Sunday, April 29, 2012

"A History of Classical Music...": progress report

The main reason I don't post much here anymore is that I'm spending my writing-about-classical-music time on A History of Classical Music through Recordings, part 5 of which should be up soon. So I'm not even going to promise a series of witty and insightful posts about the upcoming "Maestro at the Opera" or whatever it's called. However, let me interject at this point that the 4 minutes of Young Musician of the Year that I've seen so far made me want to set fire to someone at the BBC. Not everything has to be done like X Factor, for crying out loud. You don't need dramatic underscoring and dramatic editing of the judges' deliberations, in fact you don't need to turn it into a drama at all because this is a showcase for bright and enthusiastic young people with musical talent, not the fucking Hunger Games. In a word: Gaahh!
Where was I? Oh yes. It turns out people have been composing music for literally hundreds of years and apparently it's now possible to examine individual aspects of this activity and discuss them in an average of 1,200 words so that other people can read about them. And you can also create 8tracks mixes for each one, which gives me an excuse for a blog post:

Unsurprisingly, the Gregorian Chant one has had the most listens. How will the Ars Nova fare, I wonder? That'll be Part 6, before we move on to trecento Italy, then England, then back to Burgundy... According to the current plan, Part 22 will see the beginning of the Baroque period. After that - well, I won't get to that point for another year or so. Plenty of time to struggle with how much Bach to include. In the introduction to my history I noted that chronologically based beginner's guides tend to rush through medieval and Renaissance music, one example being 1001 Classical Recordings You Must Hear Before You Die, which devoted just 26 recordings to pre-17th-century music. I'm hoping to have 110 or thereabouts. I won't stretch to 1,000 by the end - in fact I don't know how many I'll have. Maybe 300, maybe 500. In terms of number of chapters the structure I've devised so far keeps approximate pace with one of my models, the Canadian radio series Music and Western Man, which would mean that the year 1600 isn't far from the halfway mark; the Norton A History of Western Music would put it about one-third of the way along, whereas for Richard Taruskin's Oxford History of Western Music it represents only about one-fifth of the journey. Either way, by trying to offer some sort of equal-time approach across all of musical history I'll have some interesting challenges ahead as I move from a situation where I'm focusing on finding important but little-known music to include, to one where I have to decide what well-known music to ignore. Or, to put it another way, the 13th-century Carmina Burana has been included, but should I bother with Carl Orff's much more famous version?

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