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Context : MusicalStuff

Quora Answer : Why isn't classical music very widely appreciated anymore?

May 5, 2020

Because it insists too much.

People would respect classical music. But classical music and its supporters go round with such an attitude.

Like, "you must respect my music because it's so much more serious and profound and complex and important than yours"

The truth is, it isn't.

Music is whatever works for you. And the 20th century has seen an explosion in so many new ideas in music that are undreamed of in the classical composer's philosophy.

Every five years we have a new subgenre of pop music that defines entirely new soundworlds which are rich, strange, inspirational and unique in their sonic properties. And yet the classical music snobs repeat the same tired cliches that because the harmonic / tonal structure is limited, "there is nothing new".

Seriously. How can you take seriously or "respect" a genre which is so unable to look outside its own little concerns and see the big picture?

Quora Answer : Why can't classical music be produced now?

Jul 6, 2018

To an extent it is.

But ...

1) the economics are different.

At the time much classical music was written it was written by people employed by rich aristocrats for their entertainment.

If Bill Gates wanted to, he could keep a classical composer on his payroll to provide string quartets for his dinner parties.

But maybe Bill Gates isn't into dinner parties or string quartets in an 18th century style.

Other institutions can pick up the role of patron of the arts. Often the state or academia. But academia's values are slightly different. It wants progress and innovation. And so it prefers to sponsor progress and innovation in academic music, which usually means people playing with new strategies and algorithms for composing music, rather than sticking to old 18th century strategies and algorithms.

Or you might think that the general public would fund classical music. They do a bit. But lets get to ...

2) the context is different

Music is made for a context. Classical music was made for 18th century dinner parties, churches or 19th century concert halls and opera houses. When people were willing to devote several hours of a night to listen to it.

In the 21st century people want music in other places and other purposes. They want music in the car, on their phone, in ear-buds while they work, in clubs while they dance, as background while they drink in pubs. In the background during films. Or to punctuate a particular dramatic or romantic moment of a film or TV show with sympathetic emotion.

They want music they can dip into and out of. That conveys its ideas quickly and easily.

Classical music isn't necessarily a good "fit" for such environments. Or rather it isn't nearly as good fit as modern pop music is. Pop music is made for cars and phones and headphones and pubs and clubs in a way that classical music isn't. The recording techniques. The frequency spectrum. The sizes of the chunks its served in. Etc.

So when the general public decide to buy music, they buy music that suits the purpose they want to put it to. So they buy pop music rather than music that has the style and structure of music from 200 years ago that doesn't fit into their lives in the same way.

3) recording technology

Recording technology has transformed music. It's not remarked on so much, but in one sense, recording technology is like photography. Photography completely transformed the visual arts, taking over much of painting's role and responsibility to capture how something looks.

Much classical music is a set of techniques designed to convey particular ideas. But they are very formulaic. In baroque and classical music, for example, particular intervals represented particular emotions. You want, in opera, to represent a love-crazed young woman? Well, you can't really put a love-crazed young woman on stage every night to emote for you in exactly the right way. So the music comes up with formulae of what "love-crazed" sounds like. Melodic patterns, the right cadences, the right harmonies etc.

OTOH, if in 2018 you want to hear a love-crazed young woman, you can probably find one and stick a microphone in front of her. You get the aural equivalent of a photograph of the real thing. With all the microtonal and timbrel effects. That's far stronger and more convincing than any mannered patterns of notes.

I'm not saying there's no artifice in pop music. Of course there is. But there are techniques, in fact, entire entire schools of thought of how particular emotions and feelings could and should be represented musically, that were deprecated and washed away by the ability of the microphone to capture that emotion more directly.

What operatic artifice, on stage in a gold-leafed and chandeliered theatre could possibly compete with a field recording of a blues musician when it comes to representing life's tragedies?

4) Economics of distribution

The economics of making and distributing some kind of music is almost zero. We've gone from music needing expensive orchestras, to less expensive jazz bands, to less expensive rock bands (thanks to amplification they can still make a big noise), to less expensive electronic musicians using keyboards or even laptops.

We've gone from concert halls to small cafes to vinyl disks to cheaper CDs to "weightless" mp3s and streaming. To distribute music today you need a free SoundCloud, BandCamp etc. account.

The market for music supports so many niches for obscure, specific music focussed on tiny online scenes.

Again, classical music, done properly, has a big cost. Real orchestras of dozens of real, trained, specialists musicians. Performing in huge halls. Or recording in huge studios with lots of microphones and specialist technicians.

There has to be either a big or a rich audience to justify that expense. And when the market of listeners is so fragmented into so many microniches, finding the numbers is hard.

