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Tapas, Cartizze and Ragù. What on Earth do we Mean by ‘Classic’? (1)

Late evening in a cozy bar of our rione where we wash down Spanish tapas with Cartizze Prosecco.

Our before-dinner aperitivo, once in a while.

ψ

Mario: “You recently wondered how come far eastern little girls, hence culturally ‘alien’ in some way, can perfectly play European ‘classical music’ (in the narrow sense.) You also added that such music (from 1750 to 1830 roughly) originated in that crossroads between Germania and Italia, once the ancient frontier or limes of the Roman Empire which separated the Roman from the non Roman.”

Flavia: “Your associations are bizarre.”

Giorgio: “Allow me to be bizarre at least in my blog amore.”

Extropian: “I remember you saying at the end of a post on music that Mozart who came from that area perfectly combined Italian taste with German knowledge.”

Giorgio: “Yes, a perfect fruit of that cross-way region, although Schubert shouldn’t be ignored either.”

[A classic lied by Schubert I owe to Sledpress]

Giorgio: “Incidentally Flavia, I’m struggling both with Mauro Giuliani (on my guitar) and with the Latin poet Horace. I do feel they have something in common.”

Flavia: “Despite the big difference in greatness and time? Ti stai rintronando il cervello?” :-)

What do We Mean

Mario: “Now the problem arises: what the hell do we mean by classic? Entire generations of students have been plagued by this aesthetic notion.”

Giorgio: “You know I don’t like clear definitions. That’s what dictionaries are for, not blogs (not mine in any case.)”

ψ

We leave the bar. Roma may not be Canada, but winters get damn cold here too sometimes.

 

Oil painting of Franz Schubert, after an 1825 ...

Franz Schubert. Image via Wikipedia

About Man of Roma

I am a man from Rome, Italy. I’m 60 and a Roman since many generations. In my blog, manofroma.wordpress.com, I’m writing down my meditations. The idea behind it all is that something 'ancient' is still alive in the true Romans of today, of which few are left.

53 responses »

  1. One complication is the distinction between “classic” and “classical.” Although we generally refer to symphony orchestral music as “classical,” that is as much of a catch all phrase as “pop” music. I believe that technically the “classical” period of classical music was limited to the time of the Bach sons, Mozart, the Haydns into early Beethoven. Before that was Baroque and after that was Romantic. But who cares, what we call it doesn’t detract from our enjoyment!

    Reply
    • Yes, words are often used imprecisely. As for music, classical is used both in a broad (any art or ‘serious’ – as we say here – music) and in a narrow sense: ‘from the Bach sons up to early Beethoven only’ music. Confusing.

      Reply
  2. Did you write this before or after going to that Bar? And was Thomas with you?
    That distinction between “classic” and “classical” sounds a bit Jesuistic (distinguo).
    Even today classic or classical music is being composed. Try and find some René Gagnon or Dompierre and you will recognize the “genre”. They are Québec contemporary composers.

    Reply
    • Oh, you mean modern classical :)

      Reply
      • Classic: serving as a standard of excellence; a work of enduring excellence.
        Classical: of or relating to a form or system of primary significance before modern times.
        Classicism: adherence to traditional standards believed to be universally valid.
        Webster dictionary.
        Ellington was right, Zappa erred. (See below Philippe and Thomas).

        Reply
    • I wrote it after the bar.

      Generally, and outside music, I mean by classic and classical what I find in dictionaries, since English is not my language.

      Merriam Webster Collegiate edition (1955):
      Classic: what is very good and of enduring worth. I guess one could say in this sense that “Moon river or O sole mio are classic”.
      Classical: related to the Greek and Roman times or in any case very valuable and somewhat timeless but not modern.

      I am also more for Duke Ellington. I’ll use this argument with Philippe.

      Reply
  3. The word “classical”, as applied to music, has snobbish connotations. So we say that those who listen to, and like “classical” music, are “refined”; and that those who don’t, aren’t. This is resonant of the European class divisions of the past, which should, accordingly, be left there.

    In the cause of egalitarianism, ecumenism, multiculturalism, and simple clarity of thinking, I suggest “classical” be dumped, and replaced with “European music of the 18th and 19th century”. Hence “classical”, as applied to music, would become become redundant (consigned to the “dustbin of history”).

