Responses have been rolling in from across the blogosphere to Richard Taruskin’s epic New Republic assault on classical music chauvinism, and now that his detractors have had the opportunity to state their objections let’s take a look at the criticisms and see what to make of them.  Before I begin, I should say that I loved the piece””Taruskin made many of the same arguments I’ve been making for years, but with more depth and more academic rigor.  To be fair, I haven’t read the books he critiques, so I can’t speak to the accuracy of his specific objections””it’s the more general philosophical approach to the issues that I’m praising.

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The first and most legitimate objection is to Taruskin’s tone.  Personally, I enjoy righteous vitriol, but I recognize that many others don’t and that adopting such a tone can often undermine one’s credibility, especially with the audience that is the most in need of persuasion.  Matthew Guerrieri has a valid objection that Taruskin’s “points are eminently worth making””but they’re drowned out by the irresistable lure of the lapidary put-down.”  It’s also fair to question whether hurling insults at the three authors is fair””again, I haven’t read the books, but I would guess that they were written by good people who were making a good-faith effort even if that effort was misguided.  (The counterargument here might be that those authors opened the door to personal attacks when they themselves claimed a moral high ground over popular culture.)

While we’re considering the appropriateness of Taruskin’s tone, we should also recognize that the forum for this article was a centrist political magazine that thrives on creating controversy, and that we in the classical music blogosphere are not the intended audience””an intellectual-yet-shrill assault on academic elitism is likely much more emotionally relevant to the New Republic readership than would be the more dispassionate, wonky style that Taruskin’s critics in the classical blogosphere would prefer.  I would further speculate that the New Republic readership is likely to skew towards people who are predisposed to agree with Taruskin’s position but who haven’t ever spent much time thinking about the subject.  The fact that TNR doesn’t publish much classical music coverage but devoted so much space to this piece seems to suggest that the editors were thinking the same thing when they bought the piece.  Obviously if you think that his tone was somehow morally or ethically problematic this argument about context is irrelevant, but for those who are concerned about tactics it’s worth considering.

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The next category of objection is amounts to “he’s kinda right, but why spend so much time on such a trivial issue.”  Marc Geelhoed:

“. . .He argues in favor, or at least tacit approval, of “˜accommodation,’ to the vagaries of the marketplace. This is, he rightly states, “˜a normal part of the evolutionary history of any art.’ Today, that accommodation takes the form of, say, Jennifer Higdon getting a commission ahead of Marco Stroppa, the Italian modernist. But, and this is the important part that gets left out of these discussions every single time, the pie takes in concert life on four continents, and is big enough for both to take a bite out of it. The accommodation he’s talking about isn’t a black/white, either/or scenario, given the number of performers and institutions out there. The best will win out in every style. Yet Taruskin devotes his mental energy not to this phenomena, but decrying the efforts of three writers with extraordinarily small readerships. . . I keep wishing that we could just drop The Death of Classical Music, a hyperbolic idea which appears to be deathless itself. We’ve now moved on to the third iteration of this argument, the criticism of those who wish to save it. Can’t we just play the music, let the marketers attract them any way they can, let the critics write about their enthusiasms, and move on? The defense of classical music will persuade no one, because you can’t argue in favor of art. . . The only way to persuade people to listen to classical music is to have them listen to classical music. . . Classical music doesn’t need saving from its devotees, it just needs curious people, like Taruskin was once, who will take a chance on something they haven’t heard before, and who then discover something they cannot live without.”

Marc has some good observations here, but unfortunately I think he also misses the point.  This isn’t about “three writers with extraordinarily small readership,” it’s about three writers whose books make explicit the underlying attitudes of a substantial segment of the classical music industry.  The problem is that we often mistake the “Death of Classical Music” as an unconvincing argument that certain facts and statistics about the industry are true, when in fact it’s a frame through which to view a set of facts the pretty much everybody agrees on. 

