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Why Classical Music Still Matters

Why Classical Music Still Matters

Lawrence Kramer
Copyright Date: 2007
Edition: 1
Pages: 251
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  • Book Info
    Why Classical Music Still Matters
    Book Description:

    "What can be done about the state of classical music?" Lawrence Kramer asks in this elegant, sharply observed, and beautifully written extended essay. Classical music, whose demise has been predicted for at least a decade, has always had its staunch advocates, but in today's media-saturated world there are real concerns about its viability.Why Classical Music Still Matterstakes a forthright approach by engaging both skeptics and music lovers alike. In seven highly original chapters,Why Classical Music Still Mattersaffirms the value of classical music-defined as a body of nontheatrical music produced since the eighteenth century with the single aim of being listened to-by revealing what its values are: the specific beliefs, attitudes, and meanings that the music has supported in the past and which, Kramer believes, it can support in the future.Why Classical Music Still Mattersalso clears the air of old prejudices. Unlike other apologists, whose defense of the music often depends on arguments about the corrupting influence of popular culture, Kramer admits that classical music needs a broader, more up-to-date rationale. He succeeds in engaging the reader by putting into words music's complex relationship with individual human drives and larger social needs. In prose that is fresh, stimulating, and conversational, he explores the nature of subjectivity, the conquest of time and mortality, the harmonization of humanity and technology, the cultivation of attention, and the liberation of human energy.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-93364-4
    Subjects: Music

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. CHAPTER ONE Classical Music and Its Values
    (pp. 1-34)

    Classical music has people worried. To many it seems on shaky ground in America. For more than a decade the drumbeat of its funeral march has been steady. The signs are rife: a wobbly CD market, symphony orchestras struggling to find money and audiences, the press and the Internet fretting over the music’s fever chart. The public radio stations that were once the mainstay of classical music broadcasting have been replacing music of any kind with talk, talk, talk. The recording industry is less and less willing to subsidize classical albums for the sake of status and tradition; it has...

  5. CHAPTER TWO The Fate of Melody and the Dream of Return
    (pp. 35-70)

    We can begin by listening closely to some exceptionally beautiful music, immersing ourselves in it, puzzling out what we hear.

    Brahms’s Clarinet Quintet (1891) begins with a consummation. The solo instrument gleams forth over murmuring strings in a single harmonious tone. It melts into a lustrous shimmer, gleams anew, and shimmers again. Then it broadens into a spacious, tranquil melody that slips at the end into the reedy twilight of the instrument’s lower register. For the first moment or two the mood is perfectly blissful, to be tinged—just tinged—by longing or melancholy as the melody expands. What makes...

  6. CHAPTER THREE Score and Performance, Performance and Film: Classical Music as Liberating Energy
    (pp. 71-109)

    The fate of melody is the first great differential feature of classical music. The melody in this music does not express its fate but meets it, has it, finds it. Grasping the fate of melody, in all its luminous detail, is not something to do while listening to classical music—itislistening to classical music. The fate of melody is what the composer composes; it is what the score inscribes.

    Mention of the score brings us to the second great differential, the eternal dialogue of score and performance. The fate of melody is what the performance performs as well...

  7. CHAPTER FOUR But Not for Me: Love Song and the Heartache of Modern Life
    (pp. 110-133)

    Schubert and Kierkegaard both like to imagine themselves as failed lovers. They take a strange pleasure in it. Kierkegaard wants to live in his sorrow, which offers him all the comforts of home. Schubert finds love by singing of its loss, as a wanderer measures the comforts of home by his distance from them. The pleasure somehow comes in the distance; the loss is a kind of gift.

    Put in these terms, the attitude seems perverse. Yet from Schubert and Kierkegaard’s day to our own, nothing has been more normal, more familiar, or more deeply felt, at least among those...

  8. CHAPTER FIVE The Ghost in the Machine: Keyboard Rhapsodies
    (pp. 134-170)

    The ghost in the machine, or rather the machine with a ghost in it, is us: you and me. The philosopher Gilbert Ryle coined the phrase to show the absurdity of conceiving the mind and the body as utterly separate entities. Ryle may not have been aware that experimenters with artificial life had been trying to make machines with ghosts (like Intel) inside since the middle of the eighteenth century and that the combination fascinated rather than bothered most of them. A good case can be made that one of these machines was the concert piano.

    The design of the...

  9. CHAPTER SIX Crisis and Memory: The Music of Lost Time
    (pp. 171-204)

    One of the oldest ideas about music is that it can ease a troubled mind. The Roman poet Horace said so in four words that four words can translate:Minuentur atrae carmine curae, “Song will diminish gloom.” This healing potential is traditionally associated with a style of sweet tranquillity, often vaguely hymnlike, often in the vein of a reverie. Liszt, for example, wrote a series of “Consolations” for piano that are not only in this vein but, unlike most of his music, easy to play, as if he wanted to make them widely available as the inevitable occasions demanded.


  10. CHAPTER SEVEN Persephone’s Fiddle: The Value of Classical Music
    (pp. 205-226)

    The last chapter has shown how classical music addresses extraordinary events, but what about ordinary life? How does the music’s visionary sweep fit into the everyday existence that popular music knows so well how to touch and enrich in clear, unapologetic form? This is in a sense the ultimate form of the question of why classical music still matters. In that sense it is the question we have to end with.

    If you work, as I do, in Manhattan, nothing could be more ordinary than taking the subway. Let’s start there.

    Anyone who frequents the New York City subway often...

    (pp. 227-238)
  12. INDEX
    (pp. 239-242)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 243-243)