Author Topic: Greatness  (Read 2401 times)

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Offline Florestan

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Re: Greatness
« Reply #40 on: November 11, 2020, 02:13:32 AM »
This issue of public support is interesting. Few people have read Dante and Homer, not to mention Mallarmé. Very few people have had the opportunity of more than a passing glimpse of the Mona Lisa, in less than ideal circumstances. All great I suppose.

Music is much more fortunate (ie, accessible) in this respect.

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the public’s endorsement is partly the consequence of the institutional approval.

Partly.

There are great composers who never had much institutional support of the experts' consensus; the latter came late and only because the audience stubbornly refused to give their music up, eventually forcing the critics (some of them, at least) to admit that they (the critics) might have been wrong after all. Rachmaninoff is probably the most conspicuous example, with Puccini and Sibelius not far behind.

Anyway, I've read Calvino's essay and I have to say that many of his points do not translate well from literature into music and the most important such point is this:

Quote from: Italo Calvino
I can never sufficiently highly recommend the direct reading of the text itself, leaving aside the critical biography, commentaries, and interpretations as much as possible. Schools and universities ought to help us to understand that no book that talks about a book says more than the book in question, but instead they do their level best to make us think the opposite. There is a very widespread topsyturviness of values whereby the introduction, critical apparatus, and bibliography are used as a smoke screen to hide what the text has to say, and, indeed, can say only if left to speak for itself without intermediaries who claim to know more than the text does.

I concur with this wholeheartedly but when it comes to music it's impossible* to avoid the intermediaries, ie the performers.

*save for those happy few who can read a score or play an instrument themselves; but even so, reading a score is not quite the same thing as hearing the thing, is it?
What is Music? How do you define it? Music is a calm moonlit night, the rustle of leaves in Summer. Music is the far off peal of bells at dusk! Music comes straight from the heart and talks only to the heart: it is Love!  --- Rachmaninoff

Offline amw

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Re: Greatness
« Reply #41 on: November 11, 2020, 02:23:13 AM »
This issue of public support is interesting. Few people have read Dante and Homer, not to mention Mallarmé. Very few people have had the opportunity of more than a passing glimpse of the Mona Lisa, in less than ideal circumstances. All great I suppose.

What I’m suggesting is that the public’s endorsement is partly the consequence of the institutional approval.
yeah, and the "concert-going public" that overwhelmingly loves Beethoven (etc) makes up some five percent of the population on a good day. The majority of people are rather indifferent to Beethoven. So you can't say he has universal appeal when that's not true; he has broad appeal among the group of people who go to classical concerts around the world, I suppose. But then you have to have a reason why that group of people is more significant than, say, the much larger group of people who enjoy rap music around the world, and who therefore might regard Tupac Shakur as history's greatest composer.

The fact that even people who don't like Beethoven regard him as a great composer is again a result of that received opinion & where it comes from. Arguably that perceived "greatness" is not even something people take time to understand, it's just a meme they absorb from an early age: Beethoven = great. Maybe all they've ever heard by Beethoven is Für Elise and the opening movement of the Fifth Symphony, but they know that's what great music sounds like because people have told them that's what great music sounds like. Most of them don't end up being Beethoven fans. (This also enables the reduction of Beethoven to a symbol, an artifact, to appropriate or tear down as needed: Adrienne Rich demolishing Beethoven on behalf of feminism, because his masculine nature makes him a symbol of oppression; Kwamé Turé appropriating Beethoven on behalf of the black community, because his revolutionary nature confers blackness upon him. These are philosophical statements, not literal ones; Beethoven's role as a composer of music has been sidelined.)

I mean take a piece like the Fifth Symphony—unless you have led a very sheltered life, you'll know something about the symphony before you hear it. You'll be listening as much to the symphony's reputation as the symphony itself. (The only other way to avoid this is to actually spend a lifetime studying and analysing music until you get to a point where you listen to music in a completely different, highly intellectualised way, and have detached yourself completely from a layman's knowledge of culture, at which point it does become possible to listen to the symphony as just a piece of music. And not a bad one, I think, although I've always felt the second movement is a bit of a waste of time.) A lot of classical listeners certainly look forward to attending a performance of a Beethoven symphony, but mostly because they want to hear if Andris Nelsons conducts it differently from the way Jaap van Zweden conducted it last season, etc. First-time classical listeners who are aware of Beethoven's "greatness" but have not yet listened to all of his works probably get the most out of it, because they can hear it for the first time in full and feel that their understanding of Beethoven's greatness has been enriched—or alternately, perhaps, conclude that they actually didn't like it that much, and Beethoven is overrated as hell, the John Adams premiere in the first half was much better. This probably also accounts for why every time a group of music students starts talking about their "unpopular opinions" 90% of them end up being "Beethoven, Mozart and Bach all suck", but it's because they have been exposed to them through the prism of Greatness™ at a point when that term no longer means anything.

