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The Musical Cannon Essay, Research Paper

The Musical Canon

In this work, an analytical look at changes in concert programming will be presented. Data from Weber1 will be used to provide historical data roughly representing the years 1770 through 1870. Present day data is provided from the concert season 2000 to 2001 for two symphony orchestras; 1,2 these orchestras are the Toronto Symphony Orchestra and the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. Since for the scope of this discussion, only the 2000 2001 concert season was examined for 2 orchestras, it must be noted that proper statistical discipline cannot apply; much more data is required to form concrete conclusions. However, as will be apparent in this analysis, the present data should prove consistent with trends today in classical music culture by comparison with the historical data.

In the present day data, there are 13 pieces by composers born before 1800 played by the Toronto Symphony Orchestra (TSO) and a corresponding 20 by the Detroit Symphony Orchestra (DSO). It should be noted that choir pieces of composers are included in these counts. For composers born before 1900 there were 57 pieces by the TSO and 66 by the DSO. Figure 1 below illustrates this graphically. Closer analysis of this data yielded Figure 2, which illustrates the spread of concert programming by composer s birth for the 2001 season for the TSO and the DSO. We find composers born between 1800 and 1900 account for approximately 60 percent of the pieces performed in the 2000 2001 season. The use of items by composers born after 1900 varied between 10 and 15 percent for the DSO and the TSO respectively. Only 5 percent of pieces by composers born after 1900, were by composers that are still alive today

The data presented by Weber1 is illustrated in Figure 3 below. In examining the data we find that works in the concert programs by living composers decrease while those by dead composers increase as time increases. It is interesting to note that there exists a discrepancy in Weber s1 numbers, for data presented for Vienna 1838 1848. He quotes percentages of 53, 18, and 9 corresponding to works performed by living, dead, and indeterminate composers. The sum of these numbers is not 100 as they should be. While this puts his analysis into question, it still supports his points and the trends pointed out here and by him as well. For the sake of argument, it will be assumed that this error is merely an oversight, which perhaps occurred during printing.

In presenting the concert programs for the present day, variations exist from selling the magnificence and expertise of the performers, to building beautiful descriptions of the original themes of the pieces themselves. It is also found that new pieces are coupled with popular classics to provide a ground breaking for new or uncanonized composers. One such example was the, Symphonie Fantastiqiue concert in December of 2000 by the TSO, which was coupled with, Liberson s Red Guruda for piano. We also notice the name given to the concert was that of the popular piece by Berlioz, Symphonie Fantastiqiue, which was perhaps the highlight of the evening, or at least served as the crowd attractor. This seems to be a popular and perhaps an effective method of introducing new or not yet popular pieces. In contrasting the descriptions of the program structure for performances of pieces prior to the last century, we find that they are sold on their own merit of built up masterpiece status over the years. Whereas pieces in the last century are padded by the brilliance and popularity of the performers and sometimes ride the coat tails of the masters.

If the present day data is indicative of the global state of concert programs, we can conclude the following. Firstly, the drastic trend towards the worship and reverence of the masters that fostered in the nineteenth century seems to have reached a high point as far as the taste for classical music goes. Never has the concert seen such a large portion of its program dedicated to the works of dead composers. This is interesting since the majority of people today are not prone to this taste and our populations are much larger now than in the last 300 years. As mentioned earlier though, it is impractical to draw strict conclusions for such a small sample.

Our second conclusion deals with the works of living composers. As cited earlier only 5 percent of the items used by composers born after 1900 are alive. This seems to have followed the historical trend discussed by Weber1. This may have several repercussions which may include, an increased difficulty for new composers to have their works appreciated or even acknowledged, a sense of excessive reverence to the masters, and a crippling of the evolution of this musical taste.

Weber1 concludes that the ascent of mass culture and elevation of the classical masters in the nineteenth century was a symbiotic relationship. Now, it is perhaps a stagnant relationship that has peaked, since appreciation of this musical type no longer comprises mass culture.


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