If it's about the rich, then talk to your billionaires as to why they prefer to own football teams instead of symphony orchestras.

5) No one knows what "classical" music is.

It sounds silly. But when people bemoan the lack of classical music today, they can often be thinking of very different things. The instrumentation and performance techniques. The particular harmonic, melodic structures. The cultural connotations.

For some people this might be enough to satisfy their need for "classical" music.

or this :

or this :

For other people, that's all pop travesty, and only something like this will do :

or this :

For other people, it has to be this :

or this :

What about this?

or this :

Or this?

"Classical" is a big muddle of different ideas for different people.

It makes very little sense to try to demarcate it as a unitary thing, distinct from other genres of music in the 21st century.

In fact, I'd say it's far healthier to pursue and celebrate a full scale cross-pollination / intermixing of classical and non-classical ideas, sounds, recording techniques etc. We want more Bach played on modular synths. More pop music arranged for string quartets. More thinking about how to remix and repackage classical for new situations. More weird experimentalism with odd instruments, more gratuitous virtuosity, comedy, overloading computers until they bleed etc.

That's the way to keep classical music "alive" and "relevant". To allow it to evolve and adapt itself to the purposes we want to put it to.

Related :

Phil Jones (He / Him)'s answer to Can Karl Jenkins and/or Zbigniew Preisner be considered classical music composers?

Quora Answer : Why is classical music so unpopular nowadays?

Aug 29, 2019

Classical music is intended for particular situations. Mainly when you have a couple of hours of undivided attention to give, usually sitting in an expensive concert hall with an expensive orchestra available to play for you.

Today we consume music in many formats. And many situations. On many different types of equipment.

Often classical music isn't the optimal music to be listening to in those environments. You don't want to give your undivided attention to complex structure when you want background music. You prefer more of a steady pulse when you want to dance. A few repetitive riffs and a loud, aggressive sound work to keep your mind semi-occupied during long distance driving. You want lyrics that speak to your own situation in your own language, not stylized Victorian-era German or melodramatic Italian.


Also, while classical music is very sophisticated in some dimensions, it's pretty limited in others. Listen to a bunch of string quartets from the late 18th or early 19th century and they're pretty timbrally monotonous compared to even a mediocre pop album today.

Finally, there is an interesting question as to how popular classical music ever was. Phil Jones (He / Him)'s answer to Was classical music popular?

Quora Answer : Why is classical music largely absent from African culture?

Jun 15, 2017

Classical music was largely imposed in Europe by the Catholic church who set out strict rules for how music should sound, and taught a notation system that was good for representing and thinking about harmony and melody, but not particularly good at representing rhythm and timbre.

The church never really established itself in Africa (at least not until long after it stopped caring about such things) so the Africans kept on happily doing their own thing based on their own oral tradition of tuned percussion and cyclic rhythms.

As a comparison, the church did get into South America which is why indigenous composers started producing music like this :

Meanwhile, because history has a sense of humour, once the Europeans finally broke free of the influence of the Catholic church and rediscovered their own oral tradition - thanks to recording technology - they soon realized how much they liked the "African"-style of music based on semi-tuned percussion and hypnotic repetition; and started making music like this :

Quora Answer : Do you like classical music? A lot people thinks it's boring. Is it?

May 25, 2020

No. It's not boring.

But it is "tiring".

Basically to enjoy classical music you have to learn to listen to it and track all the different things going on and learn to pick them out of the whole.

A lot of "popular music" is basically "here's a vocal line or lead melody over a sequence of chords". And the lead is very obvious, and the melody is pretty short and easy to grasp. So you hear it and can immediately figure out what the music contains.

But classical music doesn't work like that. It likes to have melodic ideas spread across multiple instruments, jumping from one instrument to another.

It has melodic fragments which keep cycling from one place to another, and undergo various transformations and variations. When you learn to listen for and identify them, you can follow them through the forest, and it's fun! (Allegedly)

But if you haven't learned to identify them, then you don't even know they are there, and it just sounds like instruments wittering about aimlessly.

So that's the challenge of classical music. It takes an effort to learn to listen to it. And to find the signal in the noise. And if you won't or can't do that, then it's hard to get much out of it.

Obviously it's also difficult to know in advance whether to make that effort, as you don't know what value you'll get out of the music. In the past when classical music was so important, it was more "obvious" that well formed people should make that effort. Because it was part of the culture of educated people. And classical music was widely listened to as the default option.

But today, when music is increasingly used as a sound-track to activities, from driving to being at the gym to hanging out with friends to working on your computer, it's a more ambivalent question. A LOT of the time we want music that's "background" or "mood" music. Something we can have on to colour our surroundings without demanding all our attention.