For example: Back in April, Alex Ross posted a rebuttal to Martin Kettle’s statement (reviewing Norman Lebrecht) in The Guardian that “The only dispute about classical recording is whether it is dying or dead.”  Alex observed that while 8.88 million classical CDs shipped in 1990, 16.9 million classical CDs shipped in 2005; in November 1988, Gramophone listed 284 new classical CD releases, and in March 2007 they listed 401; the 1988 list had 26 labels represented, and the 2007 list had about 160.  His conclusion: “The major labels are much smaller than they used to be. But classical recording is bigger than ever.”  But Alex also notes that the percentage of classical CDs shipped in 2005 was 2.5, as compared with 3.1% in 1988.  This all tells a pretty clear story””classical music recording used to be a big, mainstream industry run by big, mainstream record labels, presumably for a big, mainstream audience, but it has shifted out of the mainstream into a healthy subculture.  This is what Taruskin would call “accommodation,” and I agree with Alex that it’s a perfectly healthy change.  But if you believe that classical music is inherently superior to popular music and that by virtue of its superiority it deserves a position of cultural dominance, these same figures and this same story is a harbinger of death not just of classical recording but of our culture more generally.  Note how Kettle ends his review:

“The recorded era fostered unprecedented levels of literacy and popularity for classical music. The means of exchange for this wholly beneficial and desirable process was the recording. Now that means of exchange is on the verge of disappearing altogether. You would have to be very brave indeed to argue that civilisation is the gainer, not the loser.”

This is a mild form of what Taruskin refers to as “imprecations and exhortations.”

The “Death of Classical Music” crowd is proposing a particular framing of a particular set of actual social and economic circumstances that form the ecosystem in which the industry lives.  That ecosystem exists, whether we’re happy about it or not, and the industry has to figure out how to adapt.  The chauvinist and anti-chauvinist viewpoints on how to operate in the new ecosystem are diametrically opposed, and are fighting it out.  When the chauvinists succeed in reinforcing the “classical music is superior” narrative, we anti-chauvinists see it as exacerbating the marketing problem that the public doesn’t like elitists. When the anti-chauvinists argue that classical music isn’t inherently any better than popular music, the chauvinists see it as undermining their ability to leverage the “superiority” of classical music into increased funding and cultural relevance.  Contra Marc Geelhoed, Taruskin’s piece isn’t “the criticism of those who wish to save” classical music; it’s an argument that the philosophical foundation of classical music chauvinism is cracked.

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In the course of his arguments, Taruskin makes a set of moral judgments about the moral judgments of the chauvinists, and various critics accuse him of hypocrisy.  Matthew Guerrieri comes closest to landing the punch:

“Taruskin coruscates Johnson: “˜To cast aesthetic preferences as moral choices at the dawn of the twenty-first century is an obscenity.’ But Taruskin, of course, is doing just that, saying that if you derive pleasure via a Hoffmann-esque aesthetic philosophy, you’re headed down the same road to perdition that Wagner took. “˜Belief in [classical music's] indispensability, or in its cultural superiority, is by now unrecoverable,’ Taruskin states, “˜and those who mount such arguments on its behalf morally indict themselves.’ First of all, a belief is not an argument, and second of all, doesn’t that belief constitute an aesthetic preference? Certainly some pleasures are morally reprehensible, but that means that other pleasures (even if just the pleasure of avoiding the morally reprehensible) are, by comparison, morally advantageous. Taruskin wants it both ways. . .”

If I understand Taruskin correctly””and I should admit that I’m parsing his words pretty finely””he is making a careful distinction between aesthetic pleasure and belief, and Matthew is conflating the two.  The distinction, and here I’m moving into my own analysis rather than a direct interpretation of Taruskin, is that deriving aesthetic pleasure from a belief is acceptable even if that belief itself is morally problematic.  We have very little control over what we find pleasurable, but we can analyze and change our beliefs.  Johnson’s problem isn’t that he takes pleasure in elitism, it’s that he believes his elitism is justified and that his aesthetic preference is a moral choice.  Take racist jokes as a structurally similar (but morally nonequivalent) example: there’s nothing wrong with finding a racist joke funny””I know a number of terrible-yet-funny racist jokes””the problem is if you believe the premise on which the joke is based.  In fact, there’s a whole industry of comedians (Lisa Lampanelli, for instance) who make their living telling racist jokes but who can get away with it because they also make it clear that they are not themselves racist.  While it’s true that our aesthetics often blind our powers of reason and effect out beliefs, belief does not in itself “constitute an aesthetic preference.”  In fact I hold some beliefs that I find aesthetically inferior to the alternative.  (I find the idea of a closed universe that will collapse back on itself much more aesthetically pleasing than the currently accepted model that the universe will keep expanding infinitely.)  The problem, then, isn’t whether you “derive pleasure via a Hoffmann-esque aesthetic philosophy,” it’s whether you believe in that philosophy.

