Distracted Cellist

On a Quest to Focus


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About Clara Schumann (II)

Welcome back to another episode – I mean, blog post about Clara Schumann! Last time, I talked in great detail about ‘The Girlhood of Clara Schumann’ written by Florence May (if you’d like a refresher of that, go ahead and click here). Today I’m going to look at a biography that was published more recently, and as such will offer us different insights. As I write, I’ll continually compare this book to Florence May’s – not to judge one over the other, but simply to offer a more nuanced picture. Strap in for another journey through Clara Schumann’s life!

 

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Meeting Benjamin Zander

Before we start, I’d just like to address one point: I know that in my previous post, I said that I’d move away from topics that are quite general, or only relate to my own experience with and perspective on classical music. However, writing about more sensitive topics requires a lot of research, in order to craft sound arguments and thus do them justice. So for the sake of keeping the blog going on a semi-regular basis, I’ll be doing a number of more personal posts, while working on the more complicated ones in the background – I don’t want to mess it up, after all. So I hope you’ll enjoy a series of more reflective and personal essays, as I prepare the bigger articles that are on my mind.

 

Today, I would like to talk about what it was like to meet someone who more or less opened my eyes to viewing my profession, and role in this world, in a completely new light.
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Why Is Classical Music Elitist?

I say ‘classical music’, you think Mozart, Beethoven; silence in a concert hall; the sound of a piano in the background, playing softly. I say ‘classical concert’, you probably think of the following: Big, ornate halls; middle-aged men and women in fancy dress; champagne being served.

To some, this will sound like the perfect music to listen to on a rainy afternoon, or the perfect event to attend on a Sunday morning – almost like a secular service, with the concert halls around the world serving as churches, and the conductors delivering the message of those gods of music no longer walking among us.

To others, it will sound like a cult they really wouldn’t want to get into: There’s strange, uptight dress codes; people talk to each other using words nobody uses in everyday speech; they nod to each other knowingly as they discuss what makes a piece so very Haydn or Brahms; and what transpires within their halls of worship ( i.e. concert halls) follows the strictest rules. Most of all, newcomers are regarded with highest suspicion.

I’m exaggerating, of course. (A little.) But let’s face it, to people who are new to this whole circus surrounding classical concerts today, it all seems very strange and sometimes even frightening; and many who I have talked to admit that they’d rather not risk offending ‘insiders’ and avoid going to concerts altogether. Most of what happens within this culture seems elitist to them.

Why? Where did it all start? Who invented those traditions that we seem to have been following for hundreds of years, if current lovers of classical music are to be believed? Let’s have a look through history:

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