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MUSIC REVIEWS:
CLASSIFICATIONS

Section Index


  1. Classification
  2. Historical Development
  3. Canonization
  4. Personal Preferences

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caveat: As can be inferred from the date of publication, this article may no longer represent my current views and style. It remains here for archival purposes to provide a sense of documentation and should be treated as such.

1. Classification

When talking about music, one for sure will be forced to make clear about what kind of music shall be talked about, about which style, which variety, which specific field of interest. And here again, the problem occurs with my site: Reviews about music - but what music? There is not so the problem with motion pictures or even with books, but with music (at least from my perspective) the resulting wish for classification would be much greater.

Perhaps this is also a personal problem, a controversy one has become accustomed to, a constructed controversy as well as a constructed differenciation. As with music, the construction and artificial character of any classification is very strong, has grown to be a decisive element - and a necessary element, too: Music is a medium quite easy to consume, quite easy to listen to - it can be done actively and passively, can be produced and reproduced, can be acquired or enjoyed in various ways. It is a much more effortless medium than e.g. literature or even film and television - just in this moment of now I can demonstrate this: I'm able to write and listen to music at the same time; I couldn't do this with watching television or reading a book. Music is easier, and often music is being underestimated because of that.

So what is music? Basically, it would be an arrangement of various sounds, nothing else. But then there is also a difference concerning intention: Sounds arranged to be music; for there can also be sounds arranged to be sound effects. And a second intention would be needed with the consumer: The understanding that the thing one is listening to is indeed some kind of music (I know this might sound silly, but with some composers even I would have a problem calling the sounds they cause music). It is - as shown - a matter of multi-lateral classification.

The result of this effort of classification is both order and chaos - why am I not surprised (see Masks and Judgement, pts 9f). Order in a way that one would be enabled to name, to denote certain aspects, certain styles and pieces of music; to define one's preferences better and easier. But with this de-finition, this creation of artificial borders, rules are being invented, constructed, to be obeyed; rules which basically would be personally motivated - there is no natural, no essential reason for a certain classification. That's why there is such an amount of irregularity and confusion.

Classification is leading to somehow diminishing the nature of things: Every definition is artificial and full of flaws and fuzzy edges - no easy answers to be found. So the effect will be a rivaling and contradictory multitude of approaches of cataloging and categorizing and defining music. The practical side of this dilemma can be seen in any music store - when Tchaikovsky is stored under 'Classical' - which would contradict the 'usual' definition categorizing Tchaikovsky as 'romantic' composer. Each approach has its own agendas and necessities, its own set of definitions. But we should keep an eye on the fact that at the end, each one of us would have to make his own classification. The function of common attempts would just be to enable us to talk to each other. A linguistic convention, not the absolute truth but an artificial construction (see also my essays on post-structuralist topics on the General Discussion Pages).

PJK
October 24th, 1998







2. Historical Development

To say it first: This site will mainly concentrate on music generally belonging to the Western classical tradition. This has to be seen both as a necessary process of exclusion (to manage the amount of data) and as a selection favored by my personal preferences. By this approach it would be clear that there is nothing like a postulate of conclusion or official canon; this is a private viewpoint, nothing else.

To differenciate various composers and their specific style of writing music is quite a hard task, the hardest possibly when trying to talk about music. Categorization is always inconclusive; it is entirely impossible to define and restrict one man's work to just some very limited facts and aspects. To make a categorization for approximately 400-500 years of classical western music is equally impossible, for such a thing would have to reduce the importance and the work of single composers to get something like a greater picture. Such an overview would necessarily have to make necessary simplifications and generalizations. A construction - again.

Facing the problem of differenciation, one at first gets some help from established conceptualizations of the respective style of music; dividing it into different categories like 'Renaissance', 'Classical', 'Romantical' and 'Modernist' era. But the borders are not static, the criteria for inclusion or exclusion of certain composers not fixed. But even if there might be some agreement over past centuries, a musical history for the twentieth century would be much more complicated - simply by the fact that there is much more difference, much more productivity, much more development to be found.