I'm not sure if I'm making sense but that's never stopped me before.

Offline Florestan

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Re: Greatness
« Reply #42 on: November 11, 2020, 02:24:05 AM »
institutions or experts are usually more important and the general public follows.

Regarding music, this might be true today, or better said ever since the late half of the 19-th century. Prior to Beethoven and for a few decades after him, though, not so much, if only because institutions and experts as we know them today (apart from, and above, the general public) were far and few between, if any at all. The general public itself was constituted of "experts" (most of them could read a score or play an instrument) and was itself an "institution" within the musical culture. Establishing "greatness" was a much more collaborative affair than it is today because music itself was a much more collaborative affair than it is today.
What is Music? How do you define it? Music is a calm moonlit night, the rustle of leaves in Summer. Music is the far off peal of bells at dusk! Music comes straight from the heart and talks only to the heart: it is Love!  --- Rachmaninoff

Offline Florestan

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Re: Greatness
« Reply #43 on: November 11, 2020, 02:29:19 AM »
Adrienne Rich demolishing Beethoven on behalf of feminism, because his masculine nature makes him a symbol of oppression; Kwamé Turé appropriating Beethoven on behalf of the black community, because his revolutionary nature confers blackness upon him. These are philosophical statements

Actually, these are inanities.
What is Music? How do you define it? Music is a calm moonlit night, the rustle of leaves in Summer. Music is the far off peal of bells at dusk! Music comes straight from the heart and talks only to the heart: it is Love!  --- Rachmaninoff

Offline amw

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Re: Greatness
« Reply #44 on: November 11, 2020, 02:35:29 AM »
Actually, these are inanities.
Like I said: philosophical statements.

Offline Florestan

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Re: Greatness
« Reply #45 on: November 11, 2020, 03:51:11 AM »
Like I said: philosophical statements.

 :D
What is Music? How do you define it? Music is a calm moonlit night, the rustle of leaves in Summer. Music is the far off peal of bells at dusk! Music comes straight from the heart and talks only to the heart: it is Love!  --- Rachmaninoff

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Re: Greatness
« Reply #46 on: November 11, 2020, 05:14:53 AM »
I have got the same problem with much music, e.g. Wagner's. His music is evidently the result of superior craftsmanship, but I am deaf to his musical "message". So it may be boiled down to that if I don't think a musical message is great, it isn't great to me but maybe to others and vice versa. Artistic greatness can't be objectivised. Even if leading experts and 1 billion of listeners told me, that .e.g. "Strangers in the night" is great music, it still wouldn't do anything for me. But of course I respect, that others think otherwise.

Quite right. Anyone who says that Wagner’s music is not the result of great musicianship is of course foolish. Whether his operas are actually great works of art (and some claim philosophy) is a purely subjective thing. I find absolutely no meaning in them whatsoever beyond the fact that they are operas in the same way as Handel’s, Mozart’s or Verdi’s. The only thing is I don’t care for them nearly as much

Offline some guy

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Re: Greatness
« Reply #47 on: November 11, 2020, 10:31:31 AM »
Establishing "greatness" was a much more collaborative affair than it is today because music itself was a much more collaborative affair than it is today.
But establishing greatness was not a thing before Beethoven's time. Not in music, anyway. In that collaborative time, people went to concerts to hear new music, not to establish this or that piece as great. And the composers didn't expect their music to be played over and over again for centuries.

It's interesting to see how prolific composers could be in the years before Beethoven. Four hundred concertos or so, from one guy? Over a hundred symphonies by another? Hundreds of cantatas by a third? (Many of them lost.) Clearly these are not people writing to make great pieces. And even that St. Matthew Passion that stunned practically everyone, including Bach himself, and that is now universally considered to be GREAT, would never have been expected to be played again and again over the centuries. The was owing to the work of some other guy, post-Beethoven.

