February 9, 2007 at 9:25 PM...a quest to determine what makes good music good and bad music bad. I want some input. I have convinced myself that, contrary to the beliefs of many, good music is not determined by popular opinion. Bach will remain better than the Beatles no matter what happens. But why? Why is that?
Music, like all art forms, is an expression of beauty. Sure, it can be eerie, angry, flippant, anguished, even harsh...but always beautiful. So I guess my question is more "What is true beauty?"
Complexity seems to play some role. No one can say that a rock song with two different chord progressions and a bridge is better than Beethoven's Fifth. But then, does a more complex piece make a piece better? Is Liebesleid (I know I spelt that wrong...) worse music than Dvorak's violin concerto just because it's simpler. Whatever happened to simple beauty?
Then there's emotional content. I think this is a key role. Some sixth sense (no, not the one you see dead people with...) can pick up emotional depth in any piece of music. Or any type of art. Even something like a painting of flowers conveys some sort of feeling. Right now, I'm sitting by a hall at school where nothing but paintings of flowers hang on the side. Some are elegant and tranquil, some are bright and spunky, some are dark and almost sinister. The skill of the artist or composer in evoking his feeling in others seems to be a vital role in making good art good. Even if we don't establish an emotional connexion with the art (i.e. even if we don't like it) we still appreciate it.
Beauty. It's what we spend out lives creating. Or trying to create. But what is it really. And will we ever know?
You pose a good topic of debate, though.
You have touched on an issue that continues to preoccupy the most inquistive and imaginative minds, and concerns not only artists, but critics. Based on what you have written, you might really enjoy reading the short book by American composer Roger Sessions entitled "The Musical Experience of Composer, Performer, Listener." He certainly addresses many of the issues you've raised, especially in his chapter (III) on the
And while it is true that you and I (and some others) may prefer Bach to the Beatles, that band stands apart from many others as a result of its members' musical curiosity. (Especially George Harrison and John Lennon, who continued to grow and search as the band enjoyed popular success.) In fact, if it were not for Bach, the Beatles would have been a much lesser band. So, even here there is a relationship.
To find a common definition and get an agreement from everyone of what is good music and bad music is impossible.
As corny as it may sound, beauty lies on the eyes (in this case, ears) of the beholder. All that matters is what YOU think/feel is good music, without bias or influency by others (music teacher, idol violinists, Buri etc.). If Beethoven's 5th touches your heart like no other music, then that is beauty to YOU. If Beetles' music is what someone else enjoy much more than 5th, then that is beauty to that someone. Why should we force ourselves to get to a common ground and not celebrate diversity?
Many people find Beethoven's Romance in F being more "beautiful" that his Romance in G. I feel different and find Romance in G touches me more than F, but I don't seek for the answer, find ways to justify it, or get others to agree with me. All that it matters is how I feel about the music, and that it's personal, special and beautiful to ME.
I dunno what I'm talking about anymore. Better stop yacking. Happy journey!
Say if someone decide that good music must be complex. What someone consider as complex may be quite simple to someone else who has more indepth musical knowledge.
Or, if someone decide that good music must be pleasant, someone else who has listen to Mozart all his/her life and got so sick of it and suddenly opened up to Bartok, that's because of his/her background and what he/she has experienced to date.
What about someone who had a bad day at work and just wanted to release the anger and frustration? Beethoven would suddenly be so "touching" than Mozart. That's emotion.
Whatever criteria you set for "good" and "bad", "beauty" and "ugly", those criteria opens up to emotion, knowledge, experience and judgement in the end. I do not believe beauty is a fact.
What about perfection? Does it really exist? I challenge you to define perfection (once you've got beauty out of the way) ;-)
Yes, I think that beauty, like truth, is completely seperate from the emotions of the listeners. That's different. I'm not saying that classical music is the greatest type of music ever. There's good classical, good rock, some good heavy metal...and maybe somewhere good rap (which I have not yet discovered). The listeners do not contribute to the music. What they think about the music is good and wonderful and unique and important, but they don't in any way affect the music itself.
I agree that a quality of good music is the clarity of the emotions expressed in the music, though. How that can be measured, I have no idea, but I (think I) agree.
I agree the Beatles were innovative and all that (I like them as much as the next guy) but you can't seriously say that they're better than Bach. I don't know why, but something really doesn't click there.
"the quality present in a thing or person that gives intense pleasure or deep satisfaction to the mind, whether arising from sensory manifestations (as shape, color, sound, etc.), a meaningful design or pattern, or something else (as a personality in which high spiritual qualities are manifest)"
Those words highlighted in bold italic is what I think depends on emotion, knowledge and experience anyway.
I'll stop debating with you here. Good luck in your quest and I hope you'll find your answer.
That being said, there are exceptions. The Sibelius Violin Concerto, for example, is in my top 5 favorite pieces of music. It got up there before I had any memories of it. I had never heard it before, nor obviously listened to this CD; I set my stereo to wake me up, and that CD happened to be first in line. When I woke up to the beginning melody, I got goosebumps and moved me, and started trying to figure out what it was because it was so incredibly beautiful. Ever since it's been one of my absolute favorites.
There are obviously inconsitencies in my argument, and I have no definite answer, but take it as you will.
I have to agree that there's no way to say that Bach is ultimately better than Beatles. It is sheerly opinion, and what different people find beautiful. Of course, I haven't met a Beatles fan (or anything like that) who doesn't appreciate Bach, but they don't think he's better.
To me, Bach's Chaconne, Duane Allman playing guitar, or that moment when the third movement of Beethoven's 5th breaks into the fourth are examples of unspeakable beauty. But don't ask me which is "better" because it doesn't matter.
I think your quest is, to be blunt, both foolhardy and beside the point. Because the point is beauty and truth, not some objective standard against which music can be measured.
I also believe that God created all humanity, and that in humanity's creation is a glimpse toward the creator - i.e. "we were created in his image."
Creation is powerful and creation is good. I believe creation to even be an extension of love - i.e. "God is love." And surely God is also beautiful.
That's my 2 cents.
Regarding musical "quality," I'm reminded of Bruno Walter's book about his mentor, Mahler. As Walter characterized it, Mahler's early symphonies were brilliantly expressive of Mahler's emotional response to the world and of his personal metaphysics, so to speak. But in Walter's view, Mahler really became a great composer in the later symphonies when his work morphed into the realm of "pure music," with its roots in the feelings and metaphysics but no longer expressing them either directly or indirectly.
Maybe this is a difference between the highest forms of "serious" music and more popular music. The popular music can be great but can never really get past the realm of expressing emotions into that level of "pure music." Now if you want to know what "pure music" is, read Walter's book:)
to search for AN answer, not THE answer to the original question, is a philosohpical pursuit, a personal choice. we set out in search of the truth,,,but there is no TRUTH on this, at least, no universal consensus.
once we clear up this mindset, then we can talk. otherwise, a great thought provoking topic will end up on a slippery slope like religion.
You assume that music is good because it is beautiful, and you seek a logical explanation of the concept of beauty. I propose to you that first, you should get rid of the terms "good" and "bad" music, and first find out what "music" is. I suspect that will raise new questions that will better point your way on your quest.
I submit to you that "music" is a sound that communicates or evokes emotion and/or understanding in a listener or performer. There is music that is more effective and there is music that is less effective. The emotion may be either positive or negative; the understanding may or may not be something that you agree with.
If I ever again have the time to read real books (like, not "goodnight moon"), I'd love to pick up some of the above recommendations. I hope you enjoy your quest!
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