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  Is quality intrinsic to music, or is it all just opinion?  nickscott at 20:05 on 08 November 2009
 

It's an old argument, sure, but I wanted to know what the users of CompositionToday thought, since you are all composers.

Does music (your music, and music written by others) have intrinsic quality independent of taste or not, and if so what qualifies it? Is the aural experience the only factor, or does how it is written enter into it too?

If you think the quality of music is entirely dependent on taste, why?

I have not decided upon this. There are times when I think certain pieces/songs/tunes/whatever are undeniably good, but other times when I have such a disagreement with someone as to whether a piece/song/tune/whatever was good that it seems painfully clear that the argument will never be settled. Do we disagree simply because of a matter of taste? Can we (or perhaps more to the point SHOULD we) judge music objectively in a manner that we can admire it without liking it?

  Re: Is quality intrinsic to music, or is it all just opinion?  Nicolas Tzortzis at 18:18 on 09 November 2009
 

it depends on what you define to be the criteria.
"Quality" should be justified,based on some principals.
No matter how it sounds,good music from all the ages,share (in my opinion) some common principals.So if a piece has this prinicipals,then yes,it has quality,whether I like it or not.
besides,no one can like everything and no one can be loved by everyone.
I do believe that quality is intrinsic in music.It would be too easy if music depended only on everyone's opinion or taste.
just ask yourself who you think is a great composer:take all the classics.why is their music great? Bach,Mozart,Beethoven,Brahms,Wagner,Debussy etc.They do not sound alike,but there are certain things that they do have in common.

  Re: Is quality intrinsic to music, or is it all just opinion?  Misuc at 19:34 on 10 November 2009
 

The answer is [as always] dialectical.

THESES ON MUSIC'S 'QUALITY'
Music works in a certain way. Those who understand how can contribute to the art and are able to write, as you vulgarly put it, 'good quality' music. Those who don't can't.

Not all music works the same way. Music is not based on 'notes' 'durations' etc. or any other accomplished facts or aural data. It is based on the experience: the activity of discovering these 'data' and, in the process, their combinatorial properties and potential.

[For example, the discovery of the idea of pitch itself from cattle-calls and halloos, greetings, jeers, whoops of joy, cries of mourning: the abstract from the particular: the play of sounds themselves can be heard in much 'primitive' music and exists today in the swimming pool, the playground, traffic jams, football matches etc. The 'quality' of the music depends in such cases in its texture and dramatic reality/consistency. Such criteria are appropriate for a lot of music in the '70s- electronic, or quasi aleatoric [Lutaslawski, Berio etc.]

The discovery of pitch is already the discovery of simultaneous and/or sequential relationships of pitches- embryonic modal or other 'systems'

There is generally only one way to get to understand any musical 'system' or 'language' : by doing it.

Understanding a system is understanding its rules of transformation into another one.

There is progress [though not linear and not in any way from 'bad' to good']. Discoveries made along the way are objective and measurable. This includes the achievements of the 'great masters' [which are, in fact, the achievements of whole cultures]

This is understood and accepted in, say, physics where the lifework of a genius like say, Newton has got to be learned by countless millions of 'ordinary' 14 year olds in such a way that his counterintuitive insights and discoveries can be imitated and reproduced. [It goes without saying that one does not listen to music to learn what has been discovered but to participate in the experience of the discovery, whereas one reads Newton if at all primarily for the results]

Every music student ought to be able to understand and re-create what Bach or Beethoven did the music they are or should be hearing every day. This can be taught. A shortish Mozart-type sonata movement should be improvised without difficulty. There are very simple 'tricks' practical operations at the root of even much more 'advanced' or 'abstruse' musical system than that.

There were thousands of living 'folk' traditions where the same 'practical operations' that underly the major complex systems of the 'art music' both of the 'West' and of all cultures could be heard and shared in - until globalisation [and 'world music''] destroyed their meaning.

This is every bit as much part of our inheritance, now, as the work of the 'great masters' . what makes both difficult is partly the complex thinking of the best music, but mostly by the passive nature of our consumerist relationship to all musics. If you can't do it, you don't know it as Schumann said.

