Was Prince classical?

Was Prince classical?


norman lebrecht

April 24, 2016

Richard Elliott, Lecturer in Popular Music at the University of Sussex, has this take on the purple icon:

… A truly eclectic and classical artist.

For this is what Prince was: not in the narrow sense of his interest in Western classical music, but in a far more liberated and liberating understanding and extension of the varied streams of a black classical music tradition that incorporated gospel, jazz, R&B, rock and roll, soul, funk, hip hop and more.

Read full argument here.

Your views on classical definitions?




  • Pianofortissimo says:

    The question is not worth a discussion. People like Prince are satisfying the masses and making big money, they can buy themselves whatever money can buy, they can even fund academic research that proposes they are “classical composers” but that can they never be.

    • William Safford says:

      Others disagree with your opinion, fifty eight additional messages later (and counting).

      • Pianofortissimo says:

        The theme (”Your views on classical definitions?”) can be varied ad nauseam (66 additional messages by now, some seem to agree with my argument, some politely disagree, and many just take the opportunity to piss on Classical Music) and every one in the public is entitled to his or her opinion.

        • William Safford says:

          I was unclear.

          You wrote: “The question is not worth a discussion.”

          Discussion has ensued.

          People disagreed with your opinion.

          Moving on from that trivial point, much of the discussion misses the point.

          If the author of the article espouses recognition of a body of pop and associated music, and assigned the adjective “classical” to it, then it is a different use of the term, and is therefore irrelevant to much of the discussion that ensued herein. (That actually supports your position.) It is an intriguing idea, and much can be unpacked from such a framework, but probably not in the context of classical music, except perhaps by analogy.

          If the author feels there is something “classical” (as in Bach, Beethoven, Brahms, Stravinsky, etc.) about Prince’s well-known music, then it is certainly a heterodox use of the term.

          If Prince did any performing or composing in what we on Slipped Disc generally consider to be classical music, then I am unfamiliar with it. I can certainly name rock/pop musicians who have done so; Frank Zappa comes immediately to mind. Prince? It would be news to me. But my ears are always receptive to new sounds (albeit sometimes with the protection of earplugs).

          • Pianofortissimo says:

            I see your point. I will try to made clear my own point of view: Richard Elliott proposed that Prince’s pop music is “black classical music” which is “a new form of classical music”, implying that this music is “classical” in the same manner as the music of Bach, Beethoven, Stravinsky, John Adams, etc. I expressed the opinion that this idea is absurd and not even worth a discussion (but that is just my opinion).

            Some comments on your arguments: My ears are also receptive to new sounds, and I have listened to a lot of modern classical music (or avant garde music or “sonic art”), as well as early music, but I always come back to Beethoven & Co. with a sensation of relief and well-being. As for pop or rock musicians composing classical music, I think that Frank Zappa succeeded in composing classical music in “The Perfect Stranger” (my memory of his “Yellow Shark” has vanished) but it was not especially original or of good quality (again, it is just my opinion). The simple use of a symphony orchestra does not make a pop song “classical music”, and I am not certain that it even improves the music, for example in the case of Sir Paul McCartney or Elvis Presley or Charlie Parker “with strings”. And I note also that Mr. Elliott’s idea is not quite original; Winton Marsalis for example called jazz the “American classical music”; why to name classical music at all?

    • JGardiner says:

      Making money allowed the man to make his art. REAL art, not just pop crap. It gave him freedom to “do his thing.” As “the hardest working man in show business,” Prince was like nothing the world has ever or will ever see again. History will prove that, like Shakespeare was the the Elizabethan and Jacobean era, Prince was “the soul of [this] age”. Not to put too fine a point on it, but, to not recognize or take seriously this man’s brilliance tells me that you have not adequately done your homework. Google what classical music critic, Alex Ross, had to say about Prince after his passing. They will be studying this genius’s art in universities all over the world one day. Mark my words. Learn from this man and you will be a better musician and appreciator or fine music for it. Nothing and no one compares to Prince Rogers Nelson.

  • Peter says:

    You can polish it as much as you want. Pop culture is about selling trivial stuff to the gullible masses. It’s absolutely fine and respectable to be a very talented eccentric entertainer and make a profession out of helping people having a bit of a good time.
    No need to loose perspective though.

    “…incorporated…” I rest my case.

    • me says:

      Prince’s music wasn’t about selling trivial stuff to gullible masses – what ignorance. He made music, lyrics and instrumental, and like Mozart people loved it and it lives on. When Doves Cry, Little Red Corvette, so many songs that moved people emotionally and physically. He came up with melodies, lyrics, instrumentation, and performed them all too. RIP

      • Peter says:

        We have no disagreement, except that “moving people emotionally” and inventing “melodies and stuff” is great, but that alone is not the definition of “classical” or, if you want, “high” art. Which doesn’t mean it is bad either. It is what it is. 😉

        To go back to the original premise. History is the only judge, what is classical and what not, in the sense of being of ‘timeless’ value. Not a lecturer in Sussex…

        • Maria Brewin says:

          “Richard Elliott, Lecturer in Popular Music at the University of Sussex”

          Well he would, wouldn’t he?

          Peter is right.

        • Ellingtonia says:

          Oh please, don’t give us the “high art” argument again, you are beginning to sound like Mr Bortslap. Who appointed you the designator of high art?
          I would be willing to bet that in 100 years time contemporary music by the Beatles, Beach Boys, Bruce Springsteen, Leonard Cohen, Joni Mitchell and even oddballs like Captain Beefheart will still be being played. Yes, a lot of popular music will fall by the wayside but equally, 90% of so called classical “high art” music will suffer the same fate.
          As regards timeless value, the stuff produced by Motown and Stax musicians in the 60s is still going strong and each new generation of music lovers embraces the timeless performances by the Four Tops,The Temptations, Smokey Robinson, Otis Redding and Aretha Franklin.
          Led Zeppelin have not made a record for god knows how many years but still have a massive following among both young and old.
          As Duke Ellington was want to comment “there are only two kinds of music, good and bad”………so go ahead and pick your own preferred genre of music but don’t come lording classical music over us as “high art” to the determent of all other forms of music.
          Personally, I am equally at home with Jenufa (my musical highlight of 2015 at Opera North) as I am with Smokestack Lightening, both staggering pieces of music that have the same visceral impact upon this listener.
          And just give a listen to Purple Rain by Prince, he encapsulated in three and a half minutes what Wagner struggled to do in five hours. And I speak from personal experience of sitting through Tristan and Isolde in Vienna.

          • Maria Brewin says:

            “he encapsulated in three and a half minutes what Wagner struggled to do in five hours”

            Which was?

            Are you going to explain, or just another throw-away comparison?

          • John Borstlap says:

            Isn’t there anybody around who can help mr/mrs Ellingtonia?

          • Allen says:

            “I would be willing to bet that in 100 years time contemporary music by the Beatles, Beach Boys, Bruce Springsteen, Leonard Cohen, Joni Mitchell and even oddballs like Captain Beefheart will still be being played.”

            Since nobody here can prove you wrong, I think you’re on pretty safe ground for the time being. Don’t stick your neck out.

            “Who appointed you the designator of high art?” Well everybody is entitled to his/her opinion on art regardless of what you think.

            I could ask: “Who gave you the right to police people’s opinions on this site?”.

