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Customer Discussions > Classical Music forum

Perceptions of bland conformity among Classical Music fans and listeners.

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Showing 1-25 of 32 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Nov 24, 2012, 5:28:39 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Nov 24, 2012, 7:12:53 PM PST
Yi-Peng says:
I have had these thoughts for some time and I have laboured long and hard over how to share them with you on this forum.

I recently read some discussions in this forum and also some reviews of classical releases. For instance one poster wrote that the Goldberg recordings of Gould and Schiff didn't satisfy him. So it's a case of two different prominent recordings not satisfying the poster who wrote this telling observation.

This matter is not about tastes but it might be pertinent point of discussion among classical music fans.

The issue of conformity covers two aspects: the choices of recordings and performance decisions.

First I would like to touch on performance decisions, the issue of following the composer's instructions.

People would argue that keeping score is not enough in any good musical performance. There would need to be room for expression. If a performance contains contortions, inflections and deviations from the score it might be seen as a sign of expression. The performer is thus responding to the music and highlighting aspects that others may not have brought out in others'performances.

I wonder if it might help to take reference from Confucius' description of the common man who marvels at uncommon things.

Gould, Stokowski, Mengelberg and Kreisler are examples of musicians who weren't afraid to deviate from the score and present their personal response to the composer's music.

I wonder if the composer is his own worst enemy if he places too many guidelines on his piece? For instance I haven't forgotten how Ravel disapproved of Toscanini's rendition of Bolero because Toscanini took the music too fast against Ravel's decisions.

The other issue relates to choices of recordings. It may seem independent but it might be surprisingly related to performance decisions.

We find that critics and listeners tend to echo each other's choices when they vote for recordings by giving them thumbs up or thumbs down.

I wonder if this might imply that they could become lapdogs of mediocre talent by promoting the recommended recordings we are pointed to. If this is so why don't people complain to Gramophone or other classical magazines?

Going back to my original questions I wonder if prominent performers might become victims of product placement. By this I mean to ask if their recordings become emotionally unsatisfying and might demonstrate advertisement over musical substance. For instance, I sense that the promotion of Karajan might leave other Austro-German conductors like Kempe, Tennstedt, Schmidt-Isserstedt and Knappertsbusch in the shade.

I quietly sense that the mainstream-lamestream pun might apply to the issue of classical recordings too. Though this term might be more prominent in the media and politics it can be used in other fields of social life too.

In this discussion I would like to move away from politics and refer to the George Orwell novel 1984 and the Madeleine L'Engle novel A Wrinkle in Time. Both novels make the point that conformity is a social disease. In A Wrinkle in Time the disembodied brain IT squashes all individuality on the planet of Camazotz, and so the inhabitants lead an unfeeling, robotic life. The Central Intelligence sets norms for others to follow. The same thing happens in 1984 when Ingsoc controls the minds of its subjects and eventually impacts on Winston Smith.

This is NOT about opinions. I only want to examine the issue with you.

Why should this be? Some people toulc think it's because of the prominence of Gramophone and its associated publications (Penguin Guide), rationalism and the computational climate. It seems that the Gramophone and Penguin Guide editors worry about being watched when they write their reviews, and so they could come under fire for recommending controversial recordings.

I wonder also if it is down to the conformist culture in British because of the Industrial Revolution, the past legacy of empire building and the Victorian school system.

Before I close this post I wonder if the only way to break out of this classical music conformity is to endorse recordings on rare labels, especially of the mainstream repertoire.

To elaborate on my thoughts it might be good to refer to the comments on the Guardian website that respond to the article about Nigel Kennedy's views about modern interpretations of Bach.Some of the comments align with my thoughts on these perceptions.


Posted on Nov 24, 2012, 5:40:41 PM PST
Malx says:
'Before I close this post I wonder if the only way to break out of this classical music conformity is to endorse recordings on rare labels, especially of the mainstream repertoire.'

Would that not be just creating another form of standard recommendation, one that is diametrically opposed to the 'Gramophone' standard but just for the sake of being different.

