Who controls our taste in classical music?


A quick glance at his record shows that this is hardly true, and in any case he was as interested in Renaissance music as he was in medieval music. Nonetheless, his tenure at the Proms undoubtedly created a new audience for exciting modern music, just as Henry Wood had done more than half a century before.

So the Proms have undoubtedly been hugely influential, but there are countless other factors that determine which composers are played. One is the existence of what is called the “canon”, which is the set of pieces which, by general opinion, are imperishable masterpieces: the cantatas of Bach, the symphonies of Beethoven and Stravinsky’s ballets are obvious examples. The canon has a powerful effect on the tastes of orchestra and hall managers, as well as performers.

There are also other factors. From the 1970s, the intellectual cachet of the “early music movement” convinced many bourgeois to take a liking to Monteverdi and Josquin.

The beginning of Classic FM in the 90s led to the rise of the classical music playlist, which had enormous power in shaping our tastes and in particular began to expand our perception of what music really is. classical music. Besides “great composers”, it also included soundtrack music which remains very present to this day.

Now, the power of classic playlists on Spotify and Apple Music to draw everyone’s attention to certain tunes is shaping the tastes of classical music lovers, especially the younger generation.

It is easy to think that the vagaries of the notoriety of such and such a composer are due to all kinds of “taste trainers”, but we must not forget the counter-power of the public itself, expressed through the box. -office. Thanks to this, we have a rival list of classic parts, to put alongside the barrel. This is the list of songs that everyone loves and which, surprisingly, keep coming back in concert programs. Some of them are also of exemplary musical value and therefore “canonical”, such as Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony or Debussy’s La Mer. Some, like Borodin’s Polovtsian Dances or Delibes’ Lakmé are definitely not.

Some popular pieces of unmistakably high musical value float outside the canon, loved by audiences but not yet embraced by the informal group of scholars, broadcasters and music greats who are the unofficial ‘gatekeepers’.

In the 19th century, a firm distinction was established between two heroes of the piano, Frédéric Chopin and Franz Liszt. Both were hugely popular, but only Chopin was quickly admitted to the canon, as evidenced by the fact that he was soon given the dignity of a “collected edition”.


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