Ask the majority of people and you’ll hear them reply that music is an important part in their life and it normally will be true. However, has the importance been molded over the past two decades into something different from what it was in the 19th and early 20th centuries?
Music has come to be an entertainment, whose primary purpose is to entertain; there is rarely political meaning or motivation behind the songs of One Direction or Take That – just lyrics about petty emotions. As the standard ‘song’ has developed it has become a more commercially accessible object due to its length and ease of distribution. However, this has unconsciously destroyed the range of topics, forms and subject matters music has previously accessed.
However, it has become more accessible for beneficial reasons. Participation in groups does bring communities together and is a way of accessing a sense of belonging and meaning through an enjoyable activity. Yet music, on a larger more publicized scale, has deteriorated.
Music, in its public domain, has become an industry, serving only entertainment thirsts that the public demand. The industry has, despite being hard to get into, become a breeding ground for mediocre artists and songwriters who deliver no real idols and stars with the real capacity to inspire and provoke the listener.
Music of previous generations and eras held the potential to influence and tell the listener of a story of current affairs and events of the time. Admittedly, all the music produced does not tell us much about the historical period it was from, but in comparison each piece or song had a history, a background and a meaning, unlike the present day, which is purely commercial.
Verdi’s opera, Aida, premiered in 1871 and is a romantic example of music representing European ideologies and preconceptions of the East or the Orient. The colonialism of European powers was prominent in French Egypt and Verdi’s great pinnacle of his own work reflected this entirely, highlighting European preconceptions, assumptions and knowledge of the Orient.
Certainly, music was liberated and politicised after the French Revolution, especially with the rise of nationalistic tendencies that a Napoleonic Europe experienced whilst struggling for independence. Since the two world wars, music has come to represent more sober movements which are less inspiring and provocative.
Yet the presuppositions we have from judging people on what they listen to increases the value of music. It is certainly influential, yet its positive influence has deteriorated. Many would view my taste for classical as snobby, stuffy, or backwards (in respect to popular social movements). In part, they’d be right but an appreciation of older, lost music in the younger generation can be seen as admirable or diverse but also, more cynically and regularly, something which represents my rejection of new music. This leaves me at the mercy of others, for their judgment will be a major factor in how they perceive me. The value of music is something that has shifted from what the music means, to a tool by which a social judgment can be made.
We will always look back in history, especially European history, and be able to easily associate movements of music and great composers and artists with dates and events. Mozart taking the banned play, the Marriage of Figaro, and setting it to an opera. Beethoven’s joyful reaction to Napoleon’s revolutionary liberating wars in the German states. Sibelius and his escape to America during to Russian civil war and Shostakovich working within repressive Communist Russia. In the 1950s, rock and roll symbolised the liberties of free expression and increased diversity that a post-war world offered. In the 1960s, anarchy swept the nation as Pop music developed. There was always a reason, always a motivation for the writing of the music, although economic factors played a part of course , but the real inspiration was to represent and to symbolise political and social changes and other difficulties.
But whom will we associate with the present day? Jessie J? Snoop Dog? One Direction? As times of economic strain have come to characterize the past four years, music has not reacted. Its monotonous continuation of the same form; lyrics, melodies and beat has been a pillar of strength, being able to resist any reflection of economic hardship or the Arab revolutions or even the major theme of Terrorism threats in the West over the last decade.
The value of music has increased in its recreational and commercial aspects but the rise of this side has decreased the meaning and quality of the music itself. I embrace the diversity that it offers and how taste varies is a unique quality, yet its position in society has degraded its influential capacities. Music is a natural and traditional medium able to reflect and symbolise popular tendencies. Its value needs to be reunited with stronger ideas to improve communication and consolidation with the public.
Music should never be a decisive factor in political matters. It has the potential to be a reflection, symbolic of any change, general disillusionment, discontent and anger and this is the value that has been deteriorated. Its capacity to represent has been lost and thus affected its position in society, changing it to one only of personal satisfaction and entertainment and a tool of industry and commerciality.