Surely we all have to be individual enough and confident enough in our own critical facilities to listen and come to our own conclusions. I have since joining in discussions and reading the comments of posters on the Amazon uk site realised that individuals recommendations count for so much more than just the media norms.
Thankfully these days with utube and spotify and the like we can sample and listen before we buy, so the need to have the same level of reliance on the Penguin Guide/Gramophone magazine recommended recordings is largely negated.

Posted on Nov 24, 2012, 7:50:33 PM PST
Edgar Self says:
Li-Peng -- Please quote for us what Confucius says about the common man marveling at uncommong things.

I think there is enough nonconformity for all. Many blindly follow, and conform, to received opinion, Penguin or Amazon stars, &tc., for fear of seeming foolish or in the hope of having their choices confirmed. Several generations have been taught and brought up to buy what is advertised, assuming that it is good, hence the bland acceptance of bland performances on bland major labels. Not so, necessarily. But a fear of conformity should not prevent us from enjoying acknowledged classics. It is a matter of knowing one's own tastes, what you like and enjoy.

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 24, 2012, 9:00:59 PM PST
Yi-Peng says:
The quote by Confucius says: A common man marvels at uncommon things. A wise man marvels at the commonplace.

Posted on Nov 24, 2012, 9:18:50 PM PST
Edgar Self says:
Excellent, and most true. Thank you, Yi-Peng. (As a sub-common man, I marvel at both,)

Posted on Nov 25, 2012, 3:34:56 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Nov 25, 2012, 4:22:13 AM PST
Skaynan says:

Absolutely right. Look how hard it is for people to downvote Beethoven in the current "Transcendental" game, or the record breaking number of null votes I got for the Gaza/Barenboim topics, Null votes without a moment hesitation to think. Conformity rules, no doubt about it.

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 25, 2012, 10:05:29 AM PST
KenOC says:
"Look how hard it is for people to downvote Beethoven in the current "Transcendental" game..."

Perhaps there's a different reason for that. ;-)

Posted on Nov 25, 2012, 11:29:28 AM PST
Skaynan says:
Ken: absolutely right. I'll rephrase:

"Look how hard it is for ME to downvote Beethoven in the current "Transcendental" game."

Posted on Nov 25, 2012, 12:18:25 PM PST
[Deleted by Amazon on Nov 26, 2013, 10:11:42 AM PST]

Posted on Nov 26, 2012, 10:35:47 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Nov 26, 2012, 10:45:00 AM PST
scarecrow says:
Well this is simply how things work,culture needs conformity, and conformity is necessary for people to get paid, and make wages. . . and classical music is no different----

you have agencies that "hard wire" populate the CM universe with a limited number or artists,sure all gifted,spectacular,gregarious and that, with vision,(well some of them).
CM regime is an elitist art isn't it;? it's not for everyone;Piso Mojado can tell you that,; and not everyone can be celebrated stars,and or make the Big Bucks$$$$ and let's not be naive again one more time, CM regimes have monopoly powers in place (hard-wiring the system of culture communications) where the same artists make the rounds forever. . .Many of us prefer that, our Scriabin can only be served up to us by one or two pianists;

and then the record,recoding behemoths labels, the venues, the festivals, the press, the critics all march in lockstep(are on the payroll),again are hard-wired to those who are promoted. . .

It's all part of life's rich tapestry of cognitive forbearance, and predictable conformity$$$ within the human universe, the spherical dyads we entertain, that give us comfort,meaning and security. . .

Posted on Nov 28, 2012, 7:42:16 PM PST
Cavaradossi says:
It's well to remember that some composers are simply great and some performers are simply great. Not everyone is drawn to the same greats, though, and some often prefer lesser lights in composers and performers to the greats. There is nothing wrong with that, although CM lovers who consistently find themselves not responding to the acknowledged greats might want to ask themselves from time to time if they might just possibly be missing out on something important. They might want to ask themselves why it's happening.

When it comes to recordings, we have all found at one time or another seemingly insignificant recordings that just blow our socks off. These are treasures, all the more so because it's possible few others, if they could even be persuaded to listen to it, would appreciate what is so magnetic about these recordings for us.

