Classical and Pop Metal – Part 1 (Banishing of Preconceptions)

Article by David Rosales, 1st installment of a 7 part series
The terms pop and classical get thrown around pretty carelessly, with little regard as to what they actually mean as foreign meanings are imposed on them. It can be shown that most of these distinctions are quite arbitrary, even if they are meaningful indeed. What we should be asking ourselves is which of the definitions may provide a useful distinction that goes beyond the plain appearances or superficial glances at structure.

Music works at so many more levels than bare form (which is only the means and not the music itself) that the analysis typical of academia which focuses on either what I would call brute-force complexity or what they may deem “innovative” is problematic. Music history has proved that mere innovation, which more often than not is little more than momentary novelty, does not bring about long-standing results in itself. It may certainly result in long-standing popularity, but one may see that in these cases the “novelty” in question, as a concept, antecedes any natural reactions and feelings people may have to it.

A good example of this is The Rite of Spring, by Stravinsky. Its fans are usually music majors, more often than not, or amateur posers who are merely shocked by its reputation and how strange it sounds – how “different” it makes them feel. In each of the cases, the most immediate arguments for the greatness of this music will come in the form of cold musical analyses that point out its innovations in rhythm, or how “shocking” the character is. Basically, bombast and syncopated hip movements.

The same is true of metal or any other genre. Innovations and novelty come and go, the former being absorbed into the background as useful processes to express the metaphysical concerns that the particular music has, while the latter makes an impression and is left behind. As we recognize this universal rule of human-made music, or art in general, we come to understand that we cannot base definitions strictly on whether or not innovation is taking place as this also tends to be confused with novelty. Only time — and long spans at that — can truly prove the difference.

Finally, the biggest preconception we must get rid off to properly start this discussion is that the terms we mentioned before are actually defined. There is no complete consensus regarding what “popular music” strictly consists of. Furthermore, the term “classical” seems to be used as meaning both a period in Western traditional music, and what is actually modern academic activity which appropriates the former for itself as if some kind of crowning ceremony had taken place in which Beethoven bestowed power upon Wagner, who in turn anointed the likes of Schönberg. Let’s get rid of all such popular (ha!) assertions and try to arrive at useful terms.

Death Melodies Series: Richard Wagner

RichardWagnerThe Death Melodies Series (DMS) continues with modernist Richard Wagner.

Born in Germany during 1813, Wagner composed his first opera The Fairies when he was 20. He wrote many operas and had successes as a composer and conductor. However, political controversy hindered many aspects of his life.

Wagner was discontent during the industrialization of Europe. Mankind’s lust for advancing technology left many areas poverty-stricken. He became a Socialist in hopes that a revolution would rectify the issues in Germany. Wagner had a small role in the May Uprising in Dresden which proved unsuccessful. He fled to Paris, then relocated to Switzerland for eleven years.

While in political exile, Wagner desired to resurrect the Norse spirit of ancient Europe. He’s best known for the monumental work Der Ring des Nibelungen, which is the most ambitious undertaking by any one person in European music. The Ring Cycle took Wagner over 25 years to accomplish, as well as having a playing time of 15 hours.

Wagner delved into many different Scandinavian sources and fashioned a grandiose medieval drama. Dwarves, Valkyries, heroes and monsters all had roles in the operas. He wanted his work to help strengthen political principles, but he also managed to craft some of the most stunning works in classical music.

In 1840, Wagner started composing his Faust symphony which was inspired by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s play Faust. The symphony was never completed and it was instead turned into a single-movement concert overture.