Friday, June 01, 2012

The "Awfulness" of Classical Music?

I found myself unable to comment on this article by Richard Dare called "The Awfulness of Classical Music Explained" (perhaps it just wouldn't go through because I don't do "social media").

If Dare is being serious (and I can't tell), he is one of those people who seems to think that people should be able to applaud where they want to during a classical music concert, and that not being able to applaud between movements is somehow insulting to an audience member's freedom of expression. I think that systematically applauding between movements can be annoying to the members of the audience who like to experience a multi-movement piece as a whole. Not knowing where to applaud is a lame excuse for not knowing where to applaud. Just do an internet search using the words, "when to applaud during a classical concert."

An usher could also explain what those Italian words mean, and why a piece might be divided into parts. Here's a handy on-line guide.

As far as remaining quiet during a concert, I believe reports of rudeness during concerts during the 19th century were truly reports of acts of rudeness, and it is possible (believe it or not) that they were exceptional circumstances. We do know that during the 19th century (and before), concerts were the only way people who were not musicians, didn't employ musicians, or didn't have friends or members of their household who were musicians could hear music. It is rude to other members of an audience (who came to listen) if you interrupt the music to blurt something out at the people who are performing. It's rude to the people performing, and it always has been.

George Bernard Shaw took issue with conventions of how audiences dressed for concerts and operas in 1905. In this letter Shaw writes about the convention of standard "evening wear" for men, and suggests that evening wear for women should be equally uniform. I particularly like this passage, delivered mostly his with tongue deliberately in his cheek:
Not only was I in evening dress by compulsion, but I voluntarily added many graces of conduct as to which the management made no stipulation whatever. I was in my seat in time for the first chord of the overture. I did not chatter during the music nor raise my voice when the Opera was too loud for normal conversation. I did not get up and go out when the statue music began. My language was fairly moderate considering the number and nature of the improvements on Mozart volunteered by Signor Caruso, and the respectful ignorance of dramatic points of the score exhibited by the conductor and stage manager — if there is such a functionary at Covent Garden. In short, my behavior was exemplary.
Then he goes on to describe the women who sat in front of him:
At 9 o'clock (the Opera began at 8) a lady came in and sat down very conspicuously in my line of sight. She remained there until the beginning of the last act. I do not complain of her coming late and going early; on the contrary, I wish she had come later and gone earlier. For this lady, who had very black hair, had stuck over her right ear the pitiable corpse of a large white bird, which looked exactly if someone had killed it by stamping on the beast, and then nailed it to the lady's temple, which was presumably of sufficient solidity to bear the operation.
Shaw does have a valid point: It is distracting to have a dead bird staring you in the face while you are trying to watch an opera, and, by extension, women who wear large hats to concerts and operas should remove them when they are members of an audience.

Dare's points confuse me. Is he trying to be funny? Is he trying to be serious? And what is he doing as the CEO of the Brooklyn Philharmonic if he is a relative novice as a classical concert audience member (he doesn't explain how many years ago "some years ago" is, so I don't have much to go on). What's going on here? And why does he give his article such a nasty title?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Well said, Elaine.

Classical music is to be listened to attentively. A classical concert is not a freakin rock concert. Noises distract and impair the atmosphere. People who don't get this - or are too damned inconsiderate to moderate their behaviour for those who do - are a goddamned blight. What next? Shall we wave our cigarette lighters and scream "FIREBIRD!" every few seconds. I find the pathetic need to fill every silence with clapping ignorant to the point of bizarre.

People should understand that in general soloists do not like it, conductors do not like it, orchestras do not like it, composers do not like it. The only person who thinks it should be standard is the person who thinks their enjoyment of a piece - or in some cases, their personal amazement that they actually enjoyed it - is more important than the genuine artistry on show. Shame on them.

And lastly: the snobbery argument comes from those who find it intimidating that they might actually have to work at something to maximise their appreciation of it. Instead of pandering to them and dragging the most transcendental of experiences down to the lowest possible common denominator we should encourage and inform and propagate the message that classical music is nothing to be afraid of.