Bad taste

Is it exaggerating to say that the European classical music canon is now an almost entirely low-brow enthusiasm? At any rate I’ve always suspected people for whom it is the only real music of Philistinism. Now their organic intellectual, Roger Scruton, confirms. He’s been listening to ‘popular music’ and has found a modern group with some redeeming features:

I have actually been listening to quite a bit of heavy metal lately, and Metallica, I think, is genuinely talented. ‘Master of Puppets’ I think has got something genuinely both poetic – violently poetic – and musical. Every now and then something like that stands out and you can see that people have got no other repertoire and have a very narrow range of expression, but they’ve hit on something where they are saying something which is not just about themselves.

PS. What’s the deal with Adorno and music by the way?

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Published in: on 24 April, 2009 at 2:41 pm  Comments (3)  

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  1. I am very confused by your initial question – it seems to me that the situation is entirely reverse, that Western Art Music (inc. Classical) is now an entirely high-brow preserve, and what we’re seeing of course is the penetration of low-brow popular music into high-brow circles à la your Scruton quote.

    I consider myself a philistine because I basically don’t like high culture i.e. art much at all – what I like is avant-garde low culture.

    Adorno was a big fan of high culture, but I take it this is because he didn’t believe that low culture could be avant-garde. This is wrong, and due to Adorno’s ignorance of low culture, one suspects. I mean, if all the low culture you were aware of was Britney Spears, you’d think Classical was pretty good too.

  2. Well… it really is an exaggeration to say classical’s totally low-brow these days… But certainly there’s a lot of low-brow classical around… I’m thinking, for example, of that guy who’s on TV all the time at the moment who won Britain’s Got Talent and spent the first of his winnings on fixing his teeth, Andre Rieu, Hayley Westenra, Charlotte Church, the Three Tenors, etc. Admittedly this is all opera. OK, Vanessa Mae, Nigel Kennedy, etc. Then there’s the whole genre of low-brow ‘modern’ classical, by which I mean not Shoenberg etc., but the film score-type stuff.

    But I think beyond the pop classical there’s a certain horrible segment of the middle class, which I find hard to describe but which I certainly know when I see, to whom classical music represents class, and to whom the low-brow stuff above is anathema. I guess these are to me the horrible philistines, rather than the consumers of the above, and these are the people whose horrible views Scruton articulates. I guess they overlap to some extent. There’s definitely still the real high-brow classical milieu though as well, which I can actually respect… clearly it would take some more thought on my part to elaborate this!

    I don’t mean to be sniffy about ‘low-brow’ at all, though I do mean to be sniffy about classical music philistinism… but I don’t take ‘low-brow’ and ‘philistine’ as synonymous in the way you suggest… I mean in the sense Wikipedia gives of a philistine as someone who “favors conventional social values unthinkingly” – which fits Scruton (depending on your definition of ‘thinkingly’) but not your average lover of the avant garde low-brow.

  3. [...] A great essay by Alex Ross provides a counterpoint to Scruton, who is the kind of guy Ross is talking about when he says: “I don’t identify with the listener [...]


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