John Borstlap

Author

Jeanne Rongier's 1885 painting “César Franck at the console of the organ at St. Clotilde Basilica, Paris, 1885.

Postwar modernism and its hip progeny, in combination with the expensive cost of operation for orchestras and opera houses, created barriers which hinder renewal of the repertoire – a self-destructive mix, pushing classical music into the corner as a “museum culture.”

A symphony concert somewhere near Potocki Palace, Warsaw, in 2011. Image credit: Les Panchyshyn.

Selling music in wrapping paper which belies its nature will inevitably lead to disappointment: potential new audiences – especially the younger generations without much exposure to classical music – will feel cheated when they find out that a Mahler symphony does not sound at all like heavy metal or hip-hop.

Edgar Degas: L'orchestre de l'opera (detail), 1870.

In a time where all the parameters of our civilization are shifting, and especially considering the current rise of populism everywhere in the Western world, it is of the greatest importance that the nature and purpose of classical music be articulated and argued – that it be protected from erosion and attacks based upon ignorance and misunderstanding.

Panthéon de Paris: Interior view.

Our distorted view of the relationship between modernity and culture has much to do with the idea that culture develops like a timeline: first this, then that – development from A via B to C and so on, with the implication and the hope that it is, in general, an upward line. If this were so in culture, we would end up with some obvious absurdities.

Ambrosius Benson: Le Concert après le repas, 1532.

The modernist composer György Ligeti said in an interview that he felt imprisoned between, on one hand, the past, and on the other, modernism – the avant-garde which he himself had helped into being but which he felt he had somehow to transcend, because “progress” meant to him having to “go forward” all the time on the line of historical development.

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