Author Topic: A little history  (Read 7906 times)

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Offline some guy

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A little history
« on: October 09, 2017, 06:35:25 AM »
I recently saw a reply to a thread on the book of faces that retailed a common idea about music, so common and so unquestioned, that there was even a time when I just assumed it to be a fact, even though it tallied in no way with my own experience.

That idea is that starting with Schoenberg's atonal pieces, composers began alienating audiences with music that was (purposely) ugly and incomprehensible.

This is asserted with the full confidence that it details a historical fact.

There are lots of things about this idea that are wrong, but I would like to start anyway with its putative condition of being historically factual.

Anti-modernist sentiment is certainly a thing. You can see it anywhere, in any classical music board, in any lobby of any symphony hall, and, as I just found out, in Facebook. It started, however, in the nineteenth century, not the twentieth. There were anti-modernists before then, but the sentiment first started to become widespread right around the same time that the term "classical music" was coined, which was 1810.

The central musical battle of that century, as demonstrated in concert programs, was between the old view, which was that new music is fine and only to be expected, and the new view, which still is that only old music is fine and the concerts with new music are an unforgivable imposition on the "general audience," whatever that may be. I have seen it suggested many times that new music should be relegated to new music concerts, where its few and eccentric fans can listen to it all they want. Well, there are new music societies already, but even they are not a twentieth century phenomenon--they started in the nineteenth century, and were most certainly a response to the growing hostility to new music.

In fact, ideas about music and responses to new music that get are consistently identified as twentieth century phenomena began in the nineteen century. Threatening to cancel one's subscription if the local orchestra doesn't stop playing that hideous modern crap? Nineteenth century. Concert organizers advising performers to avoid this or that composer as being a huge audience turn-off? Nineteenth century. That living composers seem determined to be as ugly and off-putting as possible? Nineteenth century. New music as generally inhospitable and incomprehensible? Nineteenth century. There's not one single canard about modern music that cannot be traced back to its origin in the nineteenth century, long before Schoenberg was born much less writing any music.

But the idea holds sway. It has even morphed somewhat. As most pre-WW II music pisses off fewer and fewer people, the new date for music that alienates audiences has moved for some people to the late 1940s. I've even seen some, comfortable with 1947 to 1970, attribute audience alienation to some unspecified thing that happened in the 1970s. That one has not gotten any traction, yet, and the Schoenberg idea still manages to survive as the one true ur-alienation.

I would like it destroyed, if that is possible. It's probably not--there are still people who think that people in the past (whenever that was) thought that the earth was flat, there are still people who think that Richard III murdered his nephews, there are still people who think that the whole Galileo situation illustrates the struggle between religion and science--so I'm not sanguine. But still, whatever you think about "new" music, isn't historical accuracy better than historical inaccuracy?

I would think--hope--that whatever you thought about, say, astrology, that you would be intrigued to find out that astrology and astronomy were roughly coterminous (as were alchemy and chemistry) and not sequential. But maybe that's just me.

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Re: A little history
« Reply #1 on: October 09, 2017, 09:22:24 AM »
I maintain that 12-tone music, and serial music, meaning generally 'music that is based on non-harmonic principles' has always sounded different by its very nature. It is non-harmonic and not based on the way we hear, which is harmonically.

We hear bass notes as being on the bottom, and higher notes as being on top of that; in other words, a harmonic 'model' of sound.

In addition to the harmonic factor, highly chromatic 12-tone and serially-based music, the chromatic is distributed more or less evenly and constantly, so no distinct tonal center emerges which lasts for any substantial time.

This subject is so general and vague that nothing will be 'proven' by any argument, since no 'facts'  exist, but at least I have identified some general characteristics of such music, namely Schoenberg's later 12-tone works, and have posited some logical reasons why this music often poses problems for listeners.

