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Who Needs Classical Music?: Cultural Choice and Musical Value [Hardcover]

By Julian Johnson (Author)
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Item description for Who Needs Classical Music?: Cultural Choice and Musical Value by Julian Johnson...

During the last few decades, most cultural critics have come to agree that the division between "high" and "low" art is an artificial one, that Beethoven's Ninth and "Blue Suede Shoes" are equally valuable as cultural texts. In Who Needs Classical Music?, Julian Johnson challenges these assumptions about the relativism of cultural judgements. The author maintains that music is more than just "a matter of taste": while some music provides entertainment, or serves as background noise, other music claims to function as art. This book considers the value of classical music in contemporary society, arguing that it remains distinctive because it works in quite different ways to most of the other music that surrounds us.
This intellectually sophisticated yet accessible book offers a new and balanced defense of the specific values of classical music in contemporary culture. Who Needs Classical Music? will stimulate readers to reflect on their own investment (or lack of it) in music and art of all kinds.

Citations And Professional Reviews
Who Needs Classical Music?: Cultural Choice and Musical Value by Julian Johnson has been reviewed by professional book reviewers and journalists at the following establishments -
  • Choice - 10/01/2002 page 289

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Item Specifications...

Studