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.
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.

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.
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.


Anonymous said...

Tarushkin has it backwards. First there was no "revolution" in the sense of a popular revolt as he suggests in Europe. Rather it was the economic collapse of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics which caused the East German government to also simply collapse. The wall came down piece by piece after and not before the socialist state of Honecker was no longer able to keep it operating with its police and Stasi. Secondly, Tarushkin has it wrong as regards classical music propping up totalitarianism. Beethoven ripped away a dedication to Napoleon, as one example. The funerals of Puccini and Verdi were huge public events in their time. Intellectuals have been deserting classical music? Tell that to all the new composers. Would we use his adjective, "frivolous?" Many modern composers are seeking that "commercial interest" which he disparages. Thank you for mentioning the article, for my estimation of Tarushkin has diminished over the years, and now hits rock bottom. Or perhaps rock-and-roll bottom. He represents "smugness and dullness and ritualism" in musicology, not to mention historical errors.

Anonymous said...

The Danger of Music and Other Anti-Utopian Essays Published in 2009 by the University of California Press - sixteen bucks as an eBook and more than twenty in paper. It seems Tarushkin evidences his own "commercial interest" while disparaging it in others, based on the various publications and prices offered. If his works were available online for free, I think one could take him seriously. After all, Fine's opus is "open" while his is "pay me." It's amusing that this blog post should appear so close to the post about the Warner Chappell lawsuit. It is about freedom and law, and Warner Chappell seems on the wrong side just as Tarushkin's many works are all for sale, for sale, for sale. Capitalism at its finest. Some revolution, huh?

Elaine Fine said...

You make an excellent point (and points if you are the same Anonymous person).

I'm just reporting what I read. I guess you could say that I "walk the walk" with the work I do, but then again I don't make my living as a music historian (thank goodness), and have the luxury not to have to count on making a living as a composer.

Anonymous said...

Same anonymous, yes indeed. But, Ms. Fine you 1) place your scores on Petrucci gratis, even if protected from commercial abuse by copyright (and this is radical, unlike Tarushkin), 2) you are open and rather consistent in your views, while Tarushkin sometimes played fast and free with basic facts, and 3) Tarushkin's writing is commercial, commercial and commercial, all the while he postures that he is somehow different. What we need are not musicologists who want to practice their version of historical revisionism, but musicologists who can clarify and broaden our understanding of what "classical" means, its worth and more. To cheer on "guitar-strumming kids" who could not play the repertoire of Fernando Sor to Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco to so many more. This is why he seems such a fraud to me, as to some others in academia with whom I work. The Tarushkin fad peddles the myth that his scholarship is somehow better than so many fine musicologists that it irritates. There was no "revolution" of which he wrote, except in his own fantasy. Such faux scholarship evidences that Tarushkin is not atop some list of fine musicologists. I intend no attack on you, because your luxury is that you give your work to others, while he and his ilk make a business of it, though the scholarship is poor. And yes, this anonymous who likes to remain anonymous cheers you on for Stamitz duets and more. Keep fiddlin'!

Robert Fink said...

Well, at least Richard Taruskin signs his work, and thus stands behind his opinions and his scholarship. This kind of childish anonymous disparagement just looks sad.

Let's remember that there is something in academia called peer review. Taruskin's journalistic pieces aside, all his scholarship has been vetted (anonymously :) by other musicologists. That is part of the process that makes the books he writes cost money.