Thursday, December 11, 2008

Copyright Crisis In Historical Context

Very entertaining article in the New Statesman on the ominous handwriting on the wall for the lowly session musician. Every classical snob....or pop music snob, for that matter....ought to be beaten over the head with information like this:
The public knew what it liked - and that was easy listening in the shape of plenty of variety, good tunes, regular rhythms, and pieces that were not too long or difficult. Haydn's symphonies fitted the bill, but Beethoven, especially in his later years, was altogether too demanding. Increasingly in the early 19th century, public concerts took the form of potpourris, mainly comprising popular overtures, operatic arias and dance tunes, with at best a single movement of a symphony or a concerto. In particular, the enduring craze for dance music led to even choral music and oratorios being reorchestrated in waltz- or polka-time to allow toes to tap, the ultimate surely being the Stabat Mater Quadrilles.
Long and loud were the complaints from serious composers that the public did not appreciate them but preferred jaunty melodies and the simple orchestration of Italian ice-cream opera. Significantly, it was around this time that the word "philistine" entered common usage, to denote the unsophisticated, unintellectual, money-grubbing bourgeois who knew the price of everything and the value of nothing. In 1826, the year before his death, Beethoven pronounced: "It is said vox populi, vox dei. I never believed it".

Most music fans hardly give a thought to the fact that the "pop star", in the Kanye West sense, didn't exist until the 19th century. Since then their profits and fame steadily increased largely as a result of technological change (mass printing, railroad, telegraph, etc) and particularly as a result of the eventual invention of the phonograph. But profits did not increase for everyone in the music industry. Even in the 1940 and 1950s, Duke Ellington's Orchestra was more or less an expensive avocation for him, supported through the royalties stemming from his compositions and recordings. The extraordinary players who made Ellington's Orchestra a legend lived "strictly from hunger".
So the next time you hear some RIAA sock puppet croaking like a raven about the death of the music industry, just remember that that the music industry has been in the process of dying for some musicians since the day the 'industry" was born.

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