Who Wants Classical Music? – CORYMBUS


I not too long ago completed Julian Johnson’s 2002 e-book Who Wants Classical Music? It units out to query relativism in our attitudes to musical style, and makes a case in opposition to the marginalisation of classical music in trendy life. Johnson needs to emphasize the target facets of music, in opposition to what he sees as trendy tradition’s overly marketised, individualist assumptions about how we must always interact with the humanities.

He writes insightfully, at instances inspiringly, about how classical music works, what makes it distinctive, and why the humanities and mental life matter. However he’s on much less agency floor when writing in regards to the modern tradition inside which classical music sits.

There’s little citation or quotation on this e-book. Johnson constructs his personal targets to strike, with broad-brush summaries of ‘so the argument runs’, and a number of cosy analogies – ‘we wouldn’t deal with x on this manner, so why music?’ His evidently deep educational understanding of classical music sits in marked aid to his breezy strategy exterior of it. He exhibits little curiosity about what well-liked tradition truly does for individuals, and at instances adopts slightly dismissive language – regardless of writing from a rustic that has made an extremely wealthy and vibrant contribution to Western well-liked music within the a long time because the Beatles, a reality which certainly has some bearing on public attitudes in direction of music usually.

This informal method is sadly summed up by a quoted paragraph on the e-book’s again cowl, which begins: ‘To speak of artwork as cultural capital recollects the perspective that made the slave commerce doable’ – an unworthy try to borrow gravity from historic struggling.

That mentioned, there’s little doubt that Who wants classical music? largely does what it intends to do: make an clever and galvanising case for classical music – for these already wanting to listen to it, a minimum of. Immediately, twenty years on, a e-book like this might be written by a Brylcreemed Telegraph columnist scoring culture-war factors about classical music and the decline of The West. So we must be grateful that it’s higher than that. However it nonetheless stays slightly restricted in its purview.

Who Wants Classical Music? is accessible from OUP.

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