Advertisement

KILLINGS, daily columns and blog —

Music

Highbrow vs Lowbrow: Dan Golding defends Highbrow Music

by Dan Golding , June 3, 2014Leave a comment

Last week at the Highbrow vs Lowbrow Cultural Showdown, six of our favourite writers faced off to defend their preferred cultural forms. This week, we’re publishing their speeches in full for your edification. Here, Dan Golding defends highbrow music.

The worst thing anyone ever did for classical music was label it ‘highbrow’.

Just the words ‘classical music’ conjure up immovable preconceptions. Classical music is old, angry men in tops and tails. Classical music is stuffy and serious. Classical music doesn’t even let you clap when you want to.

Classical music has today become one of three things: it is a lullaby for an ageing, elite generation who want to display their wealth. It has become relaxation music for boring people. And it has become a kind of medicine that will magically make babies smarter, even if you play it to them while they’re still in the womb. Classical music has been carefully sanded down into meaninglessness.

But really, classical music can be crude, and gross, and offensive, and generally, it is at its best when it’s all of these things. There’s very little that’s highbrow about what we now call highbrow music.

Let’s turn to Mozart, the music of cucumber sandwiches with the crusts cut off.

Consider, for a minute, one of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s lesser-known works from 1782, a canon in B-flat major for three voices, ‘Leck mir den Arsch fein recht schön sauber’. If you’re not fluent in German, here’s a translation of Mozart’s lyrics:

Lick my ass nicely,
Lick it nice and clean,
Nice and clean,
Lick my ass.
That’s a greasy desire,
Nicely buttered,
Like the licking of roast meat,
My daily activity.
Three will lick more than two,
Come on, just try it,
And lick, lick, lick.
Everybody lick their ass for themselves.

Your preconceptions about classical music be damned.

It is incredibly sad that classical music has now become the domain of the rich and elite. At the premiere of Stravinsky’s ballet The Rite of Spring in 1913, the audience rioted. Although the music was beautifully violent and the ballet choreography jarring and deliberately sexual (the whole thing is about sex, as so many classical works are), it was class that prompted the riot too. The rich, elite aesthetes (who have taken over today) began to boo the performance – to which the audience in the cheap seats cried out “Shut up, bitches of the 16th Arrondissement”. I guess that would be a bit like going to the ballet today and telling the ‘grubs’ (to use a Christopher Pyne-ism) of Toorak to shut up.

So yes, highbrow music might be tuxedos, and serious men that tell you not to clap, and ballerinas receiving a cool $100m in the federal budget for a boarding school while every other art form starves.

But classical music is also open class warfare at the ballet. Classical music is also Steve Reich’s tape experiments that led to the Beatles creating Revolution Number 9. Classical music is Stockhausen’s Helicopter Quarter, which is performed by a string quartet with each member in a separate flying chopper.

On top of all of this, classical music is also some of the most evocatively beautiful, challenging, violent, and complex music ever created.

Classical music is Strauss’ Also Sprach Zarathustra, used in 2001: A Space Odyssey as the only appropriate music in existence to accompany the dawn of civilisation, the birth of knowledge, and science. Classical music is ‘Ode To Joy’ in A Clockwork Orange, and it’s Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue over Woody Allen’s black and white images of Manhattan.

Classical music is Aaron Copeland’s Fanfare for the Common Man, which says something so universal about humanity that Mitt Romney used it at campaign stops — obviously not knowing that the composer was a gay, Jewish communist.

Classical music is also the only music to comment on humanity’s greatest crimes and traumas. Adorno famously wrote that there could be ‘no poetry after Auschwitz’ — but there was music, like Henryk Gorecki’s painful, desolate Symphony of Sorrowful Songs.

Classical music is Life. All of it. Not just the glossy, casual bits, but all of it. From licking arses, to class warfare, to global tragedy.

So don’t ever take the easy way out of writing it off as just highbrow. Highbrow music can mean a hell of a lot.

 

Dan Golding is a critic, journalist, and academic. Dan writes about videogames, music, and film for a variety of publications. dangolding.com

highbrowvslowbrow




9781408857175

Lou Heinrich

To see each other’s innards: Intimacy in Margaret Atwood’s Stone Mattress

In Stone Mattress, Atwood’s stories make a remarkable study of intimacy, of seeing each other’s innards, in different partnerships. Through the domestic details she describes, her masterful characterisation and her sharp tone, Atwood crafts the mundane into the profound. Read more »

9781863957120

James Tierney

Dissonance and Tradition: Andrew Ford’s Earth Dances

Earth Dances: Music in Search of the Primitive is a vivid and rarely less than astute history of the debt modern music simultaneously owes to the inheritances of tradition, and the texture of dissonance. Read more »

monroe

James Tierney

Survival and Contradiction: Jacqueline Rose’s Women in Dark Times

This book’s most impressive trick is in the way it pulls together seemingly disparate figures. In this fierce, insightful and wide-ranging collection, Jacqueline Rose calls for nothing less than a reformulation of feminism. Read more »