          • Pianifortissimo says:

            For becoming a successful pop musician you mix sex, drugs, and big life style illusions; pack that “stuff” in trivial melodies, lyrics in very vulgar language, ready-make instrumentation, and narcissistic performance; hold some kind of guitar as if you are making love with it, but play it only to the extent you avoid appearing too ridiculous even for your fans; don’t forget to act outrageously wherever there are paparazzi around. If you can bear that you will live happy, but remember that if you die somewhat young it is very good for business: your canonization is immediate, people will compare you to Mozart, some of your 3-minute “hits” becomes suddenly a larger cultural capital than a Wagner opera, etc. And yes, I know, I’ve been quite insensitive just now.

          • Iain Muir says:

            “Prince, he encapsulated in three and a half minutes what Wagner struggled to do in five hours”

            Thanks Ellingtonia, now I can get the full Tristan experience while I boil an egg.

            Pity Prince didn’t take it one step further and do the Ring in 10 minutes. I could experience the full glory of Wagner’s masterpiece while having a shave and a shower.

            How do you feel about Shakespeare’s plays? Do they measure up to Holby City?

          • Ellingtonia says:

            Ms Brewin, listen and it will become clear, particularly if you haver any understanding of what music is designed to do (engage, stimulate, challenge, confuse at times, reflect society, love, sex………need I go on)……..can I suggest you try The Waterboys singing “The Whole of the Moon” for its elegance, sweep and musical grandeur, and all encompassed in just over 5 minutes.
            Mr Borstlap, I was hoping that someone could help you appreciate the different musical genres which have equal validity but are just different, however, you consider yourself the anointed one who will decide what art is, one has to admire your “chutzpa” (or arrogance as some may call it)
            Mr/Ms Allen, I am not policing peoples opinions, just challenging the usual elitist ‘high art” brigade.
            Perhaps the fact my teenage years were in the early 60s has an impact upon my musical views, as it was then when, as young people we discovered such a wide and differing range of music from blues, rock and roll, jazz, folk, classical, indian classical but what we didn’t do was say one was “better” than any other. In effect we were blank canvasses just waiting to be painted upon. Two of my greatest musical experiences were hearing The Four Tops in Manchester and hearing the Halle play Sibelius 2, equal but different!

          • Maria Brewin says:


            Goalposts moved yet again I see. No answer to my question about precisely what Tristan achieved, and how Prince emulated it in 3.5 minutes. Now you’ve moved on to The Waterboys rather swiftly.

            To claim that all music is of equal merit is just a cowardly, fence sitting cop out. How would that come about exactly? Richard Elliott, the lecturer, certainly doesn’t appear to think so – he has a dig at “cheesy” André Rieu. Doesn’t seem to think much of Justin Bieber either.

          • William Safford says:

            If you’re correct about:

            “And just give a listen to Purple Rain by Prince, he encapsulated in three and a half minutes what Wagner struggled to do in five hours.”

            then Prince almost outdid Anna Russell! When I heard her, she took something like 20 minutes to traverse the Ring!

          • Richard S says:

            OK, I can’t quite resist a small intervention here. You’ll find that I’m sympathetic to an extent to the anti-elitists, if you read my thoughts later in this string (I’m not suggesting you do read them, they’re not remotely profound and barely even register as interesting). But when you say Prince “encapsulated in three and a half minutes what Wagner struggled to do in five hours”, you do the anti-elitists a disservice. It is, as others have said, a meaningless statement. But it’s also worse than that. It completely undermines your own argument. You have made Wagner your yardstick, and Prince’s. The implicit message is that you want Prince’s music to be recognised as of equal value – or even to trump – Wagner’s. That is always the argument of the defensive, and it always works to the disadvantage of its promoter. Start from a different place: Prince’s music is wonderful in its own right. What Prince achieves in 3.5 minutes is worth celebrating (if you like it). Ignore Wagner until you want to celebrate Wagner.

            For what they’re worth, I have my own likes and dislikes. I’ve listened to Purple Rain on youtube to see what all the fuss is about. I’m still none the wiser. I’ve listened to Tristan and to the Ring Cycle a number of times over recent years. And I’m overwhelmed by its beauty, its power, its tenderness. I am astonished by its capacity to make me feel as though I have been turned inside out, muddied, dragged into the depths, scoured, cleansed, and left a different person in the space of a few hours. Not a better person, not a cleverer person, but different. But I’m not going to say Wagner is better than Prince. Because they should not be measured against the same yardstick. And ultimately they can only be judged on their own terms: how well have they achieved what they set out to achieve? Wagner’s ambition – a totally new art-form – was huge, megalomaniac perhaps. Did he succeed? Most people who know his operas would say yes. I can’t answer for Prince, but I presume his fans would say yes, too.

      • JGardiner says:

        Well said. Thank you!

  • Cubs Fan says:

    As one who has been immune to pop/rock music for his entire life, I simply cannot understand the stunning amount of press coverage the death of Prince has been given. It boggles my mind. I wouldn’t recognize a song of his. But this has happened many times before. The deaths of John Lennon, Elvis Presley and Michael Jackson provoked similar responses. In vain I would read newspapers or watch national news programs for someone to report the deaths of Georg Solti, Lorin Maazel, Nikolaus Harnoncourt – but alas, nothing. We live in an age of celebrity when pop culture has won the battle. Those of us who are classical listeners are in a very, very small minority and it is maddening how our musical heroes are never given their due.

  • William Safford says:

    To say that Prince was no classical musician* is no more insulting than to assert that Robert Frost was no novelist.

    Both were brilliant in other areas of endeavor.

    *I am not familiar with the term “black classical music tradition” as used in the article. If it is a definition separate from what we think of as “classical music,” then this discussion is moot.

    • Dominic Stafford Uglow says:

      Yes, it is. And all this thread has done is to enable a whole raft load of frustrated people to mouth off about how superior they feel. If they had bothered to read the original article, of course, they might have refrained from commenting, and would have seemed less pompous as a result.

      There’s no such thing as ‘classical’ music, of course. It’s a marketing construct, put in place so that ‘long form’ marketing can take place (you could read Lebrecht’s Death of Classical Music to get more info on this). It simply allows a group of intellectually insecure people to feel superior to others.

      Most great musicians don’t ‘classify’ music beyond it’s place in time, it’s mood and whether it’s good or bad. They just hear music, that’s all. Prince, Duke Ellington, Mozart, Miles Davis, Bill Evans. All music.

      Oh, and Whole of the Moon is a magnificent record. Sometimes a single song CAN contain a whole world of emotion. You should all try it.

      • Peter says:

        That’s absurd, since “classical” is exactly not a category defined for marketing, not withstanding that it today might be (ab-)used as such.
        And this:
        “[classical music]… simply allows a group of intellectually insecure people to feel superior to others.”
        says all about you. It’s called a straw man argument. Come back to the table, when you have something meaningful to say.

        Let’s not forget the original premise. A (intellectually insecure?) lecturer in pop music in Sussex getting confused what it’s all about.

        But, if – and that’s a big if – you want to use the classification system, go to the grey room with the many drawers, then you learn how to use it.

        I personally could care less what academics and entrepreneurs classify under which box. I have a developed and (hopefully still for a long time coming) developing mind for experiencing music and recognizing when something is “worth it”.

        • Dominic Stafford Uglow says:

          Oh, dear! Did that touch a nerve?! Classical music is a term that arrives with the record industry. It’s a marketing term and nothing more. Record companies realised, from the start, that they could sell records to a certain section of society on the basis that those records would make them feel superior to their neighbours. There’s no secret to this. Bernays and Packard bear this viewpoint out.