Several people also mistake Taruskin’s raising of Wagner’s anti-Semitism as an attempt at guilt by association, but I think a closer reading shows that he is merely making a structural analogy.  Wagner uses his belief in his racial superiority, which he believes gives him aesthetic authority, as a premise for demeaning the generalized, essentialized aesthetic preferences of a group he deems racially inferior.  Classical music chauvinists use their belief in their intellectual or cultural superiority, which they believe give them aesthetic authority, as a premise for demeaning the generalized, essentialized aesthetic preferences of a group they deem inferior of intellect or culture.  This is what I believe Taruskin meant, and if my analysis is correct then I agree with him, but in truth his language is unclear enough that I can’t be completely certain I’m not being too generous.  Saying that what makes Johnson’s “rant especially awful. . . is  its resonance with the most bigoted of all texts about music” certainly suggests a moral equivalence, but of course faulty reasoning is no worse for having historically been used to support horrible claims.

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Let us move on, finally, to A.C. Douglas, whose take on the Taruskin article was, I must admit, considerably more nuanced than I would have given him credit for.  Douglas says:

“Taruskin’s notion that some of classical music’s greatest enemies are to be found among its devotees; specifically those who argue for the worth and value of classical music in terms moralistic, character-building, or utilitarian: he’s right. Such champions of classical music need to have their kneecaps broken (figuratively speaking, of course). Any argument for the worth or value of classical music along any of those lines is not only imbecile but destructively wrongheaded and entirely in error. There’s zero moral anything involved with one’s listening preference for classical music or the popular sort, nor will listening to classical music make of one a better person and citizen, and listening to popular music, a reprobate. And arguments along utilitarian lines miss the point altogether and cannot help but obscure the issue in an almost impenetrable cloud of irrelevance.”

He’s quite right, and I owe him an apology for assuming that he believed some of those things.  But then he goes wrong (I’m excising the discussion of indispensability because the term is simply too vague to effectively engage.):

“Is Taruskin saying here that classical music is not . . . culturally superior to other musics? . . . Taruskin is on shaky ground, I think, and, further, is guilty of a tendentious disingenuousness into the bargain simply to win an instant point. To argue that classical music is not culturally superior to other musics but is merely their cultural equal is tantamount to arguing that, for instance, the culture of, say, some obscure African tribe barely out of the Stone Age is the equal of our present Western culture; an argument that would be attempted in earnest only by the most rabidly loony multiculturalist. [ACD clarifies in a footnote that by "˜culture' he means "˜the intellectual side of civilization,' if that makes the statement any better.] . . . For the author of The Oxford History of Western Music to be guilty of making such arguments “” if that in fact is what Taruskin is doing here “” is simply reprehensible, and I would have thought unthinkable.”

I have my own, related question about Taruskin’s meaning when he says:  

“Contention swirls not around the question of whether there is such a thing as quality, but around the question of how–and, especially, by whom–it is to be defined.”

Fundamentally, these are questions of epistemology, and there are approximately three possible answers.  First, there’s no such thing as objectively superior music.  Second, there is such a thing, but we don’t have access to the criteria, and it seems unlikely that whole genres of music can be classified as superior to other genres.  Third, there is objectively superior music and classical music is a superior genre, but we haven’t found a good way to prove it so we should keep looking.  I’m saying the first, and A.C. Douglas seems to be saying the third.  My guess is that Taruskin is saying the second, but I’m not certain.

A.C. Douglas seems to be saying that classical music is objectively superior, but that its superiority doesn’t have any implications for the morality of aesthetics.  On the other hand, he finds “reprehensible” any claims that classical music is not superior.  So the lesson is “I don’t care what you like, as long as you admit that the thing that you like is inferior to the thing that I like.”  His position is reminiscent of Babbitt’s in “The Composer As Specialist,” although I’m not familiar enough with his writing to know whether he joins Babbitt in trying to use those claims of superiority to demand funding.  (If he does, then Taruskin probably has some harsh words for him.)  The problem is that while he avoids the pitfall of moralizing about aesthetic preferences, he still makes moral judgments about people’s failure to toe his line on objective quality while not offering an answer to ” the question of how–and, especially, by whom””[quality] is to be defined.”

