Beethoven, Brahms, the Beatles

The economist Paul Krugman has a blog I love, in which he sometimes writes about stuff other than economics, like, on Fridays, music.  This is what he wrote recently:

“I love Mozart as much as ever; but it would be a sad world if we had to go back to the 18th century — or even the 20th century! — to find music that moves the soul.

The real classical music of my generation — classical in the true sense, meaning that it endures and will continue to be played for a long time — was actually pop/rock/folk. The reality is that the Beatles are at this point as solidly embedded in the Western canon as Beethoven and Brahms — and rightly so.

Now, as the aging baby boomer I am, for a long time I thought that the great age of modern music ended some time in the 70s. My big discovery — which, I’m embarrassed to say, came after Arcade Fire won their Grammy and I decided to give them a listen — is that the wonder goes on.

And don’t let the trappings of pop performance fool you: many of these musicians are deeply sophisticated. Some commenters mentioned the passing of Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, who brought lieder to a wide audience (and my mother was a Fischer-Dieskau fanatic!); listen to Feist for a while, and you’ll realize that what she’s writing are art songs, in some sense very much in the same tradition.”

My father is an opera singer, and a huge Fischer-Dieskau art song fan, and he would probably not agree.  But I think Krugman’s dead right. 

When Rudyard Kipling wrote “Recessional,” that poem, by that poet, was considered so significant that the Times of London published it on their front page.  Poetry mattered.  And poet friends of mine sometimes go off on the decline of poetry, how Kids These Days don’t read poetry, how no poets since Robert Frost (or Phillip Larkin or Alan Ginsberg) are embedded in the national consciousness, how, at the Presidential inauguration, when the poet-laureate reads the official inaugural poem, the audience takes it as their exit cue. (Could it be that the inaugural poem sucked?). I think the modern generation, the Kids These Days, are immersed in poetry, inundated by it, I think kids know more poetry than any kids ever in the history of the world.  I think the Sturm und Drang kids standing on mountaintops reading Herder or Lenz, or the young romantics, starving themselves to buy a copy of Childe Harold had nothing on Kids These Days.  We just don’t call it poetry–we call it rap. 

So in two hundred years time, it’ll be interesting to see what music gets studied and played and talked about as great and significant and important.  Phillip Glass and John Adams?  Nigel Osborne or Bryan Ferneyhough?  Or Win Butler and Regine Chassagne of Arcade Fire, Thom Yorke of Radiohead, Michael Stipe of REM? 

I’m not even worried about the Beatles.  They’re already in. 

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