Offline Florestan

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Re: A little history
« Reply #2 on: October 09, 2017, 09:27:54 AM »
Threatening to cancel one's subscription if the local orchestra doesn't stop playing that hideous modern crap? Nineteenth century.

Source?

Quote
Concert organizers advising performers to avoid this or that composer as being a huge audience turn-off? Nineteenth century.

Source?

Quote
That living composers seem determined to be as ugly and off-putting as possible? Nineteenth century.

Source?

Quote
New music as generally inhospitable and incomprehensible? Nineteenth century.

Source?

Quote
There's not one single canard about modern music that cannot be traced back to its origin in the nineteenth century

Source?

Quote
I would like it destroyed, if that is possible.

You are an intelligent person, you should know that ideas are never destroyed --- they are only abandoned; and the fact that they are abandoned is no proof they are false; it's proof only that the paradigm has changed, as per Thomas Kuhn.



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Offline Gurn Blanston

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Re: A little history
« Reply #3 on: October 09, 2017, 10:36:26 AM »
Source?

Source?

Source?

Source?

Source?

You are an intelligent person, you should know that ideas are never destroyed --- they are only abandoned; and the fact that they are abandoned is no proof they are false; it's proof only that the paradigm has changed, as per Thomas Kuhn.

Read some Edward Hanslick, you will be able to go on from there yourself. :)

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Offline Florestan

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Re: A little history
« Reply #4 on: October 09, 2017, 11:02:13 AM »
Read some Edward Hanslick, you will be able to go on from there yourself. :)

Beside being a musical critic, Eduard (emphatically not Edward) Hanslick was also a composer. Did he compose anything resembling "absolute music"? Hell, no! --- he composed only Lieder.  ;D



« Last Edit: October 09, 2017, 11:03:51 AM by Florestan »
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Offline jessop

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A little history
« Reply #5 on: October 09, 2017, 12:14:43 PM »
I'm sure the sources are easily found if you do a few searches on JSTOR or Grove or something like that, Florestan.

It does seem perfectly logical though; the 19th century gave us the idea of a 'canon' of 'great works' all new compositions had to live up to.....and if people didn't like it then that simply meant it was inferior to Mozart, Beethoven and Haydn and they simply wouldn't care. Beethoven's prominence to composers in the decades following his death, the influence on them and even the pressure to do something different from them I guess would just be one of those 'new versus old' tensions that the world of music had to deal with....

Offline Gurn Blanston

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Re: A little history
« Reply #6 on: October 09, 2017, 12:16:46 PM »
Beside being a musical critic, Eduard (emphatically not Edward) Hanslick was also a composer. Did he compose anything resembling "absolute music"? Hell, no! --- he composed only Lieder.  ;D

I don't care how to spell his name, honestly. He was one of the most influential people in music in the 19th century. He made and broke careers. He was hugely responsible for the idea and implementation of the concept of 'Canon of Western Music', and who should be in it and who shouldn't. His music was insignificant. His influence on the music of others was huge. I wouldn't tell you this stuff if I didn't think you should look into it. You know I don't care about it. For me, nothing happened after 1830. But I know it's important to other people. :)

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Offline Jo498

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Re: A little history
« Reply #7 on: October 09, 2017, 12:29:48 PM »
I think for the first two thirds of the 19th century at least "new music" clearly dominated the concert programs. The theoretical idea of a canon did not imply that more than about a handful pieces each of Bach, Handel, Haydn and Mozart (a few more by him) were played, often heavily arranged to "modern" tastes. It was different for Beethoven. But his music was comparably "modern". Brahms's 1st symphony in 1876 came only a little more than 50 years after Beethoven's 9th.

