The first, most superficial difference between classical and modern music is that classical music is old, and modern music is new. A more important difference is that classical music limits itself to what can be written on the page. In the world of classical music, to paraphrase Wittgenstein, what cannot be expressed with circles and beams must be consigned to silence.
Some of the main differences between classical and modern music have to do with the presumptions behind each. Classical music is for concert halls, where everyone is seated. The audience and orchestra are facing each other. One person directs everything that’s played. Everyone has to observe common rules of conduct for this type of setting to work. Modern music can be almost as contemplative as classical, but the improvisational, democratic nature of modern music makes it a natural fit for socializing and celebrating. If a fight breaks out on the dance floor, the show still goes on.
Modern music values variation and spontaneous decisions by individual musicians as part of a group chemistry. Classical music values the faithful reproduction of each mark on the page.
Western classical music doesn’t have a monopoly on beauty, culture, or any other artistic value. Intricacy and complexity can be planned, or they can be improvised. Musical complexity can be brittle like glass, or flexible like reeds in the wind.
© 2019, 2020 Greg Varhaug