View Full Version : The rise of music as an art form compared to other art forms


Kyriakos
May 18, 2011, 01:45 AM
It seems to me that music in the past, prior to its mass-production, was less prominent as an art. It appears to have benefited in this degree enormously by the technological developments in the latter half of the 20th century.
I base this view strictly on my reading of a considerable number of 19th century literary works, where music appears to be a very small part of the people's lives, unlike literature.
Although there existed writers of the 19th century who wrote significantly of music (ETA Hofmann is a good example, and at the same time a bad example since he was a composer himself), and sometimes it plays a significant role in the text (as in The Kreutzer Sonata, by Tolstoy), in general it has a diminished part.

Of course i realize that looking for it in literature is not the best idea. But even if popular music played a part in the life of the "common" people, it does seem to me to be almost entirely overlooked in serious literary works, even more so if one does not count the references to classical music.

Now the opposite is true: popular music is everywhere. It has become such a powerful industry that it made almost inevitable that all people at some time in their lives are trying to idolize the musicians, and discuss their favourite musical works of this genre passionately.

In your view did this rise in popularity of pop music appear only relatively late in human history, and also do you think this is detrimental or positive for the arts as a whole?

Leoreth
May 18, 2011, 03:58 AM
I think the great change came with the ability to record music. Written art forms could be reproduced easily since the 15th century, for music you still needed a musician who was either immensely expensive if trained classically or only limited to a comparably narrow set of common folk songs.

Kyriakos
May 18, 2011, 04:04 AM
You are right. The point was extended though to why music developed into the main popular art form, instead of writing or painting. Photography, in a way an analogous art form to modern, easy to personally record music, has nowhere near the popularity of the former :)
I guess people of old did gather and sing, or sing more often than is recorded in classic works, it just strikes me as impressive that pop music had such a meteoric rise (classical music a lot less so).

North King
May 18, 2011, 11:54 AM
I think you're significantly underestimating the impact music had on the world before the modern era. Sure, you don't find it mentioned much in literature, but if you look at the books of today, you'll find it still doesn't appear much. The most you might have are a few quotes of song lyrics at the start or ends of chapters. The fact is that music is a really incredibly hard medium to describe -- poets and writers are excellent at communicating visuals, much less so at communicating audio. Partly this might be practice, but part of it is just that music is such a complicated, abstract medium that it can be hard to put into a different context.

In fact it was a huge part of everyone's lives, and ironically, the 19th century is when non-folk music really rose to prominence. Just about every bourgeois family tried to imitate the already prevalent aristocratic ideal that to be truly educated, one must know how to play one musical instrument or another (traditionally piano for girls and violin for boys). The aristocracy had already started to do this in the 18th and 17th centuries -- there's a reason half the composers you can probably name from then were music teachers at least at some points of their lives, in addition to being composers.

Which is not to say the poor didn't have music. Think about it -- there's probably at least ten old drinking songs that you know somehow (usually put into some other song; the American national anthem is one notable example). These songs came from somewhere. That is to say, they came from hundreds of years of built up musical knowledge.

You have church music all over the place -- played at just about every catholic service -- and a long, long tradition of madrigal singing. Every rich twit or even middle class twit would go to the opera for entertainment. You have folk music, dance music, lullabies, court ballads... the list goes on and on. Music isn't the newest form of cultural expression; it's probably the oldest.

Pop music is a new development, but I wouldn't class it as a new phenomenon. The music of the great piano and chamber masters would have played a roughly similar role in the lives of everyone middle class and up in the nineteenth century onwards. Pop music is of course a different genre of music, just like opera was a big new thing after the Renaissance, or how jazz started to really flourish in the 20th century.

But it's new in the same way that TV shows are new, or even movies -- all the ideas are there beforehand, they just don't take the same form that they did before.

Earthling
May 18, 2011, 12:31 PM
I think you're significantly underestimating the impact music had on the world before the modern era.

Yeah, this is extremely obvious, the OP's core argument is very wrong. Everybody everywhere had their folk songs, religious songs, etc... and we have cultures with traditional instruments and music going back hundreds if not thousands of years. I don't think it's even a good argument that in the more recent past, like 1600s-1700s, that the upper class/leisure didn't concern itself with music because that was still true even without recording technology and mass production as well, or you'd have to say that we never would have heard of people like Bach. Generally a poorly drawn conclusion all around, whatever is to be said about the 20th century and its popular culture, one can't argue that for the majority of peasants hundreds of years ago who often couldn't read that something like literature was more common than music nor that music wasn't a significant part of cultures all around the world.

