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The Music Room => General Classical Music Discussion => Topic started by: Mandryka on November 10, 2020, 06:00:03 AM

Title: Greatness
Post by: Mandryka on November 10, 2020, 06:00:03 AM
Here are some thoughts about greatness in music, stolen with slight modification from Italo Calvino's Why Read the Classics? I'm curious about what yous guys think of it all. Hence this thread.


1) The greats are the pieces of music of which we usually hear people say: “I am relistening …” and never “I am listening….”

2) We use the word “greats” for those pieces of music that are treasured by those who have heard and loved them; but they are treasured no less by those who have the luck to hear them for the first time in the best conditions to enjoy them.

3) The greats are pieces of music that exert a peculiar influence, both when they refuse to be eradicated from the mind and when they conceal themselves in the folds of memory, camouflaging themselves as the collective or individual unconscious.


4) Every relistening of a great piece of music is as much a voyage of discovery as the first listening

5) Every listening of a great is in fact a relistening.


6) A great is a piece of music that has never finished saying what it has to say.

7) The greats are the pieces of music that come down to us bearing upon them the traces of listenings previous to ours, and bringing in their wake the traces they themselves have left on the culture or cultures they have passed through (or, more simply, on language and customs).


8 ) A great does not necessarily teach us anything we did not know before. In a great we sometimes discover something we have always known (or thought we knew), but without knowing that this composer said it first, or at least is associated with it in a special way. And this, too, is a surprise that gives a lot of pleasure, such as we always gain from the discovery of an origin, a relationship, an affinity. From all this we may derive a definition of this type:


9) The greats are pieces of music that we find all the more new, fresh, and unexpected upon listening, the more we thought we knew them from hearing them talked about.

10) We use the word “great” of a piece of music that takes the form of an equivalent to the universe, on a level with the ancient talismans. With this definition we are approaching the idea of the “total work of art” as Mallarmé conceived of it.

11) Your great composer is the one you cannot feel indifferent to, who helps you to define yourself in relation to him, even in dispute with him.

12) A great is a piece of music that comes before other greats; but anyone who has read the others first, and then reads this one, instantly recognizes its place in the family tree.

13) A great is something that tends to relegate the concerns of the moment to the status of background noise, but at the same time this background noise is something we cannot do without.

14) A great is something that persists as a background noise even when the most incompatible momentary concerns are in control of the situation.
Title: Re: Greatness
Post by: Florestan on November 10, 2020, 07:17:21 AM
Sound great to me! (pun).
Title: Re: Greatness
Post by: k a rl h e nn i ng on November 10, 2020, 07:44:02 AM
Here are some thoughts about greatness in music, stolen with slight modification from Italo Calvino's Why Read the Classics? I'm curious about what yous guys think of it all. Hence this thread.


1) The greats are the pieces of music of which we usually hear people say: “I am relistening …” and never “I am listening….”

2) We use the word “greats” for those pieces of music that are treasured by those who have heard and loved them; but they are treasured no less by those who have the luck to hear them for the first time in the best conditions to enjoy them.

3) The greats are pieces of music that exert a peculiar influence, both when they refuse to be eradicated from the mind and when they conceal themselves in the folds of memory, camouflaging themselves as the collective or individual unconscious.


4) Every relistening of a great piece of music is as much a voyage of discovery as the first listening

5) Every listening of a great is in fact a relistening.


6) A great is a piece of music that has never finished saying what it has to say.

7) The greats are the pieces of music that come down to us bearing upon them the traces of listenings previous to ours, and bringing in their wake the traces they themselves have left on the culture or cultures they have passed through (or, more simply, on language and customs).


8 ) A great does not necessarily teach us anything we did not know before. In a great we sometimes discover something we have always known (or thought we knew), but without knowing that this composer said it first, or at least is associated with it in a special way. And this, too, is a surprise that gives a lot of pleasure, such as we always gain from the discovery of an origin, a relationship, an affinity. From all this we may derive a definition of this type:


9) The greats are pieces of music that we find all the more new, fresh, and unexpected upon listening, the more we thought we knew them from hearing them talked about.

10) We use the word “great” of a piece of music that takes the form of an equivalent to the universe, on a level with the ancient talismans. With this definition we are approaching the idea of the “total work of art” as Mallarmé conceived of it.

11) Your great composer is the one you cannot feel indifferent to, who helps you to define yourself in relation to him, even in dispute with him.

12) A great is a piece of music that comes before other greats; but anyone who has read the others first, and then reads this one, instantly recognizes its place in the family tree.

13) A great is something that tends to relegate the concerns of the moment to the status of background noise, but at the same time this background noise is something we cannot do without.

14) A great is something that persists as a background noise even when the most incompatible momentary concerns are in control of the situation.

Enjoyably rich, thanks!
Title: Re: Greatness
Post by: some guy on November 10, 2020, 10:10:04 AM
For my part, I would encourage everyone to read Calvino's essay itself.
Title: Re: Greatness
Post by: Mandryka on November 10, 2020, 10:27:47 AM
https://svfol.org/home/friendssonomalibrary/.blogs/post4466/Calvino.pdf

Here it is.
Title: Re: Greatness
Post by: vandermolen on November 10, 2020, 10:49:01 AM
I think that greatness implies a timeless quality.
Title: Re: Greatness
Post by: Dry Brett Kavanaugh on November 10, 2020, 10:53:25 AM
Here are some thoughts about greatness in music, stolen with slight modification from Italo Calvino's Why Read the Classics? I'm curious about what yous guys think of it all. Hence this thread.


1) The greats are the pieces of music of which we usually hear people say: “I am relistening …” and never “I am listening….”

2) We use the word “greats” for those pieces of music that are treasured by those who have heard and loved them; but they are treasured no less by those who have the luck to hear them for the first time in the best conditions to enjoy them.

3) The greats are pieces of music that exert a peculiar influence, both when they refuse to be eradicated from the mind and when they conceal themselves in the folds of memory, camouflaging themselves as the collective or individual unconscious.


4) Every relistening of a great piece of music is as much a voyage of discovery as the first listening

5) Every listening of a great is in fact a relistening.


6) A great is a piece of music that has never finished saying what it has to say.

