Wednesday, August 04, 2010
This is a very long article that I might not finish any time soon, but what I have read is quite interesting. My thanks to reader Snedcat for pointing it out.
Heather MacDonald of City Journal argues that, at least in many respects, no time is like the present for lovers of classical music. She takes as her point of departure a comparison of what things are like now versus what they were like in the nineteenth century, as seen through the eyes of Hector Berlioz:
As the maverick French composer tours mid-nineteenth-century Europe conducting his revolutionary works, he encounters orchestras unable to play in tune and conductors who can't read scores. A Paris premiere of a Berlioz cantata fizzles when a missed cue sets off a chain reaction of paralyzed silence throughout the entire sorry band. Most infuriating to this champion of artistic integrity, publishers and conductors routinely bastardize the scores of Mozart, Beethoven, and other titans, conforming them to their own allegedly superior musical understanding or to the narrow taste of the public.There's no denying that -- as MacDonald notes in this article and has indirectly commented on before -- "the tidal wave of creation that generated the masterpieces we so magnificently perform is spent." Nevertheless, it is interesting how scientific and technological advances are at least making what there is so readily accessible and at such better fidelity to the original wishes of the artists.
Berlioz's exuberant tales of musical triumph and defeat constitute the most captivating chronicle of artistic passion ever written. They also lead to the conclusion that, in many respects, we live in a golden age of classical music. Such an observation defies received wisdom, which seizes on every symphony budget deficit to herald classical music’s imminent demise. But this declinist perspective ignores the more significant reality of our time: never before has so much great music been available to so many people, performed at levels of artistry that would have astounded Berlioz and his peers. Students flock to conservatories and graduate with skills once possessed only by a few virtuosi. More people listen to classical music today, and more money gets spent on producing and disseminating it, than ever before. Respect for a composer's intentions, for which Berlioz fought so heroically, is now an article of faith among musicians and publishers alike.