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So, ultimately, how relevant are these issues, anyway?  Unfortunately, quite relevant.  It’s easy enough to stumble across variations on the themes Taruskin addresses that I happened upon an egregious example just yesterday during my morning stop at ArtsJournal.com, so I leave you with the following quote from a piece in the November 6 edition of The Guardian.  Hilary Davan Wetton doesn’t much like BBC2′s “Classical Star”:

“At the heart of the programme lies a fallacy. Most commercial music has so little substance that it is inevitably more about the performer’s personality than anything else. This is not true of classical music, which requires the performer to be the servant of the composer. A classical musician should want the audience to leave the hall thinking of the composer first, the performer second. Of course, to give a great performance requires great talent and a strong musical personality, but these are at the service of the music, not the other way round.”

Watch out, somebody’s hurling imprecations and exhortations!

21 Responses to “Imprecations and Exhortations: A Rather Lengthy Defense of Richard Taruskin”
  1. Jerry Gerber says:

    I read Who Listens to Classical Music, I also read Richard Taruskin’s essay about the three books he criticizes, including Who Listens to Classical Music. I enjoyed both the book and the criticism of the book.

    There is good music and bad music in every style; good jazz, bad jazz, good rock, bad rock, good classical and bad classical. I also know that there is high art and low art, which is another matter. I know there is a difference between the aesthetic information that Mahler conveys and that which is conveyed by Queen. I enjoy Mahler and and I enjoy Queen, but I listen for entirely different reasons and get completely different aesthetic experiences from both. This is of course not a moral judgment, music, like all art is amoral and one cannot, with any credibility, speak of one art being more or less moral than another. But there is high art and low art. Both are necessary, both serve a function. I am at a loss of words to explain why I think a Bach fugue is high art and a song by Paul Simon low art, just using the words high and low make people angry and uncomfortable. No one gets upset when the claim is made that advanced calculus is different than everyday arithmetic (requires more education is more abstract, more subtle, etc.), yet with music as soon as we try and argue that high art contains information that low art doesn’t we are accused of being snobs or cultural elitists. Go figure.

    Jerry Gerber
    San Francisco, CA

  2. A.C. Douglas says:

    “The problem is that while he [A.C. Douglas] avoids the pitfall of moralizing about aesthetic preferences, he still makes moral judgments about people’s failure to toe his line on objective quality while not offering an answer to ‘the question of how–and, especially, by whom—[quality] is to be defined.’
    ———————————————————-

    I made no such “moral judgments.” As the context of my remarks should have made perfectly clear, my “reprehensible” directed at Taruskin had exclusively to do with his authority as a musicologist and music historian who ought to have known better than to make such imbecile assertions (if that in fact is what he was asserting), and in fact almost certainly does know better, but hypocritically took the stance he did in those assertions (again, if that is what he was asserting) simply to win an instant point.

    And are you with a straight face saying that you truly believe “there’s no such thing as objectively superior music”? If you’re reckless enough to answer Yes to that question, then you force me to conclude that you’re either a simpleton, a lunatic, a postmodern ideologue, or a liar.

    Which is it? There are no other alternatives.

    ACD

  3. Steve Layton says:

    Well, if Galen wants to take postmodern ideologue, I’ll happily be simpleton. (Maybe we can get Joe B. in as liar, and Seth G. as lunatic…)

    I’m sure that as soon as A.C.D. reveals this Objectively Superior Music, the moss will fall from our ears, eyes and minds.

