crazygringo 2 months ago

> It was not always this way. Once, classical music was the backbone of American popular entertainment. Enrico Caruso’s rendition of the aria “Vesti la giubba” from the opera Pagliacci was the first record to sell a million copies. Looney Tunes lampooned The Barber of Seville’s “Largo al factotum,"...

This is changing the goalposts. The article talks about "serious" classical music associated with evil characters... then uses two light-hearted comic operas as a counterpoint? Sure, technically both classical, but as far away from each other as you could get.

Look, this isn't mysterious. Rich people are associated with evil in films, and their stereotypical "too-good" pursuits -- mansions, opera halls, tuxedos, and yes, classical music.

> Maybe millennials are repelled by classical music not for coherent reasons but by a vague sense of mistrust, nourished for decades by movies and media.

This is ridiculous for a million reasons. It's simple, and I say this as someone who has studied classical music for many years (including conducting): classical music isn't that much fun, compared to so many other options today. The kind of people who like classical music are the kind of people who enjoy watching documentaries or reading Shakespeare. It's high-effort, high-reward for a particular kind of person.

  • balabaster 2 months ago

    > Maybe millennials are repelled by classical music not for coherent reasons but by a vague sense of mistrust, nourished for decades by movies and media.

    Growing up where I grew up, Country music had a terrible reputation for no other reason than my friends hated it. Their friends hated it. Everyone I was surrounded by hated it... therefore, I hated it. If everyone I knew thought it sucked, it must suck.

    A few years back, I decided that it was time to stop with this nonsense and started exploring Country music on my own, figuring out what I liked and appreciated, figuring out what I wasn't really that fond of. I discovered that there was a ton of country music I really like. I discovered a whole genre of music I'd written off just because my peers had written it off.

    Unfortunately we suffer many cultural biases like this that until we wake up one morning and realize that we have our own brains and are entitled to our own opinions instead of those of everyone around us, continue to propagate.

    If millennials are repelled by classical music, given my own experience, it's likely through no other reason than their friends, friends friends and friends friends friends have decided that classical music sucks.

    It probably has nothing to do with distrust bred from movies and media, it most likely has more to do with the fact that classical music isn't easily accessible, it's not popular, they can't relate to it like they can to pop music which not only tells a story they can identify with, but it's popular with all their friends and thus gives them a vehicle for social acceptance.

    I grew up with classical music - and there's still a lot I haven't heard precisely because it is so inaccessible. I will agree that it's high effort... I would say that the reward often isn't comparable to the effort required to listen to it.

    • asark 2 months ago

      There's a strong country & western strain running through "indie" music, and a ton of influence and presence in what pop music nerds consider the canon of 20th and 21st century popular music and popular genres. Ask your local Millennial vinyl-head wearing skinny jeans and expensive workboots what they think of country and you might get more nuance and appreciation than you expect.

      Stereotypical pop-country that's largely novelty tracks, corny relationship songs, and trucks & dogs, and that're the bread & butter of most country radio stations, though, not so much. Most surf-rockers aren't thought of too fondly, either, outside a very narrow scene—they're not all the Beach Boys.

      • balabaster 2 months ago

        This makes some assumptions about the country you grew up in. I don't know too many people in the UK where I grew up that could give me any nuanced discussion about country music like they could almost any other genre.

        • asark 2 months ago

          Ha! Good point. Sorry, when I think of anyone having any opinion on country and the topic coming up in conversation my mind went straight to the US, but of course it's huge all over the place so that was dumb.

          I do agree that knee-jerk dislike of country may be rooted in ignorance—but as far as social influence, I'd class that as being good at determining which bad music people like (I like plenty, and it's mostly for those reasons) or dislike, and the country on the radio in the US is, for the most part, firmly of the "you'll only like it if it's part of your scene" sort, so people with a blanket "I don't like country" opinion have very likely only been exposed to the equivalent of its Tenacious D or, at best, Styx (to expose some of my own sub-par likes). It's not their fault they assumed the genre was putting its best foot forward.

          And hey, Elton John made Tumbleweed Connection, so there's that. :-)

    • naravara 2 months ago

      Are millennials “repelled” by classical music? Is there any evidence for this claim that couldn’t be explained by just not having the money to buy tickets? As a millennial, I don’t know any of my peers who have negative options of classical music. At most, they’re indifferent.

      Villains having classical soundtracks around them is a trope that goes back to shitty ‘80s action movies too, so this is hardly a millennial thing.

      • balabaster 2 months ago

        I wouldn't go as far as to say they are repelled by classical music. I'm sure there are pockets of many that embrace it and love it. I think on the whole though, we tend to embrace what we're familiar with. A lack of familiarity and accessibility would tend to push people along the path of least resistance. If it's too much effort with not enough pay off, people tend not to do it.

      • justtopost 2 months ago

        Classical, like old radio recordings, seems incomplete to the modern ear. We are used to a full range of sound only rarely expressed by conventional insturments and recording. Thats why you hear many old standards now set to dubstep and techno, for example 'fly me to the moon'.

        The music is still valid, but the production, or lack thereof, 'dates' the music.

