Best time in history to be a classical music listener

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Best time in history to be a classical music listener

There has, quite simply, never been a better time to listen to recorded classical music.

 

First, the recorded back catalogue is bigger and more varied than ever before. People listening in the 1930s would have been hindered by a limited selection of records. We don't have to put up wih a medecore performance of Beethoven or Brahms because so many people have recorded good ones. And in the days of Mozart and Handel, tiny numbers by modern standards would have been able to listen to their works because they weren't recordable.

 

Secondly, we have better quality sound that at any previous point. FLAC, SACD, CDs, more advanced hi-fis, evolutionary improvements to speakers and great and affordable modern headphones mean that we have a much better listening experience than the days of cassette or records. Image trying to listen to a symphony before the introduction of LPs.

 

Thirdly, the cost of discovering classical music is much less. I wish I had been able to use a streaming service such as Qobuz (or Spotify, Apple Music, and YouTube) as a student getting into classical music at the turn of the 21st century. Box sets and a glut of second-hand CDs (e.g. at Gramex) have also pushed down the cost of listening.

 

Fourthly, there are more readily available sources of information about classical music and instant answers a Google search away. Of course, the internet has brought its challenges, and record companies have had to become more efficient in response, but looking at the pages of Gramophone I don't see any shortage of high-quality recordings being put out.

Hello AlexX

Hello AlexX

I would agree with you - with one important reservation. Listening to music at home is obviously cheaper and easier than it has ever been. But I don't know that that makes it the best time to be a listener......

The problem is the changing culture. Previous generations of listeners had the benefit of being part of a shared culture, in which classical music was respected and widely appreciated. Children, at least in middle class homes, were often expected to play an instrument and were expected to listen to classical music. Music teachers in schools, instead of handing out the bongos and rapping decks, used to believe their job was to introduce new generations to Wagner, Bach and Beethoven. Mine did, anyway. Enter a room full of educated people and you could expect to rely on a basic understanding of the art form, a shared knowledge. You could take it for granted that at least some of them would know Figaro or the St Matthew Passion.

Those days are over. Classical music no longer has any place in mainstream culture; not even at the margins. Children all over the developed world grow up without knowing any major composers, without even knowing the name of Mozart. The home piano has gone. Listening is now a solitary, atomistic pleasure; you do it alone, in your own house, and often without anyone to talk to about it afterwards. I don't know what it is like for other people, of course, but I don't know a single person who listens to the same music as me. Not one. 

So on balance, I am not sure it is the best time to be a listener. Perhaps it was better for previous generations, when it formed part of the daily, living culture of educated people. 

I could not agree more, and

I could not agree more with Alex, and the same applies to other types of music. This is, of course, part of a much wider long term prosperity growth, that has not only brought us a higher material standard of lving, but also better health and longer lives, or higher partipation rates in education.

Whether classical music is still relevant in modern culture is a different discussion, of course. However, we should not forget that it was never that widely enjoyed. For a very long time it was principally part of elite culture, and only achieved a temporarily somewhat wider resonance with the growth of the bourgeosie in the early phases of the Industrial Revolution. The music itself also largely died in the early twentieth century, and listening to it is now principally an exercise in historical experience. As a historian, I don't mind, but contemporary music is jazz, blues, rock, reggae etc, all music from a wider social context than church or court, and geographically increasingly global.

The good news is, of course, that all kinds of music are now available for far more people than ever before.

Willem

Are they actually Listening

More to the point is anyone actually listening. ! According to Adorno most people today have little concept of the act of listening.  That is can someone be listening to Beethoven's 5th on their ipod on the train or while washing their hair  put on Bach's St Mathew the Passion and listen. That is the question . !

Willem wrote:Whether

Willem wrote:

Whether classical music is still relevant in modern culture is a different discussion, of course.....

It isn't a different discussion. The original question asked by Alex is "What is the best time in history to be a classical music listener?" I don't see any reason why that should be narrowed down to issues of technology and economics. Wider cultural matters are relevant, too. Is it better to be a listener now, when the act has lost all cutural resonance? Even the solitary listener in 1955 could feel they were part of something broader and could find people to discuss it with. They could be confident that they were engaging in a pursuit that was widely considered to be edifying and enlightening. Cultural meanings seep into even the most solitary of acts. (Is Church going the same now as it was a hundred years ago?)

Obviously one can exaggerate the popularity of classical music in the past, but there is no doubt that it has suffered a massive decline in cultural terms. Ordinary people no longer aspire to know anything about it. We can now take it for granter that the "elite" - the educated middle-class etc - are completely ignorant about it. They don't like it and they don't want to like it. Not so long ago, Solti's Ring sold 18 million copies! These days, you couldn't even find 18 million people who knew the name "Wagner". 

