Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The Way Classical Music Looked 50 years ago

All the internet jabber about the place of "classical music" in our modern world inspired me to think about how things have changed for the better during the past 50 years.

1. 50 years ago the smallest violins were quarter-sized instruments. They were rare. After the Suzuki brothers came on the scene, stringed instruments started to be available in sizes so small that children could begin playing at two or three instead of at six or seven.

2. Most of the music that was played in the early 1960s, with very few exceptions, was written by men.

3. "Early music" was something only musicologists (budding and professional) knew something about. Performing musicians rarely entered the realm.

4. Facsimiles of old instruments were poorly made and really difficult to play.

5. There were only two or three "brands" of professional-quality flutes being made, and you had to wait for years in order to get one.

6. The only new music that was taken seriously by academics was 12-tone music.

7. Orchestras were made mostly of men, and they were almost always conducted by men.

8. There were only a handful of excellent teachers for any instrument. Now the supply of excellent teachers is mind-boggling.

9. Harpsichords were rare. So were lutes and countertenors.

10. You would have to travel to a library (often in Europe) and get special permission to examine manuscripts which are now available through the Petrucci Library.

I stopped at 10. Please feel free to add to this list!

1 comment:

John Marcher said...


While it's understandable, yours is a very performer-oriented list. There are probably as many if not more improvements from a listener or audience-member's perspective, including some of what you've already listed, but I would easier and wider access to an incredible amount of music from many sources, both live and recorded. Spotify, YouTube, and yes, blogs, provide so many ways to learn about and enjoy classical music that weren't possible 50 years ago.

I also think today's composers benefit from being less tied to the traditions of the past and/or the compulsion to rebel against them. Lou Harrison's breadth of influences is now the norm, and today's musicians have 50+ years of living in a pop-dominated culture as well as more exposure to music from other cultures which I think is starting to produce some pretty great music.