        • bgeeek 2 months ago

          What? This is quite a jumble of assumptions. Sampling in most hip-hop is to create something new. Electronic pieces like those made by Wendy Carlos, William Orbit, Ulrich Schnauss, etc, actually sound like modern interpretations. It's nothing to do with what is lacking or otherwise in older pieces of music. If anything classical music is gaining popularity among certain listeners, although I'm not sure if that's due to an ageing listener or modern composers, film and TV scores, etc. Personally, there is very little in modern music that I haven't heard before (I quite like avant garde music for this reason), so I deliberately listen to older pieces of music to hear something new, whether that is jazz, classical music, etc.

          • ntsplnkv2 2 months ago

            Agreed, this discussion always comes with absurd assumptions.

            Classical music will never be the most popular music, just like classic literature will never be on the best sellers list every year. That doesn't mean it isn't popular.

            I ultimately became a lover of classical music for a similar reason. Most music today is so generic and bland - you can hear every song before you've finished listening to it.

            • naravara 2 months ago

              There was a relevant and entertaining stand-up bit about this:

              This might partly be why people love the music they heard as teens first. I hear a lot of stuff now that just seems like riffs on stuff I’ve heard before. I don’t have the nostalgia of first being exposed to it in my formative years to carry me through.

  • coldtea 2 months ago

    >This is ridiculous for a million reasons. It's simple, and I say this as someone who has studied classical music for many years (including conducting): classical music isn't that much fun, compared to so many other options today. The kind of people who like classical music are the kind of people who enjoy watching documentaries or reading Shakespeare. It's high-effort, high-reward for a particular kind of person.

    And yet, working and middle class folk, far less affluent and educated than today's consumers, used to be very much able to enjoy classic music, including singing opera arias for fun, in Europe at least.

    Why take it that "classical music is not fun", and not the inverse, but equal reading "the modern music consuming public is crude".

    • forgottenpass 2 months ago

      >Why take it that "classical music is not fun", and not the inverse, but equal reading "the modern music consuming public is crude".

      Like it or not, society sees classical music as up-tight.

      "Leading scientist ejected by audience after 'trying to crowd surf' at classical music concert" [0]

      >Before the performance, Mr Morris invited the audience to bring their drinks into the standing area in front of the stage and instructed them: "Clap or whoop when you like, and no shushing other people."

      When I think of fun shows I've been to, I don't exactly remember any with audience reminders that showing enjoyment was permitted.


      • coldtea 2 months ago

        >Like it or not, society sees classical music as up-tight.

        I don't dispute that (I of course dispute that they're correct in thinking that, but not that they think that).

        That classical music is inherently "not fun" is what I responded too -- and my argument is in the past classical music was very much appreciated by all kinds of middle class and working people in Europe.

        >When I think of fun shows I've been to, I don't exactly remember any with audience reminders that showing enjoyment was permitted.

        Another problem is that enjoying art == having some kind of crash fun, like teenagers at spring break.

        • forgottenpass 2 months ago

          I don't think I follow. Is your perspective that the extent to which it's possible to experience fun and/or enjoyment of art is not - at all - constrained by having to politely sit still?

          • ACow_Adonis 2 months ago

            I might even go further: not only is it not constrained, there are certain kinds of fun that one can only have while politely sitting still.

            Of course, I'm biased, because I'm one of those people who likes attending classical performances. But its for the same reason that I don't want 3 televisions blaring while I'm eating a fancy meal.

            At a certain level, distractions take away from the enjoyment of the thing you're concentrating or enjoying.

            I don't think there's anything uptight in this: I could say the same thing about people turning on the stadium lights during a mosh-pit/rave.

            Its as simple as some human experiential dimensions exclude other human dimensions: we can't, biologically for the most part, experience or investigate the full extent of all our senses at the same time.

          • coldtea 2 months ago

            Yes, my perspective is people can sit still and still (sic) enjoy art.

            Sitting still and enjoying art is orthogonal.

            Some might not like sitting still, but that doesn't make sitting still incompatible or constraining the enjoyment of art in abstracto -- just for them.

            • forgottenpass 2 months ago

              >Some might not like sitting still, but that doesn't make sitting still incompatible or constraining the enjoyment of art in abstracto

              I read this claim as physical expression of emotion is entirely voluntary and consciously constraining physical response does not change the experience. And for the people who it does, it's a matter of socialization not human nature.

              This type of perspective - even if true (I disagree but will not discuss here any further) - is why classical music is up-tight.

              • coldtea 2 months ago

                Tons of non-classical folk musics, people have listened to for millennia in total observance (from ragas to folk chinese music, all the way to ancient greek lute and flute scores), are not tied to "physical expression of emotion", and plain folk people listened (and listen) to them just fine.

                The idea that one must jump, dance, and prance around as of paramount importance is more tied with teenagers setting the agenda of "popular music" since the 50s or so, than some inherent human need.

      • ntsplnkv2 2 months ago

        > When I think of fun shows I've been to, I don't exactly remember any with audience reminders that showing enjoyment was permitted.

        That's because you've learned how to act and what is acceptable in those circumstances.

        Would you expect someone from 1850 to just appear at an EDM club and know what exactly is happening?

    • maldusiecle 2 months ago

      It's true that the music-consuming public is less sophisticated nowadays--for boring reasons, unfortunately. Before recorded music became dominant, if you wanted to hear it, you had know to play it (or talk someone else into playing it for you). More people knew how to play music well. Now it's unnecessary to learn to play, and even those people who do play take it less seriously. So the public has largely lost the kind of sophistication you learn from actual performance.

  • Al-Khwarizmi 2 months ago

    I am an (early) millennial and I find some classical music (not all) a lot of fun.

