It’s dangerous to roam the Classical Internet. Surfing and clicking from the discomfort of my ancient Hoosier sofa, it seems that every time I turn around, I run across yet another article entitled: Who (or What) Killed Classical Music? Or, more optimistically present tense: What is Killing Classical Music?

Seriously: I can’t take it anymore. I really don’t know how to say something like this, but I need closure.

I killed Classical Music. That’s right; just me. No accomplices. Hahahaha! And here’s how …

[sitcom-style dream sequence transition, distant saxophone]

Rain caught and held the reflection of red neon; the innocent night street looked washed in blood. Halfway through my third double bourbon I realized I had forgotten something a third-and-an-eighth-of-the-way through my second. I stared at the spattered greasy window, aching for a view; with flabby, twitchy fingers I played a forgotten melody on the chipped edge of my highball glass, and dug in my memory for the last comforting remnant of loss.

“History,” I growled, and knocked my glass over, spilling ice, liquor, dispersing the smoke and mirrors of self-destruction. I was not trucking in abstractions; History was the name of the bartender.

He came by ineluctably. “Spilled your drink again, did you? … You spilled your drink.”

History tended to repeat himself. It was something you got used to. “Another bourbon,” I said, grimacing.

“Those who don’t learn from their mistakes,” he murmured. But he filled my glass with fresh ice and let another healthy finger of poison drizzle over it, and I listened to the ice crackle and the rain whip against the window, and just at that moment four miserable pitches yawned out of the sullied night:

Those four fateful notes were what I had forgotten, the four voices of my inner Gesualdo madrigal, the horsemen of my Apocalypse, through-composed and yet monotonous, not quite repeating and never explaining the eternal, haunting, profound-yet-superficial madrigalisms of my subtexted so-called life … The four notes, I yearned to know what to call them, if I ran across them in a deserted alley. Were they the dominant of a dominant? A predominant? Some sort of modified two chord? And for God’s sake which of the notes was a dissonance and which a consonance and if we couldn’t answer that, if there was no kind of moral-contrapuntal-tonal framework, how was I, or any of us, going to go on?

The door creaked open. A body settled into the sagging stool next to me. “Oh hi, Jazz,” I said. He just grooved, passing time. I couldn’t help imposing my problems on him, disturbing his detachment.

“You see it’s a F a B a D# and a G#, what the hell is it?”

Jazz chuckled. “Call it what you want, man. That’s some multivalent whatever. Just let it go where it wants to go, baby.”

Oh I love Jazz but when he gets all tolerant on me I just want to smack him. Maybe, I thought, he’s just playing into my own clichéd preconceptions? Speaking of which, the door creaked again and in came World Music, with an entourage: fawning ethnomusicologists, dancing around her gorgeous copious bejangled body in myriad tempi and costumes; they stared at her every incensed inch, concupiscent. Oh and who else should the cat drag in but Classical Music, dressed soberly, oozing stifling refinement, following at a greater distance, but giving World Music a watchful eye.

You see, Classical Music was my childhood sweetheart. Even in the sixth grade, when I was King of the Nerds, we would dine on cafeteria pizza and tater tots and talk of Opus Numbers. We would go to the Multiplex and sniff at John Williams and hold hands across dimly lit tables at 2 am at the Village Inn and stay up all night inventing Developments and Recapping with green chile and eggs in the morning. Classical Music was more than love. She was a sea in which my life was drowned. But: not even a glance. Classical brushed right by. I got up to say hello, but… Jazz grabbed my shoulder. “Don’t do it man.” His voice was a gravelly flatted seventh. “It’s gone, just let it go. I hear Classical’s got somethin’ goin’ with World Music, and it’s pretty intense.”