This is the case for there being an objective measure. I don't like the idea of 'quality' this sounds like a passive or snobbish way of putting things like that of a wine connoisseur. it just says there is a reason for the power, intensity and depth od some music and you can find out what it is. [There is obviously room for different opinions and assessments among composers as among scientists.]

On the other hand there are no laws about what music is supposed to be doing. The power of music lies in the way contradictions are revealed and worked out. To be music at all there has first of all to be differentiation of the material. Differentiation means the possibility of opposites [e.g. loud/soft, high/low etc.] Opposites are juxtaposed, taken apart or made to merge or blend. Like physical energy sources in nature it is this energy that provides the internal 'dynamic' for a piece [i.e. a reason to listen]. History allows for growing differentiation and for the creation of new dynamics to reflect e.g. new relationships between composer, performer and listener and new emergent 'systems' which are not even in principle foreseeable in advance and not necessarily readily appreciated. There is also a great deal of bullshit about. It breeds at an exponential rate in an age of marketing and to a non-participating public. It is not always easy to distinguish new 'paradigms' from bullshit. Indeed one is usually mixed up with the other.

That is where the subjective factor begins to come in


  Re: Is quality intrinsic to music, or is it all just opinion?  MartinY at 10:32 on 13 November 2009
 

This raises quite a few interesting questions and the answer is as so often both Yes and No. The harmonic series is the same on every planet, the way time works is but the average pitch of the communicating voice, the frequencies of the ambient light etc. are not.

Just think if Beethoven's Seventh Symphony means the same more or less everywhere it is unlikely that the same applies to Shostakovich Seven, to someone who has no knowledge of the Soviet Union's history. Also does Debussy's Pelleas make the same sense in a country where there is absolutely no knowledge of the French language?

What might be interesting is do people brought up initially in languages which have speaking tones or clicks perceive their music differently because of the way music interacts with language? There probably is already a PhD thesis there.

In science quality work can be work done by friends of the research director and irrelevant work is done by people he does not get on with...... so we have relativity in all things.

I do think it is possible to have blind spots to really first rate music. I am sure some of the music I really actively dislike and would gladly pay money to press a button and make it disappear is really very good and will be played for decades ahead. But one needs to be opinionated in order to make decisions on what to do. You cannot be influenced by everything and produce music which is a high quality mush of all current musics.

  Re: Is quality intrinsic to music, or is it all just opinion?  Misuc at 12:02 on 13 November 2009
 

Nobody says that music's 'quality' can be measured as harmonic spectra can. It s not 'objective' in that sense, since 'quality' is a measure of a two-way communication between composer/performer and listener relative to the culture which they all share - and this is the result of the combined active experience of musicians/listeners over countless generations.....

On the other hand it is totally independent of knowledge of French, click-languages, the history of the Soviet Union etc. How 'good' a piece is has actually got nothing to do with there is anyone in the world who actually likes it. The discovery - or invention - of 'relativity' would be as significant as it is even if the following story were still true:

"Asked in 1919 whether it was true that only three people in the world understood the theory of general relativity, [Eddington] allegedly replied: 'Who's the third?]"



  Re: Is quality intrinsic to music, or is it all just opinion?  nickscott at 17:03 on 13 November 2009
 

I think that with Shostakovich 7, or in fact any programmatic piece it is important to understand what it is about before you listen to it, otherwise it may make less or no sense. But then this gets into whether or not music can depict anything. Music is often used (particularly during the romantic period, but often today too) to depict something non-musical, whether that be something physical, visual or emotional. It sometimes makes me wonder when people insist that "the music is sad" rather than "the music makes me sad" what causes these emotional reactions to a series or ordered (or sometimes disordered) sound? But perhaps this is more about whether a piece can have an emotional impact and if so why, when the sounds are of a string vibrating rather than of sounds we associate with emotions such as crying or laughing? Does the music cause this reaction or do we cause the reaction in ourselves by looking or waiting for a reaction to occur? Interestingly, experiments in cochlear implants for people who have never heard anything until now have shown that they don't have the reactions we do to "sad" or "happy" music. Food for thought.

