Lately I’ve been thinking about the differences between classical music and modern pop and rock music — the chief ways in which each is at its best and worst, what they could learn from one another, where they differ in cultural practice and not just sound, etc. It strikes me that three of the biggest areas of distinction between the two forms of music are as follows:
- The primacy of live performance versus the commoditization of a single performance
- The composer as separate from the performance versus the performer-composer (singer-songwriter)
- The demand for interpretations versus newness
I’m judging all of these in their modern terms. All forms of music have gone through multiple stages and continue to evolve, so when I say that the singer-songwriter is a hallmark of contemporary music, I’m not saying that Handel and Senesino didn’t collaborate on arias, only that such collaboration isn’t expected today, and until very recently, songs were not so uniformly meant to convey a personal look into the soul of the individual performer (people like John Dowland being exceptions, and I’m not sure how exceptional they actually were).
And when I say that newness and originality are more hallmarks of contemporary pop and rock, I’m not saying that classical music is nothing but “covers” nor that the the dozens of intepretations, one after the other, of Lucia di Lammermoor are any less inventive that the world of pop music, which demands that a star create in each new album work that is fresh, totally unique — and exactly like the last ten hit albums on the pop charts.
Also, all of these things are interconnected: the commoditization of modern music is connected to the way that there seems to be one single canon version of a popular song (the studio-sculpted “radio version” that is often deliberately made impossible to perform live) compared to the acceptance of live variations in performance in the classical world. And the existence of a canon version is intimately connected to the prominence of the performer-composer, which imparts of sense of ownership to a given song that has never existed in classical music, no matter how much ink was spilt in praise of Anna Renzi and Farinelli’s performances. And both of these are of course connected to modern technology and recorded sound, which preserves single performances long after the artist and composer in question are dead.
So I’m mulling all of this, and should be putting together a few posts about these topics in the future.