7) The greats are the pieces of music that come down to us bearing upon them the traces of listenings previous to ours, and bringing in their wake the traces they themselves have left on the culture or cultures they have passed through (or, more simply, on language and customs).


8 ) A great does not necessarily teach us anything we did not know before. In a great we sometimes discover something we have always known (or thought we knew), but without knowing that this composer said it first, or at least is associated with it in a special way. And this, too, is a surprise that gives a lot of pleasure, such as we always gain from the discovery of an origin, a relationship, an affinity. From all this we may derive a definition of this type:


9) The greats are pieces of music that we find all the more new, fresh, and unexpected upon listening, the more we thought we knew them from hearing them talked about.

10) We use the word “great” of a piece of music that takes the form of an equivalent to the universe, on a level with the ancient talismans. With this definition we are approaching the idea of the “total work of art” as Mallarmé conceived of it.

11) Your great composer is the one you cannot feel indifferent to, who helps you to define yourself in relation to him, even in dispute with him.

12) A great is a piece of music that comes before other greats; but anyone who has read the others first, and then reads this one, instantly recognizes its place in the family tree.

13) A great is something that tends to relegate the concerns of the moment to the status of background noise, but at the same time this background noise is something we cannot do without.

14) A great is something that persists as a background noise even when the most incompatible momentary concerns are in control of the situation.


It seems to me for the many points listed, the cause and effects are mixed up. People with flu cough, but the coughs didn’t make them infected with flu.

For instance, 1) and 2) are about the popularity, which is after-effect, rather than the cause, of greatness.  There must be some great works while remaining less-popular.  Also, emotional elevation among the listeners is an effect, not a cause.  Greatness could lie in significance, including historical significance, aesthetic enhancement, theoretical innovation, creation of a new form, etc.
Title: Re: Greatness
Post by: Mandryka on November 10, 2020, 11:29:30 AM
Calvino ignores the social foundations - something is great if and only if a select group of experts say it’s great. I think this a promising line of investigation.

Title: Re: Greatness
Post by: Mandryka on November 10, 2020, 11:31:57 AM
I think that greatness implies a timeless quality.

Can you spell it out a bit? I don’t know what timeless means really.
Title: Re: Greatness
Post by: Mandryka on November 10, 2020, 11:33:41 AM
.  Also, emotional elevation among the listeners is an effect, not a cause.

How do you know this?
Title: Re: Greatness
Post by: Florestan on November 10, 2020, 11:39:39 AM
]
It ignores the social foundations

What it do you refer to?

Quote
- something is great if and only if a select group of experts say it’s great.

False.

"Something is not great if a select group of experts say it's not great" is also false.
Title: Re: Greatness
Post by: Maestro267 on November 10, 2020, 11:46:18 AM
TL;DR
Title: Re: Greatness
Post by: Mandryka on November 10, 2020, 12:06:54 PM
]
What it do you refer to?.

The ensemble of Calvino’s definitions.
Title: Re: Greatness
Post by: Mandryka on November 10, 2020, 12:07:39 PM
TL;DR

Thank you for sharing.
Title: Re: Greatness
Post by: Florestan on November 10, 2020, 12:14:31 PM
The ensemble of Calvino’s definitions.

I will read his essay tomorrow, thanks for posting it. At first glance, though, it seems to me that the resume you made is quite far from "it's great because experts say it's great" --- on the contrary, he presents a set of features which have got far more to do with how readers/listeners react to a work than with how musicologists/literary critics see it.
Title: Re: Greatness
Post by: Dry Brett Kavanaugh on November 10, 2020, 12:18:19 PM
How do you know this?

Some stories in news articles, some Sumo and soccer games, and some historical documentation alter the audiences’ emotional state and sentiment, but they are not great art works. Also, there are many great art works that don’t exert any effect on the audiences’ emotion.
Title: Re: Greatness
Post by: Mandryka on November 10, 2020, 12:18:25 PM
I will read his essay tomorrow, thanks for posting it. At first glance, though, it seems to me that the resume you made is quite far from "it's great because experts say it's great" --- on the contrary, he presents a set of features which have got far more to do with how readers/listeners react to a work than with how musicologists/literary critics see it.

We’re agreeing - I don’t know what’s going on here but YES. My beef with Calvino is he ignores the way forms of life give concepts their meaning.
Title: Re: Greatness
Post by: Mandryka on November 10, 2020, 12:22:40 PM
Some stories in news articles, some Sumo and soccer games, and some historical documentation alter the audiences’ emotional state and sentiment, but they are not great art works. Also, there are many great art works that don’t exert any effect on the audiences’ emotion.

I have no doubt that music can cause an emotional state. Is your idea that when you say “x is great” you’re expressing an emotion like when you say “I love you”?
Title: Re: Greatness
Post by: Dry Brett Kavanaugh on November 10, 2020, 12:30:54 PM
Calvino ignores the social foundations - something is great if and only if a select group of experts say it’s great. I think this a promising line of investigation.

The label of greatness maybe vested by religious, governmental, or academic authorities.  However, this is a (correct or false) recognition of greatness ex post rather than greatness itself. Greatness must lie in the artwork (object) rather than the subject who observes it. Secondly, Greatness must be present at the moment of the birth of an artwork rather than the subsequent time.
Title: Re: Greatness
Post by: Florestan on November 10, 2020, 12:41:16 PM
The label of greatness maybe vested by religious, governmental, or academic authorities.  However, this is a (correct or false) recognition of greatness ex post rather than greatness itself. Greatness must lie in the artwork (object) rather than the subject who observes it. Secondly, Greatness must exist at the moment of the birth of an artwork rather than the subsequent time.

How can you/we make the difference? An artwork-object without a subject observing it and assigining value and meaning to it is no more conceivable than an artwork-object without a subject creating it and supposedly investing it with value and meaning. The values and meaning of the subject-observer might or might not coincide with the values and meaning of the subject-creator but there's no escape for the essential subjective nature of art at both ends --- and in the case of music there's actually a whole triangle of subjectivities: composer-performer-listener.
Title: Re: Greatness
Post by: Dry Brett Kavanaugh on November 10, 2020, 12:50:55 PM
How can you/we make the difference? An artwork-object without a subject observing it and assigining value and meaning to it is no more conceivable than an artwork-object without a subject creating it and supposedly investing it with value and meaning. The values and meaning of the subject-observer might or might not coincide with the values and meaning of the subject-creator but there's no escape for the essential subjective nature of art at both ends --- and in the case of music there's actually a whole triangle of subjectivities: composer-performer-listener.

