Sunday night high-brow MTV

February 24, 2008

A couple of weeks ago I posted a music video, and I alluded to my belief that music videos have about them an inherent silliness. Grown men stand around lip-syncing to their own songs and mugging for the camera. Silliness is not necessarily a bad thing — plenty of silly things are also great fun and worthwhile — but I admit I find the popularity of music videos baffling. I have watched a number of them, and I am hard pressed to name a single one that really enhances the song (well, perhaps there is one).

Videos for pop music are bad enough; things become really ridiculous on those rare occasions when classical artists try to make them. The artificiality of the idiom simply becomes too evident. Here’s a good example of a failed effort: the talented (and awfully pretty) soprano Anna Netrebko sings Dvorak’s “Song to the Moon”, from Rusalka. (Duration: 5 minutes)

Admittedly, they are not all that bad. The most successful one I have found is this one, of the golden-throated British tenor Ian Bostridge singing Ralph Vaughan Williams’ beautiful song “Silent Noon”. The cinematography is gorgeous, and the filming tasteful. And what a voice! (Duration: 4:20)

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5 Responses to “Sunday night high-brow MTV”

  1. Christina A. Says:

    Craig,

    That Anna Netrebko video is terrible! Great bathing suit, but way too boring and the lip syncing was even terrible – unless sopranos really can hit those notes lounging in a tacky plastic floating bed! The second video kind of looks like a musical interlude from either Lord of the Rings or Brideshead Revisited.

    A lot of the time, pop music can’t sell itself just based on its own musical merits, hence videos. When the actual music is good enough to buy/listen to (like classical music), then you don’t need all the cool dancing to get into it.

    Even in the world of pop music, check out the difference between a Celine Dion video and a Janet Jackson video some day. Celine and a lot of pop divas with amazing voices have terrible videos – why? They can’t dance! Is Janet Jackson’s music really memorable? However, her dance moves and the Jackson family’s innovative use of back up dancers in videos is totally enthralling.

    I still think the videos in the ’80s and early ’90s reign supreme. So many of them were really experimental and tried to tell a story and use the most up to date and untested video technology and actually worked at their dancing. I understand why you can’t find good classical music videos – the two art forms don’t match up at all!

  2. Pentimento Says:

    I browsed to your site after seeing your brief comment on Maclin Horton’s post about music and longing. I was thrilled to see the Ian Bostridge video. I posted about “Silent Noon” on my own blog the same night that you posted the video. The song has a great deal of sentimental value to me, and I love the Bostridge performance. And the title of your blog is another reminder of my dear friend whom I mourn (see http://pentiment.blogspot.com/2008/02/silent-noon.html), who often used to quote Julian of Norwich to me. Thank you!

  3. cburrell Says:

    Christina:

    Yes, poor Ms. Netrebko. They had beautiful music, a beautiful singer (always an advantage in video), and a decent concept, but it all added up to a dreadful result.

    Maybe it is true that classical music and music videos are just incompatible media. There is a world of difference between watching a well-dressed clarinetist pipe contentedly and watching a guitar hero sling his axe; only one is even remotely interesting to watch. I am a little surprised that opera does not translate better to the music video format, however. It is an inherently flamboyant genre, after all, and no stranger to spectacle. I think it quite possible that, given the right people and an adequate budget, something compelling could be produced.

    It seems to me that music videos can relate to the music itself in a few different ways. At worst, the video is a distraction to compensate for a lack of inspiration in the music. Or the video’s appeal could be largely orthogonal to the music’s appeal, as in the standard “film us dancing or playing the song” videos. Sure, it’s entertaining to see what the singers look like, but the visuals don’t do anything to really enhance the song. Best is when the video illuminates the song, adding something to it that wasn’t there before. I don’t know of many examples of this, but I’d argue that the R.E.M. video I linked to succeeds.

    Pentimento:

    I read your tribute to your friend, and was very touched by it. I am delighted that my decision to post the Ian Bostridge video was, in ways I did not anticipate, a blessing to you. The conjunction of the song, the date, and the quotation may seem like it was planned, but if it was, I assure you that I was not the planner.


  4. [...] have linked before to his wonderful orchestral piece The Lark Ascending, and his lovely setting of “Silent Noon”, and those are certainly worth hearing [...]


  5. [...] is sung in this video by Anna Netrebko; I have posted this video before, mostly to make fun of it. Nonetheless, beggars cannot be [...]


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