Pop versus Classical

Today we draw a distinction between Pop (please see my thoughts on Pop here) and Classical music as if they are two different ways of thinking but we mustn’t forget that the Classical style of today is simply the Pop style of yesterday. Mozart wrote his Operas for the common man as well as the aristocracy.

Unfortunately a Great Divide exists between the majority of Pop listeners and the majority of Classical fans. One believes the other to be trite and vacuous, the other believes the one to be stuffy and pompous.

Like most generalisations, these are simplistic and wrong. To suggest that only the loftiness of a Bach Chorale would count as “proper” music or that Peter Gabriel’s “So” album was whimsical would be almost arrogant.

The issue probably arises because what the opposing factions hear of “the other side” is the hackneyed and watered down version of a genre that’s been homogenised for mass consumption. If preconceived notions were put aside for the serious listener there would be very little argument remaining.

Here we have another issue, the “serious” listener. Unfortunately, it seems that the most vocal opponents to a movement are those that flit around the outskirts of their chosen genre without fully exploring the emotion or landscape that the music is trying to convey and without understanding or even recognising the structure or merits which are integral to all “good” music regardless of genre.

And what of these merits? From what I can pin down, most of what is regarded as Good Pop music is based musically or lyrically around a concept that the target audience can relate to (love lost or found, injustice, incompetence of the current governing body, etc. (but not always negative)). This part (usually also supplying a melody) is played or sung over a bass line (generally provided by a single instrument) which gives a level of harmony and rhythm. Underpinning all of this will be a definite, usually repetitive drum pattern. If the product of these components are well performed and produced while displaying an original or innovative approach to the form it is deemed to be “Good”. Generic or formulaic productions are less welcomed. Pieces are usually performed by the composer and/or band themselves.

From the classical perspective we need to decide whether to focus on the composer or performer. Unless we’re considering “Star” classical musicians such as Nigel Kennedy or Segovia, we generally think in terms of the composer and prefer  the musicians to be transparent, becoming the medium rather than the focus of the performance. We usually expect the music to comply with one of the accepted musical forms (Rondo, Sonata, etc.) and to have been composed in a technically proficient manner. Melody, harmony, structure and relevance to the supposed or expected overall concept (Hall of the Mountain KingFlight of the Valkyries, etc.) should elicit an emotional response. A conspicuously played rhythm is normally absent leaving the instruments to provide the beat of the music. Like Pop, originality within the confines of the form is favoured over “safe” or generic sounds.

Of the two then, I believe the common requirements to be obedience to an expected form or concept, technical proficiency and originality of composition. These would certainly be present in any music that I preferred.

With that, have some classic Pop from Erasure: Respect

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