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Is Classical Music Really Classical?

The classics of music are the enduring expressions of adventurers that withstood the test of time. Classical composers did not compose classical music. At the time of their composing, they were standing on the bow of the ship of music as it headed for the deep, dark, mysterious waters of the unknown possibilities of human experience. For them, their creative act was an experiment in both expression and technique.

Their creative acts were a tempest of exaggerations and struggles as they attempted to forge a new path to aesthetic experience. Little understood in their own time, the resolution of the tensions between the old and new creations not yet acknowledged, or accepted, it would take time for the listening public to understand and appreciate the new world these classical music composers discovered on behalf of man. It would be only later that their works, their discovers and claims, would gain full recognition, be appreciated, and finally, after a time, set as a launching point from which new adventures into music experience would be launched.

Among students of the history of music, the phrase, "classical music composers", brings to mind such giants as Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, and they would be sure to make a distinction between such music as these composers created and the music of Schubert, Wagner or Schumann, even though these latter are regularly presented on "classical" music radio, or performed by "classical" music symphonies.

This distinction is correct to the extent we define "classic" as that sort of musical style that rests heavily on the response of the heart to the objective beauties of form, of order, of measure, number, proportion, and balance, the rational qualities to which humans respond with recognition and delight. These aesthetic qualities first appeared among the "classical" Greeks, by which we mean, the Greeks of the Golden Age of Athens, starting around 470 BC. Being lovers of thought, their idea of beauty was the rational. In this case, "classical" refers to a style of music.

They would not be correct, however, in excluding as classics those who, departing from the rationalism of an earlier period, charted a new course called romanticism. The advances of these later composers too, in due time, were finally assimilated and established as "classic". Like the classic composers, these composers forged new experiences that would withstand the test of time.

Today we call music of the 1950s, classics. The composers of that music would not have thought of themselves as classical music composers. Elves Presley, for instance, would have broken a hip had someone called him one of the classical music composers, but this is just what we mean when we say composers do not write classics, but, rather, the music they write becomes, after a time, after its techniques and intent have been assimilated by the music appreciating public, after withstanding the test of time, "classic".

The next time a music composer waves a disparaging hand at classical music composers, tell him that if he is so lucky, his adventure in music might someday be a classic too.

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