Anyway, I'm not sure that quality can be independent of opinion, though I would sometimes like to believe it is. Misuc says we don't have anything to measure the quality in music independent of taste, and I agree to a point. We have loads of things that can be measured, of course (we could count the number of major thirds, or the number of cross-rhythms, or measure how loud it is, or whatever), but these are generally parameters of sound not music. But I would equally like to dispel the thought that music is somehow "mystical" or "magical" or even "religious" in its ability to move us. I think this is down the belief of many that it is our soul that makes us feel, whereas if you take the scientific view that it is a chemical reaction in the brain leading to raised blood pressure, faster heart rate, tighter muscles etc. then perhaps there is a way to see how at least some people react to music. There are studies being carried out on the brain to see how people emotionally react to music with, so I'm told, very interesting results with regards to the similarities in reactions. If my music was used in those test, I'm not sure whether or I would like to see the results. Seeing the results, it could be tempting to immediately relate a spike in heart rate to reaching the tonic, whereas it could be more related to reaching the tonic after delaying the cadence for three minutes. I wonder whether these tests would take what I believe to be the most important and perhaps least studied aspect of music, the context, into consideration when interpreting their results. Context, afterall, can have a huge impact on our reaction to music.

I seem to have gotten off subject quite a bit there. I guess it is indicative of something I look for in music, which is its ability to move me. But then not all music I like moves me, and I don't like all music which has moved me. Getting back to the issue, I guess the problem is not having a definition of what makes music "good", and long may it remain that way. But even if we can never decide on it, I think it is important to discuss.

  Re: Is quality intrinsic to music, or is it all just opinion?  MartinY at 17:55 on 13 November 2009
 

Are we really sure music does not interact very strongly with language in opera of all forms! Surely it does. Recitatives in an incomprehensible language can be good music but the accent, rise and fall of the speech structure are important in making it great music. Pelleas in one of the Chinese languages might not come over as the piece we know, but maybe it does if you are fluent in that language.

Why does Duke Bluebeard's Castle sound better in Hungarian than in English or German even though the only two words I can remember are Koszonom and Magyar (sorry about the missing decorations on Koszonom), is it just an affectation to think so? I could be convinced that my belief is an affectation because bullshit allways increases in the same way as entropy allways increases.

  Re: Is quality intrinsic to music, or is it all just opinion?  IanTipping at 11:32 on 14 November 2009
 

There have been some interesting studies done on people who have suffered damage to the emotional centres of the brain, and as a result have deeply impaired ability to feel emotion of any kind. It seems that as a result they find decision making incredibly difficult. This has led to conclusions being made that our emotional intelligence defines our decision making ability. Spinning this hypothesis around, decisions made by artists in the creation of their works must be led by their emotions. My suspicion is that the 'great' composers, those who are consistently capable of reaching out and communicating, have such deep emotional intelligence that their decisions when creating a composition are conveyed so well that the listeners pick up on these (regardless of their individual level of understanding or education in the field).

This hypothesis of course has problems, not least of which is the fact that people's general ability to concentrate for extended periods of time has certainly diminished. This may mean that for a composer involved in creating extended works to engage an audience for long enough to fully reveal the decisions they have taken is tremendously hard, and therefore conveying the emotional concepts involved in making these creative decisions is impossible. Also, the fact that not everybody experiences the same emotions when encountering a piece of music does present problems. Nevertheless, I think there might be something in this, as it could explain why certain composers were consistently able to express concepts, whereas others could only sporadically do so. In comparing, say, Beethoven and Duke Ellington, it's extremely difficult to see any common ground in the material, and yet both (almost) always have that intangible something (for me, at least!)