    I think an important factor is... the hardware. The modern way most people listen to music (often with crappy speakers, or with headphones and lots of background noise) is not great to enjoy classical music.

    When I was a child and I lived with my parents, they had a great hi-fi system and I loved listening to classical music in it. Then, I grew up and my habits changed. I would listen to music in my PC instead of with my parents, or in my MP3 player on the street or the bus. I all but stopped listening to classical music, I didn't enjoy it much any longer, I preferred music with less dynamic range and more "punch", which endures that kind of conditions better.

    Fast forward to 2 or 3 years ago, I buy a relatively good Bluetooth speaker, which gives good sound (for a Bluetooth speaker). Suddenly, I begin enjoying some classical music again. I listen to like 20% classical music, 80% other genres.

    And a few months ago, being 36 years old, finally I do something I had wished for a long time: I get hold of my own hi-fi system, perhaps not as good as my parent's, but quite good. Now that I can listen to music with high dynamic range and not suffering from distortion in the strong parts, I enjoy classical music a lot again, and now my listening is like 70% classical music, 30% others...

    tl;dr: cheap headphones, iPods, listening to music on the bus, etc. kills classical music.

  • TulliusCicero 2 months ago

    > reading Shakespeare

    This is pretty funny considering the connotation of Shakespeare's works at the time.

    Something similar with video games in more recent times. Playing NES games has a slightly high-brow -- or at least higher-status -- connotation, compared to when the games were new. Now they're retro, which means playing them or similar games is more serious or something. Whereas back in their heyday, they were seen as almost entirely the domain of nerdy little boys, a silly thing for silly children.

    • leetcrew 2 months ago

      > This is pretty funny considering the connotation of Shakespeare's works at the time.

      if my memory from music history class serves, this may be even more apt of a comparison than you realize. iirc what we call "classical music" was a reaction to the highly complex baroque style that preceded it, and the contemporary "old guard" looked down on it for it's simplicity and deviation from the older rules of harmony.

    • crazygringo 2 months ago

      > This is pretty funny considering the connotation of Shakespeare's works at the time.

      Well that's because, of course, at the time Shakespeare was highly accessible! The language was everyone's native language, and the cultural references were current.

      Today it's basically a foreign language that requires a lot more effort to comprehend at a reasonable level, and a ton of cultural allusions that aren't part of our background anymore.

      • Retric 2 months ago

        At an 8 year old kid I was uncontrollably laughing at one Shakespearean play. Like modern movies targeting families you don’t need to understand everything to enjoy them. They are not meant to be read, and most people are just exposed to the boring crap.

      • philwelch 2 months ago

        Not to mention all the dirty puns that are completely lost in modern pronunciation.

    • hrktb 2 months ago

      I wonder if it's less the perception of the art form that changing, than the people in position to voice high brow opinions rotating.

      My parents still think of NES games as silly blocks on the silly TV. But their generation progressively gives up on writing articles in magazines or curating expositions in museums, whereas people now in their 40s who loved and still love NES games are now in charge.

    • Harvey-Specter 2 months ago

      NES games are the classical music of gaming. Sure, some people enjoy them, but I would bet that the vast majority would rather play 2019 AAA titles.

      • grawprog 2 months ago

        I dunno...I have kind of the opposite feeling about them. I enjoy playing nes games more often these days because I find them easier to get into. I turn it on press start and within about 10-30 seconds i'm playing a game. With AAA games replace the seconds with minutes.

        Which oddly, is more like classical music to me. Modern music tends to be around 3 minutes, there's no long intros or different sections. It's just press play, bam music. With classical music, it's broken into movements, with long introductions, or interludes with single instruments or some such a thing.

        I know that wasn't quite the point of the comparison, it was just an odd thought that came to mind.

      • TulliusCicero 2 months ago

        It's not a perfect comparison, because arguably "NES" is now more of a style than a genre. For example, Shovel Knight is a NES-styled game, but its genre is action-platformer.

        And "2019 AAA game" is neither a genre nor a style, so the comparison you're making here is even weirder.

  • GuB-42 2 months ago

    I think there are two different things we call classical music. True classical music: timeless pieces like the ones from Beethoven, Bach and others. And what we call "musique savante" in French: serious music with complex patterns played by with virtuosity on the most refined instruments.

    The idea is that the first one is enjoyed by most and appears in many forms in popular media. They are instantly recognizable hit songs "flight of the bumblebee" and "baby one more time" are not so different in that regard.

    The second one is probably the one you are thinking about, and it embraces almost all of modern classical music. It is usually enjoyed only by connaisseurs.

    Famous pieces like Vivaldi 4 seasons and others are both. They are classic timeless hits and also classical music in the sense it is serious business.

  • friendlybus 2 months ago

    > Look, this isn't mysterious. Rich people are associated with evil in films, and their stereotypical "too-good" pursuits -- mansions, opera halls, tuxedos, and yes, classical music.

    I don't think it's that simple. Rich people today are more modernists than classicists. They live in modern buildings and listen to any music. They work in modern office buildings.

    Classicism is about man vs man. Man vs nature, man vs God. The fight between two men, is a classic conflict. Modernism does not celebrate the fight between men, it cannot without undermining its fight with the self, it's fight with the non-existence of God.

    A fight between two men is classical in western literature, hence the classical themes when a fight on film breaks out.