    Duke Ellington famously once said: There are only two types of music – good music and bad music.

    He had something there, I think.

    Reply
    • That makes sense to me. Your Duke Ellington quote reminds me that Frank Zappa is a font of wonderful music comments such as “All the good music has already been written by people with wigs and stuff.”
      and “Jazz isn’t dead. It just smells funny.”

      Reply
    • Well, my core interest in music is the Baroque period, but Mr. Ellington was spot-on. There is great music to be found today, and yesterday, and in divers genres.

      Phillipe’s comment about class divisions is true. An outdated frame of reference prevents us from refining definitions.

      Reply
    • @Philippe
      @Thomas
      @Zeus
      @Jenny

      No problem about dumping words like classical, classic etc. Words are just labels (even though their history can teach something, as I try to demonstrate in my *next post*). What counts is the concept behind them.

      In no dictionary one finds classic or classical as implying snobbery, but instead good quality that resists time (I’m referring to all fields, not only to music now.) So dumping good and enduring worth as snobbish is to me contrary to both common sense and to egalitarianism pls allow me.

      [If only snobs have the good stuff it is a socio-economic problem – and a tragedy – to be fixed in some way. See later]

      People remain uneducated, narrow-minded, hence more easily manipulated by our rulers (as it happens in Berlusconi’s Italy.)

      As I often repeat here (ad nauseam, I guess,) the real good stuff should be extended to as many people as possible. Young people should not be specialised too early (like their are starting too in British state schools). Their mind must initially be expanded by motivated & good teachers (well paid, or they’ll fly to other jobs.) If not, the good stuff will always be seen as snobbish ie regarding a minority of people spoiled by their exclusive privilege.

      My two real masters – my father considered me childish and engendered in me a reaction against all things cultured – were of peasant origin hence not snobbish at all. Their intellectual success reached through toil made them believe that educating (and ‘refining’, not in the snobbish sense) the masses with real worthy stuff was / is possible.

      Equating high and low, good and less good, Melville and Dan Brown – altho he made good thrillers – is suicidal in my opinion.

      So to me Duke Ellington was right: only ‘good’ and ‘not good’ count.

      Reply
  4. What if “My Dinner with Andre” included women? It might be like this. I love the format. I love the tone. I might have to copy you.

    Reply
  5. I’ll go with Thomas. Classical music, strictly speaking, is what we find in Europe in the years between the waning of the Baroque and the rise of the Romantic periods — music of greater transparency and less chromaticism than the Baroque giants, but still constrained by strict forms, with characteristic patterns of theme statement and development. The term classical always recalled to me the open architecture and regular patterns of classical antiquity — the two seemed to share an aesthetic.

    I get a little cranky when my local radio station calls itself “classical,” because the music ranges from Gregorian chant through late-medieval dance music and Renaissance polyphony at one end and Romantic, twelve-tone (ugh) and minimalist at the other. But I recognize the need to make a distinction between music of a certain substance and the screech-thump, dental office or ear-bleed trifles played on other stations.

    You could say that classic connotes something that has a value recognizable beyond the age in which it was created — like the books called “children’s classics” which are enjoyed by successive generations even when the social settings involved are almost unrecognizable and have to be explained. In that sense I suppose you could apply to all music that has long survived its composer and original audience.

    Reply
    • A further twist is classic rock, which involves all of the above plus on going economic viability!

      We should all read The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand!

      Reply
    • @Sledpress

      I perfectly agree with what you’re saying. It shows you come from a family of musicians.

      “Greater transparency and less chromaticism … characteristic patterns of theme statement and development” and maybe more sobriety and simplicity of design (compared to baroque).

      The term classical always recalled to me the open architecture and regular patterns of classical antiquity — the two seemed to share an aesthetic.

      Yes, they share an aesthetic. I feel it clearly these days I’m struggling both with Mauro Giuliani (which I always found boring, but now not any more) and Horace. Of course we’ve here a peanut and a giant. And yet they share this simplicity, regularity, rationality expressed in crystal clear geometries that are reached through toil, one feels it clearly, which adds a layer of sober pleasure.

