Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Populitism


Thinking about Daniel Barenboim’s recent assault on elevator music and the way in which major classical works are demeaned by their association with commercial products set me wondering why the great masterworks should appeal to the brand-mongers in the first place.

Perhaps we should be pleased that there are elements of these old-fashioned idioms that still have some appeal. Were I an incurable optimist, I might subscribe to the tiresome and ubiquitous view that such uses serve to popularise the genre. But having watched Nigel Kennedy traipse through the 80’s laden with the responsibility of bringing cultural discernment to the masses, which even then, was even less likely than Henman winning Wimbledon - I have no such illusions. [Kennedy now seems to be consigned to perpetual limbo, in which he is doomed to perform the 4 Seasons for the rest of eternity with a Polish Chamber Orchestra]. However, if as I suppose, it’s the characteristic sound and dynamism of orchestral music that appeals, more than the power of the musical composition itself, we can’t expect even this fascination to last much longer: sampling and recording technologies are idealising and stylising the sound of classical music so rapidly that for the great majority of people, the real acoustic experience of an orchestra within a concert hall will soon become an utterly alien and overly demanding experience.

So why, on the one hand, is classical music facing the claim that it needs to become more popular and less elitist, while on the other, marketing companies hi-jack it with the express intention of exploiting its appeal to the widest possible public. Is it just an overt attempt to inveigle middle class snobs into the dilettantism of associating their classy purchase with an overtly elitist art form - or is the 'sound of classical' now more appealing than the music?

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