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Classical Mythology 101

7. The Myth of Classical Beauty

Good music is supposed to be beautiful.

This is a fairly easy one to dispel and is obvious when you think about it. It's just a basic misconception that some people have ~ usually people who want all their music to sound like Mozart.

The point of great art isn't simply to woo us with its gorgeousness. It's also to scare the living daylights out of us, bring a smile to our face or make us laugh out loud, evoke or reflect our own feelings of sadness and longing, make our blood boil, make us recoil at its ugliness, bring out the analytical nerd in us or inspire us to our most heroic instincts.

There's nothing "beautiful" about the Dies Irae of the Verdi Requiem. There's nothing "beautiful" about the final terrifying moments of Bluebeard's Castle by Bartók or Lulu by Berg or the entire Moloch sequence from Glass' Hydrogen Jukebox. There's plenty in Stravinsky's Rite of Spring that's not "beautiful" by any stretch of the imagination. And although Mahler has many moments of intense beauty, it's the last thing on his mind when he's trying to stir us into action at the end of his First Symphony.

Why belabor the point? This world is full of beauty and ugliness and everything else. So is music, which is as it should be.

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İ David Bündler, 2000
Last revised: May 30, 2000