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Death Knell

Posted by acdtest on January 3, 2004

Death Knell

orman Lebrecht, one of our finest and most perceptive classical music critics, declares the year 2004 the classical record industry’s last. And the reason? According to Mr. Lebrecht,

[The] rhythms [of the classical music recording industry] were disrupted, distorted and ultimately destroyed by digital recording, which delivered sonic utopia and exposed the flaws in the process. Attentive listeners were able to hear underground trains rumbling beneath Decca’s Kingsway Hall, and botched edits in supposedly authentic performances. Digital clarity revealed the artificiality of recording, the fundamental fakery of producing an inhumanly accurate replica of all-too human music. As the digital sheen wore off, so did the sales.

Strikes me as a stretch, although I’m willing to concede it may be part of the reason, but surely not the central part. A glimmering of that central part can be discerned in statements such as the following, which today struck me in my daily quick survey of the blogosphere, even though, per se, they’ve nothing whatsoever to do with classical music.

• Ten is such an arbitrary number, isn’t it? And ranking is so elitist. So let’s just list the best movies I saw in 2003.

• [N]ot all art originates as popular art, and not everything from the past that we consider high-cult today began life as popular art. Shakespeare and Mozart, sure.

• I’m blogging from the apartment of ________, who is sitting in her Eames chair (yes, she has an Eames chair!), looking shockingly beautiful as Johnny Cash and the Tennessee Two twang away on the stereo (didn’t I tell you she was cool?).

• An encounter with a great work of art is nothing more than that–it doesn’t teach us anything, and it doesn’t “show us the way”, it simply provides us with evidence (just as a meeting with an exceptional person does) that there are other minds in the world–and man, that’s enough for me….

• The old [arts] hierarchies don’t yet seem to know it, but their days in the sun are numbered — though my bet is that the Defenders of the One True Faith will go on proclaiming their vital importance and prophetic stature even as tidal waves sweep over them. They’ll cling to little bits of sand and rock and wonder why no one’s paying attention. Answer: because the world has discovered that it prefers to get by without the interference of self-important clowns.

• It’s been said before, and it’s been said before that it’s been said before, but it hasn’t been said enough: SON HOUSE was one of the most wildly inventive and brilliant musical geniuses of all time.

• Just as I object to a work of literary modernism such as James Joyce’s Ulysses because it announces on every page that it is something new and daring and that the reader must take notice, I object to a modernist building like [a certain] chapel by Mies van der Rohe, which does its damnedest to tell us that it is not a chapel but rather a thoroughly modern building designed by a thoroughly modern architect.

I could adduce dozens more examples like these, but the above are enough to make the point.

What’s that? What do statements made by morons have to do with this business?

But that’s the point. Indications to the contrary notwithstanding, they’re not statements made by morons, but by intelligent, educated, and for the most part cultured people. And those statements are all reflective of the current cultural Zeitgeist; a legacy of the ’60s, and one that has been sounding the death knell for all the high arts, classical music very much included, for almost three decades now. And although a death knell, it’s been heard by most who ought to have known better (viz., intelligent, educated, cultured people such as those represented above) not as a death knell, but as a clarion voluntary heralding a new, welcome, and desirable equalitarian embracement of all art — high and low, great and trashy — without distinction.

No, I’m not going to embark on a(nother) fulmination against such wrongheaded, woodenheaded, purblind idiocy. I’ve done my share of that on this weblog; some will say more than my share. Truth be told, I’m fast coming to the conclusion that, indeed, “[t]he old [arts] hierarchies[‘]…days in the sun are numbered,” and that no amount of fulminating will stem the progress of the vulgar, undiscriminating, populist tide. At this stage the best one can look forward to or hope for is that the murderous assault on high culture will not destroy it utterly, but merely drive it underground till, in the cyclical nature of cultural history, its time again comes ’round.

Too bad I won’t be around to witness that.

But perhaps my children’s children’s children will.

UPDATE (3 January at 1:11 PM Eastern): Weblogger George Hunka of Superfluities comments, supplying examples that, chillingly, tend to reinforce Lebrecht’s dire prediction.
UPDATE 2 (6 January at 2:37 PM Eastern): Weblogger and print journalist Terry Teachout of About Last Night takes (huge) exception. I would only point out to Mr. Teachout (who, it seems, has some problem referring to me by name rather than by name of weblog) that the distinction (or, rather, lack of it) is not between The Long Goodbye and The Great Gatsby; not between Armstrong and Copland; not between Astaire and Balanchine, but between, say, any Stephen King or John Grisham opus and anything by, say, Fitzgerald or Hemingway; between (insert name of punk rock group or C&W opus here) and, say, Copland or Ives; between Riverdance or (insert name of dance number from any current Broadway musical here) and, say, Balanchine or Graham. In short, not the distinction between the popular and the exclusive, but the distinction between trash and art. I trust Mr. Teachout (for whose writings I’ve a great deal of respect as indicated previously on this weblog) gets the distinction. Nice attempt at a finesse, though.
UPDATE 3 (6 January at 5:49 PM Eastern): More bad news, and more confirmation of Lebrecht’s doomsaying, as reported by weblogger and print journalist Greg Sandow of Sandow.
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