Friday, June 24, 2005

The Rude, the Vulgar, and the Polite

From Peter Van der Merwe's Roots of the Classical: The Popular Origins of Western Music
This deep faith in 'natural law' is a bond between early Romanticism and neoclassicism. Just as the architecture of ancient Greece was felt to be more 'natural' than that of Rome because it was earlier and simpler, so the 'noble savage' was assumed to be the superior of a cultivated eighteenth-century gentleman; and so, too, simple folk melody was held to be a great improvement on Baroque polyphony. Of course, it was all self-deception. very few eighteenth-century gentlemen ever met a savage, noble or ignoble; ancient Greek architecture was far from simple; and the much-admired 'folk melody' was an urban idealization that had little in common with the rustic reality. The bogus has always played a vital part in Romanticism.

Roots of the Classical at Oxford University Press

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Thursday, June 23, 2005

The BBC Beethoven Downloading Experiment

In loosewire there is a discussion concerning the BBC project to offer Beethoven Symphony performances for free download. Jeremy Wagstaff posed the following question:
But why is it that listening to free classical music is seen as a way of encouraging a broader interest in the genre (and, presumably, encouraging the listener to buy classical music) but when the music is pop, it’s seen as dangerous encroachment on the rights and prerogative of the music industry and has to be stamped out?
To which I responded:
The whole idea of music as "property" runs counter to the spirit of Beethoven. The whole idea of sharing a performance in this way seems completely in accord with the spirit of Beethoven. "Millionen" have already been "umschulgen" by this wonderful use of technology. When he wrote his music Beethoven expected to be paid for it once. He probably had the hope that his music would continue to live on after his death, but he and his contemporaries had no idea of "copyright" or "royalties" as we know it, and it is probably due to the lack of copyright and royalties that composers during the pre-copyright period (composers who are now firmly in the public domain) wrote so much music.

Nobody goes into playing or even writing classical music for the money. A handful of Conductors and a few big soloists are the only performing musicians who actually get rich playing music, and a smaller handful of composers (mostly film and theatre composers) are able to make a good living. Those of us who play music for a living can sometimes make enough to stay alive and, if we are really lucky, raise a family, own a car, and buy a house. And we can usually only do those things if we teach and/or have a spouse with a good job.

The musicians who played these BBC performances of Beethoven Symphonies were paid for playing them. They are not losing any money at all. They are also creating a whole lot of good will, and are hopeful that by extending this gesture someone might get curious and will come to another performance of a Beethoven Symphony. Every performance is different, you know. They have the same notes, the same rhythms, and the same expression markings, but the way the music comes out is different for every performance.

It seems that people tend to seek careers in pop music to become rich and famous and have fun at the same time. Those who do not become rich and famous are usually struggling, and all they have to show for the considerable effort they have put into their careers is their recorded music. If someone else were to "take" their music, tweak it, re-package it, and sell it as their own, that would be immoral and even illegal.

If you were to do that with Beethoven, everyone would know it. That is why Beethoven is safe to broadcast in this way.