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Who Needs Classical Music?: Cultural Choice and Musical Value Paperback – September 1, 2011


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Editorial Reviews

Review


"You will often cheer out loud! I did...more profound than can be communicated in a book review. I read this twice. Like all my favorite books, I will read it again and again. Nothing is more relevant to classical music devotees."--American Record Guide


"[A] heartfelt and finely reasoned appeal....wise, perceptive and inspiring book."--The Economist


"[A] soberly argued defense of classical tradition as uniquely valuable in its own right, and hence worth sustaining as a cultural option open to all. Who Needs Classical Music? is neither a last-ditch lament nor an aggressive counter-attack....Every page -at times, every sentence-is loaded with implications for further thought deserves the widest attention." --BBC online


"[A] sophisticated yet accessible defense of classical music's value."--Choice


About the Author

Julian Johnson is Professor of Music at Royal Holloway, University of London. He was awarded the Dent Medal of the Royal Musical Association for "outstanding contributions to musicology."
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 160 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; Reprint edition (September 1, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0199755426
  • ISBN-13: 978-0199755424
  • Product Dimensions: 9 x 0.4 x 6.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,207,862 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

The writing is dense and initially seems very complex, but it is not.
Witold
Julian Johnson confronts the complex issue of the value to society of art music -- and the differences between art music and popular music.
Henry Fogel
Unfortunately, time does not permit me the luxury of the in-depth critique that this important and useful book does indeed deserve.
Dr. Howard Charles Yourow

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

76 of 81 people found the following review helpful By The Man in the Hathaway Shirt on April 24, 2002
Format: Hardcover
This is a courageous book to write in the current anti-intellectual climate. Julian Johnson flies in the face of the prevailing winds, not just in popular culture, but in much academia today as well. What Dr. Johnson says, essentially, is that the trend of seeing so-called "high culture" and particularly classical music, as elitist, as exclusionist, is itself actually elitist. He reasons that people or organizations that set themselves up as today's cultural arbiters are in fact exclusionary, because they are determining what is right for the public, what they desire. It's far more than just a clever contrarian argument. Johnson gets to the core of classical music, its essence, what makes it different from any other music in history, by discussing how it is put together, how it develops, how it works through time, and then shows how these techniques are not present in today's popular music, which rely instead on simple, short repetitions to create and reinforce a mood, a moment, a feeling. Thus, he argues, pop music is more about feeling, about gratification of the senses, about "taste" and subjective preference, while classical music, from a musicological point of view, has traditionally measured greatness by how the individual work exceeds the expectations and limitations of the form in which it is set. Classical music's tension is (generally) in this structural conflict between the formal and the individual, whereas pop music's (generally) is from the personal reaction the listener has to the textures, sounds, and lyrical message, conveyed through repetition, circular (non-developing) structures, and novelty of sound conveyed through electronics more often than not. And there is a difference, as he points out, between novelty and originality.Read more ›
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21 of 24 people found the following review helpful By John White on August 19, 2004
Format: Hardcover
First off, this is not a an academic or musicological book. But it is a very thoughtful one. It felt like a grouping of essays from which one could base discussions.

During this last paragraph of this book I was reminded of Wynton Marsalis' comment in the Ken Burns Jazz documentary that, Beethoven does not come to you, you have to come to him. Johnson seems to be expressing that classical music requires determined effort to truly appreciate.

I personally came to classical music from the standpoint that a good deal of effort is put into creating it and much of it require virtuosity, so surely a good deal of insight can be gained from it, as long as one puts forth the patience and can maintain some modesty towards it. At the very least, it should be respected. Classical music requires that you don't use it as mood music, but that you earnestly devote your attention and immediate focus to it.

In the final chapter, Johnson goes on a bit more of a modern society rant. e.g. Television being the antithesis of classical music in that only the most minimal involvement is required to absorb its full meaning.

Although he makes some decent arguments for setting classical music apart as mindful art music, there are errors in his logic/proofs. Surely some Satie, Chopin, Schubert lieder, and works of Bach are no different from our songs (lieder) of today of a similar ABA structure. Though he used Beethoven's Fifth as a example of the discursive quality of classical... it would be hard to lose the argument if all classical music were as potent!

Self-referrentiality, also, was a component of his argument for classical, yet Jazz and Hip Hop are loaded with it. Jazz has its references to bop, dixieland, cool jazz, free jazz, etc.
Read more ›
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on March 31, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Johnson embarks on what is actually a very challenging subject. This is a stimulating and a provoking text, in which a sensible and cohesive argument is set out (very occasional slightly silly parodies aside - i think the other reviewers may not understand the slight toungue-in-cheek nature of some of these). I would very definately reccomend this book for anyone interested in music, culture, art and people!
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14 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Henry Fogel on December 6, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Julian Johnson confronts the complex issue of the value to society of art music -- and the differences between art music and popular music. Although densely written (this is not a book for skimming, nor for light reading), I found the book compelling and cogently argued. Johnson tries to define the relationship between art music and our human qualities -- and argues convincingly that there are real differences between popular and serious culture, and that those differences should not be minimized in the name of political correctness. It is not easy to summarize the book, because of the complexity of its subject and the depth of his argument. But anyone with an interest in the place of classical music in our society today should read this.
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9 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Sekais on April 27, 2006
Format: Hardcover
As someone who stands out for having no interest in popular music and a love of classical music, I was overjoyed to discover this book. Finally, someone out there who finds current trends in music as depressing as I do, someone who is willing to defend classical music from the myriad of charges against it (and there are certainly many).

I was surprised by Johnson's approach. I was expecting something comparing the complexity of classical music to popular music when I first heard about it. Nonetheless, I was surprised and pleased to see that Johnson followed a more philosophical approach, focusing on the purpose of classical as compared to pop. Specifically, Johnson argues that classical music is important because it represents art rather than mere entertainment.

Although I found it to be a very good book, I withheld a star because it does have some shortcomings. It is a very short read and I think it would have been better if it went into more depth on issues it only touched on. Johnson notes that rock music is quite rhythmically impoverished and that popular music relies on decidedly archaic harmonic language, for example. These are very good points, but he does not elaborate on them as much as I hoped he would.

I would have also liked to see his take on the various forms of jazz and progressive rock that I often see cited by those arguing in favor of popular music. Many seriously argue that they constitute art on the same level as classical music. Given that, it seems unlikely that a staunch fan would find this case for classical music particularly convincing. Though Johnson makes a good case that there is more than taste at work, I fear that alone will do little to save classical music.
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