And even the almost universally beloved Beethoven, who was wildly popular in his time, began dropping off the radar after he died, even in Germany. So much so that two other composers, neither of them Germans, spent a good deal of their working lives promoting his music and badgering musicians and music organizations all over Europe to perform his works.

Offline Florestan

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Re: Greatness
« Reply #48 on: November 11, 2020, 11:41:00 AM »
But establishing greatness was not a thing before Beethoven's time. Not in music, anyway. In that collaborative time, people went to concerts to hear new music, not to establish this or that piece as great. And the composers didn't expect their music to be played over and over again for centuries.

It's interesting to see how prolific composers could be in the years before Beethoven. Four hundred concertos or so, from one guy? Over a hundred symphonies by another? Hundreds of cantatas by a third? (Many of them lost.) Clearly these are not people writing to make great pieces. And even that St. Matthew Passion that stunned practically everyone, including Bach himself, and that is now universally considered to be GREAT, would never have been expected to be played again and again over the centuries. The was owing to the work of some other guy, post-Beethoven.

And even the almost universally beloved Beethoven, who was wildly popular in his time, began dropping off the radar after he died, even in Germany. So much so that two other composers, neither of them Germans, spent a good deal of their working lives promoting his music and badgering musicians and music organizations all over Europe to perform his works.

Believe it or not, Michael, I agree with each and every sentence above. Time and opportunity to celebrate, maybe?

What is Music? How do you define it? Music is a calm moonlit night, the rustle of leaves in Summer. Music is the far off peal of bells at dusk! Music comes straight from the heart and talks only to the heart: it is Love!  --- Rachmaninoff

Online Mandryka

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Re: Greatness
« Reply #49 on: November 11, 2020, 01:26:07 PM »
But establishing greatness was not a thing before Beethoven's time. Not in music, anyway. In that collaborative time, people went to concerts to hear new music, not to establish this or that piece as great. And the composers didn't expect their music to be played over and over again for centuries.

It's interesting to see how prolific composers could be in the years before Beethoven. Four hundred concertos or so, from one guy? Over a hundred symphonies by another? Hundreds of cantatas by a third? (Many of them lost.) Clearly these are not people writing to make great pieces. And even that St. Matthew Passion that stunned practically everyone, including Bach himself, and that is now universally considered to be GREAT, would never have been expected to be played again and again over the centuries. The was owing to the work of some other guy, post-Beethoven.

And even the almost universally beloved Beethoven, who was wildly popular in his time, began dropping off the radar after he died, even in Germany. So much so that two other composers, neither of them Germans, spent a good deal of their working lives promoting his music and badgering musicians and music organizations all over Europe to perform his works.

This idea of not expecting your shit to be played over and over again - that wasn’t the case in Early music, I’m pretty sure Machaut and Ockeghem were writing for posterity. It sounds like an 18th century thing. Bach, by the way, was busy enshrining his music in Lorenz Mizler’s Correspondierende Societät der musicalischen Wissenschaften, and you can’t get more “writing for posterity” than that!
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Offline Florestan

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Re: Greatness
« Reply #50 on: November 11, 2020, 01:35:41 PM »
I’m pretty sure Machaut and Ockeghem were writing for posterity.

How do you know that?


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Bach, by the way, was busy enshrining his music in Lorenz Mizler’s Correspondierende Societät der musicalischen Wissenschaften

Seems to me that you confuse "I want my music to be known to my contemporaries (and making some money out of it if I can)!" with "I want my music to be played and studied and revered in saecula saeculorum, amen!"
What is Music? How do you define it? Music is a calm moonlit night, the rustle of leaves in Summer. Music is the far off peal of bells at dusk! Music comes straight from the heart and talks only to the heart: it is Love!  --- Rachmaninoff

Online Mandryka

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Re: Greatness
« Reply #51 on: November 11, 2020, 02:50:41 PM »
How do you know that?




Well in the case of Machaut, he supervised the production of the book of his works, and in fact stipulated that his music should be played at certain times of year after his death (like every year in a ceremony) 



Seems to me that you confuse "I want my music to be known to my contemporaries (and making some money out of it if I can)!" with "I want my music to be played and studied and revered in saecula saeculorum, amen!"

And Bach wanted the latter or the former? I mean this society of Mizler had a grand enlightenment mission statement I think.
« Last Edit: November 11, 2020, 02:54:12 PM by Mandryka »
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Offline some guy

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Re: Greatness
« Reply #52 on: November 11, 2020, 04:05:52 PM »
Believe it or not, Michael, I agree with each and every sentence above. Time and opportunity to celebrate, maybe?