          Do not confuse the term Classical Music with music that comes from the era of Classicism (which is rather narrow – see previous comments).

          The great critic Walter Pater (in The Renaissance) was among the first to argue the intrinsic worth of a work of art to its beholder. You have no right to determine what has worth to others, and what does not, and what the nature and quality of that worth is, or not. The need to control others’ reactions to art is a form of intellectual insecurity. As the poet has it: ‘If swallow nest in your barn, be glad’.

          And whilst we are on the subject of intellectual security, one is reminded on the instruction at the top of every examination paper to ‘always read the rubric’. The academic at the University of Sussex was referring to wider threads of what he perceives as classical music, including Black Classical – which includes blues, soul and funk.

          In the words of the wonderful Prince: ‘Now run and tell yo mama ’bout that!’.

        • Rationalist says:

          Peter, do you hate academics, Sussex, or just academics from Sussex? You keep mentioning this man’s profession and institution as though it were an immediately damning fact about him, but, I swear to you, neither being from Sussex nor being an academic (nor even an academic from Sussex) is any kind of obvious fatal flaw outside of your own head.

          Now, let’s talk about this sentence: I have a developed and (hopefully still for a long time coming) developing mind for experiencing music and recognizing when something is “worth it”. Oh boy. That. Is. A. Mess. You’ve made your antipathy towards reasoning, questioning, and all of the other ways in which one actually improves oneself well-known. Are we to understand that your concept of developing oneself is to just sit in an armchair and listen to things one purchased and feel glorious about oneself? Or is there some sort of osmosis involved? And how did you select the very things that would “develop” you? Did the ghost of Arthur Schopenhauer reveal the Will Itself to you?

          A final word to you. I think you might be under the impression that “great artists” actually agree with whatever this jumble of contradictory opinions you hold is. I bet you’re one of those people who goes up to artists after a concert, at the donor’s wine and cheese, and says things like, “I own a version of this by Furtwangler on LP”. I’ll let you in on a little secret. Every single one of those artists is trying as hard as they can to not roll their eyes at you. Just long enough to get to the after-reception reception and laugh about it with colleagues. True story.

          • Dominic Stafford Uglow says:

            I’m reminded of a lovely story my father told me about Isaiah Berlin.

            In 1977, Covent Garden mounted a new production of Puccini’s La fanciulla del west. A controversial decision, as it was seen as an inferior work amongst Puccini’s catalogue and, in an era before ‘completism’, would generally have been ignored by a house like Covent Garden.

            But Domingo wanted to sing it and John Tooley, the General Director, and my parents went to a Sunday matinee performance in Turin to take a look at it. Lots of schoolchildren were present – in fact, they cheered so loudly when Carol Neblett whipped the winning card out of her knickers that they drowned out the music. So Fanciulla del West came to Covent Garden, and all the stops were pulled out.

            Ken Adam designed the set. Faggioni directed. The night was a roaring success.

            My father was standing with Tooley after the performance, when Sir Isaiah approached.

            ‘Congratulations, John!’, he cried, ‘You’ve succeeded in making the third rate second rate!’.

        • Rationalist says:

          Oh, yes, furthermore, the fallacy you accuse Dominic of committing is not called a Straw Man. It’s called an Ad Hominem. Your error notwithstanding, he has not committed any fallacy with what he said about intellectually insecurity people feeling superior at all, because what he said was put forth as a fresh claim in itself and not as any reason or evidence in direct support of any other claim that he made. If you wish to brush up on your informal fallacies (always a good idea), Rolf Dobelli has an excellent little book for beginners called The Art of Thinking.

          • Peter says:

            It’s a straw man, you are wrong.
            “a group of intellectually insecure people ” his words.
            It would be an ad hominem if my argument was such group existed.
            My argument was they don’t exist (in that context).
            Your moniker is pure irony, Irrationalist.

          • Rationalist says:

            No, Peter, that’s not what a Straw Man Fallacy means. It has nothing to do with the existence or non-existence of a referred-to object (though, in this case, that object DOES exist – you’re living, typing proof of it!). A Straw Man Fallacy is the refutation of what is presented as the opponent’s argument, when that argument was in fact never put forth by the opponent. You do it all the time.

          • Rationalist says:

            At best you might try accusing him of begging the question, but, really, you don’t have much ground for that either.

          • Rationalist says:

            (To be clear, I don’t believe Dominic committed any fallacies at all. And he expresses himself clearly, so it’s easy to tell.)

  • John Borstlap says:

    The only valid description of ‘classical music’ is the one which defines traditional art music, in the way as we distinguish ‘classical Indian music’ from pop music or Bollywood entertainment. Although including ‘entertaining’ elements, Western classical music is NOT entertainment as a genre. It is an art form. Pop music is not an art form, it is a cultural expression of the masses, nothing wrong with that, but art it is not and it has never been meant as art, whatever wrapping paper is applied to it.

    • Cubs Fan says:

      This debate about pop vs. art is impossible to settle. It is a very complex issue. I take issue with “classical music not entertainment”. Not in my view. For me, listening to a performance of any symphony by Mahler, Tchaikovsky, Beethoven, Kalinninkov and company is a thoroughly entertaining endeavor. Tosca and The Sleeping Beauty entertain me endlessly. Entertainment is in the ear of the beholder I suppose. It just takes better educated and trained ears maybe. I cannot appreciate anything of Rolling Stone, Prince, Michael Jackson…it’s just noise. But then to my kids, Bartok, Stravinsky, and Ligeti are impossible to comprehend.

      • Sue says:

        I think “entertainment” is a legitimate moniker to describe art music. If you contrast that word with other nouns like “work”, “relaxation”, “philosophy”, “contemplation”, “adventure”, “escapism”, “prayer”, “spiritualism”, “narrative” then you can see that it does apply because that expansive word also tells us what it is NOT. It is NOT exclusively any one of those other nouns!!

        Composers didn’t write music solely for “contemplation”, but you can sure “contemplate” and when you’re experiencing it. It always denotes another primary function. And ‘entertainment’ carries a distinguished history and paints with a broad brush. Perhaps that is why some people don’t like it.

    • Nick says:

      All forms of music are entertainment at one level or another. As for the distinction between classical and pop, a great deal of garbage is constantly being written. Classical music as we have come to call it must have seemed popular to composers in the Europe of the 18th and 19th centuries with audiences for much of their output spread all around the “vast” continent. Would they have called their music, popular? Serious? Classical? Today we know those audiences represented just a tiny fraction of the total population. In his day Mozart’s pornographic canons no doubt had a larger total audience than his operas. Are they therefore popular or classical? Is Paul McCartney, as suggested in a Guardian article some years ago, the Schubert of our day and will his songs remain as popular in 200 years time? Who knows, but I believe so.

      Then again, how many attending performances of Bach’s St. Matthew Passion in the 1720s would have any clue it would all but disappear for a century before eventually emerging as a universal “classic”? When I was at University our Professor wrote an article suggesting that serial music would soon become vastly more popular in its outreach and that even juke-boxes would be playing it by the turn of the century. He certainly got that wrong on both counts! How many of today’s youngsters even have a clue what a jukebox was, to say nothing of serial music? Which just goes to show that tastes are continually evolving and none of us a clue about what will be popular even in 50 years time.