As far as the argument about 'quality' relates to this, I remain convinced the only quality worthwhile in a piece of art is it's ability to communicate an emotional idea. Show me a piece of art which doesn't elicit an emotional response, and I'll show you a bad piece of art. That, of course, doesn't mean I have to like it - in fact I'd be more prepared to say a piece of music I hate is better that one that I feel ambivalent about, precisely because it elicited that response in me. But this does make me question Misuc's assertion that

'How 'good' a piece is has actually got nothing to do with there is anyone in the world who actually likes it'

Surely this must be wrong, as by definition it is eliciting no emotional response. It's a bit like listening to someone playing endless technical studies - often in terms of 'correct' musical technique, they are perfect, but no emotional response means no artistic value, and correspondingly a lack of quality.

  Re: Is quality intrinsic to music, or is it all just opinion?  Misuc at 16:06 on 14 November 2009
 

There many misconceptions to clear up.

Music has hsd the power to conjure up emotions from its very origins. Music has always been associated with other activities since it first emerged as a separate art. The idea of instrumental music purely to sit and listen to 'for its own sake' came relatively late in the history of European music [earlier in other cultures]. There is more programme music in the 18th century than the 19th (think of Bach's Farewell to his brother, CPE Bach's Farewell to his Silbermann Piano, Kuhnau's Biblical Sonatas, Vivaldi's 4 Seasons etc. - whereas apart from R Strauss I don't know of a single piece of actual story-telling in any 19th century piece - unless you count Berlioz' and Liszt's fantasies around a tale). In any case the theory of the affections was accepted as absolutely fundamental to music by all 18th century musicians: that music has no meaning apart from the 'affections' it arouses. Mattheson told composition students to start off by learning acting so as to master the representation of the affections. It was suggested (by Gretry) that all the Haydn symphonies lacked was words, so dramatically 'real' did they strike the listener.

On the other hand the only source for musical ideas is other music. This is the inevitable result of the fact that music is part of human culture. Obviously listeners with brain defects or who had never heard sound before would not understand the emotional content of a piece of music any more than I can understand anything beyond the most simplistic mathematical equations. I never learned enough and I have never been in a situation where I could use such equations as a practical help. By the way - even if there were no one left who could follow such equations this would not prevent them from being 'true' i.e of potential use in providing insights to help people affect the environment on which they are dependent.

Music has the power to affect the emotions - the intellect - the world-view - the very 'being' of people who are able to respond. It takes great listeners to create great music since the 'language' or 'system' used is not the invention of individual composers, however 'great'. They can only use what their culture has placed at their disposal.

The question for a composers' forum, like this, is what do we have at our disposal and how do we allow it to realise its potential. This is what great creators of music in other cultures have always done. This can only be done by people with a practical understanding of their heritage. The problem, in a nutshell, is that, for the first time in history, the whole of music throughout our time on earth is now part of our heritage, but we are mere passive observers of it, and not participants, our practical understanding of how it works is minimal. This means there is a fundamental problem about the very 'language' we use and discovering its properties. It is a tremendously exciting and stimulating 'problem' since the materials we have at our disposal are virtually unlimited. We have to invent new concepts, but - in order for these concepts to have any meaning - they must relate to the culture shared between listener, performer and composer....


The market economy has brought us the fruits of our culture at the same time as denying us active participation in it. Besides, it has discovered all sorts of new ways for people to make easy profits through new ways of distracting us from our powerlessness. In the realm of 'classical' music this process has led to various market niches for different musical 'systems' which have one thing in common: the lack of a dynamic comprehensible temporal structure. In the history of European 'classical' music, each age has had its own tasks, and to find such structures is ours.

Try it. Where you have succeeded, you will know it. There is no need to test your music on deaf people or to find out how many people downloaded your piece. You will know it in the same way that Einstein did not need the evidence of the solar eclipse of 1919. [I know where I have succeeded. I am also only to aware of where I have not.]

Listeners who have been deprived of the opportunity to go through the same musical and emotional/intellectual experiences will not be able to see such successes or failures. Perhaps, as passive consumers, they will start discussion forums like this where they will ask such idle questions as whether 'quality' is 'intrinsic' to music or not.