Very good.
Imagine that a full-scale nuclear war began and all humans and animals died. But some paintings by Rembrandt and CD of Beethoven Sym. No. 9 survived. Did they lose their greatness since there is nobody to observe them? Secondly, As for the painting, it is the materialized artwork.  It physically exists regardless of the audience.  However, the CD is just a plastic disk. The music/sound is materialized only when humans listen to.
Title: Re: Greatness
Post by: amw on November 10, 2020, 12:52:19 PM
I disagree with all of this, actually. "Great art" is just another way to say "I like this artwork, and my opinion should carry weight because of my class (or educational background, political ideology, etc), so that makes it objectively better than other artworks." There is absolutely no objective feature of any work of art one can point to that makes it better than any other work of art; there is only the weight of received critical opinion and this opinion is in turn directed by economic and political forces. When I say x is a great piece of music, or a great recording, etc, I try to always make clear that my opinion carries no weight whatsoever unless you happen to agree with me.

Coming from me this is probably unsurprising though. I prefer Bogdanov to Calvino.
Title: Re: Greatness
Post by: Florestan on November 10, 2020, 12:59:03 PM
Very good.
Imagine that a full-scale nuclear war began and all humans and animals died. But some paintings by Rembrandt and CD of Beethoven Sym. No. 9 survived. Did they lose their greatness since there is nobody to observe them?

Of course. Absent any human being, a Rembrandt painting or a Beethoven symphony lose all value and meaning.

Quote
Secondly, As for the painting, it is the materialized artwork.  It physically exists regardless of the audience.

The first "audience" (if that's the right term for a painting) was the painter himself (and in so many cases, the people who modelled for it.)

Quote
The music/sound is materialized only when humans listen to.

I don't see how this true assertion invalidates my point.
Title: Re: Greatness
Post by: Dry Brett Kavanaugh on November 10, 2020, 01:02:21 PM
I don't see how this true assertion invalidates my point.

I meant to indicate that it validates your point.

For the first 2 points, I am divided, or I just don’t know. I apologize my lack of insights.
Title: Re: Greatness
Post by: Florestan on November 10, 2020, 01:03:08 PM
I prefer Bogdanov to Calvino.

Rather you prefer Marx to pretty much everybody else.  ;D
Title: Re: Greatness
Post by: Florestan on November 10, 2020, 01:04:11 PM
I meant to indicate that it validates your point.

Ah! It's rather late here, I should go to sleep and come back tommorow with a fresher outlook.  :)
Title: Re: Greatness
Post by: Mandryka on November 10, 2020, 01:12:40 PM
The label of greatness maybe vested by religious, governmental, or academic authorities.  However, this is a (correct or false) recognition of greatness ex post rather than greatness itself. Greatness must lie in the artwork (object) rather than the subject who observes it. Secondly, Greatness must be present at the moment of the birth of an artwork rather than the subsequent time.

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.
Title: Re: Greatness
Post by: Mandryka on November 10, 2020, 01:14:39 PM
I disagree with all of this, actually. "Great art" is just another way to say "I like this artwork, and my opinion should carry weight because of my class (or educational background, political ideology, etc), so that makes it objectively better than other artworks." There is absolutely no objective feature of any work of art one can point to that makes it better than any other work of art; there is only the weight of received critical opinion and this opinion is in turn directed by economic and political forces. When I say x is a great piece of music, or a great recording, etc, I try to always make clear that my opinion carries no weight whatsoever unless you happen to agree with me.

Coming from me this is probably unsurprising though. I prefer Bogdanov to Calvino.

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?
Title: Re: Greatness
Post by: Dry Brett Kavanaugh on November 10, 2020, 01:21:24 PM
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.) I defer to these experts when  I need to.

Dear Mandryka, thank you for your kind response and thoughts. Please allow me to reply tomorrow. I am in the middle of work now.  Thank you.
Title: Re: Greatness
Post by: amw on November 10, 2020, 01:36:53 PM
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?
Not necessarily. You've heard that it is great from a lot of people. Perhaps through repeated listening and intensive study you can understand what it is trying to do, and why the people who like it insist on its value. None of that means that Beethoven's music is objectively great; it just means that you can intellectually grasp its appeal without having an emotional response, but the reason you can do that is because you've studied it. I have the same reaction to most genres of popular music.

I should add I know a decent number of classical musicians who dislike the music of Beethoven, find it not particularly great, and won't play it unless required to (e.g. if they are a member of an orchestra, etc). So not everyone who studies the music of Beethoven in detail can comprehend the appeal, and I don't think that's a personal failing on their part.
Title: Re: Greatness
Post by: (: premont :) on November 10, 2020, 02:03:33 PM
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?

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.
Title: Re: Greatness
Post by: k a rl h e nn i ng on November 10, 2020, 03:52:24 PM
Thank you for sharing.

(* chortle *)
Title: Re: Greatness
Post by: k a rl h e nn i ng on November 10, 2020, 03:53:43 PM
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?

No, I don't think so, in fact, I appreciate that you do not consider "I like it" to be a pre-req, for greatness.
Title: Re: Greatness
Post by: some guy on November 10, 2020, 09:25:17 PM
I feel sometimes* that the whole idea of greatness is so alien to anything to do with the arts.

But then, I think "greatness" is more appropriate for cars and movies and pictures of kittens, so maybe there's the problem right there, eh?

As an artist, I try to do good work. I try to do the best work I can. And I hope that what I do will please people. I'd be OK with being famous, though at 68, well, I probably should have started a bit sooner with that goal....

But what's at the core of things is none of that. What's at the core is simply a deep love for materials. What gets me going every morning is loving language and seeing what happens when I write strings of words. That and loving color and shape, whether I'm using a camera or some water and pigment.

