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Source link: http://archive.mises.org/15667/why-do-we-hate-modern-classical-music/

Why Do We Hate Modern Classical Music?

February 12, 2011 by

Modern classical music is primarily a project of the classical music industry’s managerial elites which has no basis in consumer demand. Despite decades of evidence that audiences do not like this music, the managerial elites continue to push this agenda. When challenged, their response is to blame the classical music audience for not liking the music.

Much of my thinking about the arts has been informed by Mises faculty Paul Cantor’s ten-part lecture series on Commerce and Culture. The main theme of his lectures is that high culture has its roots in popular culture and that popular culture has always been a commercial product. While there are some instances of great art that have not been commercially successful, there is no systemic conflict between great art and commercial success. By this standard, the modernist classical agenda is a failure because it has failed the market test.

Two articles illustrating the “the consumer is wrong” crossed my web browsing path this week – Why do we hate modern classical music? by Alex Ross writing in the Guardian, and a response, Why does contemporary music spurn melody? by Michael Fedo in the Christian Science Monitor.

Fedo provides evidence of the lack of popular acceptance of the modernist agenda. New commissions hardly ever “get legs” and receive a second performance because…well…no one wants to hear them again. Actually, no one wanted to hear them the first time either.

[his father, a French horn player in the Duluth symphony] said that during his tenure Duluth conductors scheduled at least one modern unconventional score each season. “During all those years, the orchestra repeated Beethoven, Mozart, Tchaikovsky – most of the classical canon – many times,” he said. “But we never again replayed a modern composition.”

While I say that “no one” likes this stuff, that is clearly wrong. As evidenced from Ross’s piece, hardly anyone likes this stuff. A typical concert program provides the following clues to the real demand for modernist music: 1) a gnarly modernist work is always programmed with Beethoven or some other popular work (disparagingly know as a “warhorse” or a “chestnut”) and 2) the popular work is always programmed after the intermission because, well, it would be very embarrassing if everyone left after the intermission and most people will not deliberately arrive late. (I am the exception to this, timing my arrival for the second half of these programs if it is something that I want to see.)

Fedo relates the following story illustrating the “blame the listener” reflex that is so common among the managerial class:

In 1986, when he became music director of the Minnesota Orchestra, Edo de Waart was an advocate of contemporary composers. On a radio talk show, a caller asked him, “Why do we have to listen to music that sounds like bus crashes?” To which the maestro replied, “Sir, you’re living in the wrong century.” In other words, get used to the dissonance.

Ross — a tireless advocate of the audience-blaming agenda — admits that “modern classical music remains an unattractive proposition for many concertgoers” and in the next paragraph refers to it as a “problem” (Ross later uses the word “unappreciative” to describe concert-goers who do not like the new music). Mr. Ross, why is it a “problem” if people don’t like something? This happens all the time in markets – consumers do not like something; a product is not commercially successful. This is, from the point of view of the producer of the product a problem if he takes a loss, but it is not a systemic problem for the industry as such. It is a market signal indicating that the classical music industry is producing poor quality music.

Ross — taking the agenda of the managerial elites as a given and the preferences of listeners as changeable — argues that classical music is an acquired taste and that it is the audiences who should, well, just go about acquiring it, as distasteful as that might be.

Ross analyzes number of theories, such as the rejection of novelty, the idolization of the past, and poor marketing that seek to explain why listeners do not like modernist classical music. This effort only serves to illustrate his view of the fixity of modernism, to which audience tastes must eventually yield. The only question that remains is whether it is the classical elites who should try harder to foist this music on us, or whether we as listeners must try harder to digest this distasteful menu.

But why should it be so? Why not some public apologies on the part of the classical music elites for their poor judgment in funding composers? Why does the classical-managerial class after a century of its failed agenda not admit that they were wrong and start trying to fund music that people might like? In what other industry would entrepreneurs continue to pour funding into a failed business model?

That compositional talent still exists is proven by the film industry, which produces several great classical-sounding scores every decade. Yet Ross, predictably, draws exactly the wrong conclusion from this data:

Indeed, it’s striking that film-makers have made lavish use of the same dissonances that concertgoers have found so alienating. Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, with its hallucinatory György Ligeti soundtrack, mesmerised millions in the late 1960s. Martin Scorsese’s Shutter Island, which deploys music by Cage, Morton Feldman, Giacinto Scelsi, and Ligeti again, was a recent box-office hit. Michael Giacchino’s score for the TV series Lost is an encyclopedia of avant garde techniques. If the human ear were instinctively hostile to dissonance, these and 1,000 other Hollywood productions would have failed.