    • maldusiecle 2 months ago

      This entire comment rests on confusing the meaning of the word "classical." A rich person who listens to modernist composers like Boulez or Webern is still listening to "classical" music, as most people use the term. Classical in this instance refers to a particular music tradition beginning in the renaissance, not to the Greco-Roman stuff you're trying to get at. It begins with the death of God, not ends with it.

      • friendlybus 2 months ago

        It is a literary version of the word classical. I agree people have made classical music in the modern era and the categories are different in music to writing.

        Just saying the train of thought when writing a conflict into a story is the classical approach is to have man vs nature, man vs man, man vs god. Modernist is man vs society, man vs self and man vs no god. Postmodernist would be man vs technology, man vs reality and man vs author.

        So the choosing of a backing music to fit a written fight would be reminiscent of the classical thinking that celebrates man vs man fights.

        Hans Zimmer would be the more modern composer that celebrates conquering the self in interstellar/inception, ect.

  • trgn 2 months ago

    Odd, I always thought the opposite. Classical music is beloved by pretty much anyone, regardless of income. Going to a concert performance, maybe, skews richer, but just maybe. But I haven't met a single person who does not enjoy the tunes from the Magic Flute or doesn't bob along to the Blue Danube.

    • crazygringo 2 months ago

      Yes, enjoying popular classical melodies it pretty much universal, if it's already playing.

      But how many people actually pick the Magic Flute when they're in the mood to listen to music? It's just not that popular.

      And when most seats at a classic music concert are ~$100 or more, with only a few rows in the ~$50 range, I'm 100% sure that skews rich. A night out for the family will be hundreds of dollars. It's not a $15 movie ticket.

      Here's tonight at the New York Philharmonic:

      • TheOtherHobbes 2 months ago

        Pop has become increasingly unaffordable. It's really not unusual to see headline acts charging well over $100 for seats, and multi-day festival prices are regularly $200 and up.

        In fact classical consistently appeals to older listeners. The median age at most concerts will be the far side of 50.

        For a certain kind of music lover, pop starts to sound boring and samey after a few decades. Classical scratches that itch.

        Orchestras and opera companies regularly worry about this, but in fact the supply of new listeners tends to be fairly stable.

        The biggest marketing change was the extra push given to classical from around the 1920s to the 1970s. There was huge state and network support for classical music, and a lot of effort went into bringing both live and radio performances to US audiences - partly for noble reasons, partly so agents and networks could make money by marketing the work of performers and conductors.

        From the 1970s the nature of funding changed. Sponsorship became corporate, and then the corporates cut it because they got a better return from sport and straight advertising. So a lot of the old support disappeared in the late 80s and 90s. The orchestras and opera houses that survived are more or less stable now, but it's a smaller market niche than it used to be.

      • ntsplnkv2 2 months ago

        I just don't understand the comparison.

        Classical music isn't "popular" just like classic literature. Pride and Prejudice won't be on the NYT Best Sellers anymore than a new Beethoven Piano Sonata recording would top the Billboard Top40.

      • trgn 2 months ago

        Point taken, I'd agree. But everything in NYC is expensive. And regardless, live performances even more so. Even Joe Schmoe is only going to see a Metallica concert once every year, it's a treat. But anecdotally, when the local orchestra here plays the showstoppers like Mozart's requiem or anything Tchaikovsky, everybody and their grandma seems to be there, not just the well to do.

    • sigi45 2 months ago

      I don't go to often to concerts but they do have a particualr audience in it.

      'beloved' is probably not the best word for 'accepted / aware of it'?

      Also they do play classic in some undergroundstations in munic to get rid of teenagers.

  • conducktor 2 months ago

    Eh, I love love love classical music and never read Shakespeare or watch documentaries. Classical music is wonderful and gets mistreated by movies.

  • odyssey7 2 months ago

    > classical music isn't that much fun, compared to so many other options today

    I think it's simpler than this; classical music is still pretty fun if you're into it.

    People listen to music that they culturally relate to, and the experience of music is a way to express identity. Once, people lived in a time when the classics of classical music were being written and were a current thing. Listening to Chopin or Liszt was a way to express pride for your country, as well as to do what your friends were doing. Now that so much time has passed, classical music has just been crowded out by other music that expresses identity and culture. Classical music for most people is no longer a thing that your friends are doing, and it hasn't been for your parents, either.

    My alternate theory about how classical music gained sinister connotations is that it's a cultural marker that expresses a cultural identity, but one that the audience members and their friends don't relate to. It's a convenient way to present the character as an outsider, and disregarding the societal implications for this, it's a convenient tactic for a writer who wants to paint a picture of a character as being sinister or untrustworthy. If you consider the alternatives, you'll see why classical music is an easy go-to in this situation; if you give the villain Coldplay as their theme music, it's going to risk making them feel more relatable.

  • PaulHoule 2 months ago

    John Williams did the soundtrack for so many action/sci-fi movies and used different kinds of classical themes to represent imperial stormtroopers, luke skywalker, etc.

    So far as "rich villian" goes, i think it is best expressed in anime and kung fu movies, but you will see it in cowboy movies, crime movies, etc.

    In this story the protagonist takes down not just one evil person (say Dirty Harry vs Scorpio) but an entire evil organization.

    That organization inevitably has a social hierarchy that goes from bottom to top. The protagonist first beats up the poor bad guys and then beats up the foreman who is paid $2 an hour more for being a little more responsible. Only after beating up the poor criminals does the protagonist get to beat up the person at the top of the conspiracy.

    "Lethal Weapon 3" is a great example, but "Sailor Moon" defeats a supernatural invasion that is organized like a military organization with enlisted monsters, lieutenants, generals and Queen Beryl at the top -- it demonstrates how the structure can fold and unfold like an accordion and fit any timebox.

  • Kye 2 months ago

    Looks like a veiled millennial hit piece. I don't know anyone in my age group repelled by classical music! One of my favorite musicians does classical music and tours with a folk/country singer. Let's see them wedge that into a box.

  • everdrive 2 months ago

    >classical music isn't that much fun

    Tons of classical is fun! The anvil chorus, the final section of Beethoven's 9th, whatever that really catchy portion of Carmen is! You (clearly) don't even need to be much of an expert to enjoy it.

  • Pharmakon 2 months ago

    I think the single biggest association is actually cartoons such as a Loony Tunes. “Kill da wabbit, kill da wabbit...” you know? The real point of this article seems to be more of an inkblot test of the author and little else.

  • rublev 2 months ago

    >Classical music isn't that much fun, compared to so many other options today.

    >The kind of people who like classical music are the kind of people who enjoy watching documentaries or reading Shakespeare. It's high-effort, high-reward for a particular kind of person.

    You could not possibly be more wrong.

jerf 2 months ago

I think this is one of those cases where the analysis is waaaaay too smart for the subject material. There's a lot of stuff in Hollywood where it's just cargo culting something that worked once. We have good reason to believe this is the case because it also has a long history of anti-cargo-culting things that failed once. You can see this whenever you have movies that killed an entire genre for 5 or 10 years, only for that genre to explode in success later (superhero movies I believe have been through that cycle twice now), or for some really good movie to surprise its way on to the scene only to be followed by a ton of crap copying only the most superficial aspects of the successful product ("apparently, people really like found footage movies where you can't see anything, so shake that camera even more").

It turns out Hollywood isn't particularly good at understanding what the root causes of a movie's success or failure is, so there's a lot of cargo culting, and cultural shortcuts.

As for how it started, I think it was just a simple class signifier, used for incongruity's sake. (Itself something that Hollywood has cargo culted; incongruity is a powerful tool but IMHO it's more than just jamming things together that don't seem to belong, which is done a lot. There's thought that can be put into what is being incongruous and why.)

(Note this isn't a terribly strong criticism of the article, it's more a terribly strong criticism of Hollywood. Sometimes a subject matter just doesn't have enough strength to support a careful analysis in the first place.)

  • diego_moita 2 months ago

    > There's a lot of stuff in Hollywood where it's just cargo culting something that worked once.

    > cargo culting, and cultural shortcuts.

    You've just described "cliché", an unavoidable component of any industrial art.

    The article explains that very same thing when it argues that Kubrick's "The Clockwork Orange" started the trend.

    • naravara 2 months ago

      Not quite. The person you’re responding to is talking about the motivations and beliefs that lead to the clichés, not the things themselves.

  • theoh 2 months ago

    Man, the subject matter here is literally human nature (why certain things "work" for movie audiences). It's a well-established fact that "low" culture (Hollywood) is just as susceptible to analysis as high culture. By attempting to shoot down both this article and Hollywood at the same time you are really pushing the limit.

stuart78 2 months ago

Classical music in film and tv more commonly signals erudition, not simply villainy. When there is a class conflict involved In film, the higher class characters are more commonly the villains, and an appreciation for classical music signals their remoteness.

Philadelphia uses Hanks’ appreciation for opera to signal his class status, not villainy. Silence of the Lambs uses music and food same way.

Making the direct hop to villainy is too simplistic, and pointing fingers at Clockwork Orange is absurd. That film’s synthesized classical music is used to draw a parallel between the commodification of violence and the commodification of culture more broadly.

  • rdiddly 2 months ago

    ...and to create what was, at the time, a stark juxtaposition.

save_ferris 2 months ago

Overall, this was fairly interesting until the end. The author very loosely questions whether the association of classical music to villainy is the real reason behind the lagging attendance of millenials in the symphony scene. The piece cites several anecdotal cases, but I couldn't think of a single one from memory that supports this idea. My first thought was Fantasia, which really doesn't fall into this argument.

I grew up as a music student and loved going to the symphony as a kid, so I'm not necessarily the target audience here. But the one thing I notice when I go these days is that sitting through an entire performance challenges my attention span much, much more than it used to.

It's a common theme I've seen around HN, particularly with reading. The symphony isn't really a visual experience (unless they're showing video, which is becoming more common), and it can be really difficult to sit through sometimes, especially if you don't love the music. There are a couple of symphonies I love to listen to all the way, but most have a few exciting themes with several minutes of "meh" in between them IMO.

  • msluyter 2 months ago

    Yes, the article is definitely overgeneralizing from a number of anecdotes, imho. While I tend to agree with the notion that classical music tends to signal a certain remoteness -- thus correlating with villainy -- that's not its only use in movies.

    One example: I recall when Star Wars came out, a lot of my friends bought the soundtrack. It served as sort of a gateway to classical music. It's hard to measure, of course, but I'd bet that that had a larger positive impact on classical attendance than, say, Hannibal Lector killing people to Bach's Goldberg Variations had a negative one.