And the people who were irritated by Beethoven's or Berlioz's music and called the latter "sterile algebra" did not really prefer Bach, but more conventional music of contemporary composers of the 1820s-40s.
So it was a different opposition than the one from the 1930s or so onwards when irritating new music (e.g. Berg) was only partly competing against less irritating new music (e.g. Strauss) but mainly against music that was 50 or more than 100 years old (Beethoven, Mozart, Brahms, Wagner etc.)
Struck by the sounds before the sun,
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Offline some guy

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Re: A little history
« Reply #8 on: October 09, 2017, 01:33:45 PM »
Florestan and I have had this conversation before, so he already knows that my source, anyway, is William Weber's The Great Transformation of Musical Taste. And his sources were concert programs, diaries and letters.

But that's as may be.

The point is that this is a very common notion, shared by almost everyone, and it is in the first place historically inaccurate.

In the second place, it bears very little scrutiny on other grounds. Was there a spike in anti-modernist thought after 1906, or 12 or 13. No.

Not surprisingly, as who would have been listening to these pieces of Schoenberg's and Webern's that were so off-putting? Only fans of modern music, attending those exclusive for fans only concerts. How would the "general audience" have heard any of that music at the time? It was not, by and large, being played at the concerts they frequented. Not that new music is any better known today. It is railed against by people who don't really have to listen to any of it, ever.

Oh well, it fits a narrative, and that narrative is not about to be given up lightly or willingly.

Offline jessop

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A little history
« Reply #9 on: October 09, 2017, 01:56:21 PM »
I think that New Music is doing rather well particularly with the advent of platforms such as SoundCloud and other digital streaming and purchasing options, as well as a plethora of new music ensembles, festivals and commissioning programmes. I guess the internet certainly helps to create a larger audience for new music than was possible a hundred years ago.

Offline Florestan

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Re: A little history
« Reply #10 on: October 09, 2017, 11:05:38 PM »
I don't care how to spell his name, honestly. He was one of the most influential people in music in the 19th century. He made and broke careers.

Whose career did Hanslick make? Whose career did Hanslick break?

Quote
For me, nothing happened after 1830.

You're worse than Hanslick. At least he championed Brahms.  ;D >:D :P
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Online Pat B

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Re: A little history
« Reply #11 on: October 10, 2017, 11:39:29 AM »
That idea is that starting with Schoenberg's atonal pieces, composers began alienating audiences with music that was (purposely) ugly and incomprehensible.

There are lots of things about this idea that are wrong...

Clearly there was resistance to new music prior to Schoenberg.

My sense is that audience alienation from free-atonalism and serialism was both stronger and longer-lasting than that from other music before and since. But I don’t know how to measure that.

Offline bwv 1080

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Re: A little history
« Reply #12 on: October 10, 2017, 05:01:34 PM »
Nicholas Slominsky's Lexicon of Musical Invective is a great source for what Someguy is talking about.  For example:

“I push away Brahms contemptuously. His music is a noisy, reverberating void.” [J.F. Runciman, Musical Record, Boston, January 1, 1900]

Sometimes the invective derives from unlikely sources, as when fellow composers feel compelled to take a swing at their defenseless colleagues. Thus a worked up Tchaikovsky inveighs against Brahms:

“I played over the music of that scoundrel Brahms. What a giftless bastard! It annoys me that this self-inflated mediocrity is hailed as a genius … Brahms is chaotic and absolutely empty dried-up stuff. ” [Diary, October 9, 1886]

Brahms could get in a dig of his own, as when he dubbed Verdi’s music as “one perfect, authentic cadence after another.”


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Offline Jo498

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Re: A little history
« Reply #13 on: October 10, 2017, 11:08:23 PM »
Clearly there was resistance to new music prior to Schoenberg.

My sense is that audience alienation from free-atonalism and serialism was both stronger and longer-lasting than that from other music before and since. But I don’t know how to measure that.
Longer lasting is probably true. The collected "invectives" and criticisms both from earlier times as well as from other music of the early 20th century that has become fairly popular (e.g. Debussy's) make it at least doubtful that it was stronger initially.

But there are several factors that could be causes for the alienation that have very little to do with avantgardistic music, namely that the audience expanded and that there was more music the avantgarde was competing with.

