Musical matters

February 14, 2008

I have, of late, been reading a book called The Rest is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century by Alex Ross, music critic for the New Yorker. It is a history of classical music in the last one hundred years. While reading, I have been revisiting recordings of many of the scores he discusses, and generally ruminating on the many merits, and the much more numerous demerits, of classical music during this period.

It was a happy coincidence, therefore, when Anthony Esolen posted a reflection at the Touchstone blog on the question: “Can there be great composers anymore?” The ensuing discussion, to which yours truly has made several feeble contributions under a secret moniker, has been thought-provoking, and makes worthwhile reading if the subject interests you. Some of what I contributed will likely reappear here when I finish the book and write a Book Note.

The discussion has reminded me of Jacques Barzun’s excellent book The Use and Abuse of Art, which I wrote about several years ago. I think that I will dig up those thoughts and re-post them here.

A-rummaging I will go…

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One Response to “Musical matters”

  1. Christina A. Says:

    I’d be interested to hear what you think of Marjan Mozetich http://www.mozetich.com/

    We attended his gala performance in Kingston early in January this year and he is hailed as a great Canadian composer of modern times.

    Modern “Classical” music is a strange genre. It stands between two times and our time has little room for a style that involves complex structure and form and patterns. Sometimes composers “paste” on post-modern elements that sound discordant in order to make their music contemporary.

    It is sort of like if a modern artist were to paint precisely in the style of the Italian or Netherlandish Renaissance, it might be beautiful, but would it still be art or just anachronism? Some would say that once art hangs in a gallery, it is dead; historical rather than conveying a current message, no longer part of the current currency of ideas. It’s a bit of a utilitarian way of looking at art, but still interesting. Is being a great “copyist” merely craftsmanship or is it truly art? I think these thoughts also apply to music.


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