      [another peanut-giant comparison, Carulli (guitar composer too) and Mozart are both classical too but their vein is more … spontaneous and brilliant, like a natural gift. Ovid, of the same kind too.]

      You know the sonata form, so maybe Horace is more interesting.

      A choral piece (Odes, I,21), a splendid prayer to Diana and Apollo to ask to spare Rome from hunger and plague is made of 4 stanzas of 4 verses each (= 16 verses.)

      First stanza: first verse sung by a choir of virgins, second verse by a choir of boys, 3rd and 4rth verses sung by both.
      Second stanza: sung by boys.
      Third stanza: sung by girls.
      Fourth stanza: by both.

      So the first stanza’s pattern – virgins-boys-both – contains in nuce the entire choral pattern though mirrored: boys (2nd stanza), virgins (3rd stanza), both (4th stanza).

      Rationality is also in concepts. 1rst verse (out of 16): virgins sing to Diana. 2nd verse: boys sing to Apollo, Diana’s brother. 3rd and 4th verse: both invoke Latona, mother of Diana and Apollo, who comprehends them. Or Horace for ex., while asking to plague Rome’s enemies instead, uses exact cardinal points. South: romanized. West: Atlantic ocean. Hence only North (Britanni, not romanized at Horace’s time) and East (Persians) are left. I could go on and on with rationality (and harmony) in rhythms etc.

      I’m upset because we don’t know a darn thing about the real music of the whole choral. Or we know a little and it’s me who has to research.

      I’ll bet you’ll ask why only girls are called virgines. Probably because boys sometimes were loved by their male mentors, Greek-like. And yes, they generally were in any case (a tad) freer.

      Reply
    • @Zeus
      I checked ‘The Fountainhead’. It seems interesting. Of course the enema thing made me laugh.
      As for ‘classic’ rock I used to like British progressive rock among the rest. I liked the complexity in music and texts. But the psychedelic part was dangerous to the young I believe.

      Reply
      • Classic Rock (or what is called that right now) I enjoy. Of course some bands that were leading edge back in my day are now thought of as Classic Rock by some. I guess that makes me classic too.

        As for Rand, I published my comments about her on my blog some time ago.

        Reply
        • I used to drink Classic Coke. Is it still around?

          Reply
          • Here the young prefer diet coke, the skinny look for them being ‘classic’. Boh…

            As Zeus, I’m more ‘classic’ than them: at twelve I desperately loved Kim Novak’s.

        • For me the only attraction in “Classic Rock” is nostalgia factor: the music that was playing in the first heavy iron gyms I ever used can make me very reminiscent and sniffly. But I have to ask people what the names of the performers are, or even what the lyrics are in some cases. I don’t get why rock singers like to be unintelligible.

          Which gets us to the question of whether the mystique of classicism, in certain cases, involves the mere belief in a Golden Age (a term that is applied often to both science fiction and comics, which I devoured shamelessly from my earliest years; I think the appellation was bestowed by people who remembered those stories and comics from their own memory-beglamored childhoods).

          Speaking of gyms, here is an odd use of the word Classic, incidentally a chiropractor client of mine attends this event every year in her professional capacity.

          http://www.arnoldsportsfestival.com/home/sports-and-events/22nd-arnold-classic.html

          Reply
          • Sled:

            I
            KNOW
            it’s only rock-n-roll,
            but I like it, like it,
            yes, I do!

          • I LOVE it too Jenny. I was blasting ALL US and British rock in my room to the extent I don’t understand why my parents didn’t get nuts.

          • My nerves never could take “rock” — it always sounded to me like mean, drunk teenagers taking turns to see who could make the little kids cry from sensory overload. And probably kicking over their sand castles and breaking their toys while they were at it. I just had to get used to it because it was in all the gyms, and eventually a handful of things grew on me.

            Curiously, the “classic rock” station usually played in my gym had a so-announced “Clear Diction Song Day” today.

        • @Sled

          I don’t get why rock singers like to be unintelligible.

          Obscurity (of philosophers for ex.) is at times more mind expanding than immediate intelligibility (manuals etc.).

          Which gets us to the question of whether the mystique of classicism, in certain cases, involves the mere belief in a Golden Age

          It does imo. It involves a circular (alternating dark and golden ages: many ancient cultures had that) and non linear view of time, where the linear instead (a Judeo-Christian thing) imagines a ‘from creation onwards’ thing, like an arrow straight line from past towards future.

