I’m not sure what to think about the whole High or Lowbrow… I made it through the book, and it was interesting, for sure. I especially liked Higginson’s quotation when he says he could hear every single note from Longy… Anyway, I’ve never thought about the emergence of European culture in the States before. It seems like an excellent example to study, because the whole infrastructure of Western classical music started at zero. But did a cultural hierarchy emerge?
Of course I know what Levine means when he talks about the change of the conception of Shakespeare. But there also must have been forms or types of culture in the time when Shakespeare was so popular that were considered as “low” or just “out”. Culture changes all the time, and there is never a possibility to talk about a former era without looking through of our time. Maybe I’m totally wrong, but I still try to compare some facts from the book with the European history.
Since I found out what highbrow actually means and where it comes from, (I think it’s only an English word can’t be translated into any language I know), I had to think about Mattheson and Schumann. Mattheson was a Baroque composer, he wrote several books about music theory in his time. He is one of the first musicians who complains about the decay of culture and demands a perfect musical education for those who want to become musicians. He already uses the words amateur and professional. Schumann published his magazine “Allgemeine Zeitung für Musik” to establish a circle of musicians and concertgoers who denied the common popular music in his time. He wrote numerous articles about the danger for the audience of his time to stick with easy, lovely melodies of popular composers instead of facing serious works by him, Bach or Berlioz. I don’t want to use the term high/lowbrow, but Schumann’s intention was to create music for an audience that was well educated in terms of TASTE and LISTENING. (This would be very complicated, but Levine didn’t talk about the “taste” of an audience and how it changed / was changed!) Reading his (Schumann’s) publications is very astonishing: they could have been written today. He’s complaining about the uncritical audience, about the vanishing interest of the public in classical music, about rich people who only show up to concerts for social reasons etc etc.
I’m wondering what has really changed between the 19th century and today. I’m wondering if they would have written about their culture from their perspective, as we do from our prospective today. It’s confusing. The only reason why I’m so sceptical is that I really dislike the terms highbrow lowbrow. They were created, as Levine shows, not from artists, but from the “arbiters of culture” who are not directly involved with culture – they just deal with it somehow. Anyway, I’m getting confused after all. I probably think something totally different tomorrow.
Just one last thing because somebody mentioned Greg Sandow: At first, I expected something different from the title of this class. I thought about it as the future of the composing of classical music. There is this really amazing collection of essays (including Mr. Sandow) called “The pleasures of modernist music”. I went through it briefly and loved the variety of ideas and arguments. Basically it’s about the question if there is a “classical music” of our time that has perspectives in the future. That is worth a discussion!