Kyriakos
May 18, 2011, 12:59 PM
Lists are a fascinating thing, but one has to add to them from time to time ;)

Now back to the topic: Even if music, moreover popular music of the pre-recording era was common as a way to pass time in leisure (and a careful reading of the OP would reveal that i did not necessarily doubt that) it still is a question just why it features so little, even not at all, in most classical literature of the 19th and early 20th centuries. North_King provided an opinion as to why this might have been so, namely the fleeting nature of music, the difficulty to express it on paper.
But if that was all then it would not have to prevent authors from mentioning it in other ways. But from my experience the classical authors of those centuries have very little reference to music, and usually when they do use it as a core part of their works (eg have a musician as a character) this happens to be a symbolism/parallel of the writer/artist, just presented in the form of a musician, making use of allegory.

North King (and other persons in the thread who are not frequent themes of Kitellsen's paintings) : I would be very interested in reading your views on that question as well :)

North King
May 18, 2011, 01:28 PM
Now back to the topic: Even if music, moreover popular music of the pre-recording era was common as a way to pass time in leisure (and a careful reading of the OP would reveal that i did not necessarily doubt that) it still is a question just why it features so little, even not at all, in most classical literature of the 19th and early 20th centuries. North_King provided an opinion as to why this might have been so, namely the fleeting nature of music, the difficulty to express it on paper.
But if that was all then it would not have to prevent authors from mentioning it in other ways. But from my experience the classical authors of those centuries have very little reference to music, and usually when they do use it as a core part of their works (eg have a musician as a character) this happens to be a symbolism/parallel of the writer/artist, just presented in the form of a musician, making use of allegory.

North King (and other persons in the thread who are not frequent themes of Kitellsen's paintings) : I would be very interested in reading your views on that question as well :)

I dunno, it's not just that it's "fleeting". It's that any words used to describe music are probably going to be inadequate. (Exercise: Try to describe a piece of music in a way that actually captures the specific piece of music, rather than just calling it "beautiful" in a colorful way.) Why would you mention it casually? Would name dropping really be all that useful? "She was playing a Chopin etude. It was no. 12, one of his favorites."

:p

Atticus
May 18, 2011, 01:28 PM
On first thought: most of pre 20th century writers I've read do not spend time discussing things that aren't immediately related to the plot. Modern writers more commonly stuff aesthetic criticism into their works.

I can't think of many cases where writers discuss any arts at all. Hugo wrote quite a bit of architecture in the Hunchback. Wilde had his portraits, but that was part of the plot. The first example I thought of was from early 20th century, Proust namely, and I think music is as important as literature in his magnum opus.

On the other hand, if writers write more about literature than other arts, it might be because it's their art.

Owen Glyndwr
May 18, 2011, 01:28 PM
Lists are a fascinating thing, but one has to add to them from time to time ;)

Now back to the topic: Even if music, moreover popular music of the pre-recording era was common as a way to pass time in leisure (and a careful reading of the OP would reveal that i did not necessarily doubt that) it still is a question just why it features so little, even not at all, in most classical literature of the 19th and early 20th centuries. North_King provided an opinion as to why this might have been so, namely the fleeting nature of music, the difficulty to express it on paper.
But if that was all then it would not have to prevent authors from mentioning it in other ways. But from my experience the classical authors of those centuries have very little reference to music, and usually when they do use it as a core part of their works (eg have a musician as a character) this happens to be a symbolism/parallel of the writer/artist, just presented in the form of a musician, making use of allegory.

North King (and other persons in the thread who are not frequent themes of Kitellsen's paintings) : I would be very interested in reading your views on that question as well :)

Read Austen much? She talks about playing the pianoforte in like every book she writes.

Kyriakos
May 18, 2011, 01:51 PM
Read Austen much? She talks about playing the pianoforte in like every book she writes.

I said "classical" authors, so this does not include Austen :mischief:

Besides, what i asked was why you think music is mentioned so little in most of those works. If it was such a big part of how society worked perhaps it should have been mentioned more. But i accept the (obvious yet true) point that writers are more bothered with their own art.

And Atticus' other point, about Wilde, is the symbolism i talked about: the portrait of Dorian Gray is not just a portrait, but a symbol of Dorian's soul: Wilde possibly had in mind the psychological effects of seeing something on the mirror based to a degree on one's emotions.

But allow me to claim that the OP was still not read correctly, since my other question was why pop music in particular became such a characteristic occupation of most adolescents. Was it because in the past, in pre-recorded music eras, adolescents too were so absorbed in the pop music of the day, or is it a phenomenon which speaks of other significant changes in the role and place of art?

North King
May 18, 2011, 04:52 PM
I said "classical" authors, so this does not include Austen :mischief:

So does it mean... whoever you want it to mean? :p

But allow me to claim that the OP was still not read correctly, since my other question was why pop music in particular became such a characteristic occupation of most adolescents. Was it because in the past, in pre-recorded music eras, adolescents too were so absorbed in the pop music of the day, or is it a phenomenon which speaks of other significant changes in the role and place of art?

It is a lot easier to carry a piece of music with you now.

Earthling
May 18, 2011, 05:01 PM
So does it mean... whoever you want it to mean?

Exactly. We couldn't mention, say, music in Shakespeare works as an example, but we'd have to accept the example of a random not very popular contemporary author to mean that all literature in the past century has made heavy use of music.

North King
May 18, 2011, 05:04 PM
Exactly. We couldn't mention, say, music in Shakespeare works as an example, but we'd have to accept the example of a random not very popular contemporary author to mean that all literature in the past century has made heavy use of music.

It's not clear who you're agreeing with. :p

Owen Glyndwr
May 18, 2011, 05:21 PM
I said "classical" authors, so this does not include Austen :mischief:

Besides, what i asked was why you think music is mentioned so little in most of those works. If it was such a big part of how society worked perhaps it should have been mentioned more. But i accept the (obvious yet true) point that writers are more bothered with their own art.

And Atticus' other point, about Wilde, is the symbolism i talked about: the portrait of Dorian Gray is not just a portrait, but a symbol of Dorian's soul: Wilde possibly had in mind the psychological effects of seeing something on the mirror based to a degree on one's emotions.

But allow me to claim that the OP was still not read correctly, since my other question was why pop music in particular became such a characteristic occupation of most adolescents. Was it because in the past, in pre-recorded music eras, adolescents too were so absorbed in the pop music of the day, or is it a phenomenon which speaks of other significant changes in the role and place of art?

Mind showing me to some modern novels that talk specifically about popular music?

Whiskey_Lord
May 18, 2011, 06:08 PM
So does it mean... whoever you want it to mean? :p

I assume "classical" refers to people like Homer or Virgil.

punkbass2000
May 18, 2011, 07:02 PM
I think music, at least at first, was more of a handy way for reciting a culture's stories. When and where this changed, exactly, is difficult to determine.

SpiritWolf
May 18, 2011, 10:02 PM
Wasn't music "the art that all arts aspired to be" in the 19th century? Its purely abstract medium perfectly suited the Romantic aims and goals of self-expression.

But yeah, the game changer for music in the 20th century was the invention of recordings. Before recordings, people learned instruments to have music (besides pure vocal music) in their lives, and in the 19th century it was very common for any middle class family to have at least a piano in the house (especially since the industrial revolution made mass-production of instruments cheaper). With the advent of recordings, there was no longer such a need to learn instruments, and people went from a society of music makers to one primarily of music consumers.

Plotinus
May 19, 2011, 02:50 AM
Mind showing me to some modern novels that talk specifically about popular music?

I suppose an obvious example would be Nick Hornby's About A Boy, in which Kurt Cobain is a recurring theme. But it's not really about music, it's about Cobain as an icon. I'm sure there are novels with music-related settings (e.g. one might have a novel about a rock star, although I can't think of any off-hand). But it seems to me that what Kyriakos is talking about is novels on other subjects where music is incidentally shown happening but isn't the theme. Or have I got this wrong?

I think Kyriakos is part right and part wrong. As people have said, it's obviously the case that music has always been a big part of people's lives, even if it is just lullabies and other songs sung around the house. Making music is a natural expression of human nature. And I really can't see a significant difference between the literature of whatever time period Kyriakos is talking about (the nineteenth century, but not Austen?) and that of other time periods. I don't think that music features more prominently in either earlier or later literature. But at the same time, of course our consumption of music today is different from how it was in the past, because of technological advances. And so it's perfectly likely that a modern novel will have a character sitting in his armchair listening to a record, as Inspector Morse frequently does, and this wouldn't happen in older literature. So there is a difference. Still, Holmes had his violin. The difference is in the form of music that characters appreciate, not whether it's present or not - as far as I can tell.

Kyriakos
May 19, 2011, 05:09 AM
I suppose an obvious example would be Nick Hornby's About A Boy, in which Kurt Cobain is a recurring theme. But it's not really about music, it's about Cobain as an icon. I'm sure there are novels with music-related settings (e.g. one might have a novel about a rock star, although I can't think of any off-hand). But it seems to me that what Kyriakos is talking about is novels on other subjects where music is incidentally shown happening but isn't the theme. Or have I got this wrong?

Yes, i exactly meant literature that simply makes music part of the description of life, to an extent analogous to how pop music for some age groups has become a fascination. Apart from Hoffmann, who i mentioned in the OP, and who was a composer himself, i cannot think of any 19th century writer who does present music as a part of the work without meaning to focus on music as a central part of the plot. My guess was that if music had been that much of a focus of people of that age then there should have been more mention of it in such works.

Also look at cinema: there is hardly any American movie produced these days that does not feature music as a fleeting (at least) part of it. There are endless seas of characters listening to songs in their room, or outside. Of course i accept that there it is far more reasonable to show music, since you can effectively hear it. However my main argument was that it seems that pop music has become more important for certain ages, and the majority of people, than it seems to have been in the old days.

And in closing, i think (i am not utterly sure, but at the moment cannot recall anything different) that in all of Dostoevsky there is not a single scene of people involved in music, apart from the short story "The stages of madness", which however is about a violinist and thus falls to the category i spoke of earlier :)
Kafka, the other writer whose entire work (that which has been released up to now) i have read, again there is very little mention of any kind of music, again apart from stories which are about "musicians", such as Josephine. There music appears, again, to be a symbol for writing, or life in general.

Perfection
May 19, 2011, 08:23 AM
what aboot the sirens?

North King
May 19, 2011, 01:12 PM
Yes, i exactly meant literature that simply makes music part of the description of life, to an extent analogous to how pop music for some age groups has become a fascination. Apart from Hoffmann, who i mentioned in the OP, and who was a composer himself, i cannot think of any 19th century writer who does present music as a part of the work without meaning to focus on music as a central part of the plot. My guess was that if music had been that much of a focus of people of that age then there should have been more mention of it in such works.

I don't see why. Given that apparently we're excluding popular authors because they were not "serious" enough or something, the ones you're surveying might simply have been too wrapped up in their own respective art forms.

Also look at cinema: there is hardly any American movie produced these days that does not feature music as a fleeting (at least) part of it. There are endless seas of characters listening to songs in their room, or outside. Of course i accept that there it is far more reasonable to show music, since you can effectively hear it. However my main argument was that it seems that pop music has become more important for certain ages, and the majority of people, than it seems to have been in the old days.

This is because pop music did not exist prior to the twentieth century.

As for other music, it has been repeatedly shown in the thread that it mattered a great deal to just about everyone in "the old days", but apparently these facts do not count because they are not mentioned in some kind of imaginary, exclusive literary canon.

As for movies, they were including music before there was pop music. And music has been used as accompaniment to other art before there were movies.

And in closing, i think (i am not utterly sure, but at the moment cannot recall anything different) that in all of Dostoevsky there is not a single scene of people involved in music, apart from the short story "The stages of madness", which however is about a violinist and thus falls to the category i spoke of earlier :)
Kafka, the other writer whose entire work (that which has been released up to now) i have read, again there is very little mention of any kind of music, again apart from stories which are about "musicians", such as Josephine. There music appears, again, to be a symbol for writing, or life in general.

Dostoevsky and Kafka, the latter especially, are a horrible place to begin a search like that. To generalize, Kafka likes focusing on the surreal and the insane -- this is hardly the place to mention, "and he wandered home after hearing a Mozart opera."

And excluding stories because they have musicians as the main character? That's ludicrous; it's like saying "well English cultural references usually only pop up when the main characters are English".

Frankly, you seem to be paring down the whole of the classical literary corpus down to two authors to support a thesis which simply doesn't hold water. Music is the oldest and probably the most respected art form in all of history, and it's been an integral part of people's daily lives for all of history.

Mozart wrote literally hundreds of works that got performed in his era. Haydn topped a hundred symphonies, each of which got an audience. Every one of Beethoven's symphonies was attended by a large audience, not just the aristocracy. There are thousands of operas, hundreds of concertos, cantatas, madrigals, hymns, and a million little songs that artists have been playing since the Middle Ages. And yet you seem to think that these things didn't matter to people because they weren't mentioned in literature?

Who, exactly, do you think that massive amount of musical literature was written for?

If it was a meaningless diversion of the aristocracy, then why is there so much music written that a person alive today could not hope to even listen to a significant chunk of it, if they were literally listening to classical music every second of their lives?

Yes, music underwent a pretty big change from the nineteenth century to the twentieth. Plotinus put it perfectly -- society went from being composed of music producers to music consumers. But that shouldn't make you think music wasn't a big part of people's lives -- for heaven's sake, the fact that the average bourgeois individual played a musical instrument should indicate rather more than a passing interest.




Note: Forgive me if I'm a little passionate here; music is rather more than a hobby.

Kyriakos
May 19, 2011, 01:26 PM
No problem with you being passionate. Although i think you simplified my claims.

For example i thought i gave a reason for excluding works where the main character is a musician; that reason being that music when referenced in such a way by a non-musician, and a writer, tends most of the time to be a symbol for writing, or something else. Which is why my mention of Hoffmann was important; he clearly seperates musicians from symbols, although his stories tend to be very symbolic.

I accept that Kafka is not the best place to look for music, but not for the reason you gave; the term "absurd", popularized to my knowledge by the french circle of mid-20th century philosophers who read his work, is very poor as a characterization of Kafka. But this is another issue. Let me just say that i referred to Kafka for two reasons: He is one of the most known authors of the early 20th century, and he was a symbolist/allegorist, and therefore he was an example again of how music in prose becomes allegorical.

Dostoevsky, on the other hand, was a novelist who, although having some very clear fixations (such as christianity) did paint on a larger canvas than Kafka. So one could expect from him to present music as a minor part of any of his works. It seems he did not, again i am not entirely sure, but i cannot remember any reference to it.

The part with Austen was obviously a joke, i cannot really see how it could be seen otherwise. I do not like her work, but surely i accept that tastes vary and my own list of main 19th century authors is not the definitive version for anyone other than myself.

Lastly, i agree that the point by Plotinus was a very good summary of what seems to have happened. But perhaps it was through this metamorphosis of the musicians to laymen consumers which led to a fascination with pop music.

Owen Glyndwr
May 19, 2011, 01:30 PM
The part with Austen was obviously a joke, i cannot really see how it could be seen otherwise. I do not like her work, but surely i accept that tastes vary and my own list of main 19th century authors is not the definitive version for anyone other than myself.

Looked more like a handwave to me. Maybe you should try actually refuting the point rather than just simply ignoring every piece of contradictory evidence that comes your way.

Kyriakos
May 19, 2011, 01:37 PM
Looked more like a handwave to me. Maybe you should try actually refuting the point rather than just simply ignoring every piece of contradictory evidence that comes your way.

I am not familiar enough with her to know how she presented music, if it was in a decorative manner (which i suspect) then yes, it is clear evidence of its significance in her social circle.

But if you accuse me of being one-eyed in my examination of music in literature, you should at least not fall prey to the mistake you claimed others make; Austen is just one author.

Another author who was mentioned, and his famous character, was A.C.Doyle. But i wonder if Holmes' playing of the violin did not appear there to signify his refinement, rather than the violin being a common instrument of leisure in that period.

I am willing to accept, however, that for the middle and higher classes, music was part of everyday life. This does not mean it had reached the level of fixation that it has for a vast part of today's youth though. Which is why i connected the facets of the OP in the question of whether this happened due to the change Plotinus noted ;)

North King
May 19, 2011, 01:45 PM
For example i thought i gave a reason for excluding works where the main character is a musician; that reason being that music when referenced in such a way by a non-musician, and a writer, tends most of the time to be a symbol for writing, or something else. Which is why my mention of Hoffmann was important; he clearly seperates musicians from symbols, although his stories tend to be very symbolic.

This doesn't really matter. Since music was performed quite frequently in a private rather than public sphere, excluding the character who's private life we know the most about hardly seems like a reasonable sampling of the society books present!

