Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Forward into the past

. . . . or:  When is a riff really just a vamp on someone else's dime?

I was never a fan of the late Samuel Lipman, the pianist, critic, and founding publisher of the neo-con journal of culture and the arts, The New Criterion.  But recently he provided me with an insight.  And anyone who can do that, whether neo-conservative or alt-liberal, deserves my thanks and respect.

A little over twenty years ago Samuel Lipman was involved in two heated public discusions about the status of "art music" ~ not just contemporary art music, but all of "classical music."

One debate took place in 1987 with New York Times critic John Rockwell at New York's 92nd Street Y.  The subject was "The Future of Classical Music."  The other, with Ernest Fleischmann, was in 1989 at the Cleveland Institute of Music, a continuation of earlier (1987) print exchanges on the topic "Is the Symphony Orchestra Dead?" . . . . Deja vu all over again.

Lipman's contributions to both of these exchanges were included as two chapters in his 1990 collection of essays, Arguing for Music, Arguing for Culture (Boston: Godine, 1990)  Reading this book (a couple of months ago now) I suddenly realized that Lipman had discovered a system that would ensure the supremacy of Anglo-American music bloggery for the next hundred years.  Maybe less.  The following twelve observations were extracted from Lipman's 1990 book.   Here they are in paraphrase:

  1. continuing increase in the scale on which classical music is done
  2. music schools refocused to train primarily for careers in the commercial music business
  3. increasing attempt to tailor the programs of presenting institutions to the demands of mass marketing
  4. inability of younger composers to realize their talents as they grow older – to write music based on their own inner voices rather than according to the artificial considerations of peer-group, critical, and funding pressures  
  5. decline in audience sophistication
  6. increased concentration on a crowd-pleasing repertory
  7. complete failure of “avant-garde” composition, both acoustic and electronic, to win a place in the minds of musicians and the ears of serious music-lovers
  8. total loss of confidence in the idea that writing music is a craft requiring fundamental and structured training
  9. shortage of new performing celebrities
  10. encroachment of academic musicology on the standard repertory
  11. a management revolution in which administrators are replacing practicing musicians as artistic policy makers
  12. weakening of any future audience in large part through the collapse of general music education in the elementary and secondary school
Sound familiar?

It inspires me to try to improve on Santayana:

Those  who dismember the past are bound to get caught sooner or later.


  1. Unquestionably Lipman's 12 points hold the keys to the future: 'integral' or 'total' blogging is now possible.

  2. Absolutely, Tom! (... and on that score I just realized I dropped a piano :-)