When I think of the score of 2001, I think of the music of the younger and the older Strauss, not of dissonances. Setting that aside, I would point out that movie-goers also like action movies with car crashes that sound like car crashes. Would Ross take that as evidence that the human ear is not hostile to dissonance? Maybe people like these films in spite of the score, or maybe we have different tastes for musical scores that act as a sort of enhanced sound effect track but are not perceived as music.

The classical-sounding film scores that have taken off commercially in their own right, such as John Williams’ brilliant Star Wars efforts and Howard Shore’s Lord of the Rings all have recognizable melodies that any movie-goer could hum after a single hearing.

The human race has not lost the ability to write good — and popular — music. It is only that the managerial elite who run symphonies and granting agencies controlling the funding of composition have placed themselves in opposition to the tastes of classical music, and justify this by blaming the audience for their tastes.

Ross and the classical-managerial elites should question their assumption that modernism is a permanent feature of musical composition that may or may not be accepted by audiences one day. But there is nothing so permanent about modernism. The classical-managerial elites have put the modernist program on welfare to shield it from a market test. A big part of the welfare program has been the constant drum-beat of propaganda suggesting that audience should like this music, and that the problem — if they do not — is with the listener, not the music.

Even after a century, the public does not accept the a-melodic, dissonant, car-crash, sound-effect-driven compositional output of the modernist school as music. It is ultimately audience acceptance that drives composition, not the other way around. While we have been on a bit of a detour for the last 100 years, that should be long enough to declare the modernist agenda a failure and move on to something that people do like.

The classical music audience wants melody. What needs to change is not public tastes, but musical composition. It’s time to give the nascent John Williams and Howard Shores of the world the the new commissions instead of pouring more money and symphony programming space a dark hole in the ground. C’mon Alex Ross, give melody a chance.


Anne September 7, 2011 at 9:36 pm

I am not a fan of this article. Modern music is, like so many things in life, a matter of experience and understanding. Those who have been exposed to different musical genres, especially musicians (as I am), are accustomed to hearing the harmonic, rhythmic, and melodic elements that comprise modern music, and we therefore, if we happen to like a particular work, will relate emotionally in some way – i.e., the music means something to us. Like math & science, much art, literature, and in fact nearly every pursuit, it’s impossible to understand or relate to the more complex or sophisticated levels unless one has a background in the subject or at least a curiosity about what it means. If a math problem is not understandable to non-mathematicians, does that mean the problem lacks value?…no, not at all, obviously. Beyond all this, though, is the matter of taste, and we are all allowed – or should be – our personal preferences.

Stephan October 2, 2011 at 9:00 am

I am a supporter of the sentiments expressed in this article. As a musician I detested having to perform this drivel. The audience doesn’t want to hear this, the musicians don’t want to play this, and as a past conductor, I had better things to do that to learn this. I got out of the music business because I was being forced (by the funding agencies) to program content which was neither appealing nor interesting. I tried to champion some local talent but was scolded and told that the music that I wished to perform wasn’t radical enough.

Why do the composers today have to be so calculating and not compose from the heart. What has happened to “beauty” in creation? Does everything have to be a cacophony? Bless the poor performers (instrumentalists and dancers) who have to endure hours of torture to learn their parts out of the context of the whole. And also, why does every new composition have to be like a dirge? Is there no longer any cheer in the creative process?

The author of this article has the courage to say that “the king has no clothes on” and, YES, the REAL composition talent today is in the film industry.

stella October 24, 2011 at 2:45 pm

Bravo! “The king has no clothes on!” –the same goes for modern art in general.

Josh November 7, 2011 at 9:14 am

Your sentiments aren’t held by all. As Anne stated, modern classical music exists for a relatively small portion of concert goers; concert goers seeking new feelings than Schubert’s Great or Mozart 29. Shouldn’t there exist a medium for classical music lovers who have explored Mahler’s 9th Symphony for 30 years? Modern classical music attempts to create new, separate emotions that apply to our world. Perhaps they do not resonate with you, but that is no reason to condemn a whole genera.