Again, this is like excluding, say, stories who's main characters are scientists, and exclaiming at how remarkable it is that physics rarely comes up -- ergo, it must not have been an important part of daily life! Despite the fact that newspapers often ran pretty significant articles on recent discoveries in the world of science, and that these articles were debated to death by laypeople.

It's often hard to include everything in a book, and you wouldn't want to, either. The Law of the Conservation of Detail, which every good writer follows, states that if material isn't useful to the story, it shouldn't be included.

I accept that Kafka is not the best place to look for music, but not for the reason you gave; the term "absurd", popularized to my knowledge by the french circle of mid-20th century philosophers who read his work, is very poor as a characterization of Kafka. But this is another issue. Let me just say that i referred to Kafka for two reasons: He is one of the most known authors of the early 20th century, and he was a symbolist/allegorist, and therefore he was an example again of how music in prose becomes allegorical.

I am aware that I probably will make minor errors in ~literary theory~, much as I would expect most people to make errors in music theory. Perhaps "absurd" is a bad term. We'll say, Kafka has a certain je ne se quois which makes him a rather bad place to look for the example of daily life.

Owen already gave you a good example of an author who did mention it as an important part of a character's daily life, and there are probably dozens of others. To project Kafka and Dostoevsky onto the entirety of 19th and 20th century literature and to say whatever they have done probably holds true for other authors is completely silly -- they're very exceptional writers even in their specific genres. And even ignoring that, to project literature onto daily life is similarly absurd. You can't make many assumptions about the musical tastes of Sumerians from the Epic of Gilgamesh; such a diversion would be an annoying one, distracting us from the core tale of the demigod who lost everything to try and return his friend to him.

Dostoevsky, on the other hand, was a novelist who, although having some very clear fixations (such as christianity) did paint on a larger canvas than Kafka. So one could expect from him to present music as a minor part of any of his works. It seems he did not, again i am not entirely sure, but i cannot remember any reference to it.

From my (possibly faulty) memory of Crime and Punishment, he doesn't do that with most art forms. There's no real need to; it doesn't add to the story. See point #1.

Lastly, i agree that the point by Plotinus was a very good summary of what seems to have happened. But perhaps it was through this metamorphosis of the musicians to laymen consumers which led to a fascination with pop music.

Again, pop music did not exist before the twentieth century. And yet, people were still obsessed with music, and it occupied a special place in most people's hearts.

Let's take the example of Franz Liszt. One of the greatest virtuoso pianists of his time, he'd be a roughly comparable figure to the Beatles. And he's a classical musician, as classical as they come, so you'd probably assume that everyone was in their seats, calmly watching and holding their applause to the end?

No! Women would swoon at the first few notes, underwear would be thrown onstage, and somehow Liszt ended up bagging a new woman at every show.

Hell, Richard Wagner didn't even need to draw on much mythology to write up the plot for Tristan und Isolde, because at the time he was busy cheating with another man's wife. And the man was pretty much okay with it, because that's what you expect great artists to do.

Are you still going to tell me people didn't obsess over musicians like they do now?

Owen Glyndwr
May 19, 2011, 01:46 PM
I am not familiar enough with her to know how she presented music, if it was in a decorative manner (which i suspect) then yes, it is clear evidence of its significance in her social circle.

But if you accuse me of being one-eyed in my examination of music in literature, you should at least not fall prey to the mistake you claimed others make; Austen is just one author.

Another author who was mentioned, and his famous character, was A.C.Doyle. But i wonder if Holmes' playing of the violin did not appear there to signify his refinement, rather than the violin being a common instrument of leisure in that period.

I am willing to accept, however, that for the middle and higher classes, music was part of everyday life. This does not mean it had reached the level of fixation that it has for a vast part of today's youth though. Which is why i connected the facets of the OP in the question of whether this happened due to the change Plotinus noted ;)

Aside from Holmes playing the violin, he also goes to the Opera on a couple occasions. And it's not just Austen. Just about every author of the Late Georgian-Regency era who wrote about the Middle Class talked about music. It was impossible NOT to talk about music because it's what you do. After dinner you go the drawing room and you perform for each other. Being able to play music was extremely important for women then. Seriously dude, just because you don't see mention of popular music in 19th century literature doesn't mean it wasn't EXTREMELY important to everyday life in that era.

