Saturday morning quotes 2.45: Audiences
At the end of the 13th century, Johannes de Grocheo wrote that the motet was “not intended for the vulgar who do not understand its finer points and derive no pleasure from hearing it: it is meant for educated people and those who look for refinement in art.” Is this statement justification for the ‘snob appeal’ that early music (as a sub-category of classical music) enjoys even today? Is it true that early music can only appeal to the ‘literati’ of today, who have cultivated an appreciation for the value of historical arts based on a disdain for modern pop culture?
We say NO, and we have gone far out of our way to reach non-traditional audiences. But early music probably has substantially more dimension than the commercial interests would have us believe. Mainstream record companies and concert-promoting organizations have consciously cultivated a distinctly unauthentic concept of early music that probably has nothing to do with its original function, reception and its actual sound. While this argument may seem like stale news, it is worth revisiting in today’s aggressively competitive and commercial world of music.
From the article, “The Spin Doctors of Early Music” published in the Arts section of the New York Times, July 29, 1990, Richard Taruskin writes that our perception of early music “says more about the values of the late 20th century than about those of any earlier era.”
“With the growing success of Early Music, we are increasingly surrounded by unhistorical sounds masquerading as historical – or ”authentic,” to use a word that more sophisticated performers now shun but that musical salesmen and spin doctors still spout to seduce the unwary consumer.”
“…What we call historical performance is the sound of now, not then. It derives its authenticity not from its historical verisimilitude, but from its being for better or worse a true mirror of late-20th-century taste.”
“If we truly wanted to perform historically, we would begin by imitating early-20th-century recordings of late-19th-century music and extrapolate back from there. Instead, as already implied, Early Music has been moving in the opposite direction. The pioneers extrapolated – from very soft evidence bolstered by very firm desiderata – a style of performing Renaissance and Baroque music, and from then on it has been a matter of speculative forward encroachment.”
“So forget history. What Early Music has been doing is busily remaking the music of the past in the image of the present (necessary because we unfortunately have so little use for the actual music of the present), only calling the present by some other name.”
“…Up to Mozart’s time, at least, musical values were generally closer to those of what we now call pop than to those of our classical culture. But to ask that of Early Music may be asking the impossible.”
But if we insist on detached performances, off-putting displays of vocal and instrumental technique, and stuffy concert halls as the standard for early music venues, we’ll never gain audiences who ‘get’ the idea that much early music was at one time pop music. One reason for an apparent decline in audiences for early music is because, as performers, commercial interests tell us to cater to an audience who possesses the level of income that can support high-brow arts. Unfortunately, that audience is rapidly growing older.
Blogger Ramiro Albino from Buenos Aires, Argentina expressed his concerns in a post from June 30, 2011
“Hace tiempo que me preocupa la inserción de los jóvenes en el mundo de la música clásica…Y como intérprete de Música Antigua, me asusta avizorar que en poco tiempo parte de mi público se va a morir (sic), porque siempre hay muchísimos ancianos en mis presentaciones.”
[I have long been preoccupied about the integration of young people into the world of classical music...And as a performer of early music, it scares me to envision that soon part of my audience is going to die (sic), because there are always so many elders in my presentations.]
Our answer to the question of ‘who is the audience and how do we cultivate them?’ is rather simple. Early music performers and aficionados have to set an example by going beyond lip-service and actively reaching out to younger people, giving time, attention and opportunities to see, hear and participate. And not just the students we wish to mentor in order to justify and continue our academic careers, which is really plain selfishness masquerading as benevolence. In the US, performers and academics tend to engage in childish antics on stage rather than engage young people. Or expect students to be involved in productions of carelessly under-rehearsed pieces by Monteverdi to which the composer himself is known to have dedicated five months of intense rehearsal.