      • John Borstlap says:

        Popularity is an ephemeral quality and dependent upon context…. The term ‘classical’ has only been used since the beginning of the 19th century when a canon of serious (art-) music was beginning to form, at a time when ‘old’ music began to be appreciated for its own value in the present, and a public concert life began to be developed: the beginning of our present classical music world. Certainly works like Bach’s The Art of Fugue, the Wohltemperierte Klavier, the Goldberg Variations, the Passions, the Cantatas, were meant as profoundly serious works, even when they sent listeners to sleep (in the Goldberg Variations, on purpose, since they were written for an insomniac count). Haydn wrote his works in the context of courtly entertainment but they were meant to be serious art, as ‘entertainment’ in those days was considered something serious, like the concept of ‘taste’. The meaning of those terms have changed during the 19th century and these concepts are still around. 20C and current entertainment has very different motivations, if compared with the 18th century.

        People who consider, for instance, Wagner’s operas as a form of entertainment (as can be read on this thread), obviously don’t hear the music but only the sound it makes.

  • Rationalist says:

    The question whether Prince is classical or not is a non-question, because the term “classical” is an ill-defined non-word thrown around by self-congratulating mean people to mark themselves off as “special”, on the basis of what music they purchase. That behaviour, ironically, has a great deal in common with that of the “masses” they so despise: perfectly ordinary teenagers also consume music in order to mark out their distinctiveness from others.

    Just live and let live, will you? Prince was obviously cherished and incredibly meaningful for many people, much in the same way the music you approve of is to others. Who is anyone to tell them otherwise?

    • Anon says:

      Ummm, no, the word ‘classical’ has a defined meaning. That you and quite a lot of others apparently have no clue, says much about you, and nothing about the attribute ‘classical’ when applied to the noun ‘art’.

      Oh dear, what a dull age we are heading into. A lot of over confident know-nothings who have nevertheless a huge opinion on about anything.

      • Rationalist says:

        Would you care to provide the necessary and sufficient conditions for the application of said term? For example, according to Plato’s Theatetus, the definition of “knowledge” is “justified true belief”. Can you provide a definition of “classical” that is up to even that standard (accounting for the difficulties with “knowledge” of Gettier cases, etc.)? No? Then, “classical” is what Gottlob Frege refers to as a “bearerless name”. Another example of such would be “unicorn”.

        What does all this say about me, oh judgmental one? I’d love to know just what it is you can glean about how much I do or do not know based on my views on how clear or useful a term “classical” is.

      • Rationalist says:

        Since you so value not being a “know-nothing”, let me also give you some friendly tips:

        You can’t “[have an] opinion on about anything”. Either (1) you have an opinion on x, or (2) you have an opinion about x. Either would do, but not both.

        “Overconfident” is one word, as in “Anon was overconfident and posted a poorly formulated comment, and is apparently oblivious of his/her weak reasoning skills and poor grasp of grammar”.

        I’m really not certain how to unpack the following: “That you and quite a lot of others apparently have no clue, says much about you, and nothing about the attribute ‘classical’ when applied to the noun ‘art’.” No clue about what? How can my “having no clue” about whatever it is I have no clue about say or not say anything about a matter of definition?

        Also, you do know that “art” doesn’t have an unproblematic definition either, right? There’s this whole philosophical discipline, called Aesthetics, which deals with that. It’s a truly problematic question. What is NOT controversial (outside of large-CD-collection-owning fandom), however, is the understanding that terms like “classical” are pretty much arbitrary. They mark arbitrary borders that are riddled with Sorites cases.

        Is the age seeming less dull for you now?

        • Lauren says:

          I, as a funk-rock guitarist and classical music lover would like to weigh in. Prince was a Pop Culture genius no question. He is and will continue to be a “classic” Pop Icon (“classic” meaning in this case all non-classical forms).

          Classical Music does, however, have a distinct meaning within the History of Western Music canon circa 1730-1820 (gave or take a decade either way). The First Viennese School (Haydn, Mozart, Schubert) typified a specific epoch and distinctive composition style that does exclude Prince from “Classical” composer status. I do realise that the term “classical’ is more broadly applied to all “Art Music.” In this application, I do not think any non-classical performer/composer can be considered classical music no matter how badly one tortures the term to fit the opinion.

          It does not make Prince less of an icon. I saw his Purple rain tour and have followed his entire career. Prince, The Beatles, and David Bowie have shaped popular culture since the 1960’s.

          All music, if well-written and performed, is a welcome sonic delight. I do ask you all to stop twisting and degrading the language though, re: Prince is a Classical Musician.

          RIP King David and The Purple Prince.

          • Rationalist says:

            I don’t disagree with you on this, Lauren, and I have absolutely no issues with the application of the label “classical” (Neoclassical, really, in contrast to Romantic, Baroque, or whatever) as a marker of periods in historical study. There the conditions for application are time-indexed and therefore relatively unproblematic. If something was written in 1790, and 1790 falls into the Neoclassic period, then that piece is Neoclassical.

            I only have reservations when there are attempts to make “classical” descriptive if some vague inherent essence or property. That’s just bad philosophy.

            In light of this, I maintain my original point: whether Prince was “classical” is a non-question. Obviously, he wasn’t Neoclassical, having been born over a century after the end of that era. He also wasn’t a Pilgrim.

        • Peter says:

          Nice diatribe, but you have misunderstood the question.

          “Classical” as in the arts and music has a bit of blurryness in its definition, but the very ONE common denominator of all definitions is what matters and what you fail to comprehend and got your pants in a twist: “Classical” always defines a CLOSED chapter in the history of art. Originally used to describe the ancient Greek period of art history, then later amended to describe several periods in art history, e.g. classical music.
          Prince – classifications of quality, genius or “value” not relevant in this context – can not be “classical”. And why, me wonders, is the authors proposition even an issue to begin with? Is it cultural penis envy?

          Thus the lecturer from Sussex is simply wrong.

          As far as pop…ular culture is concerned: It always existed. It always catered to the justified daily needs of the masses. It just never happened in the history of mankind, that such amounts of disposable income was given to the bigger shares of society, creating a humonguos market for the trivial and creating that false confidence you and the lecturer from Sussex (he by appointment even) by simple quantity.

          At the end of the day we might well realise, that all art is political, but let’s leave it at that.

          If Prince in 200 years is regarded a “classical” artist, who knows, I doubt it, but I’m at least knowledgeable and humble enough, to not even try such silly proactive revisionism.

          • Rationalist says:

            Peter, calling “past things” or “closed eras” classical is fine, if you wish, albeit lacking in theoretical usefulness, but that was NOT the discussion at hand because the original post was about whether Prince had some quality that made his music “classical”. I objected to that use of the term. If you wish to disagree with me, then at least get what I have said correct, and lose the red herrings.

          • Rationalist says:

            Besides, you obviously believe in something like an inherent “classical property” even if you say you don’t, because you’re constantly in arms against “the masses” and “their lowly common folk ways”. I don’t think you understand that not everyone outside of your beloved concert hall is a drooling moron who picks music based on capitalist conspiracy and cool outfits. It is ENTIRELY possible to have a true aesthetic experience (even that lifting or exalted kind you so value) with the objects of what you deem “popular” culture. I don’t personally listen to so-called popular music, if that makes you feel better, and my tastes actually lean towards things that you would actually approve of. But that doesn’t make me arrogant enough to think that my tastes are somehow anything more than just that – tastes. I’ve observed other people experiencing so-called popular music. It’s not at all different from how you and I relate to the things we like. It’s MEANINGFUL to them. It shakes their being. Who are we to tell them that their experience is trivial?

