On Classical Music

Firstly, sorry for sporadic posting: school's started, I'm in sixth form now and therefore I'm back to long days and working my fat arse off during breaks, which I didn't do before, but AS levels (and a stray A level) are a fuckload of work and thus in order to not totally fail my subjects I do need to put more work in.

I wasn't going to talk about that, though; I was going to talk about what I actually said I was going to talk about - namely, classical music. For the pedants here, I don't mean the Classical period of roughly 1750-1820, but Western art music (whether liturgical or secular) from about the 11th century onwards and continuing into the present time.

The older I grow, the more disillusioned I become. I was raised in a tradition of classical music; my mother would pretty much always listen to Classic FM, a station I later grew old enough to detest, and then I started going to secondary school and joining a choir that basically chucked us into four-part harmony from the tender age of eleven. I also started taking singing exams when I went to school (as of the end of year 11 I managed to get a distinction in my grade 7 exam...slap me if you think I boast too much), and the exams I do (ABRSM) basically require you to sing classical pieces of whatever description. It's therefore not much of a surprise that I grew to appreciate classical music, particularly for its complexity compared to other forms of Western music. Yet there's a thread within the world-model of classical music I don't like, an elitist thread that looks down upon other forms of music (particularly pop music - okay, most of it is shit but that's still no excuse for sheer, unadulterated elitism) simply because they are newer and less formal. Now, I'll say this - some new stuff is shit, just like some old stuff is shit. I also need complexity in my music so I'll avoid the simpler, more formulaic stuff. But I also need passion, and there's a certain school of classical music and its advocates that seems to deliberately avoid passion, while other styles of music - perhaps even the same looked down upon by the elitists - embrace it. I have come more and more into contact with this school, and it sickens me. It's everything the critics stereotype the lovers of classical music as, and they're either unaware of it or simply don't care. They are the quintessential dry academics in their ivory towers, or the stuck-up elitists turning their noses up at the great unwashed and their unrefined tastes in music - because apparently, dead white males are the arbiters of greatness. They shy away from passion, from vitality, from life, when those are the things that make the simplest folk-song more worthwhile to listen to than the most carefully constructed symphony. A piece of music can be so complex it sends me into ecstasy, but if it's performed lifelessly it's nothing to me.

And what is it with people dumbing down classical music?! One of the biggest classical radio stations in England, Classic FM, basically runs on playing relatively few pieces of classical music (including some film scores, some of which could reasonably be categorised as classical and some of which couldn't) and on mixing classical music and classical crossover. Like classical crossover if you want - I personally don't - but for fuck's sake, mainstream media, it's not the same thing as actual classical music. It brings in a wider audience, but to what?! Not much classical music and then a bunch of manufactured, largely unoriginal artists, mainly. (Admittedly, having a quick look they do seem pretty damn talented.) I tend to regard this part of the classical music world, the one that dumbs down and mixes up classical music in a misguided attempt to popularise it (I encourage the popularisation of classical music, I just think mixing it up with other genres and sticking to a few well-known pieces is the wrong way to go about it), as just as vile and repugnant as the elitists, since they have both lost something essential to the genre they both claim to be defending.

There's one last thing that pisses me off, and that's the idea of classical and classical crossover music as something soothing. Again, big stations like Classic FM are the main culprits here, again, it's a calculated marketing ploy to appeal to a certain target audience (mainly mothers and people over fifty, according to classical-crossover.co.uk - a good site if, like me, you want to be vaguely edumacated before you rant or if, like the target audience of the site, you like classical crossover). Again, it fucks me off. I don't like soothing music as a whole; I like quiet and reflective music sometimes, but I don't like to be soothed. I much prefer to be agitated, whether through heavy emphasis on rhythm, through gorgeous harmonic complexity, or through the rise and fall of the dynamics in a piece - all of which classical music has. That's why it saddens me so to see it marketed and presented as something soothing and middle-of-the-road when in fact it's anything but and when most of it has taken a long, convoluted path through the centuries and been received in different ways at different points.

I have certainly shown my colours here: I am an elitist, I think, albeit a very strange one. I want people to like classical music but I'm not prepared for people to only like it when it's bland, dumbed down, and mutilated almost beyond recognition. Equally, I don't want people to suck all the life out of it out of their horror of anything that they don't see as formal. Above all, I want passion and life in this complex art music. Odd for an elitist, huh?