Our technological surrounding and the relatively liberal character of the governments of the Western world allow an entertainment industry to prosper unknown to past centuries. There are also some tendencies in late 19th and 20th century towards inclusion of other ethnic traditions, towards globalization of our cultural heritage - by assimilating other cultures and integrating them into the Western culture as well as influencing those non-Western cultures with Western concepts. A Western culture itself doesn't really exist, it is again a mixture of different national and regional heritage, together creating infinite diversity in infinite combinations.

The following chart is an attempt at giving some kind of overview over the musical history beginning with 1600 A.D. The categorization follows both a conventional scheme and my own observation - which is especially complicated for the twentieth century. So you might think differently, might even want to contradict some judgements of mine. Concerning the selection of composers, I tried to choose the most important representatives for each time; if there is someone missing, then perhaps I've either forgotten him or thought him not so important compared to the already mentioned 'greater picture'.

NameChronology (1600-2100 AD)
upLate Renaissance / Baroque
C.Monteverdi
(1567-1643)
H.Schütz
(1585-1672)
J.B.Lully
(1633-1687)
A.Corelli
(1653-1713)
H.Purcell
(1659-1795)
A.Vivaldi
(1678-1741)
J.S.Bach
(1685-1750)
G.F.Handel
(1685-1759)

upClassical
J.Haydn
(1756-1791)
W.A.Mozart
(1756-1791)

upLate Classical / Early Romantic
L.v.Beethoven
(1770-1827)
C.Weber
(1786-1826)
F.Schubert
(1797-1828)

upRomantic
N.Paganini
(1786-1840)
G.Rossini
(1792-1868)
H.Berlioz
(1803-1869)
R.Schumann
(1810-1856)
F.Liszt
(1811-1886)
G.Verdi
(1813-1901)
R.Wagner
(1813-1883)
F.Chopin
(1816-1849)
A.Bruckner
(1824-1896)
J.Brahms
(1833-1897)
G.Bizet
(1838-1875)
M.Mussorgsky
(1839-1881)
P.Tchaikovsky
(1840-1893)
A.Dvo'rák
(1841-1904)

upLate Romantic
E.Grieg
(1843-1907)
C.Debussy
(1862-1918)
J.Sibelius
(1865-1957)
S.Rachmaninoff
(1873-1943)
M.Ravel
(1875-1937)
M. de Falla
(1876-1946)

upPostromantic / Modernist
L.Bernstein
(1850-1932)
G.Mahler
(1860-1911)
R.Strauss
(1864-1949)

upModernist
A.Schoenberg
(1874-1951)
B.Bartók
(1881-1945)
A.Webern
(1883-1945)
A.Berg
(1885-1935)

upModernist / Neoclassical
I.Stravinsky
(1882-1971)
S.Prokofiev
(1891-1953)
P.Hindemith
(1895-1963)
A.Copland
(1900-1990)
D.Shostakovich
(1906-1975)
B.Britten
(1913-1976)

upLate Modernist / Neoclassical: Film
M.Steiner
(1888-1971)
A.North
(1910-1991)
B.Herrmann
(1911-1975)
E.Bernstein
(*1922)
H.Mancini
(1924-1994)
J.Goldsmith
(*1929)
L.Schifrin
(*1932)

upPostmodern / Neoromantic: Film
E.Morricone
(*1928)
J.Williams
(*1932)
J.Barry
(*1933)
P.Glass
(*1937)
M.Nyman
(*1944)
R.Edelman
(*1947)
M.Kamen
(*1948)
A.Silvestri
(*1950)
J.N.Howard
(*1951)
D.Elfman
(*1953)
J.Horner
(*1953)
D.Arnold
(*1962)

upPostmodern / Neomodernist: Film
M.Snow
(*1946)
E.Goldenthal
(*1954)
E.Serra
(*1959)
C.Franke
(*?)
H.Zimmer
(*?)

up 


PJK
October 25th, 1998







3. Canonization

None of the different branches assigned to culture or science, to every aspect of human life even, is free from the influence from us humans themselves - we are the ones describing the world and our own life, depicting it in the depth we are able to perceive it, explaining it to the limited extent we are able to understand it. The means we use for that process of visualization are the means any human being possesses: We are all but limited in our judgement to our very own perspective.

