Who was Mozart's audience? I used to have a composition teacher who urged me to imagine my audience when writing. Although Mozart envisioned a large audience--a wide swath of the public--how could he even imagine the audience of the age of the Internet? ["How would they even get the jokes?] It used to be that composers would write for the present and maybe influence future generations, and then, after their death, their music would fade to be slowly replaced by future composers. At some point, we decided to call certain periods of music Classic, retaining those pieces in the canon, leaving little room for addition. Mozart died, but his music didn't get out of the way. Today, composers are (hyper)aware of the canonization of pieces and write accordingly. Although canonization what composers expect (and want), with that room taken up by Dead White Guys, there's only so much room left.
According to Steven Levitt in his TED talk, this same thing happened in gangs. It used to be that the gang was a rite of passage; you join, stay for your teens and 20s, then move on. But when crack cocaine made it much more lucrative, those in power stayed in power, and those on the street selling the drugs--more dangerous than being a solider in war--stayed on the streets. There was no room to move up.
It's all a matter of being in the right place at the right time. The 19th century saw a music bubble; a lot of composers were elevated as Rock Stars and got rich and famous, lasting to this day. [See: Wagner's heirs.]
What's the answer? Throw out Mozart and Beethoven?
That shouldn't be completely necessary, but we certainly don't need every one of their pieces. Lesser composers? Throw most of the bums out; relegate them to specialty "period ensembles". [And while we're at F--- Haydn. Sure, it's witty, but does it deserve eternal life?]
The balance has already shifted, is shifting, and will continue. Now we have new music appearing sporadically on regular concerts--although buried between a few old pieces. And, as of relatively recently, we have new music concerts (like MusicNOW) that only feature music from the last ~30 years.
And where the balance is really shifting--and in need of more--is in the minds of the composers themselves. Yes, composers, you are part of the problem--if you think there is one. After the 19th century, the golden age when many composers were writing for the mainstream public, composers started writing for smaller and smaller audiences, eventually becoming "specialists" and only writing for each other. This descent into irrelevancy bottomed out in the 50s, and, since then, composers have been writing, increasingly, for larger audiences--and hence receiving them. But if you are still writing for an audience of specialists, don't expect the general public to beat a path to your door. Even with a PR firm and a slick website, you're not going to get a performance at the CSO.
Turns out, my composition professor was right. If you imagine your audience and manage to write for them, they will come out. [But there's a special circle of Hell reserved for those who pander; just because you write for an audience doesn't mean you have to make it easy for them.] Mozart had it easier because his society was much more homogenous, but since he wrote for a very wide audience, he maintains popularity and relevance today--whereas Haydn, less so. Today, we composers have a much smaller chance of becoming mainstream accepted. So stop whining about how the general public doesn't get your music when you know quite well you didn't write it for them in the first place. I guess this means we'll have to stop selling crack--highly addictive music--and try to eke out a living hawking less-profitable mind-altering sound conglomerations.
[These thoughts all grew out of a discussion [#DWG] on Twitter. Read the synopsis here.]
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