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25.6.08

À mon chevet: Opera and the Morbidity of Music

Joseph Kerman, Opera and the Morbidity of MusicÀ mon chevet is a series of posts featuring a quote from whatever book is on my nightstand at the moment.

After an initial impulse, soon stifled, to extend a hand to Eric Altschuler in commiseration, I have turned instead to brooding about today's musical culture, the culture that produced him [and his book Bachanalia: The Essential Listener's Guide to Bach's "Well-Tempered Clavier"]. Years ago I floated an idea about Western music history, that it might be viewed as falling into millennium-long phases: initially an oral tradition, with people performing music from memory; then a period of literacy (a term Leo Treitler was using at the time), predicated on scores and partbooks to sing and play from; and now a new model determined by sound recording and the activity (or passivity) of listening. Musicians will have a tendency, and they should fight against it, to brush Bachanalia aside as a case of the deaf leading the deaf. Aloof from performing music, from reading it, and even from reading about it, this book is a true, dismaying product of the new dispensation.

-- Joseph Kerman, Opera and the Morbidity of Music (2008), "A Guide to the Well-Tempered Clavier," p. 85
A dear friend sent me a copy of this wonderful new collection of the authoritative and entertaining essays written by Joseph Kerman for the New York Review of Books. Kerman's point of view is always incisive, and he has updated many of the articles with more recent references and thoughts. Whether he is dismantling Joseph Horowitz's gloom and doom prophecies about the death of classical music, surveying the understanding of William Byrd's Catholic faith, or reviewing this non-specialist book, the voice is opinionated and memorable. This essay, which so accurately targets the modern problem in classical music -- the listening shift toward recording -- was written, remarkably, in 1994.

1 comment:

John Bowen said...

Dear Mr. Downey - First of all let me say how much I'm enjoying "a mone chevet". It's a great addition to Ionarts' already wonderful contribution to the arts scene in the Baltimore/Washington area. Secondly, this quote from Mr. Kerman is very interesting to me. While the "prophets of doom" have been heaping earth on the metaphoric grave of classical music and particularly the live performanced thereof, classical music (and particularly my subgenre of opera) refuses not only to die but often is demanding new attention. Isn't it about time that someone started musing on why people are continuing to consume classical music both live and otherwise instead of joining in the (in my opinion unfounded) "requiescat in pace"?