Who Needs Classical Music? Cultural Choice and Musical Value

By Julian Johnson | Go to book overview
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To talk of art implies the priority of an object over our perception. How people habitually perceive and interpret things is an important question, but it is not ultimately related to the question of art's potential. If perception is not shaped by the object, then one is no longer talking about art at all. And if it seems strange that one should accord primacy to something that is meant to be a tool of one's pleasure, perhaps that is because the concept of art as something distinct has been all but lost in contemporary culture. The objective differences between a Brahms symphony and elevator music are neither arbitrary nor irrelevant. Whatever people's responses to them may be, these texts make different objective demands of the listener and different musical statements. The structural and linguistic differences between musical objects invite different responses from their listeners, who remain free at all times, of course, to project whatever feelings they like upon the work.

But to most people music is not an object at all; it is a mood, an ambience, an environment, and is mostly used to that end. This contrasts strongly with the way music is regarded by professional musicians such as composers, performers and musicologists. The professional is necessarily concerned with how a musical work is made—with notes, chords, instrumentation, structure, and form, rather than sound alone or the pleasure of musical experience. But the nonmusician needs to be concerned with these aspects no more than the fan of Grand Prix racing needs to understand car mechanics or the gourmet needs to understand food science. Neither the purely analytical nor the purely appetitive is wholly adequate as an approach to art, yet both derive from the same central paradox of the artwork: that it is a sensuous object and, at the same time, projects a patterning or form that is more than the sum of its sensuous parts.

Art is a complex thing in the same way that we are complex things. It has its being as a physical thing or event, but it is vivified by a thought or


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Who Needs Classical Music? Cultural Choice and Musical Value


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