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Reflections of an American Composer$
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Arthur Berger

Print publication date: 2002

Print ISBN-13: 9780520232518

Published to California Scholarship Online: May 2012

DOI: 10.1525/california/9780520232518.001.0001

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Is Music in Decline?

Is Music in Decline?

(p.35) 3 Is Music in Decline?
Reflections of an American Composer

Arthur Berger

University of California Press

The chapter reviews musical critics who see every innovation in music as a decline. An attitude of this nature on the part of a music critic can very well end up with a determination that it would have been better if no music had been written in the twentieth century rather than the kind that has been. Immediate appeal is a criterion for people who employ the decline theory. Those who reject such a criterion of artistic excellence are usually accused of believing that, good art always goes unrecognized in its time and some people do believe this. What characterizes this tradition are nostalgia for nineteenth-century Romanticism and a consequent rejection of the most significant twentieth-century music in one indiscriminate bolus. But as time advanced so did the composers and their audiences. For a long time in the 1920s and 1930s, and even some of the 1940s, the important American composers were truly underground. Few people were aware that the music of these composers could be heard at the concerts. To assess the desolateness of the early landscape in this particular area it is necessary to bear in mind that in the 1930s there was not the quantity of serious music that could be got on the radio. But today's audience is better informed than the multitude in Mozart's day when serious music was the prerogative of the aristocracy, even though the emerging middle class was making demands to be provided with the opportunity of savoring the fine arts—a development that led to the establishment of public concerts.

Keywords:   music critic, decline theory, composers, American critics, nineteenth-century Romanticism

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