Music I don’t like

In a previous post, I expressed my dislike of Rachmaninoff’s music, especially the Second and Third Piano Concertos.  Tonight, I was reminded of another piece I can’t bear, César Franck’s Symphony.  In grad school, in fact, I came to refer to Franck as the “Schlockmeister” (and I still do)–although I’m aware that the schlockiness of this symphony is most likely a reception phenomenon.  Almost involuntarily, I associate the music of this symphony, rightly or wrongly, with 1930s, 40s, and 50s Hollywood imitators who seemed to have fallen under the spell of the symphony’s finale.

Is mine a mere personal dislike, one that I may, perhaps, share with others?  I’m not so sure, because personal taste is formed socially, even if not exclusively so.  And I’ve long maintained that there are truths to be mined from our musical likes and dislikes.

To return, then, to my earlier post, might my aversion to Rach 2 and 3 reflect a deeper aversion to, say, the sort of virtuosic display that turns at least some audience members  into voyeurs?  Why does this bother me, but, say,  the overtly sexual character of Robert Plant’s live performances with Led Zeppelin is fine with me?

Is there a deeper truth lying within my distaste for the Franck Symphony and so much by Rachmaninoff?

Finally, I admit that I envy Jonathan’s dislike of Wagner.  I wish I didn’t like Wagner.  Alas, I cannot keep from surrendering to the Dark Side.

About Phil Ford

Chairman of the Committee for the Memorial to the Victims of Modernism
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6 Responses to Music I don’t like

  1. Charles F. says:

    I’m speculating here, but is it possible that some of these particular distastes (I’m not speaking only of those expressed by you, Richard) are actually by-products of our education? Is that the social setting where these attitudes are formed? I think I’ve flogged this dead horse before, but I’ve found these to be fairly common distastes among us academic types.
    Take Rachmaninoff and Franck, since you brought them up. For a while (at least since I was a confused undergrad) they’ve been “non-book figures” — that is, they don’t figure into the canon defined by the average undergrad music history text, for example. A voice major may well sing “Panis Angelicus” (I did), or a good pianist may run into Rachmaninoff, but we’re subconsciously getting the message that they’re “minor” or maybe even “inferior” because, well, all the important guys are in the book, right? (That’s without even getting into the long-standing implication manifest in the word “guys”.)
    On the other hand, where might such composers have been prominently featured? In the concert hall, with its accompanying program notes which, when not well done, can run the gamut from bone-dry to gushy and mawkish. Not a good way to appeal to our increasingly refined (or so we think) academic sensibilities.
    I don’t mean to suggest this is intentional, but I can’t help but wonder if this might be part of how that socialization takes place. Perhaps the line from South Pacific applies: you’ve got to be carefully taught…

  2. Richard says:

    While I don’t doubt that the canon has shaped the formation of my own tastes, I also like quite a lot of music that, for the longest time, music historians probably considered as extra-canonical. This would include a lot of the later music of Richard Strauss. I also include in this list Tchaikovsky, Sibelius, Elgar, primo ottocento opera, Meyerbeer, Shostakovich, and others perhaps too numerous to mention.

  3. Charles F. says:

    True enough. I still wonder if certain composers come in for more canon grief than others. I’m trying for a distinction between neglect or apathy and outright active disdain, or something like that. An “anti-canon,” perhaps–does such a thing exist?

  4. Richard says:

    As far as I can tell, debates over who’s “in” and who’s not are far less charged today than they were, say, fifteen years ago. Given musicologists now devote so much attention to figures previously regarded as non-canonical, I’d suggest that the very notion of a classical music canon (at least as far as academic music historians are concerned) is, at best, teetering on the verge of obsolescence (if it’s not already obsolete). Put another way, the canon has lost its canonicity–that is, it’s no longer a “rule” (canon).
    A much more helpful approach, I think, is to focus on the historical narratives (and the cultural politics undergirding them) that provide accounts of the significance or insignificance of particular artifacts and practices.

  5. Charles F. says:

    Well, d’oh. Of course, the canon pretty much being kaput as far as scholarship goes, any sort of antithetical biases accompanying it would be gone too. But would not the very business of canon formation be exactly what you describe in the last paragraph? The vagaries of reputation and reception, the waxing and waning of Composer X, are for me way too much fun, and anything that hints in that direction or suggests possible results of such waxings and wanings, seems worth pursuing.
    And for what it’s worth, I don’t feel particularly strongly about Rachmaninoff one way or the other.

  6. David Rice says:

    I know you wrote this forever ago, 8 years, but I like you do not like Rachmaninoff. I’m glad I’m not the only one. It seems to have no substance to me. Simply notes being played for the sake of notes being played. No emotion. It’s just like listening to really bad pop music.

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