          • Peter says:

            Rationalist, in the spirit of your moniker: I do not care, as probably real artists never cared too much, in what actual spirit and with what kind of pragmatic business minded approach to the popular or not so popular tastes of their times musical creators created their “products”.

            There always have been many callings, why an artist does what he (or she) does, spiritual needs, primal sex drives, having learned nothing else and stuck with it, narcissism, a “higher calling”, putting some bread on the table, being bored and having nothing better to do… you name it. Bach, Mozart, Schubert… their body of work was left to us and thus the – always intersubjective – process of evaluation over times and here we are. There have been other very productive composers whose melodies where whistled more often in the streets than those of the above mentioned, quod erat demonstrandum…

            Now subjectively you and I can go on ad nausea, what is valuable and what not. At the end of the times, there is that intersubjective agreement, that ultimate test of something that “stands their time”, which makes something “classical” in the core meaning of that term. Of course it’s all arbitrary, or has it evolved “naturally”?

            To break with another frequently repeated myth of the copy and paste musicology generation: Bach was never forgotten for 100 years and then “rediscovered”. Mozart, Beethoven et al all knew their Bach very well. The misconception was, that another tradition started with that particular Bach revival around Mendelssohn’s activities to perform Bach’s masterpieces in Berlin in the 19th century: To regularly perform compositions that are not contemporary, but from the historic past… O course nobody better to stat with than Bach. But until then performing music of dead composers, was not common. And here we come full circle to the idea of something being “classical”. You have to be at least dead to be “classical”, and thus Prince has that box checked now. But there are others…

            I wish all of us a happy after life.

  • Music Lover says:

    If his music is still around and loved by the public two hundred years from now, then he is classical. Unfortunately none of us would be around to know the answer.

  • Brian B says:

    Elliott’s strained formulation is in itself pretentious. Pop music is fast food and bubble gum, and not meant to provide real nourishment.

  • urania says:

    I do not know who Prince was – never knew a song of him – just tonight I saw a short reportage about him and not even one note of his music did touch me or even made it to my higher sense of awarness.

  • Rationalist says:

    Peter, if everyone said the Earth was flat, would the Earth br flat? Intersubjectivity is never a good determinant of any matter. Rational investigation, however, is. These questions must be asked, because (you may not know this) their assumed, unexamined answers have real impacts on real lives, for example in the lives of the musicians in the classical music industry. Bad philosophy has a harmful effect on the way things are done. And that way has an impact on the quality of life the artists you so admire have. So, yes, these issues matter.

    • Peter says:

      You can’t compare the self evident nature of the physical world, the perception of which only depends on our methods, with the not self evident nature of the mental “gestalt” of art.
      There is a scientific method to find out about the material realities of our planet.
      There is no such method for the perceived qualities of art, since it is all perception, idea, projection, the only material evidence are ink dots on paper…

      • Rationalist says:

        Oh, so it’s all just a matter of opinion, right? Okay…well, opinion says, Prince is great music. You just handed victory to the “lowly masses”.

        • Peter says:

          No, it’s not opinion, you little pompous ankle biter, but you would need to know a bit more to understand what it is.

          • Dominic David Uglow says:

            I hate to tread on Rationalists toes; but, yes, it is an opinion. You need to go re-read your Socratic dialogues, Peter. It seems you don’t what an opinion is.

            There is a tremendous irony to your referring to the person who has bossed you around this board with some wit and grace as a ‘pompous ankle-biter’.

          • Rationalist says:

            I don’t disagree, Dominic, that particular aesthetic judgments are in fact a matter of opinion. In fact, I wholeheartedly agree with and endorse that view. The only thing I object to is group-consensus definitions of overarching philosophy. So, “x is art” as uttered by an individual is a perfectly wonderful utterance. “x,y, and z are the criteria for something being art”, as determined by referendum? Not a fan. Matters of philosophy should be determined philosophically, but matters of aesthetic judgment can (and should) be determined personally.

            See how easy that was, Peter? Dominic and I addressed a particular point, clarified it, and got a sense of each others’ positions relative the topic. Maybe we even have wildly opposing views on it, who knows? But we can have a good, rational discussion, until we reach either consensus or bedrock, and, in either case, the exercise will have been fruitful.

          • Rationalist says:

            Aha. Well, then, we are in perfect agreement, Dominic, on both counts. 🙂

            BTW, I wasn’t aware of the book by Walter Pater and really look forward to reading it! I did my undergraduate thesis on the nature of aesthetic judgment and would very much have appreciated that source at the time. It’s a curious lacuna, actually, in the broader landscape of aesthetics. There is so much hands-wringing about how to define the art-object, not many people think to make the Copernican turn, and to offer a definition from the art-beholder side – a move that immediately dispenses with countless minefields. Is there any other literature from this angle that you might recommend?

        • Rationalist says:

          Wow, you’re getting rattled, aren’t you? Have any more playground insults for me? I mean, seriously, Peter, it’s just a discussion on the term “classical” – it’s really interesting and could potentially have been useful if you weren’t so committed to your elitism. But, really, it doesn’t merit giving yourself a stroke.

          • Dominic Stafford Law says:

            Actually my position is much closer to yours than you realise, Rationalist.

            My point was not that an aesthetic judgement on music is not an opinion. It is, of a sort (but that’s another discussion, in and of itself). It’s Peter’s use of the terms ‘opinion’ and ‘knowledge’. If someone agrees with him, it’s knowledge. If someone disagrees with him, it’s opinion.

          • Dominic Stafford Uglow says:

            I came to Pater through an odd route; but he served as a wonderful hub to any number of other writers. I’d been reading Beerbohm and Wilde on masks, and got to Pater through them (Pater taught Wilde at Oxford).

            I greatly admire Pater’s overt sensualism, and his determination to make his life a continual immolation of self in experience (pretentious, moi?). ‘To burn always with this hard, gemlike flame’, he wrote, ‘to maintain this ecstasy, is success in life’. This is the subject of the Conclusion to The Renaissance, and it’s thrilling.

            Interestingly, he starts to reference the passing of time, our perception of it, which led me to Bergmann, Russell and any number of others – and then to Eliot’s poetry.

            He is concerned with the authenticity of experience, which led me to Sartre, Beckett et al.

            He had his disciples; but he was not part of a school. I think he simply said what he felt needed to be said (that art needed to pull itself away from the formal ‘schools’ of art and just get on with it, as did we – the audience). And, of course, he is immensely important for C20th painting, as a result!

          • Rationalist says:

            I love it. Really looking forward to some great reading!

  • Dominic Stafford Uglow says:

    I would like to that Rationalist for the colossal bitchslaps he has administered here today. Bravo!

    • Rationalist says:

      Why, thank you very much Dominic, and thank you for keeping the torch going so effectively while I took my kid to the dentist. I was worried Peter might mistakenly deduce that he’d manage to argue convincingly for something.

  • Nick says:

    In response to Peter’s specific remarks above in which he makes a seeming reference to my comment about Bach –

    “Bach was never forgotten for 100 years and then “rediscovered”. Mozart, Beethoven et al all knew their Bach very well.”

    Of course they did! I certainly never said they did not. My specific point concerned the St. Matthew Passion (and incidentally to the B minor Mass). I have no reference to its being performed after Bach’s death until its much later performances by Mendelssohn – other than specifically in Leipzig. Mozart certainly visited the Thomaskirche and gave a concert at the Gewandhaus but there is no record on his two brief visits of his having heard any major choral concerts there. So the possibility that he had heard the Passion or seen a score is surely remote.