          When we say: “Ah, the golden days of rock, ah the fifties, ah the Greek perfection, ah Kim Novaks’ maternal curves (compared to how horribly skinny girls today are”: it is the circular notion thing, we not always going up towards the future, we going up and down up and down.

          Weirdly enough, what many ancient cultures believed, namely circular time, is exactly what Einstein and those after him believed.

          Is time circular, the beginning, the creation and then the Apocalypse, may they be an illusion or a chicken-egg false problem? Matter perhaps always existed? Who the hell knows but we observe that a straight line in nature doesn’t exist, and, earth planets stars, they are all spheres.

          [and even the arrow’s straight line, let us face it …]

          Something I got from *Time, Experience and Reality* by Luis A. Riveros: very clear. It summarizes concepts from the American theoretical physicist Brian Greene’s “The Fabric of the Cosmos, Space, Time and the Texture of Reality”, a book I’d like to buy, with no math at all it seems. Brian Green must be spot-on.

          Reply
          • Ah, I have always liked to think of Time as a spiral or helix.

            There is a theory of reincarnation which postulates that we are living all our lifetimes simultaneously at points that can be connected along a temporal spiral.

            The Golden Age is somehow in the center like the Wood Between The Worlds in C. S. Lewis.

          • Rock singers unintelligible”, They are absolutely not intelligible, they yell more than they sing and unless you have the written words before you, you can not understand a word they sing. Now the Beattles, Elvis Presley and the likes could be listened to and understood.

          • But in fact Paul people today find lyrics in the Web. At my time we seldom understood a word or two – noise, foreign language – but we were happy nonetheless.

            I remember we loved the Byrds, a great pop American band. Very melodic, excellent words – we found them in books this time: by Bob Dylan, the Bible. Most of all their sound was unique: 12-strings electric guitars! Awesome.

            Their version of Mr. Tambourine man (by Bob Dylan) is a classic. Also Turn, Turn, Turn, with words from the Ecclesiastes:

            “To everything, turn turn turn,
            there is a season, turn turn turn…”

            Sentimental reasons only? Some worth too I think. I’ll paste the 2 videos below. I LOVE THEM.

          • I have looked up the lyrics to some contemporary songs which sounded like they might be interesting and discovered complete incoherence even when the lyric was spelled out.

          • You mean the Byrds? Their words were coherent: Bob Dylan’s texts, excellent, and Ecclesiastes too. But they are pop.

            Yes, a few rock bands were crappy. But many excellent. I love the first bands, like Little Richard etc “Tutti Frutti”, “Long Tall Sally” ? Awesome. But ok, I’m older than you.

          • American pop and rock is great. I also like our Italian pop and rock, but it is inferior.

          • I am thinking more of things I hear on the radio today which are called “classic.” Wouldn’t know a Byrds song if it walked up and bit me, but this kind of thing:

            http://www.lyrics007.com/R.E.M.%20Lyrics/Man%20On%20The%20Moon%20Lyrics.html

            The couple of lines I could hear sounded intriguing but the whole thing was just Dutch Schulz stuff.

            http://feastofhateandfear.com/archives/dutch.html

  6. Above and below. They might need to be watched by clicking on the Youtube button.

    They may sound Vanilla (we also loved the Rolling Stones, more devilish), but the Byrds’ guitar sound: we desperately tried to imitate it.

    This is Mr. Tambourine man (Bob Dylan’s song and text):

    Hey! Mr. Tambourine Man, play a song for me
    I’m not sleepy and there is no place I’m going to
    Hey! Mr. Tambourine Man, play a song for me
    In the jingle jangle morning I’ll come followin’ you

    Take me on a trip upon your magic swirlin’ ship
    My senses have been stripped, my hands can’t feel to grip
    My toes too numb to step
    Wait only for my boot heels to be wanderin’
    I’m ready to go anywhere, I’m ready for to fade
    Into my own parade, cast your dancing spell my way
    I promise to go under it

    Reply
  7. Pingback: How Can Japanese Little Girls Play European Classical Music Perfectly? « Man of Roma

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