    To your lack of visual stimuli hypothesis, I'd also add as other more likely drivers of classical's decline:

    a) Live classical music is expensive and getting more so.

    b) Sound quality in a concert hall is different than via digital means. It doesn't wash over you like it does when listening via your Bose headphones. It's less visceral and more distant. And you have to tune out the other sounds of coughing, people shifting in their seats, etc...

    c) And finally, we have the best recordings of any work available on demand. In economic terms, that creates really cheap substitutes. Speaking for myself, I'd rather just listen to the Vienna Philharmonic on the couch for free than dress up, drive across town, find parking, and pay $100+ to hear the Austin Symphony play the same work.

    • howard941 2 months ago

      > I recall when Star Wars came out, a lot of my friends bought the soundtrack. It served as sort of a gateway to classical music.

      Same for my generation w/r/t the soundtrack to 2001

      • makapuf 2 months ago

        Except that 2001 was already existing as classical music. (Strauss and maybe others.)

        • dvtrn 2 months ago

          That's not up for debate, really here--is it? Rather the pointed argument seems to be that for some of a certain age group, their exposure to the genre was Star Wars. It seems merely in this case, yours was a different movie.

          Besides that, there's an important difference between 2001 and Star Wars: 2001 utilized existing classical scores that are excellent for their own reasons, whereas John Williams composed entirely new scores for Star Wars that were similarly excellent.

          It is just my personal opinion, but I think it will be a very long time before we see another symphonic movie score that embeds itself so deep into the cultural fabric as Star Wars did. Not only was the music phenomenal and stands well on its own, so many of them are elevated because of the action taking place with them on screen.

 Still gets me as excited today as it did when I was 8.

    • mr_toad 2 months ago

      > I recall when Star Wars came out, a lot of my friends bought the soundtrack.

      I recall Lucas saying in a DVD commentary that he got some push-back in the industry for the idea of using a classical soundtrack in Star Wars.

      I’m glad he stuck with it, it’s hard to imagine Empire without the Imperial March.

  • brundolf 2 months ago

    I think you nailed it; there's relativism at play. Classical music was the vibrant, popular music of its day. It was the showiest kind society had. As that goalpost has moved, classical has become - comparatively - austere. Over the 20th century, but especially the past decade, more and more immediately-satisfying media has come to pull attention (and change tastes) away from the now-slow-burning classical. It's become the vegetables of the music world.

  • logfromblammo 2 months ago

    And in contrast, P-Funk, Springsteen, and even younger acts like BTS can do a solid 5-hour set, and still keep the audience engaged the entire time.

    I don't think a classical orchestra could even keep me awake for half of that. And I don't think it's because of the source material.

    If you traded the string section for fewer musicians with amplifiers, and added more modern instruments, and allowed the musicians to dress with independent fashion and be more mobile on the stage, you could keep the audience going on public domain music alone. It's the conservative image of classical orchestral music that kills it. A violin player strutting around a stage with an electric violin and a red alligator-leather dress that shows some skin is a lot more interesting to me than 8 of them dressed in black and white, seated in a row, and synchronizing their bows.

    You could arrange the pieces for one rhythm drummer and a bass drummer, move the melodic percussion to a synth keyboard, cut the brass to one trumpet, mellophone, trombone, and sousaphone, cut the woodwind to piccolo/flute, clarinet, move the double-reed parts to alto and tenor saxophones, and pare the strings down to one electric violin, move the second violin part to electric guitar, one electric cello, and electric upright bass. Then add some guys for the mixing board, and a couple of vocalists with operatic pipes. Now you can play symphonic music in a large venue with questionable acoustics, and show movement and personality on stage.

  • vict00ms 2 months ago

    I grew up in a house where a sibling played brass but (though I did play an instrument) I lacked any sort of "classical" training. I never much enjoyed symphonies but strangely enough did enjoy (parts of) the ones that I'd heard my sister practicing because it was interesting to hear everything else fill in around it and finally appreciate the context.

abruzzi 2 months ago

As a devil's advocate--while there is definitely associations classical music with wealth, classical music for evil I don't entirely see. Classical music is a very deep trove of, mostly, royalty free music. Hannibal Lecter listening to the aria from the Goldberg Variations is probably less about signaling his sophistication, and more about the fact that it is a profoundly calm, even serene, piece of music playing during a scene of horrific violence. It mirrors the scene earlier where the said something like "his pulse never got above 80, even when he ate her tongue." It shows the calmness in Lecter despite the violence--this is not a crime of passion or hate.

Another small reference that I think is misused--he mentions Fritz Lang's M, and the "Hall of the Mountain King" melody that the killer whistles. First the film was made around 1931. Classical music would not have that sort of reference to the audience at that time. In my opinion M was the first movie to really understand sound film. The whistling tunes was a way to use sound to evoke presence without the character on screen. We could see a child playing, and hear the whistle in the background, and know that this child was being targeted without having to cut away. We get this kind of film information all the time in movies, but this is the first film that used the technique, and it had nothing to do with classical music. (Lang also invented some other sound dependent techniques in this film.)

This is not to say that some of the other examples are not instance of signaling "bad person" sing classical music, but I don't think its evil. I think the association of classical music with wealth/elitism is well established in modern films, so its presence for a wealthy/elite killer is expected, without taking that to also denoting evil.

benj111 2 months ago

The Author and I obviously have different definitions of classical music.

They point out a 'villain' playing Bach. But to me, the whole film score is classical music. Yes the film is about an evil thing but the music conveys other things.