I'm always up for a beer. Or two.

You ever get out to Timișoara? That looks like a nice place. Not that their beers don't make their way to București or anything.

Offline Florestan

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Re: Greatness
« Reply #53 on: November 11, 2020, 05:18:57 PM »
I'm always up for a beer. Or two.

A man after my own heart.

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You ever get out to Timișoara? That looks like a nice place.

Been there last year, A great place to be.


What is Music? How do you define it? Music is a calm moonlit night, the rustle of leaves in Summer. Music is the far off peal of bells at dusk! Music comes straight from the heart and talks only to the heart: it is Love!  --- Rachmaninoff

Offline pjme

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Re: Greatness
« Reply #54 on: November 12, 2020, 05:14:27 AM »
Well in the case of Machaut, he supervised the production of the book of his works, and in fact stipulated that his music should be played at certain times of year after his death (like every year in a ceremony) 

I'm not familiar with Machaut's last will, but afaik, it was common usage to offer masses (and music) after one's death.

"When a person realised that death was close, he or she turned his thoughts to arranging his soul for the afterlife. The omnipresence of imminent death made people invest in their salvation by what the French historian Jacques Chiffoleau has called the “accounting of the afterlife” (la comptabilité de l’au-delà). Through the process of the “mathematics of salvation” (mathématique du salut), people assessed the necessary sums to be spent on pious causes (ad pios usus), including masses, anniversary masses, alms, legacies, wills and donations, to guarantee some relief from the pains of purgatory pending the Last Judgement.
They organised their budget for the afterlife. Preparing for death could also mean worrying about the memory and post-mortem reputation of the dying. This could be done by, for example, preparing or commissioning works of art, effigies, memorials or literary works."
source:

http://www.helsinki.fi/collegium/journal/volumes/volume_18/Death%20and%20Dying%20in%20Medieval%20and%20Early%20Modern%20Europe.pdf

This tradition still goes on - albeit sporadically, I think.

« Last Edit: November 12, 2020, 05:19:09 AM by pjme »

Offline Dry Brett Kavanaugh

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Re: Greatness
« Reply #55 on: November 12, 2020, 08:01:31 AM »
My problem is that I really don't like most of Beethoven's music, but I can see that it is great music. Do you think I'm contradicting myself when I say that?

Yes, it does contradict as you know. Your situation exemplifies my notion, which you initially questioned, that greatness is unrelated to likability and emotional impact. And this indication may substantially affirm my thesis, which you currently do not support, that greatness of music lies in the work itself (object) rather than the subject who observes it.

Offline Dry Brett Kavanaugh

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Re: Greatness
« Reply #56 on: November 12, 2020, 08:03:09 AM »
OK let's assume that the greatness lies in the music. There is now the epistemological problem. How does anyone know that the greatness is there?

The idea I am proposing we explore is this. There are some people who, through education and experience, have grasped the idea of greatness so well that they can apply it confidently and authoritatively. This is a community of experts who have a special role in our society: they tell us all whether something is great. They will include arts professors from top universities, institutional investors, conductors of major orchestras . . . .

It's a little bit like with a natural kind concept like gold. There are experts who can tell us whether something really is gold, or whether it isn't (it's fools' gold, iron pyrites.) I defer to these experts when  I need to.


Yes it is difficult, or impossible, to prove greatness in music itself. However, it doesn’t follow that greatness instead must be decided based on worldly measurements.  Your epistemological concern is independent of, and unrelated to, the ontological issue discussed here. These are two separate issues. You are saying that because nobody can measure the concept, let’s change the meaning of concept so it would be measurable. It doesn’t work that way. Measurability doesn’t give correctness of concept.  Your proposition implicates that 1) unless the audience make a decision on greatness, we cannot prove/measure greatness, 2) so we must define that greatness is a result of the decision by the audience.  While it is convenient, the proposition is circular.  After such a decision, greatness would still remain unproved. Opinion of greatness in the subject (audience) is a different entity from greatness itself in the object.  If you kill all American people except those who believe that Trump is a great president, would it “enhance” Trump’s greatness while it won’t change his past actions and quality? It would only change the opinion on his greatness, rather than the greatness in his actions and quality.