You only know what you can do. I say it again. This is relevant to the false observation that our ability to concentrate for long periods is diminished. Not even capitalism at its crassest has entirely destroyed the human spirit. I have lost more than one job by teaching piano to many many 'troublesome' teenagers whose brains have been addled by 'pop' commercial pressures, who have never heard a single piece of classical music all the way through in their whole life - [Where would they hear it? Not at home, not in the clubs or the supermarkets] who have to spend days on end morning to night listening to teachers doing their job of mouthing multiple choice answers to forthcoming tests etc. and without the right even to get up for a moment and open the window. They of course had no taste for classical music when they started, but it took just 30 seconds each time to bring out stupendous powers of concentration. The trick is to find a way of improvising real music with them at once. You will be amazed at the subtle aesthetic judgements they start to introduce after only a few minutes. Then play something impressive that they can imitate immediately - a piece of ragtime, a Haydn sonata, one of the Prokofiev 'Grandmother's Tales': these were some of the things I used - and they are stunned that they can do it. They won't stop practising. They ask to stay the whole day in the practise room and plead not to be sent back to class. They concentrate on one task - which involves a lot of 'boring' repetition and memorisation and mastery of sn idiom previously unknown and not at all understood for hour upon hour without pause.

They are an example to us. if we could learn at the same rate and develop our imaginations to cope with the tasks we have we would not need to ask stupid questions.

  Re: Is quality intrinsic to music, or is it all just opinion?  nickscott at 18:20 on 15 November 2009
 

Asking whether quality is intrinsic to music or not is obviously not an idle question, since you have invested quite a lot of time providing your substantial answers. It is not a stupid question, it is a question that must be asked to get people to think about not only their own music but also music of others. Too often I hear how "pop music is bad, classical music is good", but that is simply not so. Classical music is not only academic, but also visual and so is easier to judge with defined characteristics. Pop music, I feel, is harmoincally a lot simpler than classical music, but timbrally and sometimes rhythmically more varied. There is equally as much bad classical music as there is pop music.

The question becomes: if I enjoy this piece, why do I enjoy it, and if not, why not? Rather than giving a simplistic answer such as "it's Beethoven and all Beethoven is good" (it's not). It is a fundamental question to be asked because, I believe, once you can figure out what you enjoy in the music of others, you can help yourself create music which you will enjoy more, and hopefully others will enjoy more too (considering that there are probably many others out there who enjoy the same things as you in music). It is then the composer's job to intregate that into their music in an interesting and meaningful way, and hopefully create interesting and meaningful music in the process.

I think the question is a leading one, however. I'm well aware that what makes a Beethoven symphony great is not necessarily the same thing that makes a great pop song or one of Lutoslawski's works great. But it is important to think about what you enjoy in Beethoven or the Beatles or Lutoslawski or whatever, and how that can in turn influence your own writing.

Sharing music with others like you do in your classroom is a clear indicator that you believe that one thing is better than another. You are saying to them by doing this: "it is my informed opinion that the music I am about to play you is worth hearing, and in doing so prevent you from hearing something else which would be less worth hearing". Why do you believe that a Haydn Sonata is more worth hearing than a pop song when a pop song could have been written last week and so is far more relevant to the culture of today than a Haydn Sonata? If the music of Haydn, or in fact earlier, can appeal to the people of today despite being played hundreds of years after its completion, in a different tuning system, on different instruments, in a different culture or circumstance, perhaps even on CD or low quality mono MP3 rather than live, can we not say that it is a quality piece of music?

Perhaps the question is phrased wrong. Perhaps I meant to ask what it is about some music that makes it better than other music, if that is even the case. I think it is obviously context specific, but I believe there are many influential factors, such as pacing, direction and purpose (what is this piece for? entertainment, conveying emotion, a self-portrait, etc). But what do you think?

