Dr Marc’s Blog and the State of Blogging

This is one of the best music blogs I’ve found in a long while. Contentious, eminently readable, and always insightful. It can also be outrageously funny. Take for instance these opening lines:

It never went on to the CV, especially when applying to be a cathedral organist and choirmaster, but the more I look back on it, the more I realise it was one of the significant experiences in my musical life. I played the organ in a strip club.

Intrigued? Go read the rest of the post: Music without clothes

Of those I’ve read, probably the most interesting one is his brilliant criticism of how music gets organised into historical eras. An extract:

Bounded by the borders of the German-speaking world, the original 19th century philosophers, critics and writers on music, saw no need to include in their stylistic considerations English, French, Spanish or even Italian composers, and their descriptors of stylistic linkages referred almost exclusively to German music.  It was they, for example, who had convinced the world of the existence of a Classical Canon in which the God-like composers were Bach, Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven – German-speakers to a man.  So in considering the stylistic traits common to those composers of the Baroque era, they looked only at the Germans.  To this day, there is a common belief that the greatest composers in history have all been from the German-speaking world and that composers unfortunate enough to have been born elsewhere are, almost by default, peripheral to the great march of musical history.  And that almost unthinking perception of non-German composers being peripheral to the mainstream of music continues to inform the opinions of many, much to the detriment of music itself.  This is the corrosive, destructive consequence of a view which defines musical style primarily in terms of historical era.

Why is it, do you think, that the descriptors of Baroque style are, in effect, descriptors of the music of J S Bach and others of the North German school?  What of Domenico Scarlatti, who fits neatly into the Baroque era, but is generally held to be lesser than his great contemporary because his music does not inhabit the same stylistic territory?  Virtually none of the descriptors applies to his music – although that hasn’t stopped generations of piano teachers and young pianists trying to fit his free-thinking, stylistically distinctive music into a German Baroque hat.  I read in a student’s diploma programme note that Scarlatti’s Sonatas “have none of the contrapuntal mastery of J S Bach”.  We are indoctrinated with the idea that the Fugue is the “ultimate Baroque musical genre”, and while it may have been for those living in northern Germany, it had no interest for the likes of Albinoni, Byrd, Purcell, Rameau or Alessandro Scarlatti whose collective genius lay stylistically in very different areas.

Now that’s a blog post!

Some other highlights:

  • The Cult of the Unlistenable: ‘… during the last century, it became fashionable – trendy, if you like – to regard such academic experimentation not for what it was but as a substitute for the music people wanted to hear, and to present it as the only legitimate path for music to take in the name of progress.’
  • On programmes, we are treated to some delightful curmudgeonliness: ‘By all means, attract the Millennials by addressing them through their devices, but please accept that some of us are not Millennials and in our huge, dinosaurian ignorance, we prefer something rather more tangible than a small illuminated screen to help us get to grips with music.’
  • On the strangeness of the British music exam system: ‘The fact is, graded music exams have become a self-propelling machine, driving a whole industry on the engine of a system which assumes a legitimacy which few ever think to question … it is a peculiarly British thing; possibly seen by many as typifying that British eccentricity which insists on placing every conceivable thing into clearly-defined categories. German, French, Russian and Hungarian friends, all of whom are musicians, are amazed at the graded exam system which, in their eyes, is totally misguided on placing testing and assessment above delivery and appreciation of musical performance.’
  • And if, like me, you have a soft-spot for incredibly heart-warming stories about octoganarians taking Grade 8 exams, you must check out this post.

On classical music blogging… Finding blogs is no easy task. There is no centralisation, only diffuse networks and social media interaction, search engines are too imprecise, and I get the feeling that the blogosphere was once a busier place. There is, at least in Britain, ample coverage of classical music in the papers. But it consists almost entirely of reviews and the occasional interview. It comes down to Slipped Disc to churn out actual classical music news. And one would hope that it would come down to blogs to be the pits of the concert hall, the places where the most enthusiastic people go, and moreover places of contention, and of good-natured tribalism. Blogs should popularise. They should help spread ideas. They should be advocates for the overlooked, but also the most vociferous critics and the watchdogs of the new.

But most of them aren’t. I certainly enjoy reading reviews, but the inordinate focus on concert life is a bit disappointing. It is refreshing to find a new(ish) blog like Corymbus which contains long, fascinating blogs on things like the English Hymnal or Cultivating Ignorance. Unfortunately this means the output is very infrequent. Among the more conventional blogs, the long-standing blog On An Overgrown Path is pretty exemplary. Plenty of forthright opinion and fascinating miscellanea can be found in its pages.

Searching for niche blogs can often be very fruitful, though even more difficult. I recently came across lute-maker Martin Shepherd’s blog and it contains some very interesting posts on the lute and lute music. Take his latest post, a curious piece which asks, was Dowland a composer of lute music?

There appears to be very few blogs of the type I write — hobbyist autodidact blogs. Perhaps this is a blessing! But one looks, for example, at the proliferation of ‘amateur’ political blogs and sees, despite the rotters undoubtedly out there, some really interesting work.

Anyway, take all of this for it is. I’m just thinking out loud — in fact, I’m just blogging. Dr. Marc mentioned Scarlatti in one of the extracts, so let’s end with his exciting Sonata in D Major (K. 119):

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