What did it mean, playing Beethoven at that time and in that place? As if the East Germans did not also have their Beethovenfests. As if the high culture and all its icons had not been exploited by every dictatorship (and every commercial interest), used as a bludgeon to beat down spontaneous (popular, counter-) culture and sell every consumer product.Quoted without permission from The Danger of Music and Other Anti-Utopian Essays Published in 2009 by the University of California Press. It's a fascinating collection of essays from throughout Richard Taruskin's career, and many of the reprinted essays have fresh commentary (2008) for this publication.
The true musical emblems of that glorious moment were the guitar-strumming kids in jeans atop the wall playing a music that would have landed them in jail the day before. They were the ones who symbolized Freiheit. What did Beethoven symbolize? Just packaged greatness. I'm afraid, and all that that implies of smugness and dullness and ritualism. Just what the revolutions of '89 were revolting against.
And that is why classical music is failing, and in particular why intellectuals, as a class, and even the educated public, have been deserting it. The defection began in the sixties, when all at once it was popular music that engaged passionately--adequately or not, but often seriously and even challengingly--with scary, risky matters of public concern, while classical music engaged only frivolously (remember radical chic?) or escaped into technocratic utopias. By now, the people who used to form the audience for "serious" music are very many of them listening to something else.
Monday, June 17, 2013
Taruskin on the Classical Music Audience
In a New York Times article from September 10, 1995, Richard Taruskin discusses the "Revolution of 1989," when the Berlin Wall came down and Leonard Bernstein conducted that Beethoven's Ninth with "Freiheit" replacing "Freude" in the text of the last movement.