Marc September 8, 2011 at 7:48 am

I have to heartily disagree with the author. Had this article been written ca. 1965 there might have been an element of truth to it, but the “dissonance for dissonance’s sake” issue has already been recognized and addressed by many modernists. I’d say in this day and age there exists an easy and healthy acceptance of both dissonant and harmonious strains by most contemporary composers, often within the same piece. Ignoring the issue of Minimalism, the works of Rautavaara, Aho and Sallinen in Finland, of Harbison, Kernis, Corigliano, and many others in the US, of Penderecki and Part in Eastern Europe (until recently I could have added Gorecki), even Sherif Modie El Din in Egypt, immediately come to mind as examples of interesting and important composers who make use of the full range of tonalities available to the modern composer. Many if not most will find a permanent place in the canon. The timidity of the modern concert goer does not negate the value of modern composition, and the accessibility of commercial composers like Williams does not elevate their efforts to the level of fine art.

S.M.Clark September 13, 2011 at 10:50 am

“why is it a “problem” if people don’t like something? This happens all the time in markets – consumers do not like something; a product is not commercially successful.”

Not that I am an admirer of 20th Cent. dissonance for its own sake (indeed your argument is rather musty), but your fundamental concept is flawed, sir. You have allowed a capitalist mindset to influence you ability to understand/discuss what it means to create art. As you would have it, there is no difference between a unprofitable Macintosh computer product and the premiere of a new concert work that an audience dislikes. It seems you’re unable to distinguish between audience and “consumer”. Your mode of thinking speaks volumes about what is truly ailing in the Arts in the 21st Cent. I-phones, Brillo pads or a new concerto – all mere products to be consumed by a public being insidiously manipulated by a corporate elite.

Andy September 21, 2011 at 2:14 pm

Very interesting article. As a professional musician, I think that if we’re worried about a) money and b) audiences and c) artistic integrity, we can meet all these goals by performing music that people will pay to come hear at the best of our abilities. In an era where we as performers cannot rely on outside fiscal support we need to recognize that our livelihoods depend on engaging audiences. While we do, obviously, contend with the goal of educating an audience or expanding the listening field of audiences, we also have to recognize that at this point in history our economic viability depends on attracting paying audience members, donors, and supporters. This is a priority, in my opinion, and while there is artistic merit in compositions that many non-musically-trained audiences don’t understand, there is less viability there.

Do we have a duty to play new music? It depends on what our goals are. Do we have a duty to give audiences what they want? To an extent, that extent being the extent to which we expect them to financially support our endeavors. Whatever the case, it’s good to see both sides of the argument presented here. Thanks!

Naargryl September 21, 2011 at 10:38 pm

This article is absolutely closed-minded and misinformed. Classical music is no longer a “popular” music form, and the composer is not meant to conform to the tastes of a mainstream audience. Rather, the composer should do all he/she can to break boundaries in a centuries old, antiquated medium. Modern and contemporary classical music are certainly not for everyone, nor is it productive to make the genre digestible for the masses. We do not hate modern classical music. Within such a large, generalized body of work there are great masterpieces – ones perhaps as those of the classical masters. There are no examples of offensive modernist classical music to speak of in this article – no principle “offenders” to the author’s taste, besides the mentions of the greats, Ligeti, Scelsi, etc. and their use in movie soundtracks. There is absolutely no demand for music like that of John Williams and other useless, played-out film composers by the concertgoing audience. That music only fills the purpose of soundtrack, while such a large portion of the contemporary repertoire can be thought-provoking, intellectually stimulating, and musicologically challenging.

Before making such a broad statement as “Why Do We Hate Modern Classical Music,” first make sure that “We” hate modern classical music. We certainly don’t. The author has no business speaking in vague, repetitive terms about which neither he, nor his incessantly quoted Mr. Ross seems to understand very well.

Tasorius November 9, 2011 at 6:02 pm

Calling them useless and saying: “That music only fills the purpose of soundtrack”…
You have no right to do so… John Williams, who composed music to Star Wars, Jurassic Park and Indiana Jones, is indeed great. I have nothing against whatever music you listen to… So don’t say anything about being useless… If you cannot accept that; then it is you who are useless….

