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The paradox of Charles Ives

“Viewed from just about any perspective, Charles Ives represents a tangle of paradoxes, and his reception has been consistently fraught. For many, he stands as the father of musical composition in the United States, yet he is by no means a frequently programmed composer today. In fact, readers of this review might know his name without ever having heard his music.”

Ives is one of the most astounding composers in history. But his music is not easy to listen to, and takes a while to get into.

via The paradox of Charles Ives | TLS.

New Box Set of Rameau’s Operas Released

I’ve long been a fan of Jean-Philippe Rameau’s operas. His music is exquisite and joyful, being the highest form of the French baroque. Warner Classics has released a box set of these works, with 12 operas on 27 CDs, from their back catalog of Erato recordings. Performers include Les Arts Florissants and Les Musiciens du […]

Audiences hate modern classical music because their brains cannot cope – Telegraph

“For decades critics of modern classical music have been derided as philistines for failing to grasp the subtleties of the chaotic sounding compositions, but there may now be an explanation for why many audiences find them so difficult to listen to.

“A new book on how the human brain interprets music has revealed that listeners rely upon finding patterns within the sounds they receive in order to make sense of it and interpret it as a musical composition.

“While traditional classical music follows strict patterns and formula that allow the brain to make sense of the sound, modern symphonies by composers such as Arnold Schoenberg and Anton Webern simply confuse listeners’ brains.”

At the risk of making a bad pun, this really is a no-brainer. Music follows a path of evolution, with gradual changes over the centuries, each composer varying slightly from what preceded them. It was only in the 20th century that these changes became revolutionary – as they did in the visual arts and literature – and listeners were left without landmarks.

“Mr Ball believes that many traditional composers such as Mozart, Bach and Beethoven subconsciously followed strict musical formula to produce music that was easy on the ear by ensuring it contained patterns that could be picked out by the brain.”

Not so much strict musical formulas, but a way of making music that was familiar. No one wrote down the rules; composers simply figured them out from what worked.

I’ve written that a lot of contemporary classical music is boring, and that’s not because I don’t understand the styles, but, simply, because it’s not written to be enjoyable in the first place.

While I’m not a fan of the serialists – twelve-tone composers – because I find their music sterile, there is some dissonant music that I do appreciate. It took me a long time to learn to understand Charles Ive’s Concord Sonata, which is full of dissonance, but now that I do understand it, I can appreciate his music.

via Audiences hate modern classical music because their brains cannot cope – Telegraph.

What’s Lost When the Cloud Replaces CDs

“Recently, while moving my CD collection to new shelving, I struggled with feelings of obsolescence and futility. Why bother with space-devouring, planet-harming plastic objects when so much music can be had at the touch of a trackpad—on Spotify, Pandora, Beats Music, and other streaming services that rain sonic data from the virtual entity known as the Cloud? What is the point of having amassed, say, the complete symphonies of the Estonian composer Eduard Tubin (1905-82) when all eleven of them pop up on Spotify, albeit in random order? (When I searched for “Tubin” on the service, I was offered two movements of his Fourth Symphony, with the others appearing far down a list.) The tide has turned against the collector of recordings, not to mention the collector of books: what was once known as building a library is now considered hoarding. One is expected to banish all clutter and consume culture in a gleaming, empty room.”

Alex Ross ruminates, at The New Yorker, about what’s lost when we no longer buy physical music. His conclusion:

“But only by buying the albums are you likely to help the label stay in business.”

via What’s Lost When the Cloud Replaces CDs.

How much is a [classical] recording worth?

“How much is a recording worth to you? What’s its value – both artistic and in monetary terms? This is something that’s been brought into question quite starkly in recent years. Firstly, the increasing numbers of super-budget back-catalogue reissues – or even new recordings from the likes of Naxos – have caused many a buyer to pause a little longer before shelling out for a full-price disc. More recent still, the rapid developments in online music – first downloads, then streaming – have made most of the history of music available for free or at the very least through an astonishingly good value subscription model.

How things have changed. An industry colleague this week told me of the price to a record collector, back in 1963, of Herbert von Karajan’s first Beethoven symphony cycle with the Berlin Philharmonic, issued by Deutsche Grammophon (the Ninth Symphony is the subject of this month’s Classics Reconsidered – see page 108). The eight-LP set, when purchase tax was added on, cost £14 and 8 shillings (£14.40). At the time, the average British weekly wage was about £15. In the US it cost $47.98 – about 40 per cent of the average weekly American wage at the time, but even so, still a very significant investment. (As indeed was DG’s in making the recording – the label spent 1.5m Deutschmarks and had to sell at least 100,000 to break even. They need not have worried as, one decade on, it had sold 1 million copies.) The set’s just been remastered and handsomely packaged. You can now pick it up for about £45, less than a tenth of today’s average weekly wage.

via How much is a recording worth? | gramophone.co.uk.

(I’ve added the word “classical” above; the excerpt comes from Gramophone, a classical music magazine. Readers on the site know it’s not referring to a pop or rock recording.)

While music sales have been decreasing, no one seems to have addressed the fact that the cost of music has dropped as well. Not just from the extreme mentioned above, but the price of an album. If you look at the standard $10 price of a download, that’s just a baseline. While iTunes doesn’t discount, Amazon does, with steep discounts on many new and popular albums, with some for just $3 or $4.

In classical music, the precipitous drop in per-disc price has been astounding, and it’s certainly a good thing for those who buy a lot of music. Yes, new, single CDs by big names cost the same, but lots of classical music can be had for a pittance. With the price of box sets dragging down the general price of CDs, it’s increasingly difficult to justify full-price any more. Even small box sets – say, 5 or 6 discs – are now sold at the price of a single disc, while bigger sets often come in at $1 – $2 a disc. A set that once would have cost hundreds of dollars, such as Vladimir Horowitz Live At Carnegie Hall (Amazon.com, Amazon UK), is only $106 or £72 on Amazon as of today.

It’s tough for the recording industry to keep a balance between these low prices and profits. With classical labels selling fewer copies of each release – nothing sells like the million copies of the Beethoven symphonies mentioned in the article – it’s harder to break even.

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