Posted on Nov 29, 2012, 6:58:00 AM PST
Edgar Self says:
A Naxos CD of Sibelius by Koussevitzky with Boston Symphony and, live, a British orchestra. It's hard to believe the age of these recordings from Mark Obert-Thorn's transfers. Seventh Symphony, the great "Tapiola", Pohjola's Daughter, &tc.

Posted on Nov 29, 2012, 6:59:34 AM PST
Cavardossi says:
CM lovers who consistently find themselves not responding to the acknowledged greats might want to ask themselves from time to time if they might just possibly be missing out on something important. They might want to ask themselves why it's happening.

I should have thought that someone who loves classical music as such and not just a piece here and there has by definition a keen appreciation of most or at least many of its greatest composers, since they are essentially what classical music is. I would find it very odd if someone were to tell me that he loves classical music but has no use for the works of Monteverdi, Vivaldi, Bach, Handel, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Chopin, Berlioz, Verdi, Wagner, Tchaikovsky, Brahms, Stravinsky, Bartok and Webern. It wouldn't occur to me to question his taste or to advise him to do so, but I might wonder if perhaps his idea of classical music was limited- say, for example, to rock music before 1980.

Posted on Nov 29, 2012, 10:58:46 AM PST
Cavaradossi says:

Well, that is what I got out of the original post, someone who doesn't respond to the acknowledged greats, both composers and performers. If I misunderstood, I apologize.

Posted on Nov 29, 2012, 11:44:56 AM PST
Dichterliebe says:
Why is conformity bland?

Posted on Nov 29, 2012, 12:08:30 PM PST
Palladin55 says:
"I wonder if the composer is his own worst enemy if he places too many guidelines on his piece?"

Could be true, although Bach didn't seem to have many guidelines. In his Well Tempered Clavier he didn't even indicate which instrument(s) (organ, harpsichord, clavichord) it should be played on. Very little in the way of tempi, phrasing or dynamics. A lot is left to the discretion of the performer, which is why a Schiff or a Gould might have totally different interpretations, but each may be completely valid.

Posted on Nov 29, 2012, 12:14:14 PM PST
scarecrow says:
If Beethoven conformed we'd never have the genius of his music, He'd be a second rate Haydn. . .as Czerny was not even, Well it's hard, truth in art is not found by following. . .conformity today within the arts simply means the artist wants to eat and pay the rent, not create art. . .somebody else can do that. . .

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 29, 2012, 12:42:10 PM PST
DavidRFoss says:
scarecrow says:
If Beethoven conformed we'd never have the genius of his music
I think we're mixing up composition and performance. Of course we want new compositions to not simply be rehashes of what has come before.

I have mixed opinions of this on the performance side. For a live concert, I embrace bold diversions. It livens things up. It can be risky and doesn't always work but that just increases the thrill when it succeeds.

But for a recording? A recording is something that you listen to repeatedly, so the spontaneity of it is going to be lost by the 4th or 5th listen. So for a reference recording I usually prefer something that sticks more closely to the score. It certainly should still be lively and thrilling when appropriate and can have the occasional subtle-yet-tasteful variation but if my only recording is an eclectic one, then I feel like I'm missing out on what the composer actually wrote.

Now, I do enjoy recordings of more eclectic recordings for what they are. Often turning a piece on its head can prevent you from imprinting your ears on other recordings. It can also bring out some detail in the background or accompaniment which I might not otherwise have noticed... something that I end up catching in more standard recordings upon relistening. I'm just try to make sure the eclectic recording is not my only one.

Posted on Nov 29, 2012, 12:46:42 PM PST
Dichterliebe says:
As a listener, I couldn't care less whether others perceive me to be a Milton Babbitt or a George Babbitt -- life is too short. I'm reminded of the bumper sticker "You non-comformists are all alike." Just enjoy what you enjoy and keep an open mind and heart.

Posted on Nov 29, 2012, 1:07:43 PM PST
Yi-Peng says:
"I wonder if the composer is his own worst enemy if he places too many guidelines on his piece?"