As for the evaluation by experts, political scientists in academics do similar things on greatness of the U.S. presidents. However, they stress that what they evaluate is a loose collection of several important qualities, rather than greatness as a definite and singular term, based on limited amount of information.  Also, evaluations of music by experts could be largely influenced by religious, academic, cultural and governmental authorities (please study “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions” by Thomas Kuhn including his term “paradigm shift” on this matter).  Vivid examples would include totalitarian regimes. Nazi Germany govt decided what is beautiful, what is moralistic, etc. Today, however, very few of Nazism art works are praised. Same on the art works in China at the time of Cultural Revolution.  Again, greatness of artwork is present in the work itself rather than the opinion of audience. So, greatness in music is an ideal, not a physical, concept. Therefore, greatness in music is esoteric and mysterious, but it exists.

Mandryka: when did the greatness of Beethoven No.9 arise?
Idealist: it did at the time B completed the composition.
Materialist: it arises during the time orchestras perform the No. 9 and generate the sound.
Subjectivist: it arises during the time the no.9 is heard by the audience.

Handelian

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Re: Greatness
« Reply #57 on: November 12, 2020, 08:34:35 AM »
But establishing greatness was not a thing before Beethoven's time. Not in music, anyway. In that collaborative time, people went to concerts to hear new music, not to establish this or that piece as great. And the composers didn't expect their music to be played over and over again for centuries.

It's interesting to see how prolific composers could be in the years before Beethoven. Four hundred concertos or so, from one guy? Over a hundred symphonies by another? Hundreds of cantatas by a third? (Many of them lost.) Clearly these are not people writing to make great pieces. And even that St. Matthew Passion that stunned practically everyone, including Bach himself, and that is now universally considered to be GREAT, would never have been expected to be played again and again over the centuries. The was owing to the work of some other guy, post-Beethoven.

And even the almost universally beloved Beethoven, who was wildly popular in his time, began dropping off the radar after he died, even in Germany. So much so that two other composers, neither of them Germans, spent a good deal of their working lives promoting his music and badgering musicians and music organizations all over Europe to perform his works.

Yes I agree with this up to a point. Composers like Bach, Handel, etc considered they were just doing a job or making a living. The fact that Bach remarked that anyone who worked as hard as he did could do what he did appears to reveal he didn't think himself unusually talented. Of course, posterity has resoundingly disagreed with him! Haydn spend most of his life as a servant, writing music for the amusement of his employer and was amazed when he went to London that he was considered a celebrity and a genius. Mozart of course probably realised his genius but struggled to make a living and it wasn't until we get to Beethoven that the cult of genius emerges, although Beethoven himself struggled as a composer financially. He wasn't 'wildly popular' as Rossini was. But the fact that 16,000 turned out for his funeral gives an idea of the awe in which he was held by the time he died. It was with him that the cult of genius started. Before musicians were regarded as lackeys.

Online Mandryka

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Re: Greatness
« Reply #58 on: November 12, 2020, 08:40:19 AM »
Yes, it does contradict as you know. Your situation exemplifies my notion, which you initially questioned, that greatness is unrelated to likability and emotional impact. And this indication may substantially affirm my thesis, which you currently do not support, that greatness of music lies in the work itself (object) rather than the subject who observes it.

Well, I am exploring ideas, not supporting ideas, I think this is an elusive topic,  but I would have thought this post of mine is at least consistent with finding a way to make sense of the thought that greatness is something to do with the work

OK let's assume that the greatness lies in the music. There is now the epistemological problem. How does anyone know that the greatness is there?

The idea I am proposing we explore is this. There are some people who, through education and experience, have grasped the idea of greatness so well that they can apply it confidently and authoritatively. This is a community of experts who have a special role in our society: they tell us all whether something is great. They will include arts professors from top universities, institutional investors, conductors of major orchestras . . . .

It's a little bit like with a natural kind concept like gold. There are experts who can tell us whether something really is gold, or whether it isn't (it's fools' gold, iron pyrites.) I defer to these experts when  I need to.
« Last Edit: November 12, 2020, 08:42:09 AM by Mandryka »
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Online Mandryka

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Re: Greatness
« Reply #59 on: November 12, 2020, 08:43:18 AM »
The fact that Bach remarked that anyone who worked as hard as he did could do what he did appears to reveal he didn't think himself unusually talented. Of course, posterity has resoundingly disagreed with him!

He was obviously lying.
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