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Topic: The Death of Classical Music?

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Oct 2000
    Orcas Island

    The Death of Classical Music?

    In an article in the Arts Journal, Greg Sandow discusses the future of classical music:
    "Classical recording used to be a profit-making venture, both for major labels and small ones, without anybody needing to release any crossover albums. Well, OK, major conductors might record an LP of Strauss waltzes, to boost sales, but that's as far as it went. And a week later the same conductor would record a serious classical piece, fully paid for by the record company, with the expectation that the recording might -- eventually -- make a profit.
    Does that happen today? Barely. Classical recordings now are largely subsidized. I'm not saying that the big labels, DG, for instance, might not record a few favored artists at their own expense. But these are largely soloists -- stars, or stars in the making. And meanwhile the labels couldn't make a profit without crossover sales. Really large-scale recordings -- operas, orchestral performances -- are largely recorded live, and may be subsidized. As I've noted before, even back in the 1980s the Metropolitan Opera's Ring recording on DG was subsidized with private funds. Most American orchestras that record today produce and pay for the recordings themselves. They don't expect to make a profit. They make the recordings for promotion and publicity.
    And the small classical labels? Many of them aren't commercial operations, in any meaningful sense....

    But despite all this, the bottom line is clear. For whatever reasons, classical recording used to be commercial; now it largely isn't. And if major labels in the 1950s released classical recordings because it was prestigious -- presumably accepting less profit than they would have made from pop -- doesn't that itself tell a story of classical music's decline? Clearly it must have been more prestigious in the '50s, in society at large, than it is now. Besides, pop music didn't start making giant profits till the 1970s, when multimillion album sales kicked in. So the profits from classical music in earlier decades, small as they perhaps were by current standards, would have loomed larger than they do now.

    Do you agree with this report? If so, what do you think could turn the tides so that classical music can be in vogue again?

  2. #2
    Senior Member rpearl's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jan 2005

    Re: The Death of Classical Music?

    I think the author has it backwards. For years, record labels released recordings of classical rep because the people who ran the labels were musically literate. By the 80's, lables were run by more and more "bottom-line" executives. The thing that saved classical music, for a while, was the advent of the CD. All of a sudden people were re-buying their collections, and all the labels had to do was re-release things in a new format: no recording fees, no studio time. It was a relatively inexpensive change that brought in big profits. But what was always underlying this was that the pop world was subsidizing the classical: as long as total profits were up, things were ok. The 90's came along, sales across the board went down (by then everyone had replaced their Jethro Tull vinyl with CDs), there weren't the blockbuster albums (think Thriller), and so on. Blockbusters have always been important in that they bring people into the stores.

    Well, the world has changed, not the least of which is the way we "buy" music. Download (iTunes, etc.), buying Indie labels, and so forth. The fact is classical music has ALWAYS been subsidized - by the church, the court, a prince, a benefactor, the government (in Europe, at any rate), even our meager NEA (32 cents per person each year - to put it in perspective, George Steinbrenner spent more on the Yankees payroll last year than the NEA spent on the arts).

    Will it survive? Yes, as long as there are people who wish to hear it. Will it survive in the manner in which we know it? Probably not - but then how many things are the way they were fifty years ago?
    Ron Pearl





  3. #3

    Re: The Death of Classical Music?

    I haven't read the entire article yet, but nowadays the only new composers I see being recorded and marketed tend to be more modern-ish which just isn't as popular. Besides film music, there just aren't many new living composers of tonal music being recorded and marketed, yet Mozart and Dvorak and Beethoven performances aren't becoming oblivious... people still like them! I'm not sure I understand the notion of enjoying a classical composer but not enjoying anyone else who sounds somewhat similar, as if a classical style can be used once and never again... but I digress. The point is I believe that if living tonal composers, rather than academic innovation-driven composers, were recorded and marketed, they'd do quite well.

    I am of course not saying there's anything wrong with modern-ish music... I just doubt it sells as well.

    Besides upcoming film scores (and new posts in the Listening Room ), there doesn't seem to be anything new for a classical tonal lover like me to look forward to.

    Granted, I can't compare nowadays to yesterdays... I've only been really collecting music for about decade... which isn't long...
    Sean Patrick Hannifin
    My MP3s | My Melody Generator | my album
    "serious music" ... as if the rest of us are just kidding

  4. #4
    Senior Member
    Join Date
    Mar 2004
    Wilton, NH

    Re: The Death of Classical Music?

    I read an article in the New York Times about a year ago which seemed to say the exact opposite. They said, if you count all of the independent labels, both the number and percentages of classical music has risen recently. The "old" labels were losing out because they concentrate on pop, but the small labels have exploded.

