Things Are Products of Their Environments; Also, Objective Truth

The Phoenix Symphony is expanding its musical horizons. They're going to program a bunch of world music this season. Cool! Hooray! Let's have Richard Nilsen of the Phoenix Sun (online) tell us about it.

(Caveat: much of this has to do with his interviewee.)

Symphony Mixes Pop, Tradition

Suddenly all world music is pop music?

There is a tendency to think about classical music as somehow different from other musics in the world, something separate and distinct.

1) Passive voice much?

2) By whom? Westerners? Phoenixites? (?-ed) Critics? Everyone? The Japanese?

But that's not the way it really is: Every major composer has been influenced by the popular music of his time and by the music of the rest of the world.

The...general sense of this is clear, but false. Machaut was, I'm sure, not aware of Japanese music (let alone Japan) in the 14th century. No? Sure, he was influenced by the troubadors and trouveres, but...the rest of the world?

Also: define "major composer" please.

Which is one reason the Phoenix Symphony is starting its season with a "World Music Festival" (Sept. 11-21). It will include performances by many groups and soloists not normally associated with white-tie and tails.

Um. Scare quotes unnecessary. "White-tie" is not modifying anything, so doesn't need a hyphen, I think. Just saying. Really the scare quotes bother me more.

"Composers were of the world they lived in," says Maryellen Gleason, Phoenix Symphony director.

Paging Captian Obvious, come in Captain Obvious. Sheesh. Director? Wow.

Also: are there no longer composers?

Mozart lived in Vienna, she says,

Get the fuck out. No way!

and included not only Austrian and German folk music in his work, but the other influences of the time, such as the Turkish janissary band music that was so popular. Hence his "Turkish Rondo,

Um. Rondo a la Turka? From the Sonata for Piano in A Major, K.331? Yes.

or later, Beethoven's "Turkish March" from The Ruins of Athens. Even Beethoven's sublime Ninth Symphony has a Turkish military march in the middle of the finale.

Fair point about the Beethoven.

The list is long and invigorating: Bach wrote in French, Italian and English styles, in addition to his own German; Haydn loved to sneak an Alsatian folk tune into a symphony or two; Beethoven borrowed Russian folk tunes for his Rasumovsky quartets; Brahms and Liszt loved Gypsy tunes; Debussy imported Javanese gamelan music into his piano scores; and Bartok and Kodaly built their 20th century Modernism on Hungarian and Romanian folk melodies they collected in the countryside.

See? The point is fair, but...Hungarians like Hungarian music? Seriously? Yes, seriously.

Anyway. The rest of the article details the programming for the """World Music Festival""". It sounds like a great idea. Read about it here.


AnthonyS said...

Several things:

(1) "Turkish Rondo" sounds like a really yummy cigarette.

(2) The title was really blown here. You mentioned it briefly, but damn, I don't get it. How does the following quote:
"The World Music Festival gives us the opportunity to bring traditional music from South America, the Pacific islands, Europe and Asia right here to the Valley."
... jive with being "pop"? Traditional = pop? I guess it depends on how we define pop (and traditional / vernacular / folk / indigenous / etc.), but it seems a little... off.

(3) Are orchestral approximations of non-Western musics really the new wave of the 21st century? Anyone else uncomfortable with this from authenticity standpoint?

(4) I wouldn't exactly call Janacek's Jenufa a "modernist opera". Awesome though it is, I'm not really going to call it modernist.

Empiricus said...

Neat. I didn't know that lists of composers and the styles from which they borrowed could be "invigorating."

Aside, I thought about doing something similar for the previous post "Music City Mayhem." The conductor was caught saying:

"...I wanted something American to open the season because that's kind of the personality of the orchestra."

Whilst the orchestra conveniently happens to be located in... Nashville!

Sator Arepo said...

Phoenixites = Phonecians?

Anyone know?

Sator Arepo said...

Ah, crap, I missed an accent grave on "trouveres". Damn me and my shitty html skills!

Gustav said...

I didn't know that lists of composers and the styles from which they borrowed could be "invigorating."

Wow, E, couldn’t have said it better myself.

However, I'm not sure I have the biggest problem equating most world music with pop music, especially when we use the term pop music to describe "popular" music. American pop music is like much of the world music that gets attention, in that it is born of music of tradition, ritual, and dance. The musical language of American pop music is a direct descendant of church hymns. Pop music, although heavily commercialized, is still a contact sport. In the US, it’s big business and a fundamental part of our cultural identity. But it is those cultural cues that serve as guides to many people – the way they dress, talk, the values they hold, etc. In other countries, most the so-called world music still serves a function in the society much in the same way American pop music does. It’s cultural identity.

Although, it's easily argued that classical music is born of tradition, ritual, and dance, it's path has veered. Classical music no longer serves a function the everyday lives of virtually anybody. It became artistic and meant as a singular experience to revere while we sit in the dark, perfectly quiet, removed from the musicians. Audience participation has not been a part of the "classical music" tradition in quite some time.

Basically, I might suggest that an appropriate definition of "pop" music is "traditional". Clearly, though, "pop" is a loaded term in America and certainly causes one to think that it stands as some singular entity, but it's history and development come directly from the music of the masses and cultural tradition just like gamelan, Turkish marches and folk tunes from many cultures.

I think “world music” is basically a nice way of saying “unfamiliar music”. There is always a fascination with the unknown, and in our PC-minded, diversity culture, “world music” is given a privileged place because of its geographical and cultural mystique. We, of course, are all well acquainted with the traditional music of our own culture, and we seek to learn and incorporate the traditional music of another culture. It’s not a new phenomenon, as you guys have already pointed out. The same process can be seen around the world, as American “pop music” is the fashion in many countries where American culture is the most remote. World music is just one of the many arms of the information age, and ever-expanding globalization.

…I’m not sure I’ve really said anything here. As AnthonyS said, “I guess it depends on how we define pop (and traditional / vernacular / folk / indigenous / etc.)”. I guess that about summarizes it.