Robert Estrin - piano expert
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Is classical music dead?

Some thoughts about the past, present, and future of classical music

Released on July 10, 2013

  
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Hi, and welcome to virtualsheetmusic.com and livingpianos.com. I am Robert Estrin with a very important question today which is: is classical music dead? Boy, you know just that question makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. And it's a horrifying thought to someone like myself who's grown up with classical music, but it's a legitimate question. So we're going to explore that today.

Well, is classical music dead? Well, you'd have to ask, for example, is William Shakespeare dead? And you could say, "Well, yes, the man died hundreds of years ago." But seriously, Shakespeare is not front and center in our culture today, but he is certainly an icon and someone who's appreciated and who affects Western civilization to this day. And the same is true of classical music, but in a more global sense is classical music as we think of it dead after all? The vast majority of composers, music that we play and perform, are people who have been dead for some of them hundreds of years. And there's less and less classical composers, so what does this mean? Well, let's break it down for a minute. If you go back in history, technology has always been the impetus for innovation, both technical technology as well as technologies of form and function.

For example, the sonata allegro form was an invention that came about that enabled amazing works to be written. So when the sonata form really first evolved, it was exploited by Mozart and Hayden and others to form tremendous bodies of work. So if Mozart were alive today, what would his means of expression be? After all, he wouldn't just be writing sonatas anymore because there's such a wealth of great music that's been written with this structure. So, indeed, if you look throughout history the Dark Ages was not a great time for art. The Renaissance ushered in systems and so a lot of it is a community of expression that evolves and enables flourishing of the arts. So what period are we in now?

Well, we're in a period that's very interesting. If you take a look at the Classical Era when the sonata form started and it continued to evolve in the Romantic Era in the 19th century as the instruments evolved. So what started off as a salon music and music in churches and such, it eventually ended up in concert halls. The piano, of course, evolved to a more robust instrument, but the entire symphony orchestra grew not just in the size in the instrumentation but the instruments themselves were bigger and louder. The flute, instead of being wood, was metal. French horns started to evolve valves so they didn't have to stop the notes by sticking the hand in the bell which muted the tone but enabled other notes to be played. So all the instruments got bigger and louder and concert halls developed larger, and the whole factor of what music and performance was changed. And pop became very popular to masses.

Well, go to the 20th century and I like to bring up the Beatles because the Beatles are a great example of music that was culturally changing because after all music up to that point was primarily written by individuals. And yet this was a collaborative effort, not just with the members of the group but George Martin, the producer. This also ushered in something extremely important which was the first time that music had ever really been written to be recorded, not to be performed live. After all the seminal album, Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, is an album of music that they didn't perform. They couldn't have performed at that time. The technologies didn't exist so it's a work that is stamped and final instead of being one that's interpreted. This is a marked change and I believe to a great extent the future of music has tremendous potential in this sort of artistic expression because it's relatively unexplored, particularly in classical music.

Now how are some ways this could happen? Well, for example, just as Facebook has revolutionized the way people interact, music too can be more of a collaborative experience not just with two or three people or four people but with millions interacting, taking mixes and working with them and posting different versions of different compositions and remixes. This is one possibility just as hip hop and rap have elements of recorded music contained within them; this is just in its infancy of what's possible. And great artistic expression, it might surprise you where it will come out of. But getting back to classical music, really it depends how do you define classical music, and that definition constantly changes. And today I think some of the most interesting music being composed in what's referred to as the classical world are music that encompasses different cultures and different styles of music that are combined in new ways. Because after all writing yet another romantic symphony, do we really need that? Is anybody going to top Mahler and Brahms and Tchaikovsky and all the rest of them?

So I see the technology as being the impetus for great innovations that we cannot even imagine what will come out. And will that be considered classical music? Well, sure just as jazz has evolved into different genres. It's all part of the evolution of Western music, and it will be exciting to see what happens. And there are always going to be those who are traditionalists just as Brahms was writing conservative music and Rachmaninoff was composing into the 20th century very romantic music. So we're not done yet. It's not dead, not by a long shot. It's not the same thing it was in the 19th century or the 18th century, but we've got a lot of great things on the horizons. And it'll be very interesting to see what great music comes in the future.

Thanks for joining me. Robert Estrin here at virtualsheetmusic.com and livingpianos.com.
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Maria * VSM MEMBER * on July 10, 2013 @10:46 pm PST
Well put, Robert! While people live and breathe and can express themselves there will always be good music!
Shirley Gibson * VSM MEMBER * on July 10, 2013 @9:31 am PST
Interesting and thought provoking!
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