Thursday, June 10, 2010

Neo-Classicist Music Criticism

These are good words to live by:
A neoclassicist musical criticism might differ from modernism in several important ways. For one, the shibboleth of supreme originality would be discarded. The imprimatur of artistic validity in a new work would no longer be granted only on account of novelty. Musical culture would begin to be unafraid of music that is strongly connected to the past or to other contemporary works. Concerns about “plagiarism” and the shunning of the “derivative” would be muted. The music critic’s first criterion would not be, Is the work original? Instead, it would be, How beautiful and skilled is it? Where there is innovation in the work, the critic might ask, What good purpose does this innovation serve? Does it serve beauty, clarity, meaningfulness, or catharsis (the goals of classicism)? Or again, the critic might first ask, How is the message of this work made clear, while being beautifully rendered? The critic’s assessment of novelty would be distinctly secondary.

In this way, innovation would not come at all costs, and the highly skilled use of common materials would become acceptable and appropriately honored. Critics and audiences would not be taken aback by something that sounds similar to another new work—or even an old work. The real question would concern the meanings and possibilities involved and the skill of presentation. The old would be welcome as long as there is present within it a grain of the new. This new element might not at first seem very novel, but nonetheless might constitute the seed of things to come. It would be available to all as common material—something that could have meaning and be of use to other artists in a process of refining the art towards a common and beautiful and profoundly human purpose or goal.
From Webster Young's Can There Be Great Composers Anymore? from the Spring 2008 issue of The Intercollegiate Review.


christos makropoulos said...

Very interesting thoughts! And I really liked your blog which I discovered only this morning.
Thank you and have a nice day...

Charles Céleste Hutchins said...

That's interesting, but postmodernism has been doing derivative works for at least 20 years, so these questions aren't exactly groundbreaking, unless the author fell through a worm hole.

Elaine Fine said...

These are questions that people working as music critics should ask themselves every time they encounter a piece of new music. They are also good questions to for people, not working as music critics, to ask themselves in order to access the relative merits of the music that they are listening to for the first time. These questions can also apply to music from all times and all places (though I'm not sure about wormholes).

The whole Young article is really worthwhile reading.

Postmodern is a relative term that never really makes sense to me. Definitions of the term are all over the map, and can only, as far as I can tell, lead the way to more relative terms like post-postmodernism.