  Re: Is quality intrinsic to music, or is it all just opinion?  scott_good at 23:46 on 15 November 2009
 

The question for a composers' forum, like this, is what do we have at our disposal and how do we allow it to realise its potential. This is what great creators of music in other cultures have always done. This can only be done by people with a practical understanding of their heritage. The problem, in a nutshell, is that, for the first time in history, the whole of music throughout our time on earth is now part of our heritage, but we are mere passive observers of it, and not participants, our practical understanding of how it works is minimal. This means there is a fundamental problem about the very 'language' we use and discovering its properties. It is a tremendously exciting and stimulating 'problem' since the materials we have at our disposal are virtually unlimited. We have to invent new concepts, but - in order for these concepts to have any meaning - they must relate to the culture shared between listener, performer and composer....

The market economy has brought us the fruits of our culture at the same time as denying us active participation in it. Besides, it has discovered all sorts of new ways for people to make easy profits through new ways of distracting us from our powerlessness. In the realm of 'classical' music this process has led to various market niches for different musical 'systems' which have one thing in common: the lack of a dynamic comprehensible temporal structure. In the history of European 'classical' music, each age has had its own tasks, and to find such structures is ours.


Misuc, this is really great! I have to admit that I agree this is the fundamental question we should be talking about. Quality can always be reduced in art to "likes and dislikes", but where does that get you? It just comes down to the rather insidious axiom "I don't know much about art, but I know what I like" I cannot think of a better sentence to summarize the problems for art in a consumerist society. No sense of obligation to the art, but only to personal, immediate gratification.

A particular saying that I think serves these issues presented by Misuc is "The quality of something that is it's greatest strength, will also be it's greatest weakness (or something like that)" This is how we find ourselves - the endless parade of possibility is both wonderful in it's potential, but also lacks syntax and thus it's ability to relate ideas. Strength = weakness.

I have some working hypothesis on how to proceed with this situation - about how to navigate form and how the various musical elements to enunciate the form. I would be interested in sharing some concepts that are very appealing to me and my artistic goals, and hearing about what others do. But this this getting off the thread subject.

About quality: I have the rather "hippy/flaky" attitude that there is quality to be found in all works of art, and that the over riding consideration of any artistic endeavor is the intention - the morality of the work. Then, it's effectiveness to relate it's idea(s). Genre is irrelevant, except in understanding it's context and concept/purpose.



  Re: Is quality intrinsic to music, or is it all just opinion?  MartinY at 09:10 on 16 November 2009
 

Firstly, Misuc talks a lot about time in his discussions, and I would like to suggest people listen to his instrumental music on the Showcase page where the temporal structure of his music is handled beautifully.

Now a digression on beauty in science. There have been many theories in theoretical physics which are really elegant and look as if they ought to true. However they do not match experiment very well. The right theory must give the measured values of all fundamental constants etc. must explain experimental observations and ideally make new predictions which can be verified or not. A musical equivalent of this is the audience / player reaction / approval / engagement to a piece but summed over all time, including the future, not a very practical metric for the Arts Council or whatever acronym it has now. It might be the most elegant piece ever written but if nobody at sometime is going to like it it does not match experiment. I think Nicholas said somewhere that long term survivability was the test of good music even allowing for those famous pieces that will infest the catalogues for centuries which many of us hate. As mentioned earlier at least hate is an emotional reaction unlike this piece inspires me with no feelings whatsover.

(I suppose another way of matching experiment is that the piece should be playable on the instrument it is written for without resorting to double tracking, though provided you know it is double tracked that does not upset me like it upsets some people. I was remembering the case of a performer who made a virtuosic recording which he would never play in public but denied that the apparantly impossible passages had electronic assistance.)

  Re: Is quality intrinsic to music, or is it all just opinion?  nickscott at 09:27 on 16 November 2009
 

I would love to agree with MartinY about the longevity equalling the quality, but to be frank I've heard beautiful pieces that will never be played again, while other, poorer quality works make it into the cannon. Especially now, when the success or otherwise of a piece depends not only on the quality of the work, the abiliy of the players and the audience (because one audience may like it whereas another audience may not) as the success of music always has, but also on funding and marketing, which are often dependent on people with a lot of cash and no taste. Successful works are often the ones which are better marketed and/or the ones which are better funded and/or the ones which have a familiar subject matter ("We Will Rock You", the Queen musical, for instance).

