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Why Classical Music Still Matters Hardcover – May 2, 2007

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Classical music isn't necessarily that bad off, Kramer admits; there's still a diverse range of concert performances, and many listeners are choosing to download works from the Internet. But "something still feels wrong," something he identifies as the loss of the genre's crucial role in our cultural lives. The reasons Kramer, a music and literature professor at Fordham University, offers for why one ought to appreciate classical music fall back on the usual high-culture arguments that it "asks its listeners to imagine a work with more fullness and complexity than most other music does," converting emotions into tangible sound yet somehow not reducing them to abstraction. The problem with writing about classical music, of course, is that no matter how passionately you describe a Brahms quintet, it's not the same as hearing an actual performance. At times, Kramer's enthusiasm becomes overwrought, as when he rhapsodizes about the piano's harp and hammers uniting to create an instrument of " magic and engineering." He's more convincing when he describes the effect a young busker's Bach sonata has on the crowds at a New York subway platform. Such moments of direct observation are sprinkled throughout the erudite text—if only they appeared more consistently. (May)
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Review

"[Kramer] . . . provides readers with the essential vocabulary to understand, actively engage with, and give meaning and value to classical music." -- Library Journal
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 242 pages
  • Publisher: University of California Press; First Edition edition (May 2, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0520250826
  • ISBN-13: 978-0520250826
  • Product Dimensions: 8.5 x 5.6 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,675,551 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

12 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Roochak on June 27, 2009
Format: Paperback
Sure, we enjoy listening to classical music, but why should the music really matter to us? Lawrence Kramer has set himself quite a challenge trying to answer that question, and understanding his argument in this brief but difficult book is no less of a challenge for the reader.

The latter is partly a function of Kramer's prose-poetic style: you're invited to negotiate 226 pages of such passages as "Regardless of the specific analogies involved, thinking about the performer or performance in the sense of creative reproduction and worldly activity takes us into the wider field of human performances, both symbolic and material, and therefore into the realms of action, desire, social condition, and the vitality of experience." Philosophical arguments about aesthetic value are notoriously difficult to follow in any event; it comes with the territory.

While Kramer has only good things to say about jazz and pop music, he locates a reflexive, ambivalent individualism -- the product of Enlightenment values and a fundamental condition of modernity -- in "classical" music, here identified with European art music from Bach to Ligeti. If the burden of creativity in jazz and pop lies almost entirely within the power of the performer (or arranger), the classical score is a symbol, a notional concept of music; the actual music is created by the subjective listener, in close collaboration with the composer and the performer(s). Far from being "timeless", classical music is provisional; it exists only in the hearing of the listening subject, and so the music has different meanings in different contexts, from the concert hall to the movie soundtrack.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Steven H Propp TOP 100 REVIEWER on April 9, 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Lawrence Kramer is Professor of English and Music at Fordham University, and has also written books such as Interpreting Music, Musical Meaning: Toward a Critical History, Opera and Modern Culture: Wagner and Strauss, etc.

He wrote in the "In Lieu of a Preface" to this 2007 book, "few have asked forthrightly why and how classical music should still matter. That is exactly what this book does... [It] looks for answers that can appeal both to lovers of this music and to skeptics... It affirms the VALUE of classical music by revealing what its VALUES are." (Pg. vii) He adds, "This book... springs from an effort to ... ask for simple answer to a simple question: What's in this music for me? In other words, why does classical music still matter?... The idea is simply to suggest by example how classical music can become a source of pleasure, discovery, and reflection tuned not only to the world of the music, rich though that is, but also to the even richer world beyond the music." (Pg. 4, 6)

He suggests, "Classical music finds its special character in a sustained encounter with this dimension of melody." (Pg. 38) Later, he adds, "So rooted, so culturally fraught, is the principle of melodic return that its own return is virtuallly irrepressible. It seems like the force of nature itself, of a piece with traditional conceptions of cyclical time." (Pg. 69) He states, "The [musical] score is like a map that traces a route while erasing its destination...
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Christopher Culver TOP 1000 REVIEWER on January 20, 2014
Format: Paperback
The first decade of the new millennium saw several books published on declining interest in classical music even among cultural elites, among which one could mention Julian Johnson's Who Needs Classical Music and Fineberg's Classical Music, Why Bother. Lawrence Kramer's WHY CLASSICAL MUSIC STILL MATTERS is an extended essay on the virtures of classical music by a professor of English and Music at Fordham University. Published in 2007, it shows an awareness of Johnson's earlier book.

As an enormous fan of classical music, especially composers of the 20th century and beyond, I'm always interested in arguments that might convince some of my peers to try the genre out. Kramer does not argue for any superiority of classical music over other, popular genres. Instead he tries to focus on a few aspects of classical music that he believes unique to the genre and rewarding, such as melodic development and the relationship between the unchanging score and the rich differences between individual performances.

However, Kramer writes his defense of classical music in such longwinded, highfaultin' prose that the only people likely to keep up with him are people already committed to the genre. To offer one representative quotation, here's how he describes the Brahms Clarinet Quintet:

"If nothing else, the hope is to amend the sense of loss, even if it cannot be rememied, by saying an appropriate farewell.
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