He identifies A clockwork Orange as a turning point . I could point to a host of 70s and 80s film that had classical music scores, Star Wars, Indiana Jones etc, etc.

I'll admit 'pop' music has become more popular in recent films, but classical music is still really good at communicating certain moods, including but not necessarily villainy.

  • Freak_NL 2 months ago

    > I could point to a host of 70s and 80s film that had classical music scores, Star Wars, Indiana Jones etc, etc.

    Let's not forget Zardoz (1974)!

    Weird sci-fi, Sean Connery, and Beethoven's Seventh; what's not to like?

    • benj111 2 months ago

      That's the one with Sean Connery with pony tail and underpants?

      I want to look to confirm, but then I don't.....

      Edit: Even worse than I remember. I had forgotten the bandolier.

jacknews 2 months ago

I would say the premise itself is bogus

'Classical' music, old and new, is prevalent in movies

As a guess, because it is able to affect mood indirectly, 'in the background'

  • brundolf 2 months ago

    I think the author is distinguishing "real" classical music from "movie music", which isn't the same just because it uses the same instruments.

    • crooked-v 2 months ago

      I find that division in and of itself a key part of the disconnect here. People are naturally going to be drawn to new music, and so if you define an entire genre by not being new, obviously its popularity is going to pale in comparison to other music.

    • ken 2 months ago

      "Real" classical music, like the 19th century Russian opera "Ruslan and Ludmila", the title music for the sitcom "Mom"?

      • brundolf 2 months ago

        I'm pretty sure "jacknews" was talking about standard cinema scores, written specifically for the movie.

mamcx 2 months ago

Is far simply, if a character like X genre, what it is signaling?

- Classical music: Signal of a "cultivated"/intelligent mind. Similar to how many villains play chess.

Also, is a contrast of how some high evil actions contrast with the "calm" cold mind of the villain.

- Pop music: Signal of fun. Depending also, romance, liberation, etc

- Rap music: Signal of the oppressed. Street-wise.

- Rock music: Signal of rebellion, action.

- Jazz music: ?

- Latino music: Is Latino!

  • ByThyGrace 2 months ago

    Jazz music: "cool" criminals pulling off a heist.

davesque 2 months ago

It's just too easy to find counter examples to this claim. Hard to take it seriously. I think the author was just very good at finding data points to fit his theory.

Take the movie "Shine", for example, from 1996. The story of David Helfgott. There's a dark side to be sure, but nothing like villainy. The classical music in that movie, in fact, comes to symbolize a kind of redemption or transcendence over madness -- not a succumbing to it.

As for the decreased symphony attendance, drawing a connection to his claim seems pretty outlandish to me. A more likely explanation is that the symphony as a live concert format is just really outdated. It was all the rage in the 1700s and 1800s in the western world. But that was a long time ago.

brundolf 2 months ago

I agree with the general thesis, but this:

> Maybe millennials are repelled by classical music not for coherent reasons but by a vague sense of mistrust, nourished for decades by movies and media.

Sounds like the exact kind of conspiracy theory he's accusing "the populace" of having.

jacknews 2 months ago

I'd like to know how and why red hair, and British accents became synonymous with villainy

  • benj111 2 months ago

    I was thinking the same, but didn't work it in to my reply.

    Also why Romans have British accents?!?

    • usrusr 2 months ago

      > Also why Romans have British accents?!?

      Most of the Romans depicted are aristocratic. The intersection of present-day aristocracy and native English speakers happens to be British. When the script goes beyond aristocracy into the wide spectrum of Roman classes, British dialects offer a much richer toolkit to signal the differences than any other form of English.

      On top of that, the upper class British accents predominantly used feel quite old-timey to an American audience, adding to the general flair. Also, if you imagine an percent-day English speaker who is educated in ancient Latin you would likely imagine a high-class Briton as well. This also makes that accent feel more consistent with the setting even though the reasoning does not actually make sense.

      That being said, when/if the current deluge of Marvel/DC adaptions is finally over, someone will likely make a sandal movie where all the gold-encrusted Romans talk like rappers. Just for kicks.

    • em500 2 months ago

      Because in the typical movie setting the Romans were upper-class foreign rulers. That's why they don't have Cockney or Glasgow accents.

      • benj111 2 months ago

        There doesn't seem to be a line of reasoning here.

        I don't see how: 1)Romans were upper-class foreign rulers 2) ??????? 3) Romans have English accents.

        • rlucas 2 months ago

          Even if a story is set within imperial (or republican) Rome, the whole idea of an ascendant Rome is based on the colonies and provinces. So showing the Roman upper classes (or even the wealthier urban merchants) being "Romans" means implicitly that they are the top crust of a vast empire feeding them wealth and power.

          That leads to 3) above pretty easily, since in the mind of the hegemonic movie-producing culture (Americans), their archetype of a foreign empire was, of course, the British (English).

          A more interesting criticism would be hearing how, say, the Spanish language is rendered in Latin American films about Rome or other historical empires. Do they put a Yankee accent in the Spanish language as such a marker? (I suspect it's probably more of a continental Spanish, though.)

          Would be interesting to know of other non-Anglosphere cultural products that use implicit (e.g. American accents) cues of the new Rome to denote the class status of historical depictions. Global HN'ers?