Of course, "too many" begs the question since we still need to ask "how many is too many?". But it could be argued that the present lack of individuality in interpretation is in part owing to composers who wrest control from performers and dictate every nuance of performance in accordance with the letter of the score (obviously there are other factors at work, such as increased travel, the proliferation of recordings and the tendency to imitate a variety of players; and competitions in which there is inevitably a style of playing which is preferred by juries, resulting in a one-size-fits-all approach to making music). In one of his Harvard lectures from the 30s Stravinsky called it a "crime against the composer" for perfomers to have significant control of the interpretation of a work. He insisted that the performer completely obey the minute directions in the score and not violate the composer's intention by presuming to interpret the piece in his or her own way. Stravinsky was a persuasive advocate of this dogma and many academics were won over. The same academics who would most directly influence student musicians through teaching and create a mindset which over time became institutionalized.

Posted on Nov 29, 2012, 9:39:34 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Dec 1, 2012, 10:00:28 AM PST
idratherbe says:
Blandly conformist? The obscure labels are expensive. I will ask myself: "Do I need to spend $25 on this album, when I can get another performance for $10?" As a result, I have collected many famous performers on reissues. I find ratings useless: reviewers prefer their favourites.

At about 18, I had gotten hooked on Tangerine Dream and just naturally progressed to Stockhausen. Stockhausen put out an album called Opus 1970, a collage of Beethoven's works. Then, Kagel put out Ludwig van, another great hommage. I recognized a lot of the Beethoven fragments, so I bought his symphonies. Karajan was in vogue. When I transitioned my collection to CD in the early 1990s, Norrington was all the rage. Both blunders?

When a recording has appealed to me less, more by accident than by intent, I have acquired another version. In a few instances, I even have both modern and 'original instruments' versions. For the most part, however, I have only heard one version of each of the pieces I have collected.

Posted on Nov 30, 2012, 1:31:32 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Nov 30, 2012, 3:31:54 AM PST
Skaynan says:
"If Beethoven conformed we'd never have the genius of his music"- Even Beethoven DID conform sometimes. "Wellington's Victory"? "Für Elise"? Even the greatest artists HAVE to make a living. I think Mahler didn't conform, but that's because he wasn't relying on composition for a living. And I do maintain that his 8th is "kind of" conformist, as much as a person such as Mahler could conform at all...

I think the strangest case in this respect is Bruckner's. He tryed really hard to conform, as is apparent from all the cuts and edits he allowed others to suggest for his symphonies in order to make them more "accessible" to the Viennese public. But strangely (or not), even that didn't really help in most cases, and of course today we usually prefer his original versions in most cases.

And a side note: I think all artists through the ages knew full well that "Shock value" doesn't mean non-conformity. It's only presented like that because the APPEARANCE of non conformity SELLS. From Beethoven through Wagner to Stravinsky, Lennon and Madonna to Eminem and Lady Gaga- Shock value is also conformity in disguise.

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 30, 2012, 3:29:38 AM PST
MacDoom says:

I firmly believe that the only reason he stooped to making those cuts was that if he didn't he would not have been performed at all. That's a different angle from 'trying' to conform; it was 'having' to conform or be ignored.

In the end, he probably did the right thing. He did get heard, made an impact, and the original versions were, significantly, not destroyed. If he really thought the cuts to be improvements, he probably would have.

Posted on Nov 30, 2012, 3:33:41 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Nov 30, 2012, 3:37:38 AM PST
Skaynan says:
MacDoom: "I firmly believe that the only reason he stooped to making those cuts was that if he didn't he would not have been performed at all."

Absolutely right. And I think that's the very definition of artistic conformity. nobody WANTS to conform, but they feel that they are forced to, otherwise (as in Bruckner's case) they will be ignored.

Posted on Nov 30, 2012, 6:54:53 AM PST
Cavaradossi says:

What do you mean in describing Mahler's 8th as "conformist"? There had never been anything like it before. In what way was Mahler "conforming" in it?
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