9807778273_afe6ec792d_z

Rebecca Shaw

Breaking the Celluloid Ceiling

We are still at a point where far less than half the movies we see have a clear female protagonist, even though women are half of the population. If women as an ENTITY are not properly represented, their stories not told, what chance then do women of colour have? Read more »

article-2301242-18FA52E4000005DC-314_470x763

Rebecca Shaw

An Inconvenient Truth: Social stigma and menstruation

If you have heard of menstruation, you would know that it is an essential process in a little tiny thing called the EXISTENCE AND CONTINUATION OF HUMAN LIFE, and it is something that most (not all) women experience for about five days every month for a large part of their lives. It is a topic (besides shopping, lol) that women think about frequently. Read more »

fx-2015-winter-tcajpeg-069cb_c0-146-3500-2186_s561x327

Rebecca Shaw

Billy, Don’t Be a Homophobe

As a non-heterosexual person who has lived my entire life in a heteronormative world, I have a finely tuned antenna for homophobia. Loaded terms, like those used recently by Billy Crystal, are becoming more common, as it becomes less acceptable to state openly that you get an icky feeling when you see two people of the same sex kiss. Read more »

girlwalkshomealoneatnight

Anwen Crawford

Bad Cities

A Most Violent Year has an atmosphere of all-pervading dread, like a film noir, as if the polluted air of New York itself was causing people to act against their better intentions. Even more haunting and more noir is A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night, a memorably audacious debut feature from American-Iranian director Ana Lily Amirpour. Read more »

cdn.indiewire

Kate Middleton

On the Trail: Wild and the voyage of the modern woman

Strayed articulates the question that drives so many pilgrimage narratives: ‘What if I forgive myself?’ That same question perhaps suggests why female-driven journeys are resonating with audiences now: self-reliance and the abandonment of a conventional life have long been male-dominated themes. Read more »

Film Review Selma

Anwen Crawford

An Urgent and Motivating Anger: The politics of Selma

How to approach a figure with the reputation of a secular saint? One achievement of Selma – and it is a film of many achievements – is to reanimate King as a living, breathing man; a man of politics, strategy, and absolute, underlying resolve. Read more »

video-undefined-22D54AFA00000578-784_636x358

Matilda Dixon-Smith

Insufferable assholes and grown up Girls

Yes, our girls are growing, learning, discovering. But all they’re really discovering is how toxic and unheroic they are, and how to use that to their advantage. They’re not going to grow out of their asshole tendencies, because they are actually assholes. Read more »

agent-carter-7683

Danielle Binks

Agent Carter and the future of the female superhero

Agent Carter has been described ‘a Triumph for Women, Marvel and TV,’ and heralded as an important new chapter in comics culture. If this supposedly groundbreaking new show fails, does it spell doom for the future of female-led superhero franchises? Read more »

39154_4f8f076801b89b442752af76ac226fc0

Anwen Crawford

Satire and Scandal: Revisiting Frontline

Frontline’s makers could not have anticipated the long, web-based afterlife of their creation, though they might not be surprised that their targets – the rampant egotism and moral hypocrisies of tabloid journalism – remain just as current. Read more »

ss_f6a450fbf737eb04c58b973f72e8817bb2b50285.600x338

Katie Williams

Brain Candy: Are game jams diluting the potential of video games?

In a world where YouTube gameplay videos narrated by hollering amateurs hold as much clout – if not more – than professional game critics, I worry that developers may be swayed to choose an easier, unimaginative, and more vacuous path to success. Read more »

cher_horowitz_closet-010_2

Katie Williams

Fashion Forward: How hidden algorithms are dressing up technology

Though we increasingly rely on technology to simplify our lives, we still want to believe that behind the scenes is a happy, human face, rather than an impassive machine that does the dirty work for us. Read more »

wowx5-artwork-012-full

Katie Williams

Killing Monsters and Making Memories: How virtual worlds facilitate communication

When I hang out with my brother, we joke, make fun of each other, and swap stories about mutual friends. Sometimes, we’ll each pack a bag of stat-enhancing potions and go out to kill large monsters. It’s been well over a year since I saw my brother in the flesh – but thanks to World of Warcraft, I interact with him on a daily basis. Read more »

Before Us_3

Jane Howard

Stuart Bowden’s Unfamiliar, Universal Worlds

It’s hard to classify the work of Stuart Bowden. His one-person storytelling theatre works are at once hilarious and melancholy. They exist in a particular space of fringe theatre: intricately crafted stories built for small rooms & small audiences, they lift and rise that audience, gathering us all up in the magic of stories & the closeness they can breed. Read more »

The-Rabbits-2015-1280x470

Jane Howard

Thinking Outside the Box Seats: The future of Australian opera and musical theatre

If we want to see new work and innovation grow in opera and musical theatre, we need to consider how they might develop within our culture. Read more »

MovingMusicAndreCastellucci1

Jane Howard

The (Sometimes) Beauty of Being Alone at the Theatre

I often go to the theatre on my own. One of the great joys of writing reviews is that even when I attend productions solo, I still get to talk (write) about them at length after the fact. Seeing theatre is a wonderful activity to do unaccompanied, because as soon as the performance starts, everyone is alone in some way. Read more »