Chaz September 25, 2011 at 8:16 pm

John Williams is good at what he does, but Shutter Island would not be as great if he wrote the score. The is probably true if the Star Wars score was written by Cage, Feldman, and Scelsi. Both modernism and neo-romanticism can (and does) coexist quite nicely, but for an economist blog to be discussing the short-comings of new-music seems to be quite ignorant. Capitalism is not evidence of the failures (or quality) of of contemporary music if for no other reason that contemporary music is not actually failing. In fact, it is making a come back in the universities and in communities. Take a look at things like cantaloupe records, cutting edge ensembles (8bb, ICE, Alarm Will Sound etc.), or the annual Bang on a Can marathon (New York’s 12 of nonstop apparent car crash music, that has been packed every time I’ve attended). Perhaps there is a lack of cutting edge concert programming for the typical orchestra season, but perhaps that’s a sign of among other things, older audiences, and “we” the new-music haters.

JimLane October 16, 2011 at 5:42 pm

I believe it is the ‘jazz’ influence. I LOVE r&b but most jazz is simply ‘running up and down’ the scales. To me, most modern classical music sounds like people simply practicing their scales and not really putting much effort into creating a moving piece.

Agree or not, that my view.

Session Drummer Shay October 18, 2011 at 3:58 pm

This article raises a few interesting points, but I think the author discounts his own credibility with this statement: “[I time] my arrival for the second half of these programs if it is something that I want to see.” Well, that shows that the author is not really listening to modern compositions. It sounds like the author formed a blanket opinion of modern classical music long ago and does not give individual compositions a chance, only attending portions of concerts with compositions he is familiar with. Therefore he has no place writing this article, as he has admitted to not bothering to listen to new composers. One thing to ponder: Stravinsky’s “Le Sacre Du Printemps” was met with negative audience response, as with many Barok compositions. Sometimes the public has to catch up.

Tasorius November 9, 2011 at 6:20 pm

On some points you are right… However, that last sentence is just weird…

Stella October 24, 2011 at 7:40 pm

Modern pseudo-classical music is talentless swindlers’ pathetic attempt to put a cacophonic montage of noises across as music and foist it upon the masses brainwashed by cheap single-use consumer and commercial products like rock, pop, rap, heavy-metal, etc, specifically designed for and targeted at primitive brains. It takes basic intellect to understand and appreciate classical music (which doesn’t mean all classical music is good and, to be fair, nowadays truly great interpreters of classical music are thin on the ground).

The same is true for all modern art in general: it’s easier and cheaper to churn out, and therefore much more profitable in the today’s society of low standards and lack of personal criteria than quality art. On the other hand, creating phoney values is also helpful for money laundering. Any idiot can write a piece of modern music or paint a modern painting, even an ape could do it, and it takes a fairly sick idiot to indulge in such borderline marasmic activities, you don’t even have to be a professional — that’s what makes it attractive to the rabble.

BTW, at the beginning all this trash was promoted by CIA (documented fact) to counterweigh soviet propaganda, and still today many so-called artists’ careers stem from political interests rather than artistic value of their works.
The only modern music that can be considered classical is self-contained film music (John Williams, John Barry, Nino Rota, and the like) that can exist and is appealing to the ear independently form the film, rather than serve as a mere accompaniment to the storyline.

If modern note assemblers really want the hordes of open-minded novelty lovers to stampede to concert halls, they should insert live porn scenes into the performance as they did with Shostakovich’s Katerina Izmailova movie (that was the reason they gave Rostropovich when he resented such an outrage). I bet the audience would love any dissonance, even if the string section of the orchestra were replaced by toilet bowls (not that it would sound much different). Music without melody and harmony is not music, at best it’s organised noise.

Philip Glass October 26, 2011 at 12:26 pm

Where’s the love?

Tasorius November 9, 2011 at 6:22 pm

Missing from the world…

William October 27, 2011 at 2:53 am

If this article has any value at all (and, apparently, that would depend on how many people liked it), then all of these composers should be writing Katy Perry songs. After all, Classical music is an out-of-date form, and while it’s always going to have enthusiasts, arguing that it needs a reception-driven focus is just an argument against its existence.

Come on, art isn’t about markets, and no, reception doesn’t *drive* music, it drives *popular* music, because that is a *business*. Economists shouldn’t argue about music any more than ornithologists should argue about physics. Not that they *shouldn’t*, it’s just that it’s hard to imagine their insights having any real value. I mean, if you’re going to describe contemporary classical as a ‘failed business model’ rather than actually making an argument about it that makes more of a point than that ‘consumers want melody’, than you’re probably out of your field, and personally, whenever people talk about art in these terms, I get a little giggly, just before I get a little bit mad. After all, whose business is it what kind of art I make? You don’t have to come and see it (I don’t mind), but it should not be up to people who speak in a language of markets and business models and ‘consumers’ (what a *disgusting* word for human beings!) to make decisions about what gets played.