The interesting thing for me is that avantgardistic visual art was far more radical from the early 20th century on than music but a lot of it has become a big business (and really popular: some reproductions will be found in petit bourgeois living rooms) whereas music that was avantagarde in 1917 can still be a hard sell.
Struck by the sounds before the sun,
I knew the night had gone.
The morning breeze like a bugle blew
Against the drums of dawn.
(Bob Dylan)

Offline some guy

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Re: A little history
« Reply #14 on: October 11, 2017, 10:04:23 AM »
My sense is that audience alienation to the avant-garde in the twentieth century has very little to do with the music itself, just as it was in the nineteenth century. Be fair, if you're boycotting the concerts where the music of living composers is being played (the usual pattern for the 19th century), then you're not hearing the music you supposedly abhor. And given that there was no recording technology until quite late, and no youtube until quite late in the next century, you really did then have no chance to hear the music you were avoiding. Now at least it is slightly more difficult to avoid, though not at all any more than slightly.

I don't think that any strength or durability of anti-modernist sentiment that one might observe in the twentieth century is any more than just the natural result of that resistance being a hundred years old already before any "atonal" music by Schoenberg. In the nineteenth century, the sentiment was not largely accepted and supported by pundits. It was an active and contentious battle between the pundits. As I stated before, it seems to have been the defining battle of the nineteenth century as regards music. By the time Schoenberg was writing pantonal and twelve-tone music, the battle had been won. (Any outbursts of activity and contention after that were a good sign, I think. A sign that creative artists and their audiences were not going to give up on new music, no matter where it went. No matter, even, that it went in several different directions, either.)

I would only expect that a strong opinion largely divorced from direct experience would only grow stronger with time. After all, it doesn't need any fodder, really, to grow. That it got fodder in spades (to mix some nice metaphors, there) was just sheer good luck. It would not have been necessary, I don't think. How many concert audiences in the US have ever heard any music by Varèse, in concert? I'm a huge fan of new music, and I have heard the music of Varèse exactly three times in concert, once in San Francisco (Ionisation), once in L.A. (Equatorial), and once in Ostrava (Amériques).

I suppose I could count the botched up version of Déserts that the Green Umbrella in L.A. offered up once. But that bore little resemblance to whatever Varèse had written....

I was looking for it, and I hardly found any. How much less would someone trying to avoid it ever "have to" hear? None.

And Varèse has been dead over 50 years. Someone who's still alive but getting on in years has never been performed in the US (except for one time when he was here on a visit) is Helmut Lachenmann, who is considered a pretty big deal in Europe. I have only heard his music live in Europe.

Getting rid of false narratives is my idea of a first step towards de-demonizing new music. Giving audiences permission to like it instead of constantly reinforcing old and hoary prejudices. That there are so many here at GMG who have successfully broken free of those prejudices is a fine thing. That the prejudices continue to be things to have to break free of is not. When I first started to listen to new music, it was a source of unalloyed pleasure to me. I found out quickly that it was not so for some others, but then so few of my friends listened to classical music at all, it took some time to catch on that this dislike was a big effin' deal. But it still was only good as far as I could hear. I didn't like everything I heard, by no means. But it no more occurred to me to account for my dislike by bashing "new music" generally, than you would account for your dislike of Bruckner, say, or Buxtehude, by maintaining that all "Romantic" music is crap or all "Baroque" music is boring and repetitive.

Well, there's my dreamy little dream.

Online Pat B

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Re: A little history
« Reply #15 on: October 11, 2017, 01:08:30 PM »
My sense is that audience alienation to the avant-garde in the twentieth century has very little to do with the music itself, just as it was in the nineteenth century. Be fair, if you're boycotting the concerts where the music of living composers is being played (the usual pattern for the 19th century), then you're not hearing the music you supposedly abhor. And given that there was no recording technology until quite late, and no youtube until quite late in the next century, you really did then have no chance to hear the music you were avoiding. Now at least it is slightly more difficult to avoid, though not at all any more than slightly.

