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hammers, well, they are hammers. A repeated D in a movement from Schubert's Winterreise, Kramer says, “besets the piano's effort to be expressive. Now more audible, now less, the note feels like a fragment of the external sounds that the wanderer has taken into his mind and from which he cannot get free.” Nice story, but since Schubert gives that repeated note four expression marks in one measure (staccato, slur, crescendo, decrescendo), it's a stretch to see where Kramer gets his notion that the pitch isn't expressive. When discussing the largo from Dvorák's Ninth Symphony, used in the movie Paradise Road, Kramer observes the famous melody's “often noted resemblance to the spiritual ‘Going Home'” and draws an ironic relationship between the spiritual's “deep longing for homecoming, salvation, relief from a weary load” and the movie's prison guards, “who can hear nothing in the music but its beauty.” But Dvorák's tune is pure Dvorák. Spiritual-like words were written for it by Williams Arms Fisher, one of Dvorák's students, in 1922. They had very limited circulation in American Protestant circles in the early twentieth century, probably wouldn't have been known to the British expatriates captured by the Japanese, and certainly didn't have an effect on the moviegoers, since the vast majority of them knew neither the Dvorák original nor the Fisher arrangement. Kramer talks a lot about classical music in movies and TV shows . In discussing the use of the prelude from Bach's G Major cello suite in an episode of The West Wing and the movies The Pianist and Master and Commander, Kramer argues that, by realizing the meanings that “lie like seeds in the music, eager to be disseminated,” these films model a kind of “creative listening” that can serve as a model for the way classical music is listened to. He seems deaf to the fact that the relation between music and pictures is parasitical. This matter of “creative listening,” however, does help illustrate the fundamental traditionalism of at least two aspects of Kramer's thought. Spinning stories in your head while listening to symphonic works was an old music-appreciation trick. And the notion that classical music represents an aesthetic advance over earlier styles was very much a late-nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century view about the “progress of music.” Kramer's view that this music represents a new human consciousness, giving access to meanings otherwise unsuspected, is a close cousin to the notions underlying the so-called Mozart Effect on children and the idea that classical music is somehow deeply connected to the fundamental patterns of human intelligence. But back to Kramer's suburban living room. Why was that Beethoven overture so important to him? Later, in sections dealing with Schubert's Winterreise and Americans' reactions to the attacks of September 11, Kramer gives us a clue. Classical music makes suffering bearable by helping to create temporarily persuasive fantasies.

Can really matter THAT much?  

A review of Lawrence Kramer’s Why Classical Music Still Matters

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