“it’s organised noise.” Yes. Yes it is. That’s called ‘music,’ and here you’ve described a threshold called ‘your somewhat limited set of preferences that you’re way too worked up about.’

“On Certain Wits

“When Moses in Horeb struck the rock,
And water came forth out of the rock,
Some of the people were annoyed with Moses
And said he should have used a fancier stick.

And when Elijah on Mount Carmel brought the rain,
Where the prophets of Baal could not bring rain,
Some of the people said that rituals of the prophets of Baal
Were aesthetically significant, while Elijah’s were very plain.”

–Howard Nemerov

Stella October 27, 2011 at 4:53 pm

Someone calling “organised noise” music does indeed have “a limited set of preferences” or rather a limited intellect.
In the past good music (and art) prospered because those who paid for it (patrons, church or the nobility) usually had impeccable taste. Unfortunately, today few people have truly good taste, and all too many people are clearly unable to set objective art appreciation standards for themselves independently. That’s a telling sign of the degradation of society.

Maybe someday people at last become aware that the “king has no clothes on”.

Matthew Swaringen October 27, 2011 at 4:57 pm

Define “truly good taste” objectively.

William October 28, 2011 at 1:42 pm

Matthew, you’re barking up the wrong tree here. I think the problem is that someone who’d say that any of the more prominent patrons of Renaissance art (-sigh-, this is always the canard they run for, isn’t it?) possessed ‘impeccable taste’ is reserving the right to define the terms as they choose. We’re not having an actual *argument* here, we’re being preached at by someone who wants to *be* the arbiter–someone lamenting the end of gatekeepers who wants more than anything to be one, and who will call down anyone who doesn’t fit within what are clearly narrow parameters.

It’s the same thing that happened when the fashion houses lost their stranglehold on style. They never originated anything anyway, and they still don’t, but when people stopped listening to them, all they could figure out to do was to proclaim ever more loudly that we needed them, and that they were the ones coming up with the good ideas. In this case, we’re looking at people who are more than willing to tell you what to paint, write, sculpt, and compose. It’s a colossal, hundred-year-old ongoing use-mention error. If you were to deliberately make a sculpture of a naked emperor, they’d still be telling you he wasn’t wearing any clothes. It’s getting old, and perhaps these dinosaurs should try entering the 21st Century. It is they who are being left behind.

Stella October 29, 2011 at 5:35 pm

Why do you think the expression “good taste” exists?

Tasorius November 9, 2011 at 6:32 pm

foolish saying…

Stella October 29, 2011 at 5:42 pm

Why do you think the expression “good taste” exists at all?

Tasorius November 9, 2011 at 6:33 pm

foolish indeed…

William October 28, 2011 at 1:28 pm

I’m not entirely sure how that insulting remark exactly deserves a response. You quite evidently don’t have good taste, *and* you’re using a social declension argument, backed up by the alleged ‘impeccable taste’ of people like (I assume) the Barberini and Pamphili popes, and the Medicis. Of course, I’m only a historian, but I’m not sure who here needs their intellect besmirched, thanks.

Stella October 29, 2011 at 5:55 pm

Good taste is inborn and can’t be learned. Your scorn for quality art is pure sour grapes.

Stella October 29, 2011 at 5:55 pm

Good taste is inborn and can’t be learned. Your scorn for quality art is pure sour grapes.

Stella October 29, 2011 at 7:41 pm

Good taste is inborn and can’t be learned. Your scorn for quality art is pure sour grapes.

Just because you’re moving forward doesn’t mean you’re going to a better place, but actually it’s you who is staying behind, today’s art is as primitive as that of stone age, besides I didn’t say I was against modern music, but against cacophony put across as music.
However, it’s easier to pick some stray facts and add them up to an entirely wrong conclusion than to provide meaningful arguments.

I don’t mind brazen-faced fraudsters creating such immortal masterpieces as “The artist’s canned faeces (aka poo)” or “Four minutes and 33 seconds (if my memory serves me right)” …of silence performed in a serious concert hall by a serious orchestra to name but few (shame I can’t remember the artists’ names), or dimwits paying for them (after all, that’s what the fools are for), nor would I tell anyone what to paint or compose, but I do mind them calling this leg-pulling art.
It goes without saying that it takes a mighty intellect to delve into the unfathomable depth of these works’ profound philosophical meaning. You can’t deny even you could create such art, can you?

