Eight sentences about classical music I’d be happy never to read again

“Nobody actually enjoys listening to atonal music—they just want other people to think they’re a pretentious intellectual.” For the record, I enjoyed listening to atonal music well before I was a pretentious intellectual. Seriously, stop telling me that I don’t like what I do like, OK? Because otherwise, I’m going to have to bring up that whole Proust thing. And I know you never got through Swann’s Way.

“Jazz is America’s classical music.” The music of Adams, Babbitt, Bernstein, Billings, Brant, Cage, Carpenter, Carter, Copland, Corigliano, Crumb, Diamond, Eaton, Feldman, Fine, Flynn, Foss, Glass, Harbison, Heinrich, Imbrie, Ives, Johnston, Kirchner, Larsen, Macdowell, Moran, Nancarrow, Oliveros, Parker, Partch, Reich, Riegger, Riley, Rouse (both of ‘em), Ruggles, Seeger, Shapey, Tower, Williams, and (god help me) LaMonte Young (just to name a few) is America’s classical music. Jazz is jazz. Why is this so hard?

“Mozart and Beethoven were the popular music of their time.” Mozart and Beethoven may have been more popular than, say, Hartke and Wuorinen are today, but that hardly makes them 200-year-old equivalents of Justin Timberlake. Both relied heavily on royal patronage and a state-supported musical infrastructure. Both wrote the majority of their works for an aristocratic audience. (Want to breathe new life into this meme? Try working in John Gay.)

“The atmosphere at classical concerts is intimidating.” Too formal? Sure. Snobbish? On occasion. But if you find a bunch of well-dressed old people to be intimidating, a suggestion: maybe Mahler 6 isn’t the best entertainment choice for you in the first place.

“Orchestras need to do away with tuxedos because they’re stuffy and outdated.” Yeah, that James Bond—what a prudish old geezer. Besides, if all enterprises rose and fell on the aesthetic quality of their uniforms, Major League Baseball would have bit the dust years ago.

“Blah blah blah uptown composers blah blah blah downtown composers.” Look, I’m sure this particular dialectic felt terribly, vitally important at a certain place and time. But to all of us living in the vague and undifferentiated string of comical hick towns that New Yorkers regard the rest of the world to be, this is pretty much like listening to your grandparents debate the relative merits of Ovaltine and Postum. Think of how much wonderful music would result if all that wasted energy was applied to something constructive, like making fun of emo.

“In celebration of the [large number]th anniversary of the birth of [dead composer].” Why is it that all those people who reject formalist composition as too intellectual and schematic are perfectly happy to flood the world with concerts/broadcasts/recordings of old-timers for no other reason than a numerological coincidence? Just asking. (Today, for instance, is Shostakovich’s 100th birthday. Strike a blow for reason and listen to him tomorrow.)

“Composers today only write music for other composers.” Only if they’re buying.


  1. I totally agree with you on everything but the tuxedos. A bass drum roll entails hunching over while standing on one foot with the opposite knee pressed against the head of bass drum while your forearms move with a very agitated motion. <>This is not comfortable in shirt held together by studs and a bow-tie.<>

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