Above all, so-called educated people have lost the confidence to make value judgements. No-one dares say "This music is better" or "This music is truly great". Everything is now a matter of taste. So, of course, the things that matter most are eventually replaced with the things that are easiest to understand......

Train journey listening

You're right - people struggle with short attention spans. A school teacher told me recently that he now has to split lessons up into multiple sections because, unlike 20 years ago, his pupils have difficulty concentrating for a full 40 minute period. But I'm not sure there's much wrong with listening to music on a train. I have listened to opera many times on long, intercity journeys. Good, closed-back headphones from the likes of Bowers & Wilkins do help.

In was Adorno’s contention,

In was Adorno’s contention, in theRegression of Listening” , that that actual act of listening must be “total”. That is listening must involve the suppression of all physical, mental and spiritual (if you can call it that) activity,  other than the act of listening to that particular piece of music. If you are on a train I would suggest (at the risk of sounding contentious) that  cannot be achieve. In a train you might be listening to the music, but you will also be waiting for your train stop,  or looking out the window or trying to avoid be squashed by the person\person sitting next to your, that is your focus is on other things beside the music.

Best time ever?..Perhaps, just a solitary time to listen to...

To this intriguing subject and particularly to the introductory statement by Alex, I may respond later in detail. For the time being, I can say that Jane's quite eloquent posts cover what I could have said, to a considerable extent, as well as those by Amfortas.

Particularly, the last one by Amfortas is, I could say, absolutely right. Listening at least to Classical Music means full attention, concentration and focus to the work in question. To me and most of my friends, listening is a recreation of the concert hall experience: a proper big enough listening room, absolute silence, the best possible and most appropriate seating in the listening room, volume of listening to the most realistic level of the hi-fi equipment and a specific program relevant to a certain subject. I follow this ritual always but I have to admit that, although in the past it was an experience to share it with a greater circle of people (friends, associates, colleagues, relatives etc.), gradually, the last two decades or so, it has become a very solitary experience mostly due to the way of life we find ourselves obliged to lead, the decline in actual production of unique quality events and recordings as well as a proliferation of excellent soloists/performers who never manage to become truly great artists of a sustainable status of brilliance (I'm referring mostly to the last two decades).

I guess Classical Music might avoid the fate of becoming a Museum object, but it seems to suffer a transformation to something alien to what it used to be: It is becoming (almost to a level of mutation) a music for all purposes and for any use, at any time and at any compromising cost.

Finally, as a response to the "best time in history...", I have to remind dear Alex that the best way to listen to Classical Music is the Live concerts where there is the real and only interaction between the performer and the listener and, equally important, the interaction of the audience in sharing the unique moments of the one specific concert. This cannot be possibly replaced with all the services, devices and gadgets are available (and not everywhere) now.On the contrary, they undermine the significance and particularly the need of attending Live concerts of a unique character and uncopromised quality.

Parla

 

 

Best time to be alive.....?

parla wrote:

Finally, as a response to the "best time in history...", I have to remind dear Alex that the best way to listen to Classical Music is the Live concerts where there is the real and only interaction between the performer and the listener and, equally important, the interaction of the audience in sharing the unique moments of the one specific concert.

If you had been alive in 1785, and living in Vienna, you could have listened to Mozart play his own piano concertos..........

Seeing is believing

I believe Mozart was purported to had been piano playing with a look similar to Jane's avatar

I think you are being overtly

I think you are being overtly over-optimistic here Alex and, following Jane, there are plenty of reasons to be more skeptical.

 

What you describe is the general super-abundance of any sort of commodity that can be codified into 1 and 0 and then the easy accessibility of it all. What you describe  can be applied to all and everything: literature and poetry, painting, philosophy, pornography and any sort of personal tendency associated with it, etc, etc. All has been converted into entertainment commodities and all is readily accessible, for a fee or by illegal download, through the same devices.

 

So whatever your hobby or interest is you are right, it never has been more accessible.

 

But in the same way that it could be said that the superabundance of information is the worst enemy of… information, or the freedom for everyone to express their equally  respectable opinion hinders critical thought, so the ready accessibility at anytime and anywhere of just about any work ever composed by any composer doesn’t necessarily facilitates listening, but rather converts the singular action of listening into endless browsing.

Jane has pointed out to how the actual production/creation of the music (as opposed to its consumption) is not going through great times, mainly because there are hardly any social events anymore that require it. Composers are not required to fill the church calendar with original compositions, nor there is a strong bourgeoisie that promotes its creation as a class-distinction commodity. The State and Cultural Institutions have, to an extent, made up for this.

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