Even well educated people, even people who are musically educated, want other sorts of music for these other situations. There are now many subgrenres of "pop" music, which are not necessarily "popular", but exist to provide the specific feel or mood you are looking for, in an easily accessed form.

For many people, these might be enough.

On the other hand, all good music, of any genre, even minimalist techno, rewards paying close attention to it, and deeper understanding of how it works. And as any genre gets more mature ambitious people start trying to load it with more subtleties and obscured meanings. So if you like any genre of music, you'll end up spending the effort to get to learn to listen to it more carefully.

I don't know if becoming a classical buff is any harder than becoming a jazz buff or an obscure technical death metal buff.

But, in a sense, classical has a steeper "on-boarding" experience. There aren't many "simple" classical pieces which are fun to listen to when you aren't skilled in listening to it, that can help you accustom yourself to it.

Although this is a pretty good one. Anyone who likes a good tune or three should be able to dig this :

Quora Answer : Was classical music popular?

Aug 29, 2019

Not really.

For most of its history, it was only available to the very rich who employed their own musicians and composers. And their friends. Or to people in specific circumstances like churches.

Many ordinary people would hardly hear any music at all during their lives, except for the folkloric music they made for themselves in their communities. Classical music was always a different world from that which most people lived in. Particularly rural people.

Mozart and Bach would have been admired by their peers, but would have had nothing like the acclaim and fame that someone like Michael Jackson or Little Nas X have today.

Classical music being a minority taste isn't a new thing.

Quora Answer : Why is Renaissance music so underrated and underplayed by classical musicians?

Feb 27, 2020

It's not as well documented as more recent classical music.

It was written for, and played on, instruments that are different from the standard classical instruments. Just because you can play a classical instrument from the 19th century in a late 18th and 19th century style, doesn't mean you'll automatically be able to play a 15th century instrument properly.

To an extent, some of the more modern instruments allow a smoother more subtle playing style which can't be done on authentic Renaissance instruments. That means that classical musicians who are connoisseurs of their period of classical may feel that earlier music lacks subtlety and sophistication.

Quora Answer : Why isn't complex music popular anymore?

Feb 22, 2020

Was complex music ever "popular"?

The truth is that most music we know from over 100 years ago, was the music of the elites. Kings and aristocrats and senior church figures funded the great composers of the past. Then, when a market for music developed in the 19th century it was still largely the wealthy urban upper middle classes who patronized the opera and concert hall or had their own pianos and bought sheet music.

Of course, the people had music. But it's not nearly as well documented. What we think of as "folk music". Think of tunes played on penny whistles and some kind of drum, with a rousing sing-along chorus. Or maybe some kind of simple folkloric chordophone. Or a small band with fiddles. An accordion (once you get to the late 19th century)

It's not obvious that these musics WERE so very complex. Their complexity was likely to be that of the average pop song. Simple verse / chorus or ABABBB etc. structure. Largely in one key. Maybe vamping between two chords. And improvisations from the musicians.

People didn't write this stuff down because the musicians who played it probably learned it by ear. And when "classical" composers actually DID write it down, they tended to add the sophistication to it that they as professional composers for the elite, and their clients, expected.

So something like this :

turns into something like this :

What has happened since the beginning of the 20th century is that we got audio recording. Finally we can actually hear the music of the people, not the music of the elites. And there was a business model of recording it and selling it.

Finally, the market reflects (somewhat) what most people actually like and listen to.

Of course, the market introduces its own distortions. It's fuelled by celebrity. And increasingly "image" and video etc. etc. Even the fact of mass production means that there's an effect of reducing to a common denominator. (Today, we're starting see pop music from around the world converging on a global style)

But nevertheless, the "unsophisticated" pop music today is probably closer in complexity to the complexity of the folkloric music that "most people" have listened to throughout history. And if you are taking Mozart and Wagner as your model of "what was popular in the past" you are unrealistic.

Quora Answer : What is the current trend and most recent ongoing method or genre in contemporary classical composition world (tonal/atoanl/microtonal, etc.)? Or is it too vary to identify at the moment?

Aug 31

To ask the question like that immediately confronts us with the question of "what counts as classical?"

Does it mean music in academia? Or music written for traditional orchestras?

I'd say one of the biggest and most important musical research areas in universities at the moment is inventing new "controllers" for performers to control sound and music.

These are giving musicians a way to control and shape electronic sounds with more dimensions of freedom and therefore more "expressivity" than traditional electronic instruments, but obviously with the expanded sound world that electronics gives you. It becomes more human and more organic as the player involves his or her body.

This is going to make a music of live performance by instrumental virtuosos in the concert hall more interesting and exciting for people and may well "save" the institution of "the orchestra"

However, whether you want to call that "classical composition" is another matter.