Updated: Feb 15, 2021
Change is inevitable, but is it always good?
I enjoyed comic books when I was younger and to this day, I still love the super hero films. I remember a while back reading a story about Superman.
In this particular story, Superman was responding to an emergency situation he became aware of while he was working at the Daily Planet.
After rescuing an entire family from a house fire, he noticed everyone staring at him. Then he realized why.
In all of the excitement and chaos, he was still dressed as Clark Kent. He forgot to change.
Change is inevitable. Sometimes it's good and sometimes it's bad.
E.W. Korngold happens to be one of the early pioneers of Hollywood film music. He was also unquestionably a musical prodigy and a compositional genius.
In a brief 1937 interview, Korngold addressed some topics of particular interest to me. One such topic involved the differences between the composers of long ago and those of today. This is how Korngold felt on the subject:
"Perhaps that is the difference between the music of today and that of yesterday. The modern composer writes his music for the masses of people, not for wealthy patrons. Beethoven, on the other hand, wrote his quartets for approximately four hundred people, most of whom were aristocrats. Today, hundreds of thousands of people hear the same quartets. Beethoven had no conception of what would happen when his music was played over the radio. Doubtless, his surprise would be great. Could he have foreseen such an event, perhaps he would have written differently, perhaps not."
Interesting point... great composers compose differently depending on their audience. It is interesting to imagine how Beethoven's music may have been different if he knew he was ultimately composing for mass audiences.
Don't blame it all on technology
Of course, there are clear benefits to technology, but it's just as clear that there are major drawbacks as well. In the interview, Korngold indicates that composing for the masses may be harming the artistic integrity of classical music, stating:
"The public is against great art. It wants something cheaper."
If "the public" refers to a large enough audience that it includes the broadest differences in musical tastes, then I would say that he is correct.
Because technology makes it easier for a composer's music to reach considerably large audiences, the temptation becomes greater for the composer to try to appeal to a greater variety of people. And that is harmful to the integrity of the music itself.
This doesn't just apply to music.
Politicians, for example, try to appeal to the largest number possible in order to maximize the number of votes received on Election Day. That's the reason that moderates tend to do better in national elections than politicians who are far from center.
Similarly, it becomes quite difficult to appeal to the masses musically if you are far from center... and the most artistic musical works of any era tend to lie outside of the mainstream.
So it's not technology per se that is the problem, but the temptation it brings to appease larger audiences.
Oh, one more thing!
The interview also got me thinking about something else...
It's one thing to think about Beethoven's reaction to technology. But perhaps it's just as interesting to think about our reaction to Beethoven.
What I mean is this... Is it possible that our fascination with performing Beethoven's music might be deepened further by the fact that there were no recordings made of his music during his lifetime?
Consequently, we're able to conceive and bring to life countless interpretations of his music simply because technology didn't allow Beethoven's stamp of approval on any one of them. Perhaps that's appealing to us.
In any event, maybe I'm right and maybe I'm wrong, but it's fun to think bout, isn't it?
You can read the entire Korngold article here.