Saturday, February 28, 2009

The Case Against "Crossover Classical"

My previous post - The Great Debate: How valid is ‘Crossover’ classical music? - tried to set the stage for what is an ongoing debate in the music world: Is the growth of Crossover Classical music a cause for concern or a phenomenon worth celebrating?

In this post, we look at some of the key arguments that question its validity:

The trailer is not the movie! An abridged version of Shakespeare’s ‘Hamlet’ or Milton’s ‘Paradise Lost’ does no good to the reader, the poor author or, for that matter, the work itself. The same holds good for Classical music. Crossover music tracks tend to stay within that safe zone of the typical pop song duration. “So what if the original piece or movement is 15 minutes long; we will just have to shave off the development, recapitulation and coda and stick with the main melody, repeat it twice and be done with it!” After all, the assumption behind this approach is that listeners are not particularly patient and are unable to concentrate for longer than it takes to hear a song.

If it is not broken, don’t fix it! Most fare served up by crossover artists tends to veer on the syrupy and in some cases downright cheesy renditions or extracts (or complete revamps!) of original classical music pieces. The point that recording companies seem to miss completely is that masterpieces are what they simply because they endure without the need for any overhaul to suit changing tastes. Vivaldi’s ‘Four Seasons’ does not need a techno makeover to remain as enchanting today as it ever was! While some might scoff and call this snobbery, there is a very good reason why classical music has been handed down from generation to generation through the use of specific notation stipulating rhythm, harmony, expression and interpretation. This does not mean that to adhere to the score means to be tied down to it. On the contrary, great artists have always put their very own stamp to great music, without having to disrespect the composer or make the work unrecognizable.

Crossover tends to cross the line! When the ever-smiling visage of Andre Rieu takes up three rows of a 4-row shelf devoted to Classical music in a music store, it does not take long for me to figure out that some hard core classical music has had to be shoved off. It is bad enough that most of the albums we see today are re-issues of great recordings of the past (with only a few fortunate conductors, soloists and orchestras of today given the opportunity to record). It is bad enough that contemporary composers and their music remain on the periphery. It is bad enough that quite a bit of the catalogue today is made up of "compilation" albums which are created with the sole aim of skimming the cream off large works and serving out only the juicy melody, the vocal pyrotechnics of a bravura aria, the snatch from an orchestral climax – all meant to make you ‘swoon’, ‘chill out’, ‘relax’ or get ‘in the mood’ amongst other such absurd promises. Along with such challenges, pure classical music now has to contend with the risk that “classical lite” will take centre stage and push full-length original works into an even smaller niche than they already occupy today. No wonder then that ‘Gramophone’ ( has commenced publishing a new classical music chart, based on sales of “core classical recordings”. The Official Specialist Classical Chart, compiled by the Official Charts Company in association with the peak UK record industry body, the BPI (, requires albums tracked to feature 100 percent classical music. What this does is give core classical and crossover different playing fields, so that core classical is no longer overshadowed by the chart-busters from crossover artists.

1 comment:

  1. Hmmm...that's quite a strong view. And I fully agree!!! I've had similar trouble here in India....earlier had shelves and shelves of the original masterworks, and now more and more I find dilution of those with these newer amalgamations. As you rightly, there is nothing wrong with this music but it should not and cannot stand in for the real thing. I think, while music companies are pushing what they can, it may also be fair to call it a sign of the times. With MTV and similar stuff (Television now exciting audiences with 4 frames a second)it's become an instant satisfaction generation. There is no doubt the classics will stand the test of time, but it's also clear the testing time has never been harder than now. It's a reflection of shallowness of our times that people have less time, involvement, attention, focus and what may appeal to them better is a condensed version or a light version of the masterworks. On the flip side, this music has often introduced the masterworks to people who didn't know it and many have got to the original works through this window. So inherently, there is nothing wrong with that genre, it is audience response to it in relation to the original stuff that matters and is in fact affecting the ratios.