It was true. Even now I heard faint klezmer sounds; a clarinet blew in from nowhere, and the ethnomusicologists were braying abundant, dirty augmented seconds; and to my horror Classical Music looked on admiringly, swaying, daring to dance, to be caught up in the spell… Then without warning World Music began to rumba, and Classical gyrated along, smitten, living vicariously, stripping off sober clothes and …

No, no, I thought; I couldn’t watch this. Classical Music is not supposed to have fun without me! Not this kind of fun! A rage took shape; I was dizzy with jealousy; I was a naked, dripping, unlabelled Tristan Chord in the empty, burning staff paper of the World. Jazz tried to hold me back, but I realized I had the perfect weapon. I ripped my 3-volume set of Schenker’s Der Freie Satz from my pseudo-hipster (no longer a nerd here! sort of!) messenger bag, and threw it with utmost force, and I caught Classical by surprise, right at a moment of joy … it was an accident of course, some thorny middleground analysis caught her in the throat and she was allergic … she fell over; the dance ended; jingles and jangles subsided into the rainy night.


World Music leaned over. “She’s dead.” I noticed a tear on Jazz’s cheek. My throwing arm throbbed. It began to sink in. All those young people’s outreach concerts were for naught. And then History, as always, said the obvious.

“Nothing to do but move on.”

[sitcom return-from-dream-sequence effect]

So there you go. Now that I’ve confessed, can I go on Oprah and be absolved?

More importantly: if l take the rap, if I do the time, can we PLEASE not have any more articles about the death of Classical Music?

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  1. Anonymous
    Posted November 23, 2006 at 11:39 pm | Permalink

    Jeremy Noir, private pianist;
    Mark Twain is reported to have said “History doesn’t repeat it self, but it does rhyme”
    I personally would appreciat it it if History would occasionally come to a cadence so I could catch up and figure where the hell I am and what is happening.

  2. hari
    Posted November 24, 2006 at 9:09 am | Permalink

    what a great scenario. this would make a wonderful ballet segment. you should compose music for this and submit it to one of the resident choreographers at nyc ballet.

    actually, it’s people like me that are probably killing classical music, sales at least. we go to concerts or hear something on tv or the radio, and by the time we get to the record store we forget what the title is or who composed it. i’ve got to take better notes.

  3. Anonymous
    Posted November 25, 2006 at 11:59 am | Permalink

    somehow, i imagined classical music to be an old-fashioned, stubborn, hot-tempered character, a la Beethoven with wild hair.

  4. Anonymous
    Posted November 25, 2006 at 8:31 pm | Permalink

    How come classical music is female. Other than Clara Schumann there are no female “classical” composers (sorry Ellen Taffee)

    When Bernard Shaw was told that Opera is not what it used to be he said: “Opera is what it used to be, and that’s what’s wrong with it”

    Play on ninis, we like you whatever classical music is doing

  5. Anonymous
    Posted November 27, 2006 at 9:55 am | Permalink

    There’s Gesualdo again. Is he a personal favorite? I saw Artek perform some very early Madgrigals at Corpus Christi–they were fabulous. (I know a musicologist who won’t program Ges. because of the murder thing.) I have spun myself off into a personal blog. I hope you will visit. At some point I’ll write something on Laurie Johnson.

  6. Newfweiler
    Posted November 28, 2006 at 11:15 am | Permalink

    Hey! I recognize that chord! It’s from measure 124 of Chopin’s G minor Ballade Op. 23, two measures before the piu animato.
    Page 5.

  7. Anonymous
    Posted November 28, 2006 at 11:19 am | Permalink

    No female classical composers other than Clara?! Heck, I’m not even a feminist and I know who Fanny Mendelssohn is! I’m usually on the other end of this argument, but I DO believe in giving credit where it’s due. Someone needs to do a bit of reading…

  8. Teju
    Posted November 28, 2006 at 4:45 pm | Permalink

    Ruth Crawford Seeger must be turning in her grave. Kaija Saariaho must be…oh, why bother. There were no female composers. It’s easier that way. No female authors either. And certainly no female people, at least not in the past.