  4. Nathan Brock says:

    Hmmm. I’ve been thinking a lot about this article since it was first presented here a few weeks ago. I do have a fundamental problem with it, which is _not_ that his primary point, that “snobbishness” and the sense that classical music is inherently better are negative forces in our field, is wrong. I think – despite, I suppose, the kind of music I write – that musicians who do not acknowledge the depth, popularity, and potential of other kinds of music at large in the world today are likely doomed to irrelevance. (Whatever relevance might be.)
    My problem is that he seems to conflate, or come close to conflating, the opinions held by a group of people who write in a particular style with all music written in that style. He seems close to claiming that the distasteful statements he finds in the books he reviews imply that writing modernist music (for lack of a better term) or supporting the writing of modernist music is morally wrong. Not to turn to Wagner again for an example, but this is the equivalent of saying that Mahler’s music is unacceptable because it resembles Wagner’s, and Wagner was an anti-Semite. I am aware that he carefully writes around such a direct statement, but I think we’d be fools to think that wasn’t a subtext.
    It seems to me that one of the advantages of academia is that it provides a forum for research and experimentation in the arts, in such a way that the creators are free to explore without (direct) fear of marketplace repercussions. Eventually, the works they create which are successful (or ideas contained within those works) will work their way into the popular consciousness; if not, well, the world has art it didn’t before. I don’t hear people complaining that the budgets for science labs at universities are morally wrong because not enough of the research is directly traceable to consumer goods. The situation is at least comparable in academic arts. Taruskin seems to imply that this kind of freedom of expression is a needless waste of resources. He is entitled to that opinion. I do not think that the music I write needs to be affected by either his opinion or those espoused by others whose musical taste is similar to my own.

  5. Bill says:

    …“there’s no such thing as objectively superior music”?…

    Maybe, maybe not. But with 2.5% market share and laughable public stature, I can guarantee that classical music is not that thing!

  6. Kyle Gann says:

    An excellent and very thorough job, Galen. I diagnose you with incipient critickitis. As someone who only barely survived the most virulent form of the disease, I recommend you get treatment immediately. The following mantra can be helpful: “I dunno much about music, I just know what I like.” Drinking plenty of scotch also helps build up the stupid muscles in the brain.

  7. Galen writes, “Several people also mistake Taruskin’s raising of Wagner’s anti-Semitism as an attempt at guilt by association, but I think a closer reading shows that he is merely making a structural analogy.”

    I’m one of those several people, but it was no mistake. This is a basic writing sleight-of-hand that an editor should have sent back for rewrite — unless the association is intended to increase the article’s controversy, traffic and sales.

    Taruskin is skilled at creating the surface-subtext sandwich, in the middle of which can be found words carefully calibrated for people who will parse those words in search of defensibility. Something for everybody — both the smarmy business and the “who, me?” defense built right in.

    Were it a forum instead of a magazine, somebody would have immediately called on Godwin on him.

    Dennis

  8. JLZ says:

    [originally posted 10/29 in MusicMaker (JLZ) blog]

    Taruskin and Jazz – ?!

    Gloss: It’s the Words, not the Music
    October 29, 2007

    Reading Taruskin’s “this is the way it went” summary of classical music’s 20th-century tribulations in The New Republic, I was uncomfortable: naturally – I’m in this business, and would like to know it’s a going concern.

    But I did have to nod finally when I remembered the following:
    I’m a big science-fiction fan. Recently, I read a compendium of short fiction culled from the early golden-age (the pulps period), including some early Asimov, and then moved right on to Richard Morgan’s Thirteen. Music references couldn’t be more different: Space explorers of the future in the early stories routinely reference purely instrumental music, citing composers quite up-to-date for their day — Bartok, Shostakovich, even Stravinsky and Barber — and sometimes talked about what the music did along the way, and how it made them feel. Yet similar characters in newer sf refer only to texted music, even in made-up titles — and the music is exclusively rock (not even jazz).

    This exposes a trend I’ve noticed in the last decades: We now need the presence – the “crutch” – of words, no matter the artform. ( Think Jenny Holzer in visual art.)

    Whatever happened to the ability to revel simply in sounds, without engaging the sense side of our brains?

  9. Seth Gordon says:

    No one gets upset when the claim is made that advanced calculus is different than everyday arithmetic (requires more education is more abstract, more subtle, etc.), yet with music as soon as we try and argue that high art contains information that low art doesn’t we are accused of being snobs or cultural elitists. Go figure.

    Well, that’s the same fallacy at the heart of Babbitt’s infamous whiny screed.

    One can’t compare calculus to classical music for the simple fact that science and math are fundamentally different things than art. There are related areas, sure – psychoacoustics and whatnot – but music is not, and never will be, a science. Throwing a bunch of scientific-sounding terms around something doesn’t make it one.