        • em500 2 months ago

          2) The British Empire is the closest analog to the Roman Empire in living memory. For hundred of millions of people in the past 3 centuries, British aristocrats were the upper-class rulers, both hated and admired by many of the ruled (including Americans in the colonial era).

          • benj111 2 months ago

            I would put more stock in the American Colonial side, rather than living memory side. Western cinema is after all western biased.

            I'm biased anyway, being British and not upper class.

    • jacknews 2 months ago

      lol indeed, latin was obviously pronounced similar to modern spanish/italian

      • barry-cotter 2 months ago

        How on Earth is that obvious? There’s no special reason to expect the pronunciation of any particular Romance language to more closely approximate Classical Latin than another, especially when it’s been 400 years since Latin was a language many people spoke fluently and well over a thousand years since Vulgar Latin diverged from the written standard? Why Spanish or Italian and not Portuguese, Romanian, French or Sardinian?

        This is like expecting Mashreqi Arabic to be closer to the spoken language in Mohammed’s time than Levantine, Egyptian or Maghrebi Arabic. There’s no real reason to privilege one of the Arabic languages above the other as more conservative, a priori.

        If you’re interested in Latin pronunciation read this.

        • jacknews 2 months ago

          My point was more that it is unlikely to have been pronounced ss upper-class English.

  • zimpenfish 2 months ago

    > British accents became synonymous with villainy

    [gestures vaguely at British Empire, Irish famine, etc.]

    • jacknews 2 months ago

      Valid points, but the demonetization of British accents in hollywood seems to have started in the late 80s or early 90s

      Perhaps it's due to Alexis Carriington

      • tim333 2 months ago

        I'm sure it predates that. Shere Khan in the 1967 jungle book for example.

Mikeb85 2 months ago

I don't know about this. In the past, entire soundtracks consisted of classical music. One track for the good guys, another for the villain, but all were orchestral. I think classical music works well for soundtracks because it can convey feelings well, without the distraction of lyrics. Some of my favourite games ever were from the Final Fantasy series, and they often used composed music that was a similar style to classical music, and it added greatly to the ambiance, whether it was walking around a village or fighting a boss. Classical music just conveys a lot of emotion without the use of lyrics.

8bitsrule 2 months ago

The very premise of the piece is shaky.

"But the 1960s ushered in a new era of mass entertainment. The expansion of film, TV broadcasting, and especially TV advertising toppled the orchestra’s place in popular culture..."

Three points: Pop music has come to demand high royalties. Most classical music is in the public domain. Use a recording by a small orchestra, and ... cheap. Like RKO.

Next: 'the orchestra's place' was not very high in American popular culture -at any- time since the LP was introduced. There were many people who tried to make it that way (the inventor of FM for one) but no. Leonard Bernstein tried, but no. Author's misreading history here.

Finally: Films as a whole, sorry to say, have gotten A LOT darker in the past 50 years. Still, I can go through any number of movies made in the decades since Space Odyssey and find uses of classical that wasn't associated with darkness. Just one example: Elmer Bernstein, very successful in the film-score business, borrowed heavily from classical for his music, and wasn't associated with 'heavy' films in my recollection.

Listening to and appreciating classical music (as it is, not for any social status it may pretend to confer) takes time. Like any advanced art, much of art music is inscrutable to the casual listener. That may further the disorientation of the dark-film fans.

coldtea 2 months ago

A better question is "when". I've never noticed classic music being synonymous with villainy. "Refined" or "high class" status/taste yes.

silvat1 2 months ago

I would flatly respond to this title with 'it isn't'

Classical music is used to convey pretty much every different idea/feeling.

Aaron Copland is often used for fun, to use just one of the infinite counter examples should the author choose to look

arethuza 2 months ago

I don't know if it counts as classical music, but since seeing the landing scene from First Man I can't get this music out of my head - for me it is now synonymous with general heroic awesomeness:

ccvannorman 2 months ago

Totally agree. Another example, that damned Bugs Bunny and his brethren with their malicious activities! I've never been able to enjoy The Barber of Seville since :-[

  • honestoHeminway 2 months ago

    GTA ruined the kids, just watch how they careshare today. They just bash each other on the had. The world is a dangerous place, a mad maxian dessert due to people simply copy pasting behaviour.

Udik 2 months ago

In one word: populism. Wikipedia has a good definition:

"an ideology which presents "the people" as a morally good force against "the elite", who are perceived as corrupt and self-serving."

So in Hollywood blockbusters those who listen to classical music are identified with the elite, which by the enjoyment of something "complicated" sets itself apart from the good common people who pay the ticket to see once again Good triumph over Evil.

pjc50 2 months ago

Is this Wagner's fault?

  • honestoHeminway 2 months ago

    Imagine if hitler had loved pepermint drops. His favourite- and nobody would sell those anymore. Everybody with a lack of bad breath would be under immediate racism-facism suspicion. Wriggle out of this one Wrigglys.

SubiculumCode 2 months ago

Leia's theme-I knew she was a villian, or at least a counterpoint.

fopen64 2 months ago

Well, heroes only emerge when there are good villains.

atoav 2 months ago

A interesting thought on this is whether it is linked to the rise of rock music — people started to realize that “those wild rockers” were usually just very nice people, while the real villains always wore ties suits and went to the opera.

So I would say suspicion aboit the burgoise or the establishment played always a role. Or maybe they read about the opera loving Nazis and thought this is a interesting contrast.

sfx77 2 months ago

A Clockwork Orange