Monday, July 03, 2006

Elitism and Classical Music

ACD kindly corrected a misapprehension of mine, and reminded us that he feels that classical music in general should be marketed as a fine Latour (or Haut Brion). I agree, and do apologize for slightly misrepresenting his attitude on the matter.

I haven't addressed this point for a while, and would probably better serve myself never addressing it. I have an associate who fancies himself a classicist (sequence of tenses, Kinder?) and quite the elitist, and in the course of mocking his affectations, I have had some insights into elitism. There are two kinds of elitists: those who accept that some people are just better-suited to appreciate some things; and, then, there are those who gravitate toward the tastes of the manner-born to compensate for some vitamin deficiency or something.

Classical music appeals to the former. In fact, I really loath calling those people elitists. Some people just have the intellectual horsepower, the fortune to have the time to explore, and the aptitude to appreciate the stuff. It doesn't make them better in any ontological sense, nor does it qualify them to rule the less-able. These people, who listen to Bach and appreciate Poussin, are the cultural elite. Most are too well-mannered ever to make a big to-do over this. In fact, since the United States lacks a de jure aristocracy, these people come as close as anyone to the manner-born here. Classical music appeals to them a priori and Dei gratia, and they should be courted as the key demographic for classical. A.C. Douglas got it right when he suggested that new classical records should be marketed like a fine vintage Chateau Latour (though, I'd rather go with a Haut Brion). Flashy, trashy crossovers don't really do the thing. Look at the marketing of Philips' Bayreuth recordings (Knappertsbusch's Parsifal or Böhm's Der Ring des Nibelungen). A tasteful still and basic information. That attracts the people who are best able to appreciate the music. Deutsche Grammophon's recent blunder in packaging the sublime Thielemann Parsifal should serve as a cautionary tale. That opera, especially such a triumphant performance, needs no flashy package to recommend it.

As to the other kind of elitists in this country: well, it's nice to play dress-up and party until the sun rises. However, no one of substance will pay them any mind - and that most cruel historical caprice will visit them: they will be forgotten. If they need their chapbook elitism to fulfill that elusive deficiency of folic acid or some such other vitamin, I recommend Centrum. It's a good vitamin, but less palliative than my vitamin of choice.


At 4:17 PM, Blogger A.C. Douglas said...

A.C. Douglas got it right when he suggested that new classical records should be marketed like a fine vintage Chateau Latour....

Not quite. I was referring quite pointedly in that post of mine to the marketing of classical music generally, not merely the marketing of new classical music records.

Just for the, um, record.


At 4:44 PM, Blogger Patrick J. Smith said...

Well, it works either way.


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