Why Classical Music Still Matters
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In seven highly original chapters, Why Classical Music Still Matters affirms the value of classical music—defined as a body of nontheatrical music produced since the eighteenth century with the single aim of being listened to—by revealing what its values are: the specific beliefs, attitudes, and meanings that the music has supported in the past and which, Kramer believes, it can support in the future.
Why Classical Music Still Matters also clears the air of old prejudices. Unlike other apologists, whose defense of the music often depends on arguments about the corrupting influence of popular culture, Kramer admits that classical music needs a broader, more up-to-date rationale. He succeeds in engaging the reader by putting into words music’s complex relationship with individual human drives and larger social needs. In prose that is fresh, stimulating, and conversational, he explores the nature of subjectivity, the conquest of time and mortality, the harmonization of humanity and technology, the cultivation of attention, and the liberation of human energy.
melodic types that surrounds them. They inhabit a world of their own that disrupts or delays, inspires or guides, the world of change and conﬂict on which they impinge. The opening of the Brahms Clarinet Quintet is arresting in part because it takes this kind of melody as a premise, without rationalization or apology. The history of these possibilities begins in the mid-eighteenth century with the shift from open Baroque melody, designed for “spinning out,” to classical periodic (rounded,
that Gershwin famously acquired and wrote into his score. Beneath the apparent ﬂippancy, however, something is genuinely at stake. The piece culminates with a reprise of its central episode, a luscious lyrical blues. At ﬁrst a majestic outburst by the full orchestra, the reprise ebbs away into a delicate series of instrumental solos, wistful and ﬂeeting. This transformation is richly ambivalent. It subsumes the prevailing high spirits under The Fate of Melody / 69 the banner of romance but
the singing subject were not wounded, why would it need a supplement? Schubert’s song cycles are seminal works for such modern love song and therefore for modern subjectivity. If they are not quite origins—too many sources ﬂow together in this stream to admit of a single origin—they are both exhaustive paradigms and the object of uncanny repetition in a wide variety of later songs. They still matter, though, not because of their legacy, but because the command of signiﬁcant detail made possible
Nietzsche, who says that human beings are willing to endure any amount of suffering as long as it is meaningful. The problem is that meaning cannot come, in modern times, from preestablished systems of belief, be they religious, political, or ideological. If you can’t do without But Not for Me / 131 such things, if you can’t maintain some distance from them, this music is not for you. These are all elements conspicuously missing from Schubert’s song cycles. They are missing, by and large, from
dissonance that the pedal and the melodic ﬂuency of the hands render a source of overﬂowing feeling rather than a source of tension or unrest. The almost hypnotic motion of the hands, as audible as it is tactile and visual, continuously turns the incipience of unrest into sensibility and pleasure. This balance of forces is the goal of the piece as well as its animating principle. “Innig” hesitates throughout over whether its key is major or minor. When at last it decides for the minor it conﬁrms