Classical music’s elite history and rituals are still very much with us, says Robert Jackson Wood. Class-related hurdles - material, psychological, and associative - all deter families of limited means from pursuing, or even wanting to pursue, this music.
Few art forms on earth are more indebted to class privilege than Western classical music. For most of its history, it has relied on monarchs, aristocrats, and wealthy patrons even to exist. We have Haydn because of a prince, Mozart and Beethoven because of a baron, Stravinsky and Copland because of an heiress, and Wagner because of a king. We have an entire genre largely because, at Versailles in the seventeenth century, the composer Jean-Baptiste Lully was willing to indulge his employer, Louis XIV, by writing operas that glorified the splendors of the throne. Philanthropists, corporations, and trusts have displaced the kings and barons of yore, but as givers of grants and commissions, they might as well wear a crown.
Today, the genre is grappling with what, on the surface, might seem like an entirely different aspect of its legacy: the historical lack of diversity in its orchestras and ensembles... Keep reading on Critical Mass