But perhaps this is the changing face of classical music, or perhaps this is just our changing perception. Our works now are (generally) written for one occasion, even by established names. This does not necessarily diminish the quality of the work, but its longevity. So I would say the quality of a work cannot be measured by its longevity.

  Re: Is quality intrinsic to music, or is it all just opinion?  MartinY at 10:12 on 16 November 2009
 

Yes this gets us into the issue of lost works, a vast subject. There are also works which are copyright and effectively supressed by the publisher's indifference, very common with composers who have been dead for about 50 years with 20 years of copyright still to run.... awful. Give it all away with creative commons licenses before you die! You will not miss those 25 euros worth of royalties.

But before too long all public domain music which has survived will end up on the internet and we will be able to sort out which among the thousands of mediocre trio sonatas and opera arias are undescovered masterpieces. Some luminary in the BBC Music Magazine said there are no undescovered masterpieces but this is plainly not true. I come across 1st rate composers I have never heard of both baroque and contempory all the time, as do clearly other correspondents here.

A baroque example is the fantastic music of Abraham van den Kerckhoven which I had never heard of even though it has been in print since 1933.

  Re: Is quality intrinsic to music, or is it all just opinion?  Misuc at 13:10 on 20 November 2009
 

Sorry for the delay in coming back.

Thank you, Martin, for nice words about pieces on my CT showcase. All I can say is, at least I show I am aware of this aspect of music in some pieces - I am not sure that I have managed everything as well as some parts - or some parts as well as the whole......[ If readers want to check, my showcase is under my real name: Julian Silverman]

Before I get on to the important part of this posting I want to explain why I find the way of raising the question of 'quality' in the way it has been raised so unhelpful.

First I have mixed too much with media people: people who know nothing, but they know all about everything. They are full of all sorts of blah which seems more important than it is, and doesn't have anything at all to do with how an art form actually operates, like discussing how 'important' an artist is, whether art has a content, the sociological significance of genre, the 'meaning' of an image or type of sound, structuralism, semiotics, postmodernism, etc. and all the sort of crap which led to the hopefully now deceased BritArt movement whereby a clever elite took advantage of a few empty-headed billionaires' willingness to be conned with he aim of raising art prices to absurd levels through blarney: a small aspect of the conspiracy of banks and corporations to deceive themselves, one another, their workers and the public and to destroy societies across the world: something we are asked to bail them out for now, and which we will pay for with millions upon millions more lost homes, lost jobs and ruined lives.

Second, I live in a country still dominated by its imperial past. Among other things this means that professional music training is largely a monopoly in the hands of a little conglomerate of Royal institutions whose teachers are technically civil servants, appointed without public advertisement, and whose intake of students is dominated by the elite 'public' schools - i.e. no more than around 50% from non-paying state schools. Between them they have an official state charity-mafia, the much-dreaded Board of the Royal Schools of Music- which boasts an annual turnover of some 30,000,000 through engagement in the music exam market (that's how their own reports describe it) in 90 countries across the world - mainly from the late British Empire -from Antigua to Zambia. Almost every music pupil in the famously child-hating United Kingdom is subjected to their pedagogics-through-methodological torture. Before long they hit on the scam of hiving off a commercial subsidiary publication company to publish all the scale-books, exercises and pieces they require candidates to buy and then kindly to donate its taxable profits back to the Board. In this country much more attention is paid to financially exploiting and judging aspiring musicians than in developing their skills and imagination.

I had the good fortune to win a scholarship to Oxford University, one of the centres of Empire. Composers were judged more or less like whole peoples had been judged in the glory days - in terms of their loyalty, reliability, cleanliness and capacity for hard work. "Caccini didn't write counterpoint, my boy. Believe me. I've seen the scores" [No. But what amazing passion and truth in his monodies! - as I discovered many years later when I had the chance to look at the scores myself] Of the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book: "What do you think? Pretty crude eh?" [of the astounding towering Shakespearian keyboard masterpieces of Byrd, Tallis and Bull] "You know. Beethoven wasn't as good at modulation as Schubert" [i.e not as ready to hide it]