    Good story, and it’s awfully nice of you shoulder the blame. But I think the death of classical music is actually like the Sixth Sense in reverse meets Rashomon: four different people murdered her (*cough* Elmer Bernstein *cough*), but (and I do hate to give away the ending) Classical Music didn’t die.

  9. dja
    Posted November 28, 2006 at 9:18 pm | Permalink

    Jazz chuckled. “Call it what you want, man. That’s some multivalent whatever. Just let it go where it wants to go, baby.”

    You’d clearly had too much bourbon if that’s what you heard, man. I distinctly said “That’s F minor seven flat five. And it usually goes to B-flat seven altered. You heard that progression a million times.”

    Then you started muttering something under your breath about “enharmonics” and I just walked away. The piano don’t know no damn difference anyhow.

  10. bernard
    Posted November 28, 2006 at 11:36 pm | Permalink

    Like a cat classical music has more than one life. Milton Babbit , no doubt inadvertently, almost did it in by making it a branch of higher mathematics, but classical music once more escaped.

  11. Anonymous
    Posted November 29, 2006 at 10:54 am | Permalink

    Quote starts (sorry I don’t know html) Jazz chuckled. “Call it what you want, man. That’s some multivalent whatever. Just let it go where it wants to go, baby.”

    You’d clearly had too much bourbon if that’s what you heard, man. I distinctly said “That’s F minor seven flat five. And it usually goes to B-flat seven altered. You heard that progression a million times.” Quote ends.

    Could be Db9. Or G7altered. Or Abm6. Or Bb7(sus4b9). Fm7(b5) is only one possibility. Just let it go where it wants to go, baby, is just what I said the first time, and it still holds. Darcy, I’m surprised at you!

  12. Anonymous
    Posted November 29, 2006 at 12:13 pm | Permalink

    It’s where it goes that tells us what is it is, that and where it’s come from.

    Dig those crazy cadences,

  13. dja
    Posted November 29, 2006 at 2:04 pm | Permalink

    Could be Db9. Or G7altered. Or Abm6. Or Bb7(sus4b9). Fm7(b5) is only one possibility. Just let it go where it wants to go, baby, is just what I said the first time, and it still holds. Darcy, I’m surprised at you!

  14. dja
    Posted November 29, 2006 at 2:14 pm | Permalink

    Man, if there ain’t no bass player, and that piano chord is the first and only thing you hear, ain’t no one gonna hear that as anything but an F minor seven flat five. This “multivalent whatever,” that’s just jive.

    Obviously, the same voicing works over all kinds of different bass notes, but that ain’t exactly news, either.

    Listen, I had a theory teacher in freshman year show me an octatonic scale like he thought it would be some kind of revelation. “If you want to be really ‘hip’, throw that into your ‘improv.'” I was like, man, ain’t you never heard Dizzy Gillespie?

  15. R J Keefe
    Posted November 30, 2006 at 12:05 am | Permalink

    Congratulations upon being fingered by Alex Ross as the culprit!

    Of course you’ll have some splaining to do on Saturday night, bringing Classical back to life.

  16. Anonymous
    Posted December 1, 2006 at 2:31 pm | Permalink

    It’s the opening of Tristan!

  17. Anonymous
    Posted December 6, 2006 at 1:36 pm | Permalink

    Leonard Bernstein once claimed not to be able to read a few notes an eager sous-chef de patisserie had scrawled in chocolate sauce on a dessert plate at a fancy party for the great man. He [LB] said it was because the notes had no key signature. Being analaphabète as to musical notation, i immediately recognized them and said “It’s Maria, also it’s at the begining of the Nile Scene.” [The notes also had no assigned tempo or value or whatever the word is.] Like Aaron Copland, LB knew to steal from a good source.

  18. Anonymous
    Posted January 2, 2007 at 7:54 pm | Permalink

    Ravel was all up on the dick of this chord. Listen to Daphnis & Chloe

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