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.

14 thoughts on “Audiences hate modern classical music because their brains cannot cope – Telegraph

  1. Kirk, I agree. But now for something completely different try ‘In praise of St. Columba!.’ Old sound world reconstructed, even the instruments. Delphian Records. iTunes etc..Hope you like bagpipes, unusual horns, Latin and brilliant singing. A rare and new/old sound world, reviewed in BBC music Mag for this month.

    • Yes, part of the vocabulary of “classical” music is looking back well into the past as well. I love music from the Notre Dame school: Pérotin, Léonin, etc. there’s a different musical vocabulary there that one needs to learn to appreciate it.

  2. Kirk, I agree. But now for something completely different try ‘In praise of St. Columba!.’ Old sound world reconstructed, even the instruments. Delphian Records. iTunes etc..Hope you like bagpipes, unusual horns, Latin and brilliant singing. A rare and new/old sound world, reviewed in BBC music Mag for this month.

    • Yes, part of the vocabulary of “classical” music is looking back well into the past as well. I love music from the Notre Dame school: Pérotin, Léonin, etc. there’s a different musical vocabulary there that one needs to learn to appreciate it.

  3. Ah. Reduced to citing the Torygraph…

    I don’t entirely disagree with the point, but think it must be taken with a boatload of caveats.

    Much as painting had to reinvent itself in the face of the photograph taking over its basic functionality, classical music had to reinvent itself in the face of popular music taking over its basic functionality.

    So we ended up with a classical music far less concerned with universal appeal.

    Now, there is nothing wrong with folks who wish pre-20th century classical music was still the dominant form, just as there is nothing wrong with folks who wish pre-Manet painting was still the dominant form. But there is word for folks like them who strongly resist what came next: lowbrows.

    And, (truly), there is nothing particularly wrong being a lowbrow. Kirk, whether he knows it or not, is a pretty definitional lowbrow. He’s an aficionado of pre-modern classical music, Shakespeare, and The Grateful Dead: all exquisitely lowbrow arts.

    And further, guess what? I like those things too! A lot!

    But I would suggest that there is extreme value in taking a more catholic approach to art. I’ve enjoyed certain modern classical music, precisely because it’s challenging in a way pre-modern classical music is not. Obviously the Torygraph is opposed to challenging art, as is probably an infinitely wise choice in pandering to its particular readership. But there are delights to be had in more highbrow art too.

    So, again, nothing wrong with enjoying lowbrow art. I do so myself. But there is value to be had in broadening one’s horizons with a more balanced diet. Folks who don’t end up missing out on a lot of sublime stuff.

    In the terms of current raging cultural debate: easy relatability is far from the totality of art. There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in easy relatability.

    • What you omit is the fact that classical music once was popular music. I’m all in favor of brows low, middle and high, but that doesn’t mean that contemporary classical music has to be accepted. Some of the choices made by modernists in music are simply wrong. When composers are writing for academics and other composers, and not for audiences, it’s not surprising that there is a disconnect.

      • “What you omit is the fact that classical music once was popular music.”

        Certainly not my intention to omit that. I agree with it, and it’s central to my point. Precisely what I was trying to get at with my:

        Much as painting had to reinvent itself in the face of the photograph taking over its basic functionality, classical music had to reinvent itself in the face of popular music taking over its basic functionality.

        —–

        In short, classical’s displacement as popular music forced it down a less relatable path. But that doesn’t mean interesting stuff still isn’t done in the field. It’s just more challenging and less widely relatable.

  4. Ah. Reduced to citing the Torygraph…

    I don’t entirely disagree with the point, but think it must be taken with a boatload of caveats.

    Much as painting had to reinvent itself in the face of the photograph taking over its basic functionality, classical music had to reinvent itself in the face of popular music taking over its basic functionality.

    So we ended up with a classical music far less concerned with universal appeal.

    Now, there is nothing wrong with folks who wish pre-20th century classical music was still the dominant form, just as there is nothing wrong with folks who wish pre-Manet painting was still the dominant form. But there is word for folks like them who strongly resist what came next: lowbrows.

    And, (truly), there is nothing particularly wrong being a lowbrow. Kirk, whether he knows it or not, is a pretty definitional lowbrow. He’s an aficionado of pre-modern classical music, Shakespeare, and The Grateful Dead: all exquisitely lowbrow arts.

    And further, guess what? I like those things too! A lot!

    But I would suggest that there is extreme value in taking a more catholic approach to art. I’ve enjoyed certain modern classical music, precisely because it’s challenging in a way pre-modern classical music is not. Obviously the Torygraph is opposed to challenging art, as is probably an infinitely wise choice in pandering to its particular readership. But there are delights to be had in more highbrow art too.

    So, again, nothing wrong with enjoying lowbrow art. I do so myself. But there is value to be had in broadening one’s horizons with a more balanced diet. Folks who don’t end up missing out on a lot of sublime stuff.

    In the terms of current raging cultural debate: easy relatability is far from the totality of art. There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in easy relatability.

    • What you omit is the fact that classical music once was popular music. I’m all in favor of brows low, middle and high, but that doesn’t mean that contemporary classical music has to be accepted. Some of the choices made by modernists in music are simply wrong. When composers are writing for academics and other composers, and not for audiences, it’s not surprising that there is a disconnect.

      • “What you omit is the fact that classical music once was popular music.”

        Certainly not my intention to omit that. I agree with it, and it’s central to my point. Precisely what I was trying to get at with my:

        Much as painting had to reinvent itself in the face of the photograph taking over its basic functionality, classical music had to reinvent itself in the face of popular music taking over its basic functionality.

        —–

        In short, classical’s displacement as popular music forced it down a less relatable path. But that doesn’t mean interesting stuff still isn’t done in the field. It’s just more challenging and less widely relatable.

  5. I have no time or interest in soulless,”intellectual” art. Different, just for the sake of it.
    Look at me, I’m clever. I’m an individual. I wear odd socks (or equivalent). I have funny (clever) hair. I want make you uncomfortable (bored) because I can.
    Time is short. Death is long. Being remembered is not the most important thing.

  6. I have no time or interest in soulless,”intellectual” art. Different, just for the sake of it.
    Look at me, I’m clever. I’m an individual. I wear odd socks (or equivalent). I have funny (clever) hair. I want make you uncomfortable (bored) because I can.
    Time is short. Death is long. Being remembered is not the most important thing.

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