    Arithmetic – the science of counting, measuring, sets, and shapes – is, like all sciences, based on an expanding body of empirical, testable knowledge. Art is based on feelings. Science observes. Art creates. Science studies the world, art tries to complement it. There is nothing in the purpose of one that is in the purpose of the other. That’s not to say they’re contrary – I hesitate to even say they’re apples and oranges. They’re apples and Chrysler LeBarons.

    Point of fact, within academia the very term “arts” – i.e. “liberal arts” “fine arts” – specifically denotes the non-scientific branches of learning.

    ——————

    And are you with a straight face saying that you truly believe “there’s no such thing as objectively superior music”? If you’re reckless enough to answer Yes to that question, then you force me to conclude that you’re either a simpleton, a lunatic, a postmodern ideologue, or a liar. Which is it? There are no other alternatives.

    Ha! We all know there’s only one simpleton lunatic on this thread!

    My, my, my, AC – you know, anyone who believes there is objectively superior music is either a shut-in, a dandy, a regressive zealot, or disingenuous. There are no other alternatives…

    Or maybe you just don’t know what “objective” means. It’s like when people use “literally” when they actually mean the exact opposite. Maybe people are conflating “objective” and “subjective” now.

    ——————

    It seems to me that one of the advantages of academia is that it provides a forum for research and experimentation in the arts, in such a way that the creators are free to explore without (direct) fear of marketplace repercussions. Eventually, the works they create which are successful (or ideas contained within those works) will work their way into the popular consciousness;

    What – dare I ask – is the last musical idea that came out of academia that worked it’s way into the popular conciousness? Can you name, say, three, in the history of musical academia? Hell, can you name one?

    Academia is isolationist by nature, the arts within their walls hold no influence over what goes on outside them – they are, at best, a parallel path. But popular culture is already stocked to the gills with “researchers” who aren’t concerned with marketplace repercussions and who are, frankly, doing a much better job overall at advancing the state-of-the-art.

    ——————

    I don’t hear people complaining that the budgets for science labs at universities are morally wrong because not enough of the research is directly traceable to consumer goods.

    Yes, well, the funds also go to treating diseases and and things like that. Music is populist, science is utilitarian. They’re not incongruous. But science, at it’s peak, can affect the well-being of all mankind (well, except for Creationsists who refuse to accept it – but hey, evolution will weed them out eventually…) Music can only, at best, please. And maybe that makes the world a better place, I won’t deny it – but only in a very, very small way, and only for those who happen to enjoy that particular piece, and certainly not in any empirical, measurable way. Science, on the other hand, can proveobjectively – it does good because people are living longer, healthier lives. When music develops something that affects the quality of life on earth on the level that, say, penicillin or chemotherapy have – do let me know.

    ——————

    Oh my, the foliage out my office window is glorious today. What the hell am I doing nerding it up in front of a computer screen? I am so outta here…

  10. Matthew says:

    Hey, Galen,

    I think your interpretation of the whole aesthetic-vs.-belief question is considerably more nuanced than Taruskin’s is. He basically says that to enjoy classical music for moral reasons is morally wrong, which, unless you’re a nihilist who believes in the possibility of absolute moral wrong in a complete absence of moral right, gets circularly paradoxical pretty fast. The tricky relationship between moral compass and blind belief that you allude to is a fascinating one, particularly in American society—Taruskin walks right past it into the mud.

    One way to think about this: I vastly prefer reading non-fiction to fiction, and one of the reasons for that is because I derive a great deal of pleasure out of learning new things. I’ll be the first to admit that the majority of those new things are not terribly useful, except in games of trivia—it’s the process that gives me pleasure, not the end result. Could someone view such learning as a source of moral improvement? Sure, but I don’t—just because someone can frame it as such doesn’t mean anyone who gets such pleasure automatically does.

    One thing about Taruskin’s overall tone: I like dispassionate and wonky as much as the next nerd, but what I really missed in the article was a sense of efficiency and elegance. Taruskin could have made his valid points with the flash of a stiletto—instead we got the spectacle of watching a man shovel coal into the boiler of an old-fashioned steamroller.

