Question: Is Classical Music Overrated?

Is Classical Music Overrated?
Is Classical Music Overrated?

If you ask any enthusiast about the subject they adore, the likely response is going to be an effusive one. Whether this is a lifelong trainspotter or a lover of Classical Music, the demonstration of their love for the field will be strong.

On the other hand, someone who has not experienced the same pleasure from any given hobby or subject is clearly going to take the contrary position. As such rating Classical Music is going to have a bias depending on who you talk to and possibly who you believe.

Is Classical Music Overrated?

‘Overrated’ could imply that the whole area of classical music enjoys a certain unjustifiable respect and admiration that is disproportionate to other cultural cornerstones of our society. This could be supported by the claim that classical music has and in some respects continues to be the domain of the elite, not for the common man.

I would beg to differ on this particular point, especially in the last few decades where an increasingly diverse and fascinating collection of people compose contemporary classical music. In addition, the world of classical music has been open up to everyone for many years.

Consider Henry Woods a tremendous series of Promenade Concerts that take place at The Royal Albert Hall through the summer, or how Sir Simon Rattle devoted considerable time to outreach projects and making classical music accessible to all.

There may also be a feeling that the skill of classical performers and composers is exaggerated. The skills, by comparison of artists working in other fields such as popular music, is of equal worth. I would like to feel that we are well past the days when music from any stream of popular culture was belittled and undervalued.

The levels of skill required to reach a professional standard in any industry, especially the music industry these days, is higher than ever. Musicians regardless of their chosen pathway, if they have reached the public domain and are filling auditoriums and selling their music will have worked extremely hard to get there.

There is the consideration that the skill demanded by the world of classical music is simply different from that of the popular music world. For the classical performer, for instance, they may aspire to one day perform the Beethoven 5th Piano Concerto or a Bruch Violin Concerto. In contrast, a hip-hop artist might be aiming for a whole new vein of the genre that includes self-derived vocal techniques and extended song forms.

To me, it is just as impressive to watch a DJ demonstrating virtuosic technique as it is an opera singer effortlessly delivering The Queen of The Night from The Magic Flute. Both performers will have devoted hundreds of hours to reach the peak of their ability and both deserve praise and recognition.

Perhaps, like the great historic buildings around the world, there is a feeling amongst some that classical music is not worth maintaining or saving from ruin. The works of composers like Bach, Mozart and Beethoven have a place in the cultural heritage of the Western World, but could it be that they have been elevated to a status beyond their true worth? In some senses, this apparent worth can be viewed from the perspective of the individual and from a broader social standpoint.

For the individual, the works of nearly a thousand years of Western classical music may hold a great significance or none at all. The same could be true for society as a whole but less likely as that cultural heritage and significance are important to define that society. In other words, without that rich catalogue of classical music, it is highly probable that Western culture would be radically different.

On an individual level though there could be one piece of classical music that resonates with that person or many; each perhaps with a link to something of personal value. In either case, the claim that classical music could be overrated dwindles to a clearer perspective.

Is it then a question of taste? To some extent, that makes perfect sense. If you really cannot find a link, emotional or otherwise, to any music that falls into the classical category, then you could understandably feel it is overrated. It is, after all, just another type of music and not necessarily one that you have to connect to. If your time is devoted to Techno, for example, then why should you place any value on the music of Bach? This travels the other way too.

I have experienced a not inconsiderable snobbery regarding the value placed by people on popular music from those who have placed their own flag on the classical landscape. Often a response like this from either side of the cultural table is as a result of being poorly informed or in some cases extremely close-minded. Whether you chose to listen to Mahler when the mood takes you or Ice-T, does not mean one style or genre of music automatically gains a higher rating than the next.

As a last thought, I have often heard the complexity argument raised against popular music in favour of classical music. What resides in the current music charts, some might feel, lacks the sophistication and depth that you find readily in classical music. The argument continues along the lines of the structures and inventiveness inherent in classical music easily outweighs the simplicity and repetitive nature of much popular music. This is in some ways to forget or at least temporarily overlook the purpose of each of these types of music.

Popular music is design to be as its title suggests ‘popular’ with an appeal to a mass audience to make money. Classical music comes from a very different place where the primary drive is not huge financial gain as much as the furthering of the art itself; it is developmental and intentionally progressive.

Interestingly, what seems to be happening in the world of music is a gradual blending of genres. Classical merges with popular music in a way that perhaps indicates the breaking of more traditional prejudices. Consider Thomas Ades orchestral piece “Asyla” (Op.17). In the third movement of this magnificent work marked ‘Ecstasio’, Ades openly attributes the inspiration to come directly from Techno. The same is true in reverse.

The Ibiza Prom of 2015 put the two worlds of classical and dance in a complete union to great acclaim. Boundaries are less clear these days and I see that as a positive without the future need to rate music at all perhaps?

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