I suppose greatness could be our way of showing how much we love the works of artists. I guess. I guess I'm OK with that. But it still doesn't seem to be anywhere near the center of anything I've ever done. And as I've spent most of my life hanging out with composers (Hi Karl!!) and novelists and poets and other artists, I should probably know one or two little things. And most of the people I've spent any time with feel, as I do, that sounds and shapes and colors and sentences are just the coolest things.

*all the time
Title: Re: Greatness
Post by: T. D. on November 10, 2020, 09:39:26 PM
I feel sometimes* that the whole idea of greatness is so alien to anything to do with the arts.

But then, I think "greatness" is more appropriate for cars and movies and pictures of kittens, so maybe there's the problem right there, eh?
....

Aren't there artists who actively strive to be great?* For instance, in mid-20th century America, many writers were hell bent for leather to write "The Great American Novel", and there seemed to be a hard-drinking pugnacious life-style (Hemingway, Norman Mailer) associated with that.

In music, Beethoven and Wagner strike me as yearning with every fiber to create "Great Works". I enjoy both composers, though I'm currently much less of a Wagnerian than 25 years ago.

*I'm reminded of a passage by Morton Feldman, the beginning of Frank O'Hara:Lost Times and Future Hopes:

The day Jackson Pollock died I called a certain man I knew - a very great painter - and told him the news. After a long pause he said, in a voice so low it was barely a whisper, "That son of a bitch - he did it." I understood. With this supreme gesture Pollock had wrapped up an era and walked away with it.

It was big stakes we were after in those times...
Title: Re: Greatness
Post by: Jo498 on November 11, 2020, 01:13:19 AM
It seems to me for the many points listed, the cause and effects are mixed up. People with flu cough, but the coughs didn’t make them infected with flu.
But other people's coughs infected them with the flu. So it's not that dissimilar in the chain of cause and effect because other people's reactions over centuries helped both establish Plato or Beethoven as so-called classics and also co-determine the reception of their works in later times (I think there was at least one cultural philosopher (Sperber?) who had worked out an infectional model for cultural transmission in some detail, I vaguely remember having heard a talk on this 10 years ago.)
You are of course right that the virulence of the original classic is not entirely explained by this but we get an indication that it does have such virulence because otherwise the chain could not get started in the first place. And this is true even when we need fairly special or rare conditions for successful transmission.

As there are many feedback loops here, cause and effect will often not be as clearly distinguishable as in some other areas. If one totally ignores or denigrates the classics one is rarely bound to become a recognized expert for the further transmission of classics. One will be either have no influence or be an outsider or a revolutionary genius who can establish a new paradigm or at least a revision of a canon. So if one is not properly affected by the virus one will not transmit it successfully.

Literature is different from music in several respects e.g., the time scale is different and there is very little "secondary music" but libraries filled with secondary and tertiary literature. But while the exemplary classics of literature almost all come from a time of which we don't still play the music (i.e. antiquity) we do recognize a lot of literary classics from the last ~300 years.
Literature also has a much more central status in general education than music which makes it different.
And nowadays with records etc. I can re-listen to Beethoven's 5th symphony every day but it would take me at least a week to re-read Der Zauberberg and several weeks or months to reread a translation of the Odyssey (not to begin with the original text), so overall the rereading of literature classics is even for someone who did this full time fairly limited. This is an advantage for music, it profits more from the technical advances of the 20th century, so classics can be established more quickly.
Title: Re: Greatness
Post by: Mandryka on November 11, 2020, 01:16:14 AM
Artists are part of our world.

That world has standards, values, and institutions to keep them safe.

Greatness is one of those values, albeit a complex and elusive one.





But what's at the core of things is none of that. What's at the core is simply a deep love for materials. What gets me going every morning is loving language and seeing what happens when I write strings of words. That and loving color and shape, whether I'm using a camera or some water and pigment.


 I don’t see how this is relevant, it looks like a claim about motivations, greatness is about the finished object.
Title: Re: Greatness
Post by: Florestan on November 11, 2020, 01:21:57 AM
Actually, for me greatness is defined not by any conclave of experts but by the audience and the surest sign of greatness is widespread popularity across the ages and all around the world. If a composer's music is still widely enjoyed and appreciated by the vast majority of concert- or opera-goers and recording-buyers, decades or even centuries after his death and in the vast majority of world's parts, including so many places he wasn't even aware existed, let alone set foot on, then that composer is a great one.

As for Beethoven, if one defines greatness as being what Beethoven did then not only is he great, but few if any other composers have achieved the same level of greatness. Just saying.

Title: Re: Greatness
Post by: Mandryka on November 11, 2020, 01:48:22 AM
Actually, for me greatness is defined not by any conclave of experts but by the audience and the surest sign of greatness is widespread popularity across the ages and all around the world. If a composer's music is still widely enjoyed and appreciated by the vast majority of concert- or opera-goers and recording-buyers, decades or even centuries after his death and in the vast majority of world's parts, including so many places he wasn't even aware existed, let alone set foot on, then that composer is a great one.

As for Beethoven, if one defines greatness as being what Beethoven did then not only is he great, but few if any other composers have achieved the same level of greatness. Just saying.

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.
Title: Re: Greatness
Post by: Jo498 on November 11, 2020, 02:12:26 AM
Many people have at least seen a reproduction of the Mona Lisa. But "public" should be treated as a flexible term and troughout history. Homer's epics have been "classics" and used for educational purposes for about 2500 years without a break (and similar time spans apply to some Indian and Chinese Classics in their culture). Dante at least in Italy since it was written almost 700 years ago. So it's the accumulation of recipients throughout the centuries and also the "multiplication" by experts, educators or otherwise highly influential recipients that makes classics; I'd say.
So I agree with you that institutions or experts are usually more important and the general public follows. And one should also count popularized versions when considering how widespread something is. My father told me a simplified version of the Trojan horse story before I entered school; I had seen (probably severel distorted) cartoon versions of Don Quixote or Gulliver's travels (classics I still have not read unfortunately) at elementary school age.
Title: Re: Greatness
Post by: Florestan 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.