Calling classical art “narrow parameters” is like calling the black white, which simply means the person in question has some issues with their eyesight.

As someone once said, such “modern” artists are crazy conceited mediocrities pretending to challenge the conventionality by nondescript absurd ideas aimed at deceiving the fools.

nok November 7, 2011 at 8:35 am

Wow I feel sorry for you, and your desperation that is obvious with your multi-posting.

First off I would never expect everyone to like all types of music, obviously that wouldn’t happen, but to come and judge a type of music you know nothing about and to make ignorant statements about the composers state of mind or anything else like that, is obnoxious.
Music and its depth is created in the listeners mind, and when I listen to music people would call abrasive, atonal or crap I know we just have different mental paths and different minds, it’s completely natural. There is a whole world there and to those who listen to it a lot can attest to that because they have seen/heard it. Cacophony can be the most beautiful thing ever, and who are you to tell me otherwise?

That said I thought the world had mostly gotten over this debate. Cacophony has been talked about for decades, but now, in this day and age when it’s everywhere? People don’t mind it as long as it is an intro or a background layer, but when it takes the center stage it’s suddenly crap? I don’t think most people agree with that but it appears there are some hardheaded mozart purists left after all.

i also have to add that taste IS learned, and we can take many different paths to develop our taste and how we get there as individuals. Please think Stella.

Tasorius November 9, 2011 at 6:23 pm

Good taste does not exist…

Stella October 29, 2011 at 7:42 pm

Good taste is inborn and can’t be learned. Your scorn for quality art is pure sour grapes.

Just because you’re moving forward doesn’t mean you’re going to a better place, but actually it’s you who is staying behind, today’s art is as primitive as that of stone age, besides I didn’t say I was against modern music, but against cacophony put across as music.
However, it’s easier to pick some stray facts and add them up to an entirely wrong conclusion than to provide meaningful arguments.

I don’t mind brazen-faced fraudsters creating such immortal masterpieces as “The artist’s canned faeces (aka poo)” or “Four minutes and 33 seconds (if my memory serves me right)” …of silence performed in a serious concert hall by a serious orchestra to name but few (shame I can’t remember the artists’ names), or dimwits paying for them (after all, that’s what the fools are for), nor would I tell anyone what to paint or compose, but I do mind them calling this leg-pulling art.
It goes without saying that it takes a mighty intellect to delve into the unfathomable depth of these works’ profound philosophical meaning. You can’t deny even you could create such art, can you?

Calling classical art “narrow parameters” is like calling the black white, which simply means the person in question has some issues with their eyesight.

As someone once said, such “modern” artists are crazy conceited mediocrities pretending to challenge the conventionality by nondescript absurd ideas aimed at deceiving the fools.

Tasorius November 9, 2011 at 6:35 pm

There is no “good taste”…

Tasorius November 9, 2011 at 6:17 pm

There is really not such a thing as “good taste”…
It’s quite arrogant to call one’s own taste “good”… And calling others stupid, in that disgusting “politically correct” way… “limited intellect”… laughable….
Also… About the “telling sign of the degradation of society”; that is pathetic to say…
This society was at fault from the start… Indeed, nearly all societies was at fault from the start…

A Composer October 31, 2011 at 1:48 am

I am eclectic. Let me enlighten everyone here, including the “author.” I am a composer. The sound of my music is the result of listening to all kinds of music (e.g. Gesualdo, Monteverdi, Frescobaldi, J.S Bach, C.P.E Bach, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Brahms, Chopin, Berlioz, Wagner, Debussy, Mahler, Stravinsky, Bartok, Ives, Copland, Cowell, Cage, Boulez, Penderecki, Lutoslawsky, Shostakovich, Messiaen, Crumb, Carter, Schnittke, Rochberg, Albright, Bolcom, Rzewski, Ades, The Beatles, The Temptations, Coltrane, Bill Evans, Brad Meldhau, anything remotely rock/hip-hop from the 1990′s, dubstep—just to name a few)

Nearly all music inspires me and it comes out in my compositions. When asked if I am a high romantic tonal composer or an ultra-modernist atonal composer, I respond, “I am eclectic.” My music’s sound changes based on necessity, just like life. Life can be beautiful, magical, and warm. Moreover, life can be brutal, ugly, and insipid. Life is about dancing AND about stumbling. Life is about noise. Life is about silence… … … … … … … …

I am eclectic. Life is about structure AND about impromptu. Life is about controlled sound (speaking) and uncontrollable sound (coughing). Life is visceral. So is my music. I am eclectic. So, before you step up on your soap box thinking you understand the nature of composition, ask yourself one question about the work: “Is this composition about life?” If the work is beautiful, magical, warm, brutal, ugly, insipid, danceable, stumbling, noisey. silent, structured, impromptu, controlled, uncontrollable, and visceral, then the answer is yes.

We are eclectic.

Georges November 7, 2011 at 1:30 pm

After readig every single comment in this post, yours is the only i can remotely begin to respect. All the rest are full of blind and pityful resentment. Yors is honest and precise in its generality.

By the way, i’m nobody, as well as any other of us.

Waldo November 7, 2011 at 2:53 pm

Yeah, because everyone LOVED Beethoven 3 when it was premiered. Hanslick said that in the Tchaikovsky violin concerto, the violin was beaten black-and-blue. Perhaps one of the most popular pieces of all time, The Rite of Spring, is one of the most dissonant pieces ever written. This article is pure fiction and fantasy.

Tasorius November 9, 2011 at 6:37 pm

That last sentence is going to far… little fool…

Andy November 7, 2011 at 4:32 pm

I challenge anyone who has failed to find meaning or has not felt engaged by listening to contemporary classical music to listens to John Cage’s Symphony X, preferably played by Tim Ovens three times consecutively. You must give this music time, it is unpredictable and unlike anything you have heard, so it is more difficult more your brain to follow. You have to really focus on being mindful, you cannot let your mind wander, or let your stream of conscious distract you from the music…

I used to think modern classical was crap, but I was fortunate to hear a few pieces that opened my mind to this whole new world of sounds.

Brendan White November 7, 2011 at 5:32 pm

A few thoughts:

1. Modern classical music is ridiculously large and varied category, quickly eroding its own boundaries. It is constantly evolving, especially with the electronic age. Much of traditional classical music absorbed new influences very slowly, gradually taking in new influences and experiments with ideas such as counterpoint, gypsy music, more Eastern music, new rhythms, etc. In the last century or so, globalization has given access to huge swaths of never-before-heard sounds from distant cultures that often sound cacophonous to our Western ears on first hearing.

2. The rapid influx of sounds and ideas has generated the conversation of what the word music means, and the question still perplexes anyone who takes time to really think about it. Composers are right in the middle of an open field and are struggling to find their way. What he calls the “classical-managerial elite agenda,” has been the attempt to encourage today’s composers to come to grips with their influences and experiment, to take risks. It seems like this author would like to avoid experimentation and go with what is tried and true–just write like they did in the good old days, like John Williams! But I don’t believe that this will ever satisfy a person who wants to devote his life to the creation of art. Market success or not, the composer is an inventor constantly experimenting on his search for expression.

3. Some (Ok, a lot) people don’t like Schoenberg, but I’m sure more do now than ever before. Why is that?

4. Associations can be made with any sounds, and it always seems to me that this is what creates the emotional experiences that so often accompany music. I personally get very strong emotional and physical responses from all kinds of music, from Lully to Bach to Scriabin, to Ligeti to Feldman, to Boulez to Gamelan to chant to Sitar music to Smash Mouth. Though I once had my head up my ass and refused to acknowledge anything dissonant as music, now I can’t imagine ruling out any music as bad because it is dissonant or foreign.

5. I can enjoy John Williams in the context of Star Wars and Harry Potter, but outside of it, he can’t sustain my interest very long and I never have the desire to listen more than once. But some people love it, and that’s great!

6. “The classical music audience wants melody.” My mind so quickly jumps to two cherished gems of the traditional repertoire that have little or no melody: Bach’s first prelude from the WTC and Beethoven’s Moonlight sonata, first movement.

Zach November 15, 2011 at 6:50 pm

Having read this commentary with a growing amount of ire, I know feel compelled to respond with the following:
Does the writer mistake mistake the purpose for which these modern composers have been compelled to write the music they have written? We must not forget that the old masters; Bach, Beethoven, Schubert, were not always so highly regarded in their day. When Beethoven’s “Eroica” symphony premiered, many of the public were quick to suggest that the work suffered, because Beethoven “tried too hard to be different.” But he did not stop writing in his distinct style. Rather he continued to produce works that are renown today for their beauty and craftsmanship.
I do not believe modern composers are to be considered any differently. They write music because they feel compelled to create something new. they seek to create a piece of artwork that represents some idea or principle that hasn’t been expressed before. Granted, some modern composers are writing truly horrific music, but thats true of any period. history will weed out the pieces that suck, and the masterpieces will remain.
The argument that music should be written and exist as some extension of a supply and demand curve should also be addressed. Imagine for a moment that the only music that is produced is that which turns a profit. A: That is a sad world for the artist (for he does not truly exist; he is now nothing more than a businessman. B: I know the internet too well to believe that the people reading this (if they read it at all) listen to only top 40 music and contemporary christian recordings of christmas cds. Music is art, and that is an objective statement.

Jesse Stern, session bassist November 22, 2011 at 11:39 pm

Mozart, Hayden et al did not write Classical music. They wrote popular music, in its time. These composers were (to varying degrees) successful during their lifetimes, and they used the instruments, arrangements and song conventions that were popular at the time.

Here’s why modern “classical” music is not only unprofitable, but also irrelevant to many people: it relies on conventions that are not relevant (because our culture doesn’t study non-diatonic tonality, for example). It uses a restricted set of instruments (the standard orchestra, with occasional variables), song forms that have been mostly out of use for a hundred years or more. It has entered and remained in a level of experimentation that tends to be cerebral and unaccessible. It requires so much work on the part of the listener to even understand a piece of music, not only for the above reasons, but also for its unintuitive concepts of tonality and rhythm, that many people are understandably turned off from even exploring it – let alone taking the painful path toward actually liking such music.

By contrast, modern pop music makes use of song forms, instruments, tonalities, etc., from various time periods and cultures, including the last 50 years. In that sense, it is more relevant because it is more accessible. On the other hand, because it is market-driven (and because access to it has become so ubiquitous), the musical elements tend toward simplicity.

I don’t think an artist should necessarily change what they do for the sake of making a profit. The key is that if the composer, musicians, and/or listener *loves* the music they’re making (hearing), they will create and transmit a benefit – love, joy, money, peace of mind, satisfaction, etc. That’s when music has done its job.

Michael November 28, 2011 at 8:38 am

I couldn’t agree more with you!

If you have time please check my blog too, a lot of good music…

Alexander Beric Heath December 3, 2011 at 9:35 am


This is also directed at you.

Alexander Beric Heath December 3, 2011 at 9:35 am
From abroad December 4, 2011 at 1:29 pm

I agree with the article. As a Minnesotan resident I had the suffer Edo de Waart’s years. I’m assuming audiences are mostly made of polite people or they might be afraid of sounding ignorant. I’m not expert, although I have classical music training, but too often some classical modern music is truly unbearable. But I enjoy a few others, like Johan de Meij, just to mention one, who happens to be Dutch just like Edo.

Raúl December 13, 2011 at 11:10 am

I think that it gets down to whether you believe that people should be told what is good and forced to listen to it or allowed to decide for themselves what is good. There is no other industry that operates on the principle that the customer is always wrong.
While it may be true that some people like this music and eventually learn to appreciate it, it is a fringe group. It would be better to just give us what we want to hear and leave the modernist to have their own much much smaller concerts for their own much much smaller audiences.
This would be better for both audiences. The modernists could hear complete concerts of nothing but modern symphony and the majority of listeners would be able to hear good music without being forced to listen to noise. If you like modernist music, you should be able to hear it, but it should not be the industry standard to force it on those who don’t like it.

Michael A. Clem December 13, 2011 at 3:04 pm

The author obviously opened a can of worms, but I still think he made some good points. Personally, I think much of music is an acquired taste, and people generally prefer what they are familiar with. But you have to grow your audience–you can’t just shove stuff on them and expect them to like it, much less pay for it.
I’m thankful for modern technology that has allowed music with few supporters to find their niche audience. Records, cassettes, compact discs, and now mp3′s and the internet, without which I never would have discovered such non-mainstream artists as Tortoise or Solar Fields.
Instead of public funding, perhaps modern classical orchestras and composers should learn to effectively utilize the internet to find their market, and grow their audience that way.

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