Kyriakos
May 19, 2011, 01:55 PM
I see. I am willing to form a new opinion on this. My main hindrance from doing so is that i find North_Kings' examples of popularity of certain musicians to be true, yet linked to spectators of their art who even if they are not anecdotal (and i do not claim they are) do seem to react in a way one would expect from anecdotes.
Perhaps though it is all due to a real connection between an existent fascination with old music (classical) and what is going on today. I still have trouble imagining masses of people discussing music at length with the passion that rises with adolescent idolization of the musicians, happening in the 19th century, but possibly this is due to such an extent on the difference that the lack of recording had that it renders the chasm between the two phenomena effectively obsolete.

Owen Glyndwr
May 19, 2011, 01:59 PM
I see. I am willing to form a new opinion on this. My main hindrance from doing so is that i find North_Kings' examples of popularity of certain musicians to be true, yet linked to spectators of their art who even if they are not anecdotal (and i do not claim they are) do seem to react in a way one would expect from anecdotes.
Perhaps though it is all due to a real connection between an existent fascination with old music (classical) and what is going on today. I still have trouble imagining masses of people discussing music at length with the passion that rises with adolescent idolization of the musicians, happening in the 19th century, but possibly this is due to such an extent on the difference that the lack of recording had that it renders the chasm between the two phenomena effectively obsolete.

Maybe that's because you're looking at the whole of 19th century everyday life through the admittedly useful, albeit rather narrow lens of literature. You should try using some other media.

SuperJay
May 19, 2011, 02:08 PM
Perhaps though it is all due to a real connection between an existent fascination with old music (classical) and what is going on today. I still have trouble imagining masses of people discussing music at length with the passion that rises with adolescent idolization of the musicians, happening in the 19th century, but possibly this is due to such an extent on the difference that the lack of recording had that it renders the chasm between the two phenomena effectively obsolete.

Well, as North_King and Owen have pointed out, music was a part of everyday life for many people in Europe in the 19th century. People played music with each other regularly - it was considered part of a lady's or a gentleman's education in the upper classes, and "playing music as a hobby" was widespread in the lower classes too.

And it was absolutely obsessed over and discussed at length between "fans" of all kinds of music. Just because there weren't thousands of YouTube comments about Justin Bieber doesn't mean people weren't talking about music very passionately. :)

Think about it for a sec: there were no televisions. The only media that was at all portable were printed forms. If you were to listen to music, someone in the same room with you had to play it. But as North_King pointed out, the big change over time has been the trend of 'regular people' becoming solely consumers of music rather than players and performers of it.

Plotinus
May 20, 2011, 03:57 AM
Another author who was mentioned, and his famous character, was A.C.Doyle. But i wonder if Holmes' playing of the violin did not appear there to signify his refinement, rather than the violin being a common instrument of leisure in that period.

First, as far as style goes, Conan Doyle was probably the least sophisticated author to put pen to paper until Dan Brown. I doubt he would have recognised a literary symbol if one had been served up to him on a plate with a sprig of parsley.

Second, I don't understand why you're excluding examples of music that you think "signify" things or which have symbolic meaning. If, in the case at hand, Conan Doyle did make Holmes a violinist to signify his refined nature, why does that invalidate this as an example of music being portrayed in literature as part of people's lives? It just means that, for Conan Doyle at least, playing that particular instrument had certain connotations. It certainly doesn't mean that, in real life, a man in Holmes' position in society wouldn't have played the violin. On the contrary, if the character is to be at all convincing, playing the violin must have been a plausible, if not necessarily common, thing for someone like him to do. And your OP was about the role that music actually had in people's lives, not about the symbolic value that writers placed upon it.

Third, most things in books are there to signify something. Conan Doyle made Holmes a violinist for some reason, even if it was only to give the character another facet to his personality, or even, perhaps, just to give him something interesting and slightly eccentric to do while lounging around his flat between cases. If you're going to exclude from consideration anything in a story that has some purpose as part of the story, then you're not going to be left with much, as North King said:

It's often hard to include everything in a book, and you wouldn't want to, either. The Law of the Conservation of Detail, which every good writer follows, states that if material isn't useful to the story, it shouldn't be included.

There's also the fact that listening to music isn't really a very interesting thing for characters in books to do. An author might mention that a character is coming home from the opera, for example, but a story that's set while the character is at the opera is not going to be very interesting, unless of course the Phantom appears in the middle of it (and note that the original story of the Phantom of the Opera appeared at the same time as Kafka was writing).

