Favourite music, then and now

January 29, 2013

Here’s an interesting fragment of cultural history: Gramophone magazine has dug up a “symposium” which they originally published in 1926 wherein they polled leading figures in British society about their favourite songs, singers, composers, and so forth. Among the respondents are Hilaire Belloc, G.K. Chesterton, D.H. Lawrence, John Galsworthy, Noël Coward, Walter de la Mare, W. Somerset Maughan, G.B. Shaw (sort of), and Max Beerbohm — those are just the names I recognize.

The responses are what they are, but I cannot help wondering what sort of responses would be given to a parallel poll today. Even taking into consideration that it is Gramophone magazine asking the questions, I expect that we would see a much greater emphasis on popular music and much less familiarity with anything written more than fifty years ago.

Actually, we don’t have to speculate. Casting about a bit I discover that a number of politicians have announced their favourite songs: Barack Obama and John McCain, for instance, or here is a long list including Bill Clinton, Bill O’Reilly, Mitt Romney, John Kerry, and so forth. It is pop music across the board. These folks are all American; maybe things would be different elsewhere, and maybe we shouldn’t expect much from politicians. Here is a list of movie stars, singers, and politicians naming their favourite songs; aside from a few jazz standards and one classical piece (Tony Blair likes “Ave Maria”, although we are not told which setting), they are all pop songs. If we ask specifically about favourite composers, not much comes up; Quentin Tarantino likes Ennio Morricone, so that’s something.

Make of this what you will.

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2 Responses to “Favourite music, then and now”

  1. kathyB Says:

    I have a feeling that politicians in particular will be much more forthcoming with their pop music favourites than any other genre, so as to be more ‘relatable’ and not appear to be an intellectual snob, regardless of whatever other elitist or nerdy types of music they might enjoy. ;) The grammaphone survey looks like it was mostly literary figures, rather than politicians.

  2. cburrell Says:

    Yes, that’s another possible bias that makes me wary of drawing any dire conclusions. But I also wonder whether the stigma that attaches to liking good music (if I may editorialize slightly) was as strong back in the 1920s.

    I haven’t been able to find anything about the favourite music of currently fashionable literary figures. It’s probably just as well.


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