Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Classical Wednesday I: Why Like Classical Music?

There are a lot of good aesthetic reasons to listen to classical music, but let's start with the semiotic ones. After all, most of us develop our musical taste as a way of situating ourselves within the social dynamics of adolescence, and then more or less cling to whatever we picked for the rest of our lives. We are proud to like classic rock, or country, or free jazz, whatever, because of what it signifies about our selves and our attachment -- sincere, ironic, or surprising -- to a particular pop-cultural ethos.

In this sense, classical music has a lot to offer you. Long gone are the days when it suggested a conservative, effite priggishness. No. Classical music signifies smart, and if you haven't noticed yet, smart is sexy. [For you readers under the age of 17, it is true that smart isn't especially sexy yet, but I assure you it will be, and you might as well begin positioning yourself now.] Particularly in conjunction with a healthy interest in your rock, pop, world, or electronica of choice, an enthusiasm for classical music is going to position you as a quirky, freethinking intellectual, and you are going to have to fend off the high-quality babes and/or dudes with a stick. Really. You are.

Secondly, classical music is dirt cheap. You can spend as much as you want for premium recordings, if you are so driven, but budget labels abound. The excellent Naxos label, for instance, sells excellent recordings at half or less of standard CD price. And, they have their entire catalog on Emusic, where music is only around twenty cents a track -- and consider, classical music tracks are often 10 or 12 minutes long. 'Nuff said.

Thirdly -- and I hesitate to bring this one up, as it reintroduces some serious dork factor -- classical music has a certain collectibility to it. Hear a couple of Mozart symphonies you like? Well, there's 41 of them, so you've got your listening cut out and lined up for you. Love Bach? Why not collect everything he ever wrote! ....well, because even at classical music prices you would bankrupt yourself trying, that's why not. Dude was mad prolific. But you get my point.

Then, there is the notion that classical music is often a set of sounds strung together in an interesting, stirring, or beautiful fashion. In other words, that it is great music to listen to. Now, I know some of y'all are hostile to "canons" of artistic "excellence" passed down by "cultural elites," especially when they consist of works by "men" who hailed from the countries of "Europe." And yeah, there's obviously some issues there. But to throw out the cultural heritage with the bathwater is to miss out on a lot of rich experiences. Really, the fact that Beethoven is still a household name 200 years later really ought to make you sit up and pay attention. An awful lot of people have to enjoy your work if you are going to have that kind of staying power.

Finally, classical music is a highly versitile genre. There are classical pieces that fit any mood or setting. It sounds great blasting through the speakers at nosebleed volume, and it works nicely to fill up some space playing softly in the background. It can pump you up, or chill you out. There's a palette of sounds available in classical music that allows it to reach a lot of places that other forms of music can't. It's good.

So, that's why to like classical music. Next week on Classical Wednesday, I'll give you some helpful tips on how to like classical music. After that, I'll suggest some specific highly likeable pieces to get started with. We'll cover four broad time periods, and if lucky, get some good input from readers who already like classical music (I recently picked up some boss Mozart tips from Becky). At the end of this six part course, you, the classical music newbie, should be well on your way to your sophisticated new enthusiasm. It's gonna be great.


Anonymous said...

Unsolicited testimonial: Wow, I so totally fell for that quirky freethinking intellectual positioning, back when M5K was the new boyfriend with a pair of series tickets to the Oregon Symphony.

I'm just back from the Adirondacks, and can't believe you all let him get away with passing off The Count of Monte Cristo as a novel written in English. Unfortunately I missed the window for getting a purple asterisk. Or so he says.

Anonymous said...

Oldies but Goodies.

Nichim said...

Plus, classical music has a lot of oboes in it. And when you go to see it live, it is often dozens of highly skilled people playing incredibly intricately interwoven sounds on instruments that are themselves works of historical art, and it's unamplified, uneffected, and freaking loud. But I wish they would put all those violins in back and bring the bassoons and trombones and cool stuff up front. I so look forward to learning more about classical music here in M5000world.

mhwitt said...

Rock me, Amadeus!