So it's not surprising to find that characters in books don't spend much time listening to music, just as they don't spend much time reading books either. If you based your view of the importance of literature in the past upon how prominent literature is in literature, you'd probably think it not very important at all. That's because it's hard to imagine anything more dull than a story about someone reading a book.

Also, characters in books don't often discuss politics, unless the book is actually about politics. The reason there is obvious - politics is dull and it doesn't age well. Yet in the nineteenth century huge numbers of people followed politics, avidly reading reports of speeches in the newspaper where today they might be reading reports of football matches. This doesn't happen in books because it isn't interesting.

Similarly, have you noticed how characters in TV programmes almost never watch TV? Even in soap operas that are supposed to seem realistic, people don't come home from work and slump in front of the TV, even though that's what they would do in real life. (There are exceptions such as The Royle Family, but they are striking simply because they are exceptions.) The fact is that even the most apparently "realistic" soap operas aren't really realistic at all, they just manage to seem like they are, at least until you think about it. People in them don't really behave the way real people do. The same goes for literature. Of course people in books don't really behave the way that people do in real life - if they did, it wouldn't be worth writing a book about them - at least not until Joyce came along and suggested that perhaps it would be.

So I think one should be careful when drawing conclusions about everyday life from what happens in fiction. Fiction is just that - fiction - and no matter how much it may create an illusion of realism, it's only an illusion.

Kyriakos
May 20, 2011, 04:07 AM
As an interesting bit of information i should note that you do read quite a lot in some authors (probably most celebrated ones) about the subject of reading. Dostoevsky certainly mentions reading numerous times, even if in a negative light, as in example in a motif that his characters seem to have that they were trying to get to know life (falsely) through books, and then they saw that it did not correspond to what they read about.
In Kafka's "The Trial" one of the clerks in the Court is reading a novel. That has other significances, due to the actual novel itself being a cheap romance with obscene imagery, but i thought in the spirit of encyclopedic reference i could mention that too :)
And the accounts of people reading, or theorizing on reading, in literature, are numerous. Just a few days ago i read Chekhov's "Volontiya" and there again the main character is confused about the difference between the reality of an affair with a woman, and the poetic manner in which it is described in the books he read.

North King
May 20, 2011, 09:21 AM
Seems just as open to interpretation as symbolism or allegory as the musical examples you classified as such.

Kyriakos
May 20, 2011, 09:51 AM
Seems just as open to interpretation as symbolism or allegory as the musical examples you classified as such.

I would agree in the case of the example from Kafka, but do you extend this claim to Dostoevsky and Chekhov too?
I'm not sure you are, but i cannot think of a way in which such a position would be valid, so you could elaborate a bit on that one if you want to :)

Specialist290
May 20, 2011, 03:14 PM
I would agree in the case of the example from Kafka, but do you extend this claim to Dostoevsky and Chekhov too?

Dostoevsky certainly mentions reading numerous times, even if in a negative light, as in example in a motif that his characters seem to have that they were trying to get to know life (falsely) through books, and then they saw that it did not correspond to what they read about.

In the example you yourself gave, the act of reading is clearly being used to symbolize something. I'm not enough of an expert on literary criticism or familiar enough with Dostoevsky to have a theory of exactly what it symbolizes, but the fact that the author included those scenes means that he wanted to say something about the characters and the views they held.

Kyriakos
May 20, 2011, 11:48 PM
Is not it, however, in your view a clearly different kind of loaded reference to an art than the one i mentioned about music?
In the one about music it was argued that the musician characters were themselves symbols of either writing, or life as a whole.
In your argument (and mine) about the references to the dichotomy of books as as a departure from the reality of the world, and also as parts of the world (the second being a clear reference of the kind i was looking for) the case is fundamentally different. I feel that Dostoevsky, despite his mention of books being there for a clear agenda, still populates the world of his novels with other pieces of literature.
He also frequently in the novels use phrases like: "i am not a writer, i am not like Tolstoy, i am a common person" etc.
Again in this you could argue that he does not primarily mean to mention another writer (and thus being decorative to a degree at least) since he has the more obvious end of robbing his own narrator from being seen as a professional writer, still i am of the view that it is a loaded reference of a significantly different kind than the one i dismissed as being useful in the case of musician-characters.