But this perspective is not even our very own: Too dependent are we on our surroundings, too dependent on our childhood, education, relatives, acquaintances, teachers, friends, completely strangers; but not only merely on persons we actually encounter: We also are influenced by writings, by actors, by human art which has already lost their 'creator'. Our influences further are constituted by customs, traditions, history, humanity in general, nature, and, finally, to what transcends earthly matters.

With all this seemingly endless influx, we are struggling to maintain, even to create a certain individuality; we seek to differenciate us from others while at the same time we are looking for the necessary conformity to be able to lead a life. The judgements and estimates we make on our earthly journey materialize into our sayings and writings, into our whole life; based upon what we have perceived and what we anticipate for the future, based upon what we think is right or wrong. Agendas develop, always of course based upon the notion that our position would be the right one.

The result of such natural and not really to influence processes are always classifications and canonizations; both to be found firstly in the matter to be depicted (as those matters would again be influenced by tradition et cetera) and, secondly, in the depiction itself. No such description or catalogization can really lack any tendency or estimate: The selection itself, the decision what to include and what not, what to highlight and what to diminish - all those actions are part of every piece of thought.

Id est that what has been established above, the infamous table of mine showing a selection of composers, is a very example of personal preferences: Of course I have included those composers which I have come to consider as major, both because of my education and personal listening and observation. There is but another form of canon to be found: There are no female composers to be found; not that I would want them excluded, on the contrary, but there is but such a little amount of them, and if there is a female composer, like for instance Clara Schumann, sister of Robert Schumann, her influence had not grown as much as the influence of male composers. With popular music of a non-classical style this is different; but even today, as classical style music is written mainly for motion pictures and musicals, the vast majority of composers is male. Canonization in the depicted matter and in the depiction itself. So any kind of such description should be deconstructed as what it is: Personal opinion, more or less reflecting what is understood as reality.

PJK
December 14th, 1998







4. Personal Preferences

Music is an integral part of our lives; music is all around us, can be experienced everywhere. That's to a great extent thanks to our technology: Never has music be so present in our days, never has there been such a diversity of sounds and musical themes around us. I personally wouldn't know what to do without it; if it would be taken away from us, I think we would miss it more than we would otherwise claim.

Music is a powerful medium, a very strong one. Music can carry emotions no other medium can; music can transmit them faster than anything else, it is a most instantaneous effect which can be achieved with music. Movies or television without music, that would not only be strange, it wouldn't work either, at least not the way it does. Music is giving us easy access to the things we see, and it helps us to remember certain things. Think of the Star Trek fanfare or the Star Wars theme; you instantaneously know what's going on. Or national anthems - we can associate something with music we couldn't do with anything else.

The character of the Twentieth Century is much different from the preceeding ones; this century grants people more access than ever to what has previously been a privilege of a so-called upper class. Music belongs to the areas we have more and easier access to: It is just a matter of money. With that financial restrictions there are still remaining problems; also our materialistic society creates kinds of outcasts, dropouts; poverty. There is still work to do - but we have made significant progress compared to the past.

This enlargement of the audience, of the recipients, has suddenly changed culture; changed it in a way that it has gained more power than ever. That mass culture I understand as a democratization of culture; culture which is not necessarily based upon the wishes of the masses, but which has to survive in a tougher struggle for originality and quality. Not everything which is main stream will survive - culture still has to stick to matters of quality. Recently I visited the Stockholm Modern Arts Museum, and I really can't tell how modern paintings and sculpures could be seen inferior to their predecessors. Yes, Casper David Friedrich or Van Gogh produced great paintings; but each time needs different stimuli, each time gives birth to different ideas.

So it is with music. I can tell you what kinds of music I like best (you may take a look at my favorites on the About Myself page) - but this really doesn't matter, this really is not important. It is my private opinion, nothing else, it is a canon established for myself and for no one else. That won't mean that I from time to time would mock those who do not share my taste, but then, who am I to judge? Why the heck should Mozart be superior to the Spice Girls? Or to folk music? With the new Star Trek movie around, I have read a lot of reviews of the movie while not having seen it; some claim Insurrection among the best movies of the series, others see it as a sign that the Star Trek legacy has died. With such contrary views, who could tell the right one? At the end, we are confronted with personal preferences, that doesn't make our life easier, but it reflects much more the infinite diversity in infinite combinations we see around us every day.

PJK
December 23rd, 1998





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