Quote
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?
Title: Re: Greatness
Post by: amw 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.
Title: Re: Greatness
Post by: Florestan 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.
Title: Re: Greatness
Post by: Florestan 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.
Title: Re: Greatness
Post by: amw on November 11, 2020, 02:35:29 AM
Actually, these are inanities.
Like I said: philosophical statements.
Title: Re: Greatness
Post by: Florestan on November 11, 2020, 03:51:11 AM
Like I said: philosophical statements.

 :D
Title: Re: Greatness
Post by: Handelian 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
Title: Re: Greatness
Post by: some guy 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.
Title: Re: Greatness
Post by: Florestan 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?

(https://s3.amazonaws.com/pix.iemoji.com/images/emoji/apple/ios-12/256/clinking-beer-mugs.png)
Title: Re: Greatness
Post by: Mandryka 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!
Title: Re: Greatness
Post by: Florestan on November 11, 2020, 01:35:41 PM
I’m pretty sure Machaut and Ockeghem were writing for posterity.

How do you know that?


Quote
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!"
Title: Re: Greatness
Post by: Mandryka 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.
Title: Re: Greatness
Post by: some guy 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?

(https://s3.amazonaws.com/pix.iemoji.com/images/emoji/apple/ios-12/256/clinking-beer-mugs.png)
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.
Title: Re: Greatness
Post by: Florestan on November 11, 2020, 05:18:57 PM
I'm always up for a beer. Or two.

A man after my own heart.

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

Been there last year, A great place to be.


Title: Re: Greatness
Post by: pjme 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.

Title: Re: Greatness
Post by: Dry Brett Kavanaugh 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.
Title: Re: Greatness
Post by: Dry Brett Kavanaugh 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.
Title: Re: Greatness
Post by: Handelian 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.
Title: Re: Greatness
Post by: Mandryka 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.
Title: Re: Greatness
Post by: Mandryka 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.
Title: Re: Greatness
Post by: k a rl h e nn i ng on November 12, 2020, 10:15:19 AM
He was obviously lying.

The remark is obviously something other than a lie.
Title: Re: Greatness
Post by: Handelian on November 12, 2020, 11:02:15 AM
He was obviously lying.

Not a lie. just a man totally oblivious of his own genius. Like the world around him.
Title: Re: Greatness
Post by: (: premont :) on November 12, 2020, 12:05:37 PM
He was obviously lying.

The remark should probably not be taken literally.
But it can't be called a lie.
Title: Re: Greatness
Post by: Vienne on November 12, 2020, 01:01:29 PM
The label of greatness maybe vested by religious, governmental, or academic authorities.  However, this is a (correct or false) recognition of greatness ex post rather than greatness itself. Greatness must lie in the artwork (object) rather than the subject who observes it. Secondly, Greatness must be present at the moment of the birth of an artwork rather than the subsequent time.

I agree with the premise of this argument, especially since you allow that the actual measurement and quantification of the ideal is elusive.

To consider greatness solely as something to be invested or conferred by critical or public opinion is insufficient. While they may, of course, be useful guides, both are subject to chance and circumstance. Vivaldi’s Gloria, which I consider to be an exemplar of Baroque sacred music, languished in relative obscurity for two centuries until the eve of the Second World War. Did its absence from the critical and public eye diminish its intrinsic quality? I would answer no.
Title: Re: Greatness
Post by: some guy on November 12, 2020, 04:09:56 PM
If you assume that greatness is a thing, and not only a thing but a valid thing, then you will do as most have done on this thread, debate where to locate it, in the object or in the subject.

That leaves out two alternate approaches (two that I can see, anyway): that greatness defines a quality of the relationship between the subject and the object, or that greatness is simply chimerical.

In any event, think about how you enjoy the pieces that you enjoy. Do you need them to be "great," or do you simply enjoy them? If you need them to be great, you might want to wonder about why you have that need. If you simply enjoy them, you're probably being too busy doing so to participate in discussions of this sort.

Since I consider myself to be in the latter category, I shudder to think what my participation reveals about the limits of my self-knowledge. :)

Title: Re: Greatness
Post by: k a rl h e nn i ng on November 12, 2020, 05:20:24 PM
(* chortleness *)
Title: Re: Greatness
Post by: pjme on November 13, 2020, 01:26:23 AM
My English is too rusty for this kind of discussion. So I quote from an article:

High art has never been a fixed concept.

In his book The Art Instinct, Denis Dutton presents four primary properties that characterize genius in the arts:
1/ Complexity –celebrated artistic works are rich with intricacy, allowing for deep and rewarding audience experiences. Furthermore, if the work’s dense themes are demanding and intriguing for its audience, what must that say of the cognitive and artistic faculties of its creator?
2/ Serious content – Fisher was on to something when identifying seriousness as part of what informs greatness in art. Serious content is a universal theme in distinguished artistic works, with love, death and human fate being the most prominent subjects.
3/ Purpose – In this context, Dutton defines purpose as authenticity – “a sense that the artist means it.”
4/ Distance – The greatest works of art require a sense of objectivity: the notion that artistic pieces should have no regard or concern for their audience’s wants and desires, nor should they seek to win over or curry favour with any persons, for “ingratiating itself with the audience is a main function of the polar opposite of authentic artistic beauty, which is not ugliness…but kitsch.”

Of course, there will always be debate and disagreements as to what constitutes greatness in the arts, and any sensible view of humans’ artistic preferences must concede these variations in taste. But for too long we have been sold the mantra of aesthetic relativism, and while this doctrine had noble intentions in its attempt to fight elitist and snobbish attitudes for which I have no sympathy, it is a deeply dishonest and intellectually obsolete argument. More importantly, it fundamentally fails to acknowledge our underlying and unifying human nature, which explains how and why great artistic works can travel seamlessly across cultural boundaries.

Far from beauty merely being “in the eye of the beholder”, our judgements on extraordinary aesthetic feats are profoundly influenced by our shared humanity. Rather than this being ignored or denied, it should be recognised and celebrated.