    They also claim that although many large orchestras are seeing their worse seasons ever, the audience has actually grown by leaps and bounds during the last decade, its just that there are more choices, for instance, Boston recently added another professional opera company.

    I didn't read this article and don't know which is correct. They both might be - often times people can look at the same data and come to strikingly different conclusions. I hope the NY Times is correct - humans need non-commercial art or we become no better than the animals - I'd rather die than live in a world without art.
    Trent P. McDonald

  5. #5

    Arrow Re: The Death of Classical Music?

    [QUOTE=GarritanBesides, pop music didn't start making giant profits till the 1970s, when multimillion album sales kicked in. So the profits from classical music in earlier decades, small as they perhaps were by current standards, would have loomed larger than they do now.[/QUOTE]

    I have no facts to agree with or disagree with most of what is said, with the comment above being the exception. I think the author forgot about small names like Elvis and The Beatles. It took me less than 30 seconds to Google this information:

    •By August of '65 the Beatles were reported to have sold 100 million singles and 25 million long play records worldwide.

    •EMI states in May 67 that world sales converted to singles would be 200,000,000. One album would equal six singles.

    •By May 66 the Beatles had sold over 1 million records in Denmark...a country of 4 million people.

    •'I Want To Hold Your Hand' sold over 3 million copies.

    •George Martin: "[I Want to Hold Your Hand] was the first record to sell a million copies before its release" (Pritchard, p. 133).

    So, I think there might be a small issue with some of his research and conclusions.

    I'll also add that when I travel I will occasionally try to get tickets to a performance. I can usually get tickets, however they are not usually very good seats because the venue is full. This isn't recording revenue, but it does show a healthy state for classical music in the live arena.

    We are the music makers, we are the dreamers of dreams …
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  6. #6

    Re: The Death of Classical Music?

    Quote Originally Posted by rpearl
    For years, record labels released recordings of classical rep because the people who ran the labels were musically literate. By the 80's, lables were run by more and more "bottom-line" executives.
    Ron, I really like your entire post and I think there is alot of truth to it.

    From the record executive's point of view, I think they feel like enough different recordings from enough different orchestras have already recorded all the great classical music of the past, Mozart, Beethoven, Bach etc, so why record "another" orchestra?

    I understand that too. The way I see it is this.... the only remaining classical, or let's say,,,, orchestral music that is recorded and sold today is movie soundtracks. Most people that go to a movie and end up really liking the movie may eventually buy the CD of the soundtrack. Regardless of whether it is pop oriented or classical sounding, Star Wars, Superman, Raiders of the Lost Ark etc, are great examples of titles that have made gobs of profit for the big record labels. It is evident to me, that people still love orchestral music, but they are not going to be aware of anything new unless they hear it somewhere like on TV or in a movie. Even the show by Alton Brown on the Food Network uses Dvorak's New World Symphony in very small pieces. Good eats I say!

    So, I think classical music as we know it will stay right where it's at.
    The music composed by the "great" composers of many years ago will still be played by music students, and taught by professors of colleges and Universities, it will also be played in live concerts all over the world. I believe orchestral type music will almost always dominate in movies.

    The only thing that I can think of that was recently composed and is considered a classic is Samuel Barber's Adagio For Strings.

    I know very little about the greats and when they lived on this Earth. Doesn't music like Richard Birdsall's "Knights In Magic" and Kentaro Sato's "Wings Of Dreams" deserved to be heard by millions instead of a few thousand? Perhaps it will in 300 years.

    I'm rambling now, but to me, classical music will never be dead, The lack of support from record labels with deep pockets and great marketing resources will be the reason why Richard Birdsall's piece will go nowhere except maybe a movie. Only if it is used in a highly succesful movie, 15-20 years later nobody will be buying the "soundtrack"
    Sad, but I think it's true.

    "Old friend".... "do not take offense".... "single greatest threat" .... and what does the white man have to do with this?
    Indians played flutes, so! Do you use sample libraries at all?

    So many of your posts recently are so insulting toward others, I don't participate in topics where you have insulted another person, so I just refrain from commenting, but I could not tolerate not responding to this. Don't take offense.... old friend.

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Oct 2000
    Orcas Island

    Re: The Death of Classical Music?

    Quote Originally Posted by Stephen McMahan
    And - old friend - do not take offense at this - but the single greatest threat to whether or not there will be real classical musicians around in the future is the development of sample libraries and their accepted use in the film and video industry in deference (and preference) to real musicians and orchestras.
    It could be that you will be permanantly left with milquetoast virtual imitations as the skills and artistry of the instruments will die in the real world due to lack of interest and respect and honor. Music is already headed down that road - the slow decay of real world instruments will only hasten and make permanent the outcome. It has already happened for several ethnic music presenses - what makes the white man so sure it won't happen to his peculiar portrayence?
    No offense taken. I don't know about other developers, but we have repeatedly stated on numerous ocassions that our goal is to lead people to the real thing.