  • GricianUrn says:

    I find this need to call people who like pop music vicious ugly names very defensive and childish and the antithesis of the mindset necessary to be any kind of artist. It is cheap undiscerning philistinism. It’s not the 18th century anymore. We have to go forward with new tools and new paradigms. To be sure there is a lot of drivel in pop, but that wasn’t Prince. The man had obviously studied every kind of music backwards and forwards, his compositions were always inventive, complex yet precise, he had a virtuoso’s command of several instruments. He did this consistently for 40 years. Give the man the respect he is due. I don’t listen to a lot of pop music but I always had time for whatever Prince was up to. His work had a trajectory. Who knows what is in his vault of thousands of unreleased songs? He wasn’t trapped by boundaries like you lot and I don’t want to be trapped by you lot either. I’m not sure you actually like Music at all. You sound like parodies of what people think classical music lovers are like and you embarrass me.

    Don’t agree with me? Well the classical world doesn’t necessarily agree with you either if this review in the NYT from yesterday counts for anything:

    “Ludwig van Beethoven and Alberto Ginastera are the composers at the heart of Trinity Wall Street’s 15-concert festival, Revolutionaries. But Thursday’s lunchtime performance at Trinity Church inadvertently became a tribute to another musician who shook up conventions: Prince.

    The conductor Julian Wachner announced that musician’s death at midpoint in the program, after a psychedelic rendition of Ginastera’s outlandish “Cantata Bomarzo” (Op. 32). Noting the respect that Prince commanded in classical music circles, Mr. Wachner announced that the musicians, who included the Choir of Trinity Wall Street, the instrumental ensemble Novus NY and the baritone Christopher Dylan Herbert, were dedicating their ensuing performance of Fauré’s Requiem to his memory.”

  • Alvaro says:

    One has to be deeply submerged in their own SH… to not realize what happens here:

    WHY ON EARTH would a symphony play movie scores, play beatles shows, cirque du solei shows, etc??? To save the art? To further classical music?


    Right now the community as a whole (Labels, Orchestras, PAC’s, etc) are SO desperate to attract anything, they will call BEYONCE a classical artist. They’ll call their dogs classical artists if it sells them 5 more seats, and 3 more albums. Right now the genre is in effect dead. DEAD.

    Nielsen claiming Elvis is a classical artist, the same push comes to make the Beatles classical artists. Its not a philosophical argument, its an economic one.

    Its very simple and it goes like this: Pretty much everything every dead classical composer has written has been recorded, and the new stuff coming from modern ones is so bizarre not even their family members would buy that stuff (Yes Borstlap, I am talking to you) – the degree of interest in the typical “warhorses” (Beethoven, Mozart) is nowadays NOT ENOUGH to warrant X orchestra to exist, so we need to expand the offer.

    What to do? RAP = Classical Music, 2 Cellos = Classical Music, Piano Guys = Classical Music, A dog hauling in youtube = Classical Music……as long as there’s a cello or a violin involved, it is classical music.

    Therefore. Prince dies, we claim it is classical music, we do an orchestral or ‘classical version’ of his stuff and what do we get? BUTTS IN SEATS! we end the year in the black, and another orchestra beats bankruptcy by 1/2 an inch. Until the next pop artist dies.

    Here’s news: When Jagger dies, they will say ROLLING STONES = CLASSICAL MUSIC, etc, etc, etc.

    Classical Music is not a type of music in itself anymore, its what certain instruments play. Its a ‘style’, not a genre.

    Welcome to the 21st century.

    • Rationalist says:

      Alvaro, are you the new Peter? You make me tired. *Sigh.

      • Alvaro says:

        “You make me tired” wonderful, well thought argument.

        • Rationalist says:

          Alvaro, must I demolish you too? I already spent maybe a whole hour of my life shooting down Peter’s gibberish. I’ve had a long day, otherwise, and have a real, actual life that I don’t want to neglect for a sequel. You could just refer to everything said above and save everyone time. If that’s too hard for you, though, let me put my kid to bed and I’ll turn my attention to your rabid rant.

    • Rationalist says:

      It’s true: this industry (orchestra boards, managements, record companies) do often unnecessarily pander to a particular demographic group, because they’re afraid of what their loss would do to the economics of the business. I like to call that demographic group the “hateful elitists” (that’s you, Alvaro, in case that wasn’t clear). For decades, hateful elitists have stalled the progress of this industry, given it an air of ridiculousness, and generally ensured that even people who love the very same music often stay away from concert halls because, well, they just cannot bear your company. Most artists truly cannot bear your company. The boards, managements, and record people also mostly cannot bear your company. (All of these claims, by the way, I base on empirical observation.) But everyone just sort of grits their teeth and gets on with it, because historical accident made hateful elitists a sort of integral target demographic, and, somewhere along the way, everyone started believing that “hateful elitist” is a perpetually renewable resource, and therefore necessary for the industry’s economic survival. Doesn’t mean anyone likes this situation. Stop being a hateful elitist, Alvaro. You’re hurting the very music you claim to protect.

    • John Borstlap says:

      “Its very simple and it goes like this: Pretty much everything every dead classical composer has written has been recorded, and the new stuff coming from modern ones is so bizarre not even their family members would buy that stuff (Yes Borstlap, I am talking to you) – the degree of interest in the typical “warhorses” (Beethoven, Mozart) is nowadays NOT ENOUGH to warrant X orchestra to exist, so we need to expand the offer.”

      Classical music – as a serious form of high art, even if it is including ´entertaining elements´ – has always been a minority taste, i.e. the taste of an understanding elite, also when lots of people attended concerts who had not the slightest idea what was going-on (one is reminded of Debussy´s complaints about audiences´ tastes). The status of classical music has been very high, in spite of its small scale. In the world after WW II, abundance of money, leftist politics, democratic ideals to open-up the high art salon to anybody with an interest, an avelanche of publications, extrended academic activities, and last but not least the immense increase of media channels and recording possibilities, did greatly increase the size of the classical music world and the number of interested music lovers. Nowadays, with the increase of populism, the erosion of education and civilization, rampant materialism which does not know value but only price, and the new media which offer opportunities to voices from the masses formerly silent and ashamed, leads to a process of shrinking of the classical performance practice and diminishing audiences. It looks as if it will return to the elitist scale it once was…. and if, in some unfathomable future, there will be some cultural anthropologists around wondering why a civilization wanted to kill-off their own culture, they may find Alvaro´s heartfelt and explanatory comment.

      (Addendum by Mr B´s PA: It should be known that Mr B´s works are very popular with his family members who buy anything either recorded or published, even the grandchildren are forced, under the threat of violence if needed, to play his keyboard pieces including the notorious Inventions for 3 hands, and when there is one of these parties here at the estate, the house sounds like the Moskow conservatory – loud piano, violin, trumpet and bass clarinet sounds all around which drives the staff crazy…. For that matter, I would have preferred our boss to write atonal serialism, which would keep all those disruptions at bay. / Sally)

      • Rationalist says:

        Mr Borstlap,
        Your music is, in my opinion, excellent. It’s beautiful, sensitive, and clever, and I enjoyed listening to it just now. And I’m not, as far as I know, related to you.
        While I don’t share your views on the state of cultural affairs (see, Alvaro? adults can disagree on something without becoming belligerent), I do appreciate that you have humour concerning the matter. That’s always an important dimension to evolving and progressing thought.
        Good luck to you.