Yes. Of course I believe that some music is better than other music. What I have been saying is just that. And that this is measurable. I used the parallel with mathematical equations. Some are plain false. There has been a mistake. This happens in architecture. Buildings sometimes fall down. So do musical structures, often. All the elements in a musical score are held in a precarious balance with all the others. A mistaken contour here - or a too extravagant or too inconclusive a gesture there - a misplaced change of harmony or whatever and the piece breaks down. This sort of thing is not mentioned in music analysis books much, but it was the very practical concern of composition teachers in classical times, as can be seen by what remains of the notes and instruction manuals of e.g. Mozart and others, By the way, this has nothing to do with any false distinction between 'pop' music and 'classical'. The subtle and sophisticated dialectics of phrase and beat patterns in relation to harmonic and melodic changes etc. in some of the Beatles songs enable them spiritually to transcend their commercial reality.[I can hear John Lennon's voice nodding approval there].

There are all sorts of 'hidden' musical structures within many musical 'styles' and 'systems', where, for example, crucial points arise when whatever happens at any moment is the sum[mary] of all that has gone before and at the same time the starting-off point for what is to come. - or where forces have been pitted against one another to the point where the structure has to break down. This immediately throws up many new potential musical 'systems'. This is where the parallel with architecture becomes more questionable, since the idea of what holds or 'works' is not so tangible in a medium where bricks and architraves don't actually fall on to your head. Nevertheless the structures are there [or not there] whether or not there is anybody to hear them or recognize their existence.

I am really glad Scott came into this. I was hoping for this all along and almost contacted him off-forum to tell him. I agree with him that there's a good idea lurking behind even the most misshapen monstrous ugly untruthful piece of aural exploitation - i.e. you can find something exciting in it somewhere. Music's power to raise emotions is not diminished by the authors' not choosing to be aware of what it is they are doing. Either way, an inter-human communication process is taking place. The question is what emotions and how is the author using his power over you. There are no purely technical questions in music.

My Oxford tutor's attitude to student attempts at composition was"Did you do this in term-time?" "You shouldn't have time for that sort of thing". [And later. "Well you see. I was going to be a composer. I was a student at Eton [dominant private school. "The Empire was won on the playing fields of Eton" Then I got a job as a teacher there. And then went on here"] His attitude to scholarship was "Look it up in the Encyclopaedia. After all, they know better than you or I". His life's work was a statistical study of the works of Palestrina which proved conclusively that consecutive fifths were genuinely not allowed. [Which begs the question of why the clerical authorities forbad them - was it precisely because they were commonplace in the dance, and carnival music of the time?}

As to modulation: the structures that Beethoven was using required sometimes 'crude' and 'obvious' shifts of key-region. This was to allow an acute audience to participate in the discovery of a large-scale formal process lasting the course of a ten-minutes or more long movement within a 50 minute symphony or whatever. And this was connected to his only partially verbalised conceptions of music's - and his own - role in society. Schubert's structures are based on the contrary of wishing to induce a feeling of disorientation and the dissolution of the personal and restoration through dream-like processes. [You can trace this most movingly in his actual recorded 'story': "My Dream")

In other words, there are no purely technical questions in composition. Compositional technique is a relationship between composer, [performer], and listener. Not all emotions have equal value. [Listen to, and watch e.g. Hitler's stupendous orations.] But how is he treating you, the listener? How does he stand in relation to you? Why is he seeking to rouse emotions, and why just those particular emotions? What is he after? It is not, of course, a question of verbal explanations. "Music is too exact a language for words" to repeat one of my favourite quotes of Mendelssohn. People reveal themselves and their attitudes to their fellow creatures by their gestures, their body-language, unconscious movements etc. and by their music. These 'revelations' are also independent of whether anybody sees them or has managed to decipher them or not. This makes music's quality intrinsic: an aspect of its morality and vice-versa. I do not believe in an absolute eternal morality, but neither do I believe morality is a matter of whim - or 'just opinion'

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Yes please, Scott. Give us your ideas on the real subject - with examples?