I don't think that any strength or durability of anti-modernist sentiment that one might observe in the twentieth century is any more than just the natural result of that resistance being a hundred years old already before any "atonal" music by Schoenberg. In the nineteenth century, the sentiment was not largely accepted and supported by pundits. It was an active and contentious battle between the pundits. As I stated before, it seems to have been the defining battle of the nineteenth century as regards music. By the time Schoenberg was writing pantonal and twelve-tone music, the battle had been won.

So your claim is that indiscriminate anti-new-music sentiment didn’t start with Schoenberg, but it suddenly started dictating concert programming at the same time as Schoenberg, but that change had nothing to do with Schoenberg.

I am skeptical.

I just checked the forthcoming concert schedules on backtrack.com for a bunch of composers.

Second Viennese School:
Schoenberg: 75 listings
Berg: 63
Webern: 38

Darmstadt:
Berio: 21
Boulez: 17
Stockhausen: 7
Nono: 5
Kagel: 4
Maderna: 1

Other contemporaries of Schoenberg and younger composers:
Shostakovich: 408
Prokofiev: 312
Stravinsky: 306
Vaughan Williams: 102
Gershwin: 96
Copland: 72
Pärt: 71
Messiaen: 69
Barber: 68
Ligeti: 67
Adams: 45
Hindemith: 36
Glass: 25
Reich: 13
Schnittke: 13
Górecki: 6
Varèse: 5

For comparison:
Beethoven: 1111
Mozart: 901
Brahms: 730
J.S.Bach: 654
Schubert: 476
Haydn: 445
Schumann: 397
Mendelssohn: 375
Rachmaninoff: 315
R.Strauss: 274
Mahler: 273
Bruckner: 135

The numbers for Shostakovich, Prokofiev, and Stravinsky belie the notion that the alleged 1910 threshold in indiscriminate anti-new-music sentiment is the main reason Schoenberg didn’t get as popular as Mahler.

Incidentally, I was wrong in another thread about Shostakovich, though I’m still doubtful that anti-American bias is what’s holding back Piston, Hanson, et al.

Offline jessop

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A little history
« Reply #16 on: October 11, 2017, 03:22:18 PM »
I'm curious to know why a composer as well known as Lachenmann hasn't had many performances in the USA, where the music of Eckardt, Ferneyhough (not American but certainly worked there for a while), Crumb etc seem to be/have been fairly big deals in New Music in that part of the world.......

Offline Florestan

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Re: A little history
« Reply #17 on: October 11, 2017, 10:35:29 PM »
The numbers for Shostakovich, Prokofiev, and Stravinsky belie the notion that the alleged 1910 threshold in indiscriminate anti-new-music sentiment is the main reason Schoenberg didn’t get as popular as Mahler.

Another false, counterfactual notion is that "boycotting the concerts where the music of living composers is being played [was] the usual pattern for the 19th century".

Actually, Beethoven, Paganini, Mendelssohn, Chopin, Liszt, Brahms, Dvorak enjoyed during their lifetime a degree of popularity ranging from huge to remarkable --- and so did many a composer now forgotten or neglected. Mahler and R. Strauss, without being as popular, were no strangers to public acclaim either. And in the realm of opera the enthusiasm for the music of living composers was even greater.

« Last Edit: October 11, 2017, 10:42:05 PM by Florestan »
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Offline Jo498

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Re: A little history
« Reply #18 on: October 12, 2017, 08:24:53 AM »
I would be interested in serious sources of evidence of 19th century "boycotts" of living composers and/or concerts mostly dedicated to dead composers. There were clearly strong factions and lots of invective in the 19th century, but they usually involved living composers vs. different living composers.
It is very implausible that a unspecific and vague stance against any kind of new music was a stable feature of most of the 19th century. On the contrary, some of the music that was met with irritation and invoked invective like Beethoven and Wagner came to be revered only a few years later. Whereas virtuoso stars like Paganini or Thalberg depended on their actual performances and charisma and other composers like Spohr or Raff who used to be as famous as Beethoven or Brahms in their day were mostly forgotten after their deaths.