  • MaYouMe says:

    I dont know the answer to the Q… but I do have this other Q, did/could Prince do classical music? And the closest answer I found online was this

    LISA COLEMAN: We used to spend hours and hours playing records for each other. Even classical music. Prince hadn’t really been exposed to it. I remember one time I was living with his girlfriend Kim Upsher in Crystal. He came knocking at the door: “Have you ever heard this?” It was [Ravel’s] “Bolero” — he’d just seen the movie “10.”

    • GricianUrn says:

      To be fair, he worked with Lisa Coleman in the early 80s when he was in his 20s. You can’t blame him for having parents who trained him up in jazz. It’s really sweet that he liked ‘Bolero’ on his own. Nobody told him that it was IMPORTANT or THIS IS PART OF THE CANON SO YOU MUST KNOW IT. He had good instincts. I don’t know much about his relationship with classical music other than that he mentioned Mahler in a few song lyrics, in particular Mahler’s 3rd. I just think that there are good reasons musicians of all stripes admired and respected him.

      • Dominic Stafford Uglow says:

        Well said, Grician. Prince’s father was a pretty well-known jazz musician, and that was his training; but to think that, quite early in his career, he did not have extensive knowledge of ‘classical’ music is to not have ears. The man was exceptional, end of, and music as a whole is the poorer for his passing.

  • Alvaro says:

    That’s the best you can do? a poorly written red herring harangue?
    Let me pinpoint reality for you here, as this is a true story. A couple of months ago I met a non-musician friend who stated she loved ‘classical music’. She’s from India, so I assumed it was indian classical but she said no, western. I asked: “SO, do you like Beethoven? Bach?” Her response was: “Whats that?”. Upon requesting to tell me what she meant by classical music, she showed me her “classical music for studying” playlist in Spotify: 2 Cellos, Piano Guys, Lindsey Sterling, David Garrett. She thought Mozart was a chocolate.

    Now, please elaborate on how I am killing classical music and the labels who call “classical” just about anything that can utter a sound, and the orchestras that will present “Prince at the Symphony” are not.

    As for Hateful Elitists, if you deign to open a book, you’ll realize that 99% of music was directly influenced by the high elites, of which I am not – yet – part of. It was and should always be an exclusive/elitist endeavor.

    Again, the only reason these organizations want to make the “music for all” discourse is economic, not artistic or philosophic. Already youtube has a collection of the best performances and recordings in history, most of these institutions are redundant and wish to just about make music a standardized flow in order to, guess what, HAVE MORE PEOPLE BUY/CONSUME!

    If the goal is to pay salaries to musicians with university degrees, then it is much more efficient to produce pop-like music than to keep the standards high. Its much easier to cash out on Chipotle or McDonalds than to make money in a high 3 Michelin star restaurant. This is not my opinion, but that of Mario Vargas Llosa (Nobel Prize in Literature, if you didn’t know), Ferran Adria, and many other men of culture. When you win a Nobel, perhaps you’d dispute that.

    I have no problem with popular music, and I guarantee I know/hear much more popular music than you’ll ever listen in your lifetime. I just wouldn’t call it Classical, that’s it.

    As for rebuking my argument, how about you begin by making one that makes sense? Baby steps…you know?

    • Rationalist says:

      Also, it’s a bit ironic for someone whose sentences are mostly incomplete to accuse anyone of writing poorly.

    • GricianUrn says:

      I really can’t believe someone with such an obvious high regard for themselves would make the schoolboy mistake of assuming that how a non-musician neophyte from a non-western culture listens to western classical music would be how a professional musician highly trained in another genre would listen to classical music.

  • Rationalist says:

    Alvaro, if you would care to actually read everything that came above, you would know that I think the term “classical” is a useless non-word that causes unnecessary confusion, a lot of tiresome bayonet-wielding, and, in the end, doesn’t help accomplish anything. So jumping up and down and lamenting that your poor friend didn’t call the “correct” thing “classical” does not, in fact, make panic and cry, “oh, whatever shall we do?”

    I tried to explain to you that, if you wish to see particular pieces or composers continue to be performed (which seems to be the main concern, based on that muddled thing you posted before), then perhaps you shouldn’t be such a mean horror, so that, perhaps, the people who also love this music but not the setting in which it’s presented (i.e. having to sit next to you) may perhaps start also coming to concerts, thus ensuring the continued performance of the pieces and composers you love. Because, yes, there IS an economic dimension to this. What is the alternative? Take everyone’s aesthetic agency away and force them to listen to Beethoven?

    Furthermore, that NYT article that so angered you said absolutely nothing about replacing Beethoven with Prince. It merely said that a performance of Faure’s requiem (surely you approve of that one) was dedicated to his memory. I can’t even conceive of a way in which that’s harmful to the industry. I can, however, think of countless ways your rants can be.

    Nobel-Prize winners can also hold mistaken opinions, btw, if, in fact, this particular one holds the same view as yours. To think otherwise is an instance of Genetic Fallacy (the famous man said so, therefore it must be true!”).

    I’m not sure what you’re getting at with your comment about standards, but it seems that you’re accusing the industry of producing worse musicians because, what, a few orchestras programmed some Pops concerts? I’m actually of the opinion that the quality of work currently being done is absolutely amazing. I would argue that, in many ways, the standards have steadily risen while your sort have been going around screaming “cultural ruin!”.

    • Saxon Broken says:

      Rationalist, you claim that the phrase “classical” music has no meaning. In which case, what collective phrase would you use to describe the music of Mozart, Beethoven, Schumann, Brahms, Bruckner, Mahler and Shostakovich. We (well, me anyway) recognise it is written in a particular tradition, and that, say, Count Basie and the Beatles are not in that tradition, so what word should we use to describe this musical tradition?

  • Rationalist says:

    Saxon Broken:
    Why do we need a collective phrase at all? There’s really nothing useful in having one, other than in the filing of sheet music and CDs for easy access. By all means, go ahead and do that kind of sorting, if you wish, but the usefulness of making “classical” a descriptive category (in a sort of pseudo-ontological sense) is non-existent. The task of doing so is riddled with problems. And, even once you arrive at some sort of unsatisfactory solution, its application generates all sorts of undesirable consequences, such as giving people like Peter and Alvaro the insane idea that they’re superior to others.

    Here are some of the simplest questions that pop up when you try to impose “classical” as a “collective phrase”. Where would you like to draw the borders? What conditions would you like to use for drawing those borders? Is it something like, “elite art music”? Okay, in that case, does that mean Mozart’s Requiem counts but not the Magic Flute, which was intended as a popular work? Or is the Requiem technically a religious work and so not classical, because its function was originally religious and not as an art-object? Does that invalidate all so-called “court music” like Haydn? Is the condition “dead and not forgotten”? If so, does that mean that the showpieces of Pablo Sarasate (basically the 19th century’s version of Steve Vai or Yngwie Malmsteen) are squarely “classical”, while the music of Vasks or Penderecki is not? I mean, Sarasate is still played a lot. A lot more than, say, the violin sonata of Guillaume Lekeu, whose only crime was to die young. Does that mean there are degrees of “classicness”, based on how remembered a composer is? Is there a rating scale for that? Is Gershwin classical? Or is it jazz? I mean, he wrote concertos, but drew from jazz influences. Furthermore, Gershwin has way more in common with jazz than Mozart has with Shostakovich. Is Xenakis classical? He’s dead and kind of remembered, while Lachenmann is alive and kind of known, but both are kind of “brainy”. Does that fact make them more or less classical than Sarasate? All of this barely even scratches the surface of how problematic it is to impose “classical” as an ontological category.

