For a blog like this with the purpose of sharing and explaining (at least the basics of) classical music, that may seem like a strange title. And I’m going to step up on my soapbox for a bit here, but really…. For most of you, you don’t like classical music.
When I tell people I enjoy classical music or that it’s all I listen to or that I write about it, some respond with (in Chinese) “I love classical music! The moonlight sonata is my favorite,” or they hum Beethoven’s fifth or talk about how much they love Clair de Lune or the raindrop étude. And that’s fine. But just because you like the moonlight sonata or have heard the 18th of Rachmaninoff’s Paganini Variations or own one of those abominable 100 most relaxing piano musics ever in the history of the universe compilations does not mean you like classical music. It may mean you don’t mind it, but it does not mean you love (or even like it). Why?
Well, for one, “classical music” is not REALLY a genre. It encompasses hundreds of years of styles, forms, cultures, histories, structures and ideas from all over the Western world. It’s not common for an average person to be familiar with anything beyond the most popular or enduring of the famous (usually smaller-scale) works. Almost everyone has heard bits of the William Tell overture, or
the 1812 overture, or some of those ridiculously famous Wagner passages out of the 17 hours of the operas that make up a full Ring cycle, or some of Mozart’s famous melodies. They’re pervasive.
Take Beethoven as an example. How many people would recognize the other two movements of the moonlight sonata? The other three of the fifth symphony? Some would, of course, but only some. Beethoven’s fifth is a thirty-plus-minute work, but most people only recognize the first few minutes of the first movement. This is sad, because the entire work is brilliant. It all stems from that one idea that everyone is so familiar with, but they haven’t the patience or interest to see it.
Let’s use an illustration. If someone says “I love cinema,” you would expect, mostly by their use of the term cinema and not just “movies” that they appreciate it as an art, have an appreciation of a wide range of films and styles and directors, so you may start asking about independent films, famous old movies, and some of your favorites. Even if a real movie buff doesn’t LOVE David Lynch or Lars von Trier, he’s probably seen Mulholland Dr. or Dancer in the Dark or something. He probably loves Citizen Kane or Pulp Fiction or Trainspotting, etc. He can probably talk to you about different producers and directors and their different work at different periods, collaborations, styles, signatures or trademarks, etc. That’s a film buff, someone who uses the term “cinema.”
But if someone says “I love movies!” and you ask, maybe with slightly lower hopes, what their taste in movies is, and they mention Love Actually, Titanic, The Holiday, The Devil Wears Prada, and Notting Hill, you may quickly realize they don’t like “movies,” (as a whole), they like drama/comedy/romance films.
And there’s nothing wrong with that.
But don’t say you love movies if you really only like one type of movie. Because if you REALLY like movies, I’ll want to share with you some of my favorites, and if you’ve never watched anything released before your birthday, I’ll be disappointed.
The same sort of thing holds true with classical music, in my opinion. In the eyes of most people, musicians, musicologists, or not, a Chopin nocturne or a Mozart sonata is at least bearable, if not pleasant or shimmeringly gorgeous. They’re meant to be pretty. But for most people that make the comment about loving classical music, that interest is based on small-scale, easily-digestible, and only tenuously understood pieces of music and may not go beyond enjoying pretty more than music.
I temper this perhaps elitist sounding argument by saying I have difficulty with most late 20th century classical music. I barely got through a listen of Boulez’s Le Marteau sans Maître, and it would probably be an interesting work to analyze, but… Still. I can’t listen to Berio’s Sinfonia, and only once managed to listen to Schnittke’s first symphony, but passively, at sort of a mental distance. That is to state the obvious: not everyone likes everything.
The opposite of that is also true. Just because you like some of the more popular “mainstream” pieces like Copland’s hoedown from the Rodeo suite that played in a beef commercial in my high school years, or even worse, someone who bases their love of classical music on the fact that they adore Pachelbel’s Canon or Bach’s Toccata and Fugue or Für Elise does not mean they love classical music. As for the last of those, almost no one would acknowledge that they love Beethoven’s bagatelle no. 25 in Am, but that’s what it is.
What I mean to say here is that you should be more specific about your likes and dislikes, your knowledge or acceptance of classical music. Don’t say “I love movies” if you’re going to shoot down all of my suggestions because they’re not chick flicks. Don’t say “I love classical music” and then tell me you know nothing of Sibelius or Mahler or even Rachmaninoff’s piano concertos or the innovations that Beethoven brought to the world of music or the legacy that Tchaikovsky left us in his influence in other Russian composers (or his difficulty in writing virtuosic pieces for piano, violin, or cello). No, you like the romantic comedies of classical music, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but at least recognize that your blanket statement is disappointingly misleading for those of us who want to share our interest with someone else who appreciates it.
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