    You cannot replace a musician who has spent a lifetime mastering their instrument. What sample libraries excel at is education and providing sketches.With these tools, opportunities and jobs are created.

    Many colleges and universities are teaching orchestration and classical music with these tools. For the first time students can get an approximation of what their music sounds like. The integration of GPO playback with notation programs like Finale and Sibelius has been a boon to classical music and orchestration studies worldwide.

    As more people get interested in classical music and orchestration, the tide lifts, and people will naturally gravitate to real players and real instruments.

    It is easy to think sample libraries are the demise of classical music when in fact they may be instrumental in its revival.

    Gary Garritan

  8. #8

    Re: The Death of Classical Music?

    I don't think Classical music is ever recovering this time around. And, ironically, I think a large factor in that (for the UK anyway) is Classic FM, the radio station that believes it is the last bastion of Classical music.

    The problem is that it plays uninterrupted bilge. Non stop wallpaper. Most of the time it's Ludovico Einaudi and a whole host of other 'up and coming' composers who make a whole career out of ripping off the sound of 'The Piano' soundtrack. The stuff just doesn't communicate anything at all - it's as bland and inoffensive as it's possible to get.

    When they do play actual music, they only play the slow, slushy movements of everything. They actually pride themselves on having several programs a day devoted to 'relaxing classics.' Don't get me wrong, most of these slow movements are great music, in context, but take them out of their context, and play a few hundred of them and it quickly becomes a snoozefest again. I know I've heard them play the 1st movement of the Moonlight Sonata at least a thousand times, but I can't remember hearing the rest of the piece even once.

    So young people who happen across the station are left with an image of Classical music that completely reinforces every stereotype they already hold. It's slow, boring, slushy, contentless, anaemic and doesn't speak to them. Now if a station were to play music which grabbed people by the throat a little more then the up and coming generation might realise that 'Classical' music has something to communicate.

    Probably this sounds a little like a conspiracy theory, but the problem is this station has a complete strangle hold over Classical music as it is portrayed to everyone outside of academia. Most stores only stock what's in the Classic FM charts, and the charts depend on sales (from the stores that only stock what's already in the chart). They have another chart which depends on votes, rather than sales, but they present a list of stuff you're alllowed to vote for, and, well let's just say Ligeti will never be on the list.

    I think, in the UK at least, the image of Classical music is fast converging on muzak.

  9. #9

    Re: The Death of Classical Music?

    Quote Originally Posted by SeanHannifin
    I am of course not saying there's anything wrong with modern-ish music... I just doubt it sells as well.
    SeanHannifin is right on, Webern, Berg and Schoenberg are not exactly big attractions for many listeners.

    Steve Reich sold over 100,000 copies of "Music for 18 musicians" in 70's. He's the proof that when something is original people will listen to it.


  10. #10

    Re: The Death of Classical Music?

    Quote Originally Posted by Garritan

    You cannot replace a musician who has spent a lifetime mastering their instrument...

    Gary Garritan
    I do think that this is probably the most important idea to keep in mind about sampled traditional instruments. And maybe worth adding, although of lesser importance that most composers probably cannot replace a good sound engineer either.

    As for the question at hand:

    Under any usual definition of "classical music", it has always been, at least in the USA, of interest only to a marginal part of the population. So I do not see why one might hope for an increase in audience. The problem today is that it seems to be becoming increasingly too expensive for even our large cities to sustain an orchestra. On the side of recording, I would think that the existing recordings by great orchestras and great conductors of the past will continue to be available just as, for instance, you can certainly buy a copy of James Joyce's "Ulysses" although hardly anyone is actually reading it.

    Regarding the question of the existing 18th and 19th century canon versus "New Music", it seems to me that the real issue is not so much a musical one in the sense that professionals might talk about it with terms such as "tonality" or 'dissonance". For me the really interesting way to see this is in terms of the expression: nineteenth century music beautifully expresses a broad and rich domain of human sensibility. However, that very sensibility expressed in contemporay composition seems somewhat quaint if not anachronistic to large parts of our population. They are now accustomed to a range of expression which is, for instance, much more physical, explicitly sexual and capable of what would have been seen as wild and vulgar a 100 years ago.

    This may seem a weird view to some, but I believe that as an example, the famous rejection of "the Rite of Spring" at its Paris premiere was likely not due so much to its "musical" properties but rather to kinds of emotions that it expressed. Therefore, the challenge to today's classical composer is to be relevant to contemporay sensibilities. Something we have done a pretty lousy job at in my opinion.


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