Art as Sedative

Today we consume music in a quite different manner from earlier generations according to Harnoncourt. We do not care about meaning, we want it as soothing sedative after the turmoil of real life.

This end is more easily attained by the standardization of the repertory. Only a few composers are performed, and only a small fraction of their total production, not even necessarily the best part of it, if such a thing can be defined. On the other hand the same selection is offered all over the world. Opera houses and concert halls offer the same programmes in London, Paris, Vienna, New York, and Tokyo. For a visitor it would be impossible to tell from the repertory in which part of the world the venue was located.

The audiences seem to love this listening to the same pieces over and over again. They also do it in their homes. Who knows how many recordings there are of "The Marriage of Figaro", "La Traviata", or "Carmen", while many record companies not even care to listen to sensational rediscovered masterpieces by long forgotten composers.

In this repetitive listening we, according to Harnoncourt, even cheat the composers, by anticipating the shocks in terms of dissonances or crescendi that they had once prepared, thus escaping the shocks.

In other words, music lovers of today are all like the Spanish King Felipe V to whom the famous castrato Farinelli (Carlo Broschi) sung the same four arias every day, year after year, this being the only means of getting the melancholy monarch out of bed and agree to being shaved and dressed.

The lesson to be learned from all this is that the social function of the arts, as well as the fashion of appreciation has been shifting so frequently that progress hardly is a more significant ingredient in development than is shift of paradigm.

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