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The rise of music as an art form compared to other art forms

Discussion in 'Arts & Entertainment' started by Kyriakos, May 18, 2011.

  1. Kyriakos

    Kyriakos Alien spiral maker

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    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?
     
  2. Leoreth

    Leoreth Caw Caw Moderator

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    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.
     
  3. Kyriakos

    Kyriakos Alien spiral maker

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    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).
     
  4. North King

    North King blech

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    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.
     
  5. Earthling

    Earthling Chieftain

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    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.
     
  6. Kyriakos

    Kyriakos Alien spiral maker

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    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 :)
     
  7. North King

    North King blech

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    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
     
  8. Atticus

    Atticus Chieftain Retired Moderator

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    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.
     
  9. Owen Glyndwr

    Owen Glyndwr Waiting by the Phone

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

    Kyriakos Alien spiral maker

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    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?
     
  11. North King

    North King blech

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

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

    Earthling Chieftain

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    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.
     
  13. North King

    North King blech

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

    Owen Glyndwr Waiting by the Phone

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

    Whiskey_Lord Chieftain

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    I assume "classical" refers to people like Homer or Virgil.
     
  16. punkbass2000

    punkbass2000 Des An artiste

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    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.
     
  17. SpiritWolf

    SpiritWolf Chieftain

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    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.
     
  18. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

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    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.
     
  19. Kyriakos

    Kyriakos Alien spiral maker

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    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.
     
  20. Perfection

    Perfection The Great Head.

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