Do you wonder what I mean by "de-mythologizing music?" Classical music is full of myth, religiose dogma, pastoral legend and mostly a lot of irrelevant nonsense ~ repeated by pompous music critics and narrowly highbrow radio announcers who can't convey a passion for much of anything. Oftentimes, the observations made about classical music seem about as fresh as a musty Victorian anecdote and are relayed in a hopelessly baroque, perfumey prose style that all but died out with Jane Austen. If you've ever read a concert review or advance feature about classical music and wondered why it doesn't read like anything else in the newspaper, why the writing is injected with more saccharine and syrup than insight or spirit, why the tone can't escape being sanctimonious and worshipful while it strains to be analytical, then you know what it's like to suffer a classical music hack attack.
Personally, I think there has to be a better way to convey a love of classical music to people who are genuinely curious about it, whether they're old hands or new initiates. The best commentators on classical music respect the intelligence and skepticism of their readers. They describe the aural and visual elements of music so as to make it tangible and real. They reveal a broad historical and cultural context that connects music to the great ideas of its time and our own. They don't feel the need to go out on a limb with preposterously exaggerated judgements or tow the line of gratuitous iconoclasm. Nor are they so intellectually overdrawn on their accounts that they frequently state the obvious and represent it as insight.
When I created this website, I wanted a repository for some of my own writings on music. But I also thought it would be fun to expose the pitfalls of bad writing on music, the first and worst of which is an eager predisposition to mythologize the music.
Below, you'll find my quick and painless primer on classical (music) mythology. There are also transcripts of a few of my old Q&As with musicians, a shelf from my feature article library, and some links to other music sites. In addition, you can check out a bio on the composer I most consider to be a personal hero, a man whose industrious breadth of interests remains an inspiring antidote to the stifling narrowness of specialization and whose enduring achievements in at least one area make a convincing argument for following your passions.
~ David BŁndler
Here are a few of my favorite myths:
1. The Myth of the Composer DeityClassical music is the food of the gods and only the divine are capable of creating it.
2. The Myth of the Super ConductorThere's magic in that stick, and all a great conductor has to do to instantly inspire his musicians is wave it.
3. The Myth of the Exclusionary RuleRavel, Rachmaninoff, Respighi and all the other populist types don't belong in the Pantheon with Bach, Beethoven, Brahms or Schubert, Schoenberg, Scelsi.
4. The Myth of Music TriviaThe only concern of music history is music.
5. The Myth of The Big FiveThe only American orchestras that matter are the ones in New York, Boston, Chicago, Philadelphia and Cleveland.
6. The Myth of Perpetual RevolutionThe whole point of music is to keep turning the world on its head.
7. The Myth of BeautyGood music is supposed to be beautiful.
8. The Myth of the Old SchoolThere are two ways to play anything -- "old school" and "new school" -- and "old school" is usually superior.
9. The Myth of the Life Or Death PerformanceEvery performance matters, and every flaw is a sin against humanity.
10. The Myth of AuthenticityIt is futile to ask WWJD -- What would Johann (Sebastian Bach) do?
11. The Myth of Historic FadsClassical music was the pop music of centuries past ~ and today's pop is tomorrow's classical.
12. The Myth of Imminent ExtinctionClassical music is on the ropes.
Here are some transcripts of interviews I've done over the years with various people in music. Admittedly, Q&A is a lazy format that's boring to read, but it offers both the subject and the interviewer in the raw. You can watch me ask dumb questions as I get to know these musicians a half hour at a time.
William BolcomThe composer talks about his opera "A View from the Bridge" and other projects -- with lots of detours into obscure corners of music history.
Shura CherkasskyAn impromptu chat about nothing in particular with a pianist who was known as a master of spontaneity
Richard DanielpourOn his arrival as a "name" composer, music in the icy ether and not having to be a revolutionary if he doesn't want to
John DeMainA conductor leaves his plum gig with the Houston Grand Opera after 18 years in order to do symphonic repertoire in Wisconsin but ultimately decides he can't live without opera.
Gerard GriseyAn abstract discussion with one of the founders of the French "spectralism" movement in contemporary music, conducted a couple of years before his premature death.
Kennedy (aka Nigel Kennedy, The Nige, The Punk, The Bad Boy, The Fiddler on the Loose)An unexpurgated Q&A with the British violinist the like of which you won't see in the New York Times, L.A. Times, etc.
Mari KimuraThe story of subharmonics or how a Juilliard violinist, while noodling around one winter's day, discovered a whole register of notes below the G string
Sir Peter Maxwell DaviesThe hermit of Orkney talks about Maxwell Davian things like magic squares, the Fires of London and life on Hoy
Lord Yehudi MenuhinViolinist, conductor, teacher, honorary peer of the realm, patrician man of the people, Zen-like man of the world
Mikel RouseDowntown composer whose music sounds more like hip hop than bang on a can classical tradition
Augusta Read ThomasThe Chicago Symphony's resident composer on why music is her whole life and why the phrase "female composer" is fightin' words
Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Concert Hall Acoustics (but you couldn't afford the consulting fee)The science, engineering and art of concert hall acoustics in a nutshell
A Perspective on the DavidsbŁndlerA brief history of the "League of David" (and how I became David BŁndler)
The Composer's Guide to Knocking on DoorsA practical reference for composers who want to submit their manuscripts over the transom to American orchestras
A Glossary for Music CriticsA handy guide to the critical argot -- or how to sound like a pompous ass without really trying
Italian BaroqueThe birth of Italian opera under the House of Bardi
Mexican BaroqueAbout the musical legacy of Mexico and South America under the Spanish yoke
Johannes OckeghemA brief advance story on a Mostly Ockeghem concert by Anonymous 4 and Lionheart
Handel's "Samson"What "Messiah?" Why Delilah's boyfriend is overdue for his own resurrection
Shostakovich FestivalA report on the 1996 Shostakovich Festival at California State University, Long Beach, including a lecture on Shostakovich and his ventriloquists
Women ComposersA rant on Southern California concert presenters who offer their patrons too few chances to hear music written by women
My StuffA list of my own musical compositions, transcriptions and translations
Classical Composers' Photo ArchivesAn excellent archive of photographs, prints, paintings, drawings and any other kind of rendering of composers from the high magnitudes to the lesser lights
Thomas Cobbe Collection of Composer PortraitsThese portraits of music people are stylized likenesses by the artist Thomas Cobbe... nearly a thousand of them
Composer ResourcesIndiana University's Cook Music Library listing of composer and resource websites
Arnold Bax HomepageA useful collection of writings for Bax evangelists and enthusiasts everywhere (anywhere?)
George Frideric Handel WebsiteFind out what Handel was doing on almost any given day or link to other sites
Gustav Holst Website by Kenric TaylorWhatever you think of his music, Gustav Holst was probably a more interesting guy to know than Gustav Mahler
Music Under Soviet RuleA guide to Soviet music with a Southern Illinois University slant
Cello HeavenAnything you want to know about cellos and cellists, including full-length online books by Emanuel Feurmann, Gregor Piatigorsky, etc. Sadly, the all-knowing Dr. Cello -- Marshall St. John -- is no longer webmaster of this useful site
The World of William Osborne & Abbie ConantCheck out the articles index of composer Osborne and his trombonist wife Conant to get the latest and most complete rants about gender bias among Europe's most prominent orchestras
Catgut Acoustical SocietyArticles and links on pioneering luthier Carleen Hutchins and her violin octet family
Playing Less HurtJanet Horvath's outstanding injury prevention and therapy ideas for musicians in pain
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