Saturday, January 29, 2005


Music always follows money.

In Europe the church had money, so we have lots of church music.
Money dictates the terms of purchase.

Monarchs and princes had money, so we have lots of music to accompany their lives. In France music had virtually an audience of one, so French music of the Baroque is for the specific pleasure and to enhance the status of Louis XIV and XV.

The middle class didn’t come into the picture until Venice in the 1640’s (1637 to be precise). There was still quite a lot of money in Venice and it began to spend its money on commercial opera. With a small orchestra, half a dozen or fewer singers, painted sets and a few pieces of machinery it was possible to make money with music. A slightly more pompous version originating in Naples took over and completely dominated music through the time of Beethoven.

The Viennese classicists were not the most important figures of their era. They weren’t even the most import musical figures of their city where Gluck and Salieri would have been the more significant composers because they composed in the Neapolitan style.

Beethoven was the first to try to earn a living outside of the church, the court or the popular opera.

Throughout the 20th century the money flowed up from below almost exclusively. No one even thinks to acquire status through music any more. I take that back. College professors think to acquire status through music, their own that is. So we have basically two kinds of music:
The boring and arcane (for the academic audience)
The trivial and insignificant (for the popular audience)

If you were asking yourself why there is no good 20th century opera, this is the answer. What a wonderful opera could be composed of Streetcar, but it would need to be composed by Gershwin or Count Basie. Once in a while great talent comes out of the crowd, a Bernstein or a Previn, but instead of composing great works, they are sucked into the academic context where good always equals complicated and hard to understand.

The best post Puccini opera is West Side Story. No contest.

Perhaps colleges should be required to fire all their composers and make them earn a living in the real world.

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