From elsewhere in the classical music blog world comes these thoughts: Interchanging Idioms: The Sound Grapes make when they're Sour.
People say pop music won't last, but we still remember "Blue Swede Shoes", "Tuxedo Junction" and "The Entertainer" which are now over 60, 80 and 100 years old. Maybe they're not on the pop stations anymore, but they are remembered. Lady Gaga is more than just good marketing. Shakira, Beyonce and Alica Keys are extremely talented. Their music will be remembered because it's more than just simple chords and repetitive rhythms.
On his excellent classical music culture blog, Interchanging Idioms, Chip Michael explores his frustrations with the elusive qualities behind pop music's allure. He says he "hates pop music" unequivocally, but he really hates how it eludes his own grasp in his composing. He appreciates and enjoys the form.
Capturing the essence of simplicity is the goal of any composer or creator of art. Artists aim to draw the listener, or viewer, into the artistic experience with the very structure of their art. Well structured art simultaneously fits into a clear and analyzable structure and moves just enough beyond it to be free. It also contains an essence of accessibility. It makes sense within itself, and in some way, also to its audience.
Genres of music could be said to blur together along this scale of complexity and familiarity.
Pop accomplishes these goals on the very simplest level of structure, adding a unique voice and or instrumental style along with some creative chord and rhythm structures.
Jazz and its related forms, bluegrass and alternative music move to more complex structures while still keeping one large foot in the familiar songs of ballads and blues melodies.
Classical goes deeper into structural complexity, by expanding the scope in all directions, length, rhythmical, tonal, chordal, and instrumental. Classical also adds the element of repeatability, but notating all these gestures in a detailed fashion.
But classical composers, in their attempts to be original, may find themselves eluded in their final product by the necessary qualities of "familiarity" and "accessibility". They compose themselves into corners.
In order to become masters, classical composers must retain some spirit of familiarity and historical continuity in their complex scores. The germ of simplicity is the icing on the cake, or perhaps the very yeast of the bread. Mozart and Beethoven are perhaps the best examples of nearly perfect balance between complexity and simplicity.
Each genre, from pop to classical, could be seen as moving along a distinct graph of qualities these various qualities. It moves from familiar and easily repeatable rhythmic song patterns to more and more complex patterns, eventually ending up potentially beyond any sensible reach. Classical music's danger is when it stubbornly insists on too obscure an end, leaving all connection to history behind.
In some cases, new music remains beyond almost everyone who hears it during their lifetime. Perhaps Gesualdo or Berlioz and Mahler were doomed to remain obscure until after their deaths. This type of music could be said to be "visionary", in that it envisions its popularity in the future, perhaps to the sad frustration of the living composer. Others may simply compose music far too obscure to ever be appreciated by any large audience, or simply never make sense to anyone.
Composers must locate their own place in the balance between accessibility and complexity. Complexity cannot replace accessibility, it must grow from it. Complexity must find its conviction in deeply balanced personal structure and form. It must be fed by instinctive and ultimately knowable shapes of phrases, character, and style. It must have its own voice.
From the point of view of performer or listener, well written classical music is easier to explain and easier feel for both audience and performer. A performer who knows and feels the structure and meaning of the music will better portray it. A performance which lacks understanding still lacks communication, even if technically proficient. I believe that sometimes the performer and even the audience simply do not trust their own abilities, their own ears and intuitions, having obscured them by their very struggle to "understand" the music's mysterious complexity. Any piece of well written music, if played or heard with untainted judgment and open attention, will divulge its structure and meaning.
The problem for both composer, performer and listener, is to find their own personal "voice" and "ear", to really feel what they hear, or what they compose for others to hear; ultimately to hear, understand, and compose with the playful understanding of a child.
It could be said that all great music is either deeply popular, or popularly deep.
What are your thoughts on the subject.
Sorry for the rambling thoughts. I've been playfully observing and thinking on these subjects for awhile.