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Time to State the Obvious

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Title : Time to State the Obvious
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Time to State the Obvious

As George Orwell said in 1939, reviewing a book by Bertrand Russell:
we have now sunk to a depth at which the restatement of the obvious is the first duty of intelligent men.
So here we go:

  • Despite all the fuss over the minimalists, the Baltic composers, the Eastern European composers and the currently fashionable composers writing the soundtrack to climate change, it seems obvious that the two people who had the deepest influence on 20th century music were Schoenberg and Stravinsky. This was obvious forty years ago and it should be even more obvious now.
  • You really can't make aesthetic choices based on quotas of minority and "oppressed" groups. Well, sure, you can, but you have to acknowledge that it is no longer an aesthetic choice.
  • Determining the truth of something is as important now as it ever was. To do so you have to examine the relevant evidence with as little bias as possible. If you are not disinterested, in the original sense of the word, then you will have the tendency to fall into "special pleading." This has to be avoided if you want to get to the truth. And no, there is no higher priority.
  • The "canon" of classical music, that is, the catalogue of the most worthwhile, the most significant works, is never fixed, but is constantly changing. And it is not changing because of some patriarchal hegemony. It is changing because of the multifarious aesthetic choices of composers (who choose their influences), conductors and performers (who choose works that they think will make the best aesthetic impact) and audiences (who choose what they most want to listen to). When I was a young musician, almost no-one thought very highly of Shostakovich. Now he is a front-rank composer.
  • As the technology of music production grows ever more sophisticated, the skills necessary to create musical performances are fewer and fewer. Compare, for example, the musical competence of, say, Billie Eilish with that of pop artists of a generation ago, who had to learn performance skills on various musical instruments as well as vocal skills. Compare that, in turn to the skills necessary to be a classical performer on piano or violin.
  • Isn't the danger of a pandemic such as the coronavirus far greater than that of climate change? And yet, where is all the attention and government funding directed?
  • We seem to rate material wealth at the top of our scale of values. But when we take a vacation somewhere we always seem to seek out places rich in non-material values: art museums, music festivals, historic architecture, traditional festivities and ceremonies, exotic locales, bucolic countrysides, oceans and beaches, remote wildernesses and so on.
Feel free to add some of your own in the comments.

Our envoi is the slightly less well-known Symphony No. 6 by Shostakovich with Leonard Bernstein conducting the Vienna Philharmonic:

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