Mike Kozlowski speculates about the problems of classical music, and decides that the lack of descriptive titles is responsible for classical music being “less popular than it ought to be.” I agree that it’s hard to keep classical pieces straight, but I would attribute it more to the general lack of lyrics. If a song’s got words, I can use those to provide a memory hook (even if the title isn’t actually in the song), but instrumental pieces are a little more slippery.
It’s also vastly more difficult to ask other people for the names of instrumental pieces. If a song has lyrics, you can refer to them without having to turn a title request into performance art: “What’s the name of that song, the up-tempo pop-punk one that goes into ‘Crimson and Clover’ at the end?” (Answer: “A Praise Chorus.”) With classical music, you’re forced to sing the tune, or, worse, try to translate it into ASCII, which is just hopeless.
Titles, descriptive or otherwise, are no real help. Mike lists the pieces excerpted for Fantasia:
The Nutcracker, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, The Rite of Spring, Night on Bald Mountain, Ave Maria, Dance of the Hours, Toccata and Fugue in D Minor, and Beethoven’s Symphony no. 6 (Pastoral)
and claims this as evidence of the innate superiority of descriptive titles. The problem is, while they do have titles rather than numbers, I still couldn’t begin to match title to music for most of those. I’ve heard all those pieces dozens of times, I’m sure, but to the extent that I could identify any of them, it’s because they were in Fantasia, and have become associated with the images. In much the same way that “Ride of the Valkyries” is inextricably bound up with either “Apocalypse Now” or “Kill the Wabbit”…
(There was a great SNL bit some years back with Jeremy Irons narrating a commercial for “Looney Tunes Classics,” a collection of great classical works associated with Warner Brothers cartoons. Sadly, the transcript isn’t available, but in Goggling to try to find it, I found a list of arts grants that included:
“Tunes and ‘Toons,” Harvard Pops Orchestra, Thomas Lue ’01: $300 OFA Grant for the performance of classical music made famous by cartoons. The first half of the program will feature performances of The Barber of Seville, Largo al Factotum, the Loony Tunes Overture, and other cartoon music. The second half will feature the orchestral accompaniment to the Bugs Bunny cartoon, What’s Opera Doc?
Once again, comedy is ahead of the curve…)
But then, I’m no great fan of classical music. I often regret this, as it removes a huge range of conversation topics with faculty colleagues– most of whom are only dimly aware of the last thirty-odd years of popular music. I try to get past this every now and again, but run into the same two problems every time: 1) I don’t really know where to start, given the huge range of music, and the vast number of duplicate recordings, and 2) Whenever I just flip on the classical channel on the radio or digital cable, I make it through about ten minutes before I decide I really want to be doing something else.
As a highly educated person, I feel vaguely guilty about this. There are hundreds of years worth of classical composition out there, on themes spanning the whole of human experience, while I have an obsessive knowledge of the last forty-odd years worth of songs about sex, drugs, cars, and people having sex in cars while on drugs. It doesn’t help that there’s a long tradition of linkage between science and math and classical music (Goedel, Escher Bach being the best-known example)– I feel sort of like I’m letting the side down by not enjoying Bach and Mozart more.
Then again, most classical music (that I’ve heard) just bores me to tears. I’ll probably make a few more attempts at it, but ultimately, life’s just too short to spend trying to learn to like something out of a vague sense of obligation.Powered by Sidelines