Saturday, April 04, 2015

Criticism: Here We Go Again

My previous posting, about the death and work of the great musical polymath Andrew Porter, attracted a comment from occasional-commenter Aleksei, as follows:
Porter was a very learned man of course but this does not change the fact that the best critical writing is superfluous to its subject, and musical criticism is the most superfluous of all.
I've written about the value of criticism before, but I'm going to spell it out again with a couple of additional ideas.

Music criticism has a number of functions:
  • Advocate for the audience: evaluating performances on behalf of the audience
  • Journalistic: recording what happened and when and by which musicians
  • Opinion: recording a critic's opinion (we hope a highly informed opinion) of what happened
  • Contextual: placing what happened within some historical and musical context
  • Preservation: enabling people in the far future to get a look at what happened, why, and the impression it made
This is separate and distinct from the act of listening to the work and from the work itself, but it's of great value, and can change your perception of a work or performance, and enhance your knowledge of a work, by giving it context. This is why I seek out the opinions of pro reviewers and my knowledgable friends about what they heard and what they thought. 

Again, if you think criticism is worthless, don't read it. Enjoy the sensation without engaging yourself intellectually about what you are hearing and why.

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