In the opening chapter of his new book, Listen to This, Alex Ross declares that he “hates” ‘classical music’ – “not the thing, but the name”. He argues that it “traps a tenaciously living art in the theme park of the past. It cancels out the possibility that music in the spirit of Beethoven could still be created today. It banishes into limbo the work of thousands of active composers who have to explain to otherwise well-informed people what it is they do for a living….”
So what else can we call it?
“Serious music” seems inappropriate, since there is a good deal of ‘classical music’ which is humorous, comical and witty.
“Intellectual music” smacks of elitism – and aren’t we supposed to be trying to dispel the elitist image of classical music?
“Great music”? By doing that, we exclude the greats of the jazz, rock and pop genres – and not forgetting World music…..
“Art music”? But some of the songs of Kate Bush, the Cocteau Twins or Goldfrapp (who I heard last night) could be considered “art music”.
And some suggestions from Radio 3 listeners:
“the People’s Music” (since “so many people can participate in it”). Sounds a bit communist to me!
As Ross says, all these terms are useful, but are not its defining characteristics. Classical music can also be crazy, confused, stupid and vulgar.
Readers: can we find a new name for classical music?
Your thoughts, please – clever, witty, humorous, vulgar or just plain stupid!