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The Rise of the Concerto and the Fall of the Symphony in Britain

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Author Topic: The Rise of the Concerto and the Fall of the Symphony in Britain  (Read 1241 times)
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« on: January 05, 2013, 02:07:11 pm »

i hope this sort of dissenting view will be tolerated around here, but—

if i may: perhaps composers are wondering what the point is of writing a symphony in the 21st century?

no other genre bears so much historical weight (perhaps the sonata? but that title can be applied much more broadly) and therefore suggests such a reactionary philosophical outlook when applied to a composition written in the present day:

- the primacy of the orchestra—not only because its form of social organisation is not especially popular nowadays, but because modern orchestras are essentially museums dedicated to presenting archives of ancient music;
- conceptions of "structure" and "musical logic", regardless of whether or not functional tonality is actually invoked, that are inappropriate for musical styles other than well-crafted pastiche;
- the symphony audience, whose tastes have essentially remained unchanged for a hundred years, so that if your well-crafted pastiche is any more "advanced" than Debussy or perhaps Richard Strauss your symphony will be unlikely to secure a second performance;
- the idea that the symphony must by nature be of central importance to a composer's output;
- the unpleasant causes to which symphonies have been dedicated in the past—largely the support of authoritarian régimes (much like that of the conductor over the orchestra in fact >.>)—and the sanitised causes to which they must be dedicated now to avoid offending anyone (joe q. composer's symphony no. 3 "the holocaust was pretty bad")
- the position of the composer in the romantic philosophy that writing symphonies implies

it varies from composer to composer, obviously, but i've never heard a symphony written in a truly living musical language, rather than one that seeks to recreate or commentate upon the glories of the past—and that sort of attitude, whether "revivalist" or "postmodernist" in nature, is more focused on tradition than is healthy. certainly music must acknowledge tradition, but there is a fine line between acknowledgement and becoming all about the tradition.

this is no comment on the concerto. i would suggest it has prevailed for more cynical reasons. concertos are easy to programme between your Beethoven overture and your Chaikovsky symphony, and big-name virtuosos sell tickets, so concert organisers are more likely to commission them—and where there's money, composers will invent aesthetic justifications ;P
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