about classical music may make me a Philistine, for me it just shows that I am a contemporary of my time. After all, isn't classical music dying? This happens to be the question being posed in Octoebr by the New Culture Forum, with the added tag line of "if it is, should we care?"

In my view, if classical music were dying we should undoubtedly care. However, I'd say it most definitely isn't, it has changed its nature though. The real question for me here is not about classical per se, but rather instrumental composition though, which is, in most parts the reality of the genre that so-called 'classical music' actually in.

It may be true that the scope and reach of classical, or more correctly the traditional orchestral compositions has been narrowed into a smaller niche, but the orchestral composition, or even the single instrument composition, if you ask the question of what defines an instrument or orchestra is very much alive and well.

Classical music is no longer just about the graduate of, fro example, the Royal College of Music. It has shifted now to include the twenty-something with a soundboard and mixing desk. I imagine the purists amongst you may be balking at the very notion that electronic music could ever be compared to classical view of 'classical'.

However, if one stops for a second and listens to some of it (not all of it, there is always dross after all) it becomes clear that these new composers are creating the classical anthems of a different generation. All have rhythm, and all understand, and 'feel' music. They understand how to layer different sounds on top of each other to create what is today called a tune but in the classical sense might be called a symphony.

Not only are these original works of music - which very often are inspired by past masters - part of the changing landscape of the instrumental (and for some incidental) music world. But the landscape is littered with the reworking and remixing of classics.

Again the purist may bemoan the contemporary world's desire to take a past classic through a dialectical process to create something new. But when framed within the question of classical portending death, it actually strengthens the idea that it's breathing without life support. When the old inspires the new, it cannot be said that the old is dying

Take for example the truly masterful reworking of Barber's Adagio for Strings by William Orbit as evidence of 'classical' living on. OK, so some may say that Barber's work is populist thanks to it's appearance and mass promotion in the film Platoon, but Orbit's remix took a minor-key composition of deep melancholy and turned it into an anthem. The full 9plus minute version is a journey that is both Barber and not. It spans the void of melancholy into uplift and then back down again.

It seems to me at least that the notion that 'classical' might be dead or dying is simply untrue. It is very much alive and kicking, the landscape in which it now operates has certainly changed, and it being created with new tools. However, at its heart as an art form, the massive composition of multiple sounds coming together to form and instrumental spectacular remains the same.

Classical music is not dead. It lives on in film and television where incidental instrumental is an automatic requirement, and more crucially it is dialectical starting point for tomorrows history of music.

Three minute version of William Orbit's remix of Adagio for Strings.


Newmania said...

Do you know your Brahms from your List?

Are you serious ? Franz Liszt you mean...?

dizzy said...

I knew I spelt it wrong. I also knew I could rely on someone to tell me how to correct it. Why use the Internet when I have you?

SamuelCoates said...

Great post mate.

I used to do orchestra tours as a violinist, but was totally restricted to Baroque, mostly Bach.

The Adagio remix is excellent, was listening to it the other week whilst driving through mountain ranges in New Zealand!

Johnny Norfolk said...

I think more people are listening to classical music than ever before, thanks to the likes of classic FM. It used to be the Third programme ( Radio 3). but that has gone off track with bongo music and the like.

I think the music establishment should bring forward composers in the classic tradition, as they are out there, rather than punish us with composers that when you listen you dont know if the orchestra had made a mistake or not.

Rich Tee said...

A dance nerd writes: actually this is the Ferry Corsten remix.

Neil Tennant of the Pet Shop Boys once remarked that trance music is like classical music - a quiet beginning, building up into an energetic crescendo, then quiet and atmospheric again.

I bought that Orbit album but decided that it wasn't really my thing, but I love his version of Ravel's Pavane Pour Une Infante Defunte which was also remixed by Corsten and can be found here.

. said...

Adagio for Strings is somewhat of a Trance anthem for many of that scene. Myself included. There are a few good remixes.

Trance - Classical Music for a future generation.

Roni said...

Many people have no clue about what is going on with the classical music world. The classical music world doesn't really care.

It's not that today's audience is less classical music oriented. It's the young generation that is, and always has been - young people of all times, even hundreds of years ago, were always into popular music - and as people get older, they get to know more classical music, and at some point realise that it's "their thing". Then they try to bestow this 'knowledge' upon their children, and when they fail, they say that classical music is dying.

Grow up!