    I second Kyle’s compliments and diagnosis, although, as a recently infected patient, I have to say that critickitis is certainly preferable to the common cold or mad cow disease. Kyle diagnoses scotch—I’d prescribe champagne: enough of that, and even the most awful music seems generous and wonderful in the gift of its awfulness.

  11. Jerry Gerber says:

    This relationship between art (beauty) and moral life (goodness) is perplexing. There may be some hidden relationship here that few, including myself, understand, if only dimly. We know the immoral uses of music, one famous and extreme example is of Jewish classical musicians playing string quartets (does it matter what they’re playing at this point?) while many others are being brutally taken to get murdered by the Nazis. I would think there may be opposite examples, where a person or persons, through some or another involvement with music, discovered a side of themselves that helped them become more responsible, more sensitive and caring, perhaps awakening a moral and more compassionate nature. But do some styles, genres and types of music actually do this better than others? I use to think classical music did this more profoundly than other music, I still find that certain types and particular pieces of classical music move in me “objective feelings”, but I don’t know what real conclusions I can draw from this, better simply to be thankful I can feel these kinds of things.

    Jerry

  12. DJA says:

    Well, if Galen wants to take postmodern ideologue, I’ll happily be simpleton. (Maybe we can get Joe B. in as liar, and Seth G. as lunatic…)

    Dibs on “All Of The Above.”

  13. Mark Winges says:

    My memory of reading the Johnson (it’s been a couple of years) had a different slant. There very well may be a “high is better” argument in it.

    But what stuck with me was that Johnson (quite pedantically, to my memory) goes out of his way to define just HOW western art music differs from other musics (type of line / development, the way musical narrative unfolds, and it’s “use” in a historical sense). High / low/ better / worse / more moral. Don’t remember that. But that someone was just trying to present a description of how the thing (classical music) operates resonanted with me.

    OK, so am I hallucinating this? Did anyone else who read the book get this, or if so, think it important?

  14. robert berger says:

    I don’t think that those who love classical music necessarily
    think that it is “superior” to other kinds of music.They just love
    classical music.What on earth is wrong with that?Classical music
    is just as valid as Jazz,Rock,pop or whatever.Arguing over
    whether one kind of music is”superior” to another is as futile and
    pointless as arguing over whether Chinese,French,Italian,Thai,
    Mexican or Japanese food is “better”than another.They are just
    different cuisines,all delicious.
    But one problem is that some people blindly accept the myth
    that classical music is stuffy,boring and “elitist”. These stupid
    notions close peopl’s minds,and makes them unwilling even to
    give classical music a chance.How unfortunate.

  15. Paul says:

    I think I remember Shostakovich saying something about how he’d rather listen to a gypsy song than some Hindemith.

  16. Galen, there’s a typo up in. I wrote “readerships,” not “readership.” Also, the subtitle of the article is “Defending Classical Music from its Devotees.” if I’m missing the point that he’s criticizing those same devotees, i.e., the people I wrote are trying to save it, it’s unclear to me. I miss the point all the time (did you *hear* that second oboe!?), but it’s not in this case. Maybe the subtitle should have been: defending music from its fanatical, chauvinistic devotees, but it wasn’t. I agree with the other MG that your discussion is far more nuanced than Taruskin’s. He’s gunning for bear; you’re hunting quail.

    And the best remedy for critickitis is neither Scotch nor Champagne, but whiskey. Half a bottle and you can’t even hear the music. I heard that Taruskin prefers his malt liquor from a 40, for what it’s worth.

  17. Kyle Gann says:

    As I am sitting here in Dublin with an absolutely heavenly cask-strength Connemara peated single malt whiskey, I must protest that I intended no distinction between single-malt scotches and whiskeys. Either will do fine, ach and begorrah.

  18. Brenda says:

    I just have a question I have been racking my brain trying to remember the name of the composer who wrote chopsticks. If you can help me out that would be great. Sorry if this is a bit off topic

  19. Raymond White says:

    A shorter, tightly reasoned piece on the Death of Classical Music is Charles Rosen’s “The Irrelevance of Serious Music”, Chapter 18 of his book Critical Entertainments.

    Professor Taruskin’s occasional pieces can be fun reading: if one is not a twelve-note composer.

  20. zeno says:

    I think Roger Reynolds and Steve Schick wrote chopsticks … or was that ‘Sanctuary’?

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