This is a question any true Classical-music lover has to ask, confronted by the barrage of plastic-y noise that emanates from the world around them. I’m not saying I never like or listen to plastic-y pop music, or similar-sounding Christian worship songs; occasionally I do. But it’s like fast-food, or the fast-food-esque novels I talked about a while back, it’s not truly filling and nourishing.
Yet, in amidst great sadness at the current state of ‘music’, there are things that a true Classical-music lover can appreciate, undoubtedly, and this post is a brief tribute to a few of those. Even in that plastic world of modern pop music that has evolved over the last half decade, there are artists (yes, real artists!) who are worthy of some respect, and whose music-making catches my ear and makes me pause and listen again and again and again. So, for a strange combination. The contemporary that immediately springs to my mind is Adele. Her voice is just incredible! In other ages, I imagine she could have sung operas by Mozart or Verdi with all that colour and passion. Yes, the lyrics of her songs are banal, like almost all modern pop music; but the tone of her voice is just stupendous! How can you not stop and marvel at this: Adele ‘Hello’
But, to move to artists that combine vocal beauty, harmonic beauty, and poetic lyrics, Simon and Garfunkel are the only artists where I really admire almost all of the pieces they’ve written and can spend hours flitting from one small masterpiece to another. Modern music tends to lack depth: endless songs about love that sounds more like lust or infatuation; depictions of mindless and ugly activities and lifestyles; the utterly banal. Dare I say it, too much music has been written about romantic love over the centuries (and yes, I am very much in love and loved, so this feelings stems from no dismissal of romantic love!), but if it must be done, let it be done beautifully: Simon and Garfunkel ‘For Emily’. Better still, let there be more reflective music on other themes: Simon and Garfunkel ‘Flowers never bend’ ; Simon and Garfunkel ‘The Boxer’ Where has music as great as this gone? Certainly out of the mainstream.
Even in modern Classical music, so much written is like The Emperor’s New Clothes. The relentless drive for innovation has ruined Classical music over the last century. The wine of every novelty has been drunk down to the dregs, and innovation for its own sake has unsurprisingly turned up little real genius. Perhaps it’s laziness. Much harder to write like Palestrina, Pergolesi, Bach, Faure, then to produce the chaotic or simplistic noise that characterises much modern Classical music. Why not return to the true Classics, draw on what makes them so great, and distill from them new works of real beauty, complexity and depth, which are not trying to be ‘original’ or ‘different’, but simply to speak through the voice of beauty some reflections on this tapestry of mortal life?
But, again, there are still some gems to be found. And the name that springs to mind in this case is Eric Whitacre. I don’t think the beauty or genius of works like this can be denied: Eric Whitacre ‘Sleep’; Eric Whitacre ‘When David Heard’. Seven-hundred years ago, he would have been a worthy peer to Perotin. In what he does today, likewise he bends, twists and molds harmonies in ways that make a kaleidoscope of colours twist before my eyes.
And so, the unlikely combination: Adele; Simon and Garfunkel; Eric Whitacre. All rare gems amid the desert of modern music!