I seem to be on a binge with terminology, so here’s another diatribe.
In some circles, the worst criticism a piece of music can receive is to be labeled dated.
But I’ve always felt that all music goes through a period of sounding dated – when the novelty has worn off, but we don’t yet have enough distance to appreciate other qualities.
Music that’s 20 to 40 years old has a good chance of sounding dated to me. There are many wonderful exceptions, of course.
When I was a student in the 1970s and 80s, I had a hard time listening to a lot of music from the 1930s to the 1960s. It often came across like a cheap Hollywood soundtrack or gee-whiz sci-fi. Now I can listen to this same music and hear which pieces truly cut to the core of our beings, and which ones are merely messages from a lost planet.
Meanwhile, the music from the 60s to the 80s that used to keep me on the edge of my seat now sounds – well, dated.
Part of this phenomenon is the natural result of young musicians constantly reacting to their immediate forebears. The last thing most 20-somethings want to do is sound like their parents’ generation. As we get older, we often come to appreciate our parents’ generation more, while finding the passions of our own youth distasteful. Music that may be perfectly viable in every way can attach itself to unattractive associations, based on where and who we were when we first heard it.
So new things come before us all the time, pushing the old new things aside. Which is a good, natural process, but also a problem for all of us. One of the reasons new works no longer enter into any kind of performance “canon” is because when they are no longer new they are deemed worthless — even the early works of living composers.
But I’m always careful to respect the accomplishments of those who have come before me, even if I have no intention of following in their footsteps. Their time comes, their time goes, and perhaps it will come again. Why expend negative energy on criticizing music for being dated, if we are all destined for same purgatory?
As the saying goes, Choose your enemies carefully, for you may come to resemble them.