Sandy Buglass
https://uncommongroundmedia.com/deciphering-greatness-in-art/

Greatness, genius? Extraordinary aesthetic feats....Do these 4 properties help us?
Title: Re: Greatness
Post by: Florestan on November 13, 2020, 03:14:03 AM
In his book The Art Instinct, Denis Dutton presents four primary properties that characterize genius in the arts:
1/ Complexity –celebrated artistic works are rich with intricacy, allowing for deep and rewarding audience experiences. Furthermore, if the work’s dense themes are demanding and intriguing for its audience, what must that say of the cognitive and artistic faculties of its creator?
2/ Serious content – Fisher was on to something when identifying seriousness as part of what informs greatness in art. Serious content is a universal theme in distinguished artistic works, with love, death and human fate being the most prominent subjects.
3/ Purpose – In this context, Dutton defines purpose as authenticity – “a sense that the artist means it.”
4/ Distance – The greatest works of art require a sense of objectivity: the notion that artistic pieces should have no regard or concern for their audience’s wants and desires, nor should they seek to win over or curry favour with any persons, for “ingratiating itself with the audience is a main function of the polar opposite of authentic artistic beauty, which is not ugliness…but kitsch.”

Sandy Buglass
https://uncommongroundmedia.com/deciphering-greatness-in-art/

Hah! This is exactly what I mean by Beethoven-inspired greatness. I disagree with each and every point but instead of refuting them in lengthy sentences (as as initially intended) I will simply point out to three composers who failed on all counts but the first (and I'm not even sure that "dense themes" is the right notion for much of their music).

Domenico Scarlatti. Haydn. Mozart.

I rest my case.

Title: Re: Greatness
Post by: Mandryka on November 13, 2020, 03:24:02 AM
If you assume that greatness is a thing, and not only a thing but a valid thing, then you will do as most have done on this thread, debate where to locate it, in the object or in the subject.

That leaves out two alternate approaches (two that I can see, anyway): that greatness defines a quality of the relationship between the subject and the object, or that greatness is simply chimerical.

In any event, think about how you enjoy the pieces that you enjoy. Do you need them to be "great," or do you simply enjoy them? If you need them to be great, you might want to wonder about why you have that need. If you simply enjoy them, you're probably being too busy doing so to participate in discussions of this sort.

Since I consider myself to be in the latter category, I shudder to think what my participation reveals about the limits of my self-knowledge. :)

The question isn’t about objects really, IMO. It’s about concepts. Whether or not greatness is chimerical like phlogiston, the concept “. . . is great” is part of some English speakers’ idiolectes, and it merits analysis.

Of course it may be a dispositional property, like “. . . is red” And there’s a lot to be explored about the type of objectivity that the judgement that “. . . is great” has.
Title: Re: Greatness
Post by: ritter on November 13, 2020, 03:28:15 AM
My English is too rusty for this kind of discussion. So I quote from an article:

High art has never been a fixed concept.

In his book The Art Instinct, Denis Dutton presents four primary properties that characterize genius in the arts:
1/ Complexity –celebrated artistic works are rich with intricacy, allowing for deep and rewarding audience experiences. Furthermore, if the work’s dense themes are demanding and intriguing for its audience, what must that say of the cognitive and artistic faculties of its creator?
2/ Serious content – Fisher was on to something when identifying seriousness as part of what informs greatness in art. Serious content is a universal theme in distinguished artistic works, with love, death and human fate being the most prominent subjects.
3/ Purpose – In this context, Dutton defines purpose as authenticity – “a sense that the artist means it.”
4/ Distance – The greatest works of art require a sense of objectivity: the notion that artistic pieces should have no regard or concern for their audience’s wants and desires, nor should they seek to win over or curry favour with any persons, for “ingratiating itself with the audience is a main function of the polar opposite of authentic artistic beauty, which is not ugliness…but kitsch.”

Of course, there will always be debate and disagreements as to what constitutes greatness in the arts, and any sensible view of humans’ artistic preferences must concede these variations in taste. But for too long we have been sold the mantra of aesthetic relativism, and while this doctrine had noble intentions in its attempt to fight elitist and snobbish attitudes for which I have no sympathy, it is a deeply dishonest and intellectually obsolete argument. More importantly, it fundamentally fails to acknowledge our underlying and unifying human nature, which explains how and why great artistic works can travel seamlessly across cultural boundaries.

Far from beauty merely being “in the eye of the beholder”, our judgements on extraordinary aesthetic feats are profoundly influenced by our shared humanity. Rather than this being ignored or denied, it should be recognised and celebrated.

Sandy Buglass
https://uncommongroundmedia.com/deciphering-greatness-in-art/

Greatness, genius? Extraordinary aesthetic feats....Do these 4 properties help us?
As opposed to our dear Florestan, I do feel a clear affinity with points made by the author of these comments. And frankly, I do not see how or why Scarlatti, Haydn and Mozart can be used as examples that these points are not true...
Title: Re: Greatness
Post by: Florestan on November 13, 2020, 03:50:08 AM
As opposed to our dear Florestan, I do feel a clear affinity with points made by the author of these comments. And frankly, I do not see how or why Scarlatti, Haydn and Mozart can be used as examples that these points are not true...

Let me count the ways, dear Raphael. :)

1. Which Scarlatti sonata, Haydn piano trio or Mozart violin concerto deals with love, death or human fate?

2. What did Scarlatti mean by any of his sonatas, other than writing keyboard exercises for his royal patroness? What did Haydn mean by tons of his compositions, other than fulfilling his Kapelmeister duties? What did Mozart mean by his serenades and divertimenti, other than celebrating, or providing entertainment for, this or that event in the life of this or that friend or acquaintance?

3. Do you seriously think that Scarlatti, Haydn and Mozart had no regard or concern for their audience’s wants and desires? Or that they did not seek to win over or ingratiate themselves with any persons?

Title: Re: Greatness
Post by: ritter on November 13, 2020, 03:56:05 AM
Let me put it this way:

1) Scarlatti's sonatas have a musical compelxity that trac¡scends the mere entertainment value for his patrons, or "keyboard exercises".
2) The Creation
3) Don Giovanni

 :)
Title: Re: Greatness
Post by: Florestan on November 13, 2020, 04:06:36 AM
1) Scarlatti's sonatas have a musical compelxity that trac¡scends the mere entertainment value for his patrons, or "keyboard exercises".

That falls on the 1st count which I have already marked as valid.