And as Pat hinted at: The explanandum is that not *any* new music that provoked scandal at the premiere mostly remained hermetic for large parts of the audience.
Le Sacre provoked scandal at the premiere (although this might have been more because of the actual staging than the music) but less than 40 years later bits of it could be used in a cartoon for kids! If one looks up the reactions to Debussy by conservatives whose ideal was Brahms or maybe Elgar they were as vicious as could be, but by the mid-20th-century Debussy became canon and fairly popular. Of course, Webern and Schoenberg have technically been canonized and their music is frequently played but nothing by them (and don't even start with Varèse or most avantgarde since the 1940s) is even remotely as popular as most of Debussy and Ravel or a lot of Stravinsky and Prokofiev. Of mid-20th century avantgardists, maybe some pieces by Messiaen and Ligeti "made it" by now but not many.

So if an old-fashioned conventional stance is responsible for rejecting new music since 150 years or more, why does it work far better against Webern or Boulez than against Ravel or Shostakovich? What explains the difference in their popularity?
Struck by the sounds before the sun,
I knew the night had gone.
The morning breeze like a bugle blew
Against the drums of dawn.
(Bob Dylan)

Offline some guy

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Re: A little history
« Reply #19 on: October 12, 2017, 08:34:20 AM »
So your claim is that indiscriminate anti-new-music sentiment didn’t start with Schoenberg, but it suddenly started dictating concert programming at the same time as Schoenberg, but that change had nothing to do with Schoenberg.
Um, no, that is not at all my claim. Anti-new-music sentiment didn't evince any change at all as Schoenberg's music was being written. If it grew, it was because it was already growing and just continued to grow.

How did you come up with "suddenly started dictating concert programming at the same time as Schoenberg" as something I have claimed?

What I'm claiming is the opposite, i.e., that Schoenberg's activities had no discernable effect on anti-modernist sentiment.

The only thing I've ever seen alleged about 1910 is that that is roughly when composers all rose up en masse to alienate audiences. That's not the only date that's been put forth, either. Note that that allegation is about composers, not about audiences. That's the allegation I'd like to destroy not promote.

As for Florestan's point, yes, lots of composers have enjoyed enormous success in their lifetimes, in spite of anti-modernist sentiment. So the successes of Beethoven, Paganini, Mendelssohn, Chopin, Liszt, Brahms, Dvorak are to be taken as evidence that the sentiment did not exist? Did not grow in strength and nastiness throughout the century? I've seen the same "argument" used to claim that racism and sexism were never as bad as some people said they were. Well, maybe you could have thrown in Cage and Stockhausen and Boulez, too, who also enjoyed popularity ranging from huge to remarkable. If you simply leave out the bad bits, if you include only the good bits, you can make a case for almost anyone enjoying enormous success. It's a gross distortion of reality, but since it feeds the narrative, I guess it will have its proponents. Oh well.

One thing is for sure, someone should have told Berlioz and Liszt that Beethoven was hugely successful, everywhere. Would have saved them decades of tireless promoting of his music in places where he was unknown or almost universally excoriated. But they never knew. Whatever could it have been that prompted them to do all this useless promotion?

For Jo498, that's what Weber's book does, looks at printed concert programs, at letters, and at critical reviews. In Haydn's time, the ratio of new to old was roughly 90 to 10. By 1870, the ratio had flipped. New music accounted for 10 percent only--this is looking at programs in the capitols of music, Paris, London, Vienna and so forth.

In any event, if recordings are any indication, Messiaen and Ligeti are hugely popular, as classical music goes. Classical music is generally speaking hugely unpopular in all its manifestations.

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