    Now, in light of these problems, what exactly is to be gained from having the label at all? Is it for the wonderful benefit of having an “us and them” mentality? An easy way to mark ourselves off from the pop-consuming masses? Nothing is simple like that. Those who are vehemently committed to the “classical” label are often drawn to it because they want the intellectually easy way out. They want to not have to think about complex, varied, and uncomfortable things, but they still want to have a reason to insist that they’re into what’s “hard”. So they say that listening to Mozart is hard, that they’ve achieved it, that they’re therefore better than others, and then they pat themselves on the back. But it’s not at all hard to listen to Mozart. Any harder than it is to listen to Prince.

    BEING Mozart is hard. But, then again, so is being Prince. As is being Shostakovich. Or being Ligeti. And it’s hard in EACH AND EVERY CASE in its own unique, particular, and idiosyncratic way.

    • Richard S says:

      I read this after posting my comment. I should have read it first, to save myself the trouble. I agree with every word. With the possible exception of “ontological”, which I think is perhaps not quite properly used. 🙂

      • Rationalist says:

        I say “ontological” (and I qualified with “pseudo”, but perhaps quotes would have been preferable) because those who push for the label “classical” seem to want for it the same statis as “red” or “chair”. I obviously don’t think it should be such a category. 😉

        Glad we cleared it up!

        • Rationalist says:

          Err, statUs (stupid phone keyboard).

          • Richard S says:

            Yes, it was the second use of ontological (pseudo-less) to which I was referring. But I quite see your point and that you distance yourself from such categorisation. And if you posted your earlier posts from a phone keyboard, I can only say you must either be a Master of Prestidigitation, or have the Patience of Job.

          • Rationalist says:

            Hahaha, thank you Richard. I travel a lot, and phones are lighter than computers, so I guess it’s just practise. 😉

    • Stefan Solyom says:

      Well, Rationalist, it seems you won the internet today. I tip my proverbial hat.

  • Fede says:

    Somebody drinks hatorade…the talent of prince is beyond your understanding…soon his last concerts on piano will be released and even though he doesnt play a classical piece you will realizar he definately studied classical music and was an elementos he often used in his music.Prince trascended music genres anybody labeling him as a rock funk pop star is damn wrong

  • Richard S says:

    I’m sorry he died young. But I don’t listen to him, never have, and don’t care whether his music is given a tag which includes the word “classical”, or not. All western pop and rock is in a direct line of descent from what we think of as classical music, anyway, in so far as it’s based on chord sequences which were originally developed within that tradition. Much of it may seem a terribly watered down and inspid version to those of us who like to drink our whisky neat. But music in the western world has served one or both of two purposes (at least until the 20thC): to give praise to God, or to give pleasure to ear and mind. I don’t know about the former, but pop and rock has done plenty of the latter for plenty of people. Arguing over the validity of a label – particularly when, as with “classical”, the label is highly unsatisfactory anyway – seems fatuous. Enjoy what you enjoy, label it as you will, and let others do likewise.

    • Rationalist says:

      Richard, I don’t think we’re basically in disagreement about the specific issue at hand. (The “watered-down” comment is a discussion for another thread.) What I wrote was in response to a question above. We clearly share distaste for the same thing, so I’m not sure why you’re aiming what seems like hostility my way. Regardless, you’re right: this labelling business is silly and counter-productive.

      • Richard S says:

        Absolutely no hostility aimed your way. I’m not sure why you think so. On the contrary, my reply to you in the separate thread further up was by way of saying that had I read your post first, I would not have bothered to write mine. Because you had said it all already.

        • Rationalist says:

          Yes, I posted this before I saw that. I think that may be a sign this thread has gotten a bit too voluminous, since the chronology is becoming difficulty to follow. 😉

  • Vashta Nerada says:

    Was Mozart popular?

  • michael says:

    ludwig & Mozart where producers, they painted with the available textures. prince did exactly the same thing 300 years later.

    all the same.

  • Jeffrey P. Colin says:

    As a published writer, visual artist, and multi-disciplined creative explorer, the arguments here can’t be taken seriously. If one wishes to compare Pirandello and Joseph Wambaugh as examples “classic literature,” then one likely wears a big foam hand with the motto “We’re number one!” on it. What is seen here doesn’t even rise to that pathetic standard. The arguments here are via a group of people with few, if any, experiences in creating art. “High Art” is a term used only by the uninitiated to creation. Many many years after his first compositions, Philip Glass is now considered a giant of “Contemporary Classical” music. I have discussed Philip Glass with a station director of one of the USA’s premier classical music stations in Los Angeles, and there is consensus among classical music enthusiasts. Yet, “critics” much like the voices here, panned Glass for decades before his rise to “success.”

    Whether or not Prince is “Classical” is not for any of the twits above to decide. Just as literature survives only via the love of the individual writers that produce it and fans that love it, music is judged as a personal choice, and the opinions of any “critics” are less valuable than used toilet paper, in a historical context. Prince was what he was. In a broader sense, there is no objectivity sufficient to determine whether Prince was “Classical” or not. Honestly, who cares? The distinction, as is apparent here, is solely the realm of those lost in mental masturbation – those that argue over what “Mr. Spock” meant via every single burp and raised eyebrow in Star Trek episodes. Such people live in a kingdom of pathetic wonder – overseen by a group of pseudo-intellectual barbarians vying to be king of empires they can’t understand.

    This is the kind of unproductive nonsense that urges on the anti-intellectual slant of countries like the USA. A poorly educated population, at best, inspires half-wits to proclaim themselves “experts” after watching a few YouTube videos on any given subject. The ensuing discussions among the ranks of such individuals is worthy of being flushed to a cesspool. It’s not the lack of formal training or general education that is the problem. It has a lot more to do with the complete inability to manipulate facts, and draw conclusions. The logical syllogism is a cast-out “evil” among such people. Yelling the loudest and being the most aggressive is the stuff of “great minds” here.

    Those of us that actually create music, literature, visual art, performance, etc, can’t help but see such “debates” as contemptuous and arrogant garbage. It fills our society with the stench of ignorance, and a flood of stifling vulgarity. Please give up the argument over whether or not Prince was “Classical.” The person writing the article makes some very strong arguments in favor of his assertions; but it will NEVER be anything more than opinion. There are no durable objective standards for assessing such designations. And as for the “High Art” argument, the advice here is to NEVER use that term unless “God” himself has enshrined some work in it in a worldwide demonstration of power. The use of the term indicates an ignorant snobbery that is only fittingly used by an epic “Dunsel;” one so coarse as to fail to realize how utterly unintelligent they are. If you are moved to argue over Prince’s “Classical” or “Pop” status in print or out loud, please don’t. Just be quiet, and crawl back into your box.

    (I NEVER view follow-up posts. Honestly, I don’t care. I only contribute when I believe that the contributors are so vacuous as to demand sarcastic castigation. The people here are, at best, morons. Their opinions of my assertions are less valuable to me than the dead insects I often must scrape off my car’s windshield after a long drive. It would be nice if people making comments were vetted for some understanding of the subjects they comment on. But if they were, most blog and website comment sections would be empty.)