Quote
2) The Creation
3) Don Giovanni

I'm not sure which of my 3 questions above is this the aswer for. Anyway, let's take it at face value,

For the seriousness of The Creation, there's the "unseriosusness" of The Seasons. Is the latter less artistic and less Haydnesque than the former?

Ditto for Don Giovanni and Cosi fan tutte, substituting Mozart for Haydn.
Title: Re: Greatness
Post by: Florestan on November 13, 2020, 04:36:37 AM
Quote from: Domenico Scarlatti
Reader, do not expect, whether you are a dilettante or a professor, to find in these compositions any profound intention, but rather an ingenious banter in the art to exercise you in rigorous play of the harpsichord. No point of view or ambition guided me, but obedience brought me to publish it. Perhaps they will be agreeable to you, and I will more willingly then obey your other orders to please you with an easier and more varied style. Therefore do not show yourself more judge than critic, and you will thereby grow your own pleasure. To specify hand position I have used the letter D to indicate the right hand, and the letter M the left hand. Live happily.

This directly and explicitly contradicts points 1 to 3 in Buglass' article.
Title: Re: Greatness
Post by: k a rl h e nn i ng on November 13, 2020, 06:32:50 AM
As opposed to our dear Florestan, I do feel a clear affinity with points made by the author of these comments. And frankly, I do not see how or why Scarlatti, Haydn and Mozart can be used as examples that these points are not true...

Agreed.
Title: Re: Greatness
Post by: Florestan on November 13, 2020, 06:37:15 AM
Agreed.

Then perhaps you can answer my questions, Karl, because Rafael didn't.

Title: Re: Greatness
Post by: Mandryka on November 13, 2020, 07:08:33 AM
Then perhaps you can answer my questions, Karl, because Rafael didn't.

Let me make a point about this, Andrei, because there's something which caught my attention. "Do not expect, whether you are a dilettante or a professor, to find in these compositions any profound intention, but rather an ingenious banter in the art" is very close to what Samuel Beckett said to Theodor Adorno about Endgame. Maybe he wanted to shut Adorno up; maybe he thought he'd sell more tickets if he presented the play as light entertainment. Because I am sure that there is a way of reading the play which makes it sound rather deep, and I'm sure that Beckett knew it.

 I don't know anything about Scarlatti so I won't comment, but assuming that Ritter's right, maybe he thought he'd sell more copies of the scores if he underplayed the transcendent quality.

Generally what artists, composers, authors say about their work may come from all sorts of places other than wanting to tell the truth about their work. Just listen to the interviews they give when their books are launched, or the blurb they approve for the dustjackets. They may want to maximise the dosh, they may want to court popularity, they may just want to put an end to all the questions. Or they may themselves have a very imperfect understanding of what they have made.
Title: Re: Greatness
Post by: Dry Brett Kavanaugh on November 13, 2020, 07:16:56 AM
My English is too rusty for this kind of discussion. So I quote from an article:

High art has never been a fixed concept.

In his book The Art Instinct, Denis Dutton presents four primary properties that characterize genius in the arts:
1/ Complexity –celebrated artistic works are rich with intricacy, allowing for deep and rewarding audience experiences. Furthermore, if the work’s dense themes are demanding and intriguing for its audience, what must that say of the cognitive and artistic faculties of its creator?
2/ Serious content – Fisher was on to something when identifying seriousness as part of what informs greatness in art. Serious content is a universal theme in distinguished artistic works, with love, death and human fate being the most prominent subjects.
3/ Purpose – In this context, Dutton defines purpose as authenticity – “a sense that the artist means it.”
4/ Distance – The greatest works of art require a sense of objectivity: the notion that artistic pieces should have no regard or concern for their audience’s wants and desires, nor should they seek to win over or curry favour with any persons, for “ingratiating itself with the audience is a main function of the polar opposite of authentic artistic beauty, which is not ugliness…but kitsch.”

Of course, there will always be debate and disagreements as to what constitutes greatness in the arts, and any sensible view of humans’ artistic preferences must concede these variations in taste. But for too long we have been sold the mantra of aesthetic relativism, and while this doctrine had noble intentions in its attempt to fight elitist and snobbish attitudes for which I have no sympathy, it is a deeply dishonest and intellectually obsolete argument. More importantly, it fundamentally fails to acknowledge our underlying and unifying human nature, which explains how and why great artistic works can travel seamlessly across cultural boundaries.

Far from beauty merely being “in the eye of the beholder”, our judgements on extraordinary aesthetic feats are profoundly influenced by our shared humanity. Rather than this being ignored or denied, it should be recognised and celebrated.

Sandy Buglass
https://uncommongroundmedia.com/deciphering-greatness-in-art/

Greatness, genius? Extraordinary aesthetic feats....Do these 4 properties help us?

Nice excerpt.
Genius in art maybe substantially different from greatness in art. Although I like several books by Dennis Dutton, I have a different view about genius in art. For genius, I envisage the followings:
Ethereal: a work is otherworldly and mysterious.
Metaphysical: a work holds a meaning beyond. It maintains a presence other than the presence in this world.
Iconoclastic: a work is beyond the existent paradigm/mannerism.
Super-intention: a work appears to have an intension other than the intension of the artist.
Title: Re: Greatness
Post by: Handelian on November 13, 2020, 07:27:07 AM
Nice excerpt.
Genius in art maybe substantially different from greatness in art. Although I like several books by Dennis Dutton, I have a different view about genius in art. For genius, I envisage the followings:
Ethereal: a work is otherworldly and mysterious.
Metaphysical: a work holds a meaning beyond. It maintains a presence other than the presence in this world.
Iconoclastic: a work is beyond the existent paradigm/mannerism.
Super-intention: a work appears to have an intension other than the intension of the artist.

I cannot see how any of these things apply, frankly:
A work being otherworldly mysterious does not make it a work of genius. There are plenty of works of genius which do not fall into this category. In fact it is the genius of composers who communicate with people
Why does it have to have a meaning beyond? Plenty of works of genius haven’t.
There are plenty of works of genius which are not iconoclastic. Merely to go beyond the existing Paradyme is not necessarily genius as there is plenty of trash out there
I can’t see how the work does have to have an intention beyond the intention of the artist
Title: Re: Greatness
Post by: k a rl h e nn i ng on November 13, 2020, 07:51:51 AM
Let me make a point about this, Andrei, because there's something which caught my attention. "Do not expect, whether you are a dilettante or a professor, to find in these compositions any profound intention, but rather an ingenious banter in the art" is very close to what Samuel Beckett said to Theodor Adorno about Endgame. Maybe he wanted to shut Adorno up; maybe he thought he'd sell more tickets if he presented the play as light entertainment. Because I am sure that there is a way of reading the play which makes it sound rather deep, and I'm sure that Beckett knew it.
Generally what artists, composers, authors say about their work may come from all sorts of places other than wanting to tell the truth about their work. Just listen to the interviews they give when their books are launched, or the blurb they approve for the dustjackets. They may want to maximise the dosh, they may want to court popularity, they may just want to put an end to all the questions. Or they may themselves have a very imperfect understanding of what they have made.

Good. The purpose and integrity of Scarlatti's sonatas lies not in a pro forma preface, but in how they are made.  World-class pianists in the 20th and 21st centuries would not devote years of practice time and recital/album space to them if they were merely "pleasant exercises."  Ditto for Haydn's piano sonatas and quartets.  Anyone who does not find high purpose in the Mozart symphonies of the summer of 1788 doesn't understand much about Mozart.
Title: Re: Greatness
Post by: k a rl h e nn i ng on November 13, 2020, 07:56:12 AM
Might as well argue that Fabergé just made pretty eggs to please a princess's eye.
Title: Re: Greatness
Post by: ritter on November 13, 2020, 09:13:59 AM
Then perhaps you can answer my questions, Karl, because Rafael didn't.
Rafael works for a loving, you know, and couldn’t answer at that moment ;D.

Fortunately, Karl (who also works fo a living) found some spare time to answer. I thank him, and agree with his comments... :)
Title: Re: Greatness
Post by: Florestan on November 13, 2020, 09:37:33 AM
Let me make a point about this, Andrei, because there's something which caught my attention. "Do not expect, whether you are a dilettante or a professor, to find in these compositions any profound intention, but rather an ingenious banter in the art" is very close to what Samuel Beckett said to Theodor Adorno about Endgame. Maybe he wanted to shut Adorno up; maybe he thought he'd sell more tickets if he presented the play as light entertainment. Because I am sure that there is a way of reading the play which makes it sound rather deep, and I'm sure that Beckett knew it.

 I don't know anything about Scarlatti so I won't comment, but assuming that Ritter's right, maybe he thought he'd sell more copies of the scores if he underplayed the transcendent quality.

Generally what artists, composers, authors say about their work may come from all sorts of places other than wanting to tell the truth about their work. Just listen to the interviews they give when their books are launched, or the blurb they approve for the dustjackets. They may want to maximise the dosh, they may want to court popularity, they may just want to put an end to all the questions. Or they may themselves have a very imperfect understanding of what they have made.

If this were so --- and it might very well be --- it still wouldn't invalidate my point. On the contrary, it woild only reinforce it because it clearly implies that artists do have regard and concern for what the audiences want and desire and strategically present their work as being in line with them even if they aren't. And why do they do that? Well, you said it yourself: to sell more copies and/or court popularity. In so doing they directly violate criterion 4 and obliquely criterion 3.
Title: Re: Greatness
Post by: Florestan on November 13, 2020, 09:43:47 AM
Good. The purpose and integrity of Scarlatti's sonatas lies not in a pro forma preface, but in how they are made.  World-class pianists in the 20th and 21st centuries would not devote years of practice time and recital/album space to them if they were merely "pleasant exercises."  Ditto for Haydn's piano sonatas and quartets.  Anyone who does not find high purpose in the Mozart symphonies of the summer of 1788 doesn't understand much about Mozart.

Thiis is all very fine and true. My question still stands unanswered: which specific Scarlatti sonata, Haydn piano trio and Mozart violin concerto meet criterion No. 2, viz. Serious content – Fisher was on to something when identifying seriousness as part of what informs greatness in art. Serious content is a universal theme in distinguished artistic works, with love, death and human fate being the most prominent subjects. If they do meet it, then it shouldn't be difficult to tell which one deals with love, which one with death and which one with human fate. But if it is indeed difficult or downright impossible to tell, then they don't meet it. I see no way out of this conundrum.
Title: Re: Greatness
Post by: some guy on November 13, 2020, 10:21:16 AM
I do see a way out of this conundrum, but it may not prove to be any more than my way out.

If it turns out to be valuable to others, that will be fine. It has already been valuable to me, so "to others" may be possible.

My way out is to look at the object itself, not to its content or its seriousness. What is the thing itself? That is, to substitute "is" for "about."

Very few of us have any training in doing this. I've had a little, but I struggle, too. I even make things that explicitly do not have any content,* that are simply themselves, but I struggle.

My personal "bible" is Richard Lanham's Analyzing Prose, but if you don't have jstor, it's hard to find and expensive if you do. Shorter and more accessible (https://sites.ualberta.ca/~dmiall/LiteraryReading/Readings/Sontag%20Against%20Interpretation.pdf) is Susan Sontag's essay "Against Interpretation," which argues for looking at the thing rather than using the thing to look at (or even to create) something else.

*In spite of my best efforts, people who have read my stuff are able to find all sorts of content and seriousness, even profundity in it. Which puts us right back into that hard sell (I've never been able to sell it, anyway) that all the important stuff, all the stuff we keep insisting is important, can be more successfully located not in the work or in the reader/listener but in the relationship formed when someone engages with a work.
Title: Re: Greatness
Post by: Florestan on November 14, 2020, 12:00:08 AM
Might as well argue that Fabergé just made pretty eggs to please a princess's eye.

I see no reason why an artist wouldn't put into a commissioned work all his artistry and craftsmanship.
Title: Re: Greatness
Post by: MN Dave on November 25, 2020, 01:15:36 PM
"It don't mean a thing if it ain't got that swing."
Title: Re: Greatness
Post by: some guy on November 25, 2020, 03:12:23 PM
I see no reason why an artist wouldn't put into a commissioned work all his artistry and craftsmanship.
I was personally willing that this be the final word on this iteration of this topic. Since another word has been added, now, this is my contribution to the final word.