Wednesday, November 25, 2009

End of Music? C'mon

Composer and guitarist Glenn Branca has an opinion piece on the Times Opinionator blog that you might consider reading. I'm on my second go-round, and this time I wondered if the whole thing is intended to be tongue-in-cheek. I've concluded that no, he's seriously trying to make some kind of a case for the end of music. I wish I could conclude that he was making a joke, because he doesn't come close to persuading me that music is ending. He trots out the economic problems of orchestras (yes, some musical institutions might collapse but it's a mistake to equate that with "the death of music") and the straw man argument that there's so much music already, why bother making more?

Say what? That's a silly argument to make, the sort of thing where a composer should speak only for him or herself. If he has nothing more to say as a composer, fine and dandy, but it's his problem and doesn't address general issues of music at all.

It's also ridiculous to make a statement like "For more than half a century, we've seen incredible advances in sound technology but very little if any advance in the quality of music." What? How do you measure an "advance in the quality of music"? Does Branca know how to measure the advance in the quality of music from, say, Bach to Mozart? How about Brahms to Schoenberg? I would say there are always changes in style and technique, but quality? Are we supposed to believe there were changes in "quality" from Power to Dufay to Josquin?

Not to mention, brief article that mentions that some orchestras are in financial hot water but neglects the vibrant new concert music scene in, for example, New York City is in no way addressing the real state of new music.

FYI, my comments on Times blogs are under my own name about 95% of the time. The exceptions are extremely rare comments on high-tech business articles, where I am cautious for obvious reasons, and anything to do with my family, where I am cautious for different obvious reasons.

6 comments:

pjwv said...

Thanks for reading the article and reporting back. I saw the title and skipped the whole thing -- it just seemed too silly. Anyway, using his reasoning, Shakespeare has written, so no one else (I'm looking at you, Glenn Branca!)should really bother picking up a pen. What advance could they make on him?

Lisa Hirsch said...

Haha, yeah. But, you know, maybe I misread it and he was joking rather than bitter. Matthew Guerrieri had a posting about Branca's piece, also; it's here: http://thefastertimes.com/classicalmusic/2009/11/25/glenn-branca-jean-baudrillard-bff/

Henry Holland said...

Shorter Glenn Branca: Waaaah! Waaah! Phillip Glass and Hans Zimmer and their ilk make more money than I do! Waaaah!

And again with the whining that classical music doesn't incorporate the music that The Youth Of Today likes in to the fabric of orchestral music and woe unto the composers and orgs that don't! Here's a radical idea: maybe, just maybe, hip-hop or electronic dance beats, neverminding 3-chord guitar rock, just aren't musically interesting enough from a compositional point of view to bother trying to incorporate them in orchestral writing?

I'll repeat what I've written here multiple times before: quit marketing to 20-and-30 somethings and market towards people in their 40's and above, that's been the audience since I started going in the early 70's and it always will be. I think it's futile and really kinda pathetic these attempts are outreach to hipster douchebags. Programs for kids under, say, 12, are needed and that's where new audience money should go.

Maybe I'm spoiled because I live in Los Angeles and the Phil is in pretty good shape as far as arts organizations go, but the whole "death of the orchestra" is something I've been hearing since the early 70's and it's no closer to happening now than it was then.

Pretty weak sauce from Branca, I'm afraid.

Anonymous said...

i think the foreseeable end to "classical" music may be more appropriately stated. technically, the art-form has exhausted itself, and its relationship to the public is desperately to be rekindled.

Lisa Hirsch said...

Really curious why you think the art form has exhausted itself in a period when a vast amount of new music is being written in an unusually wide variety of styles.

Lisa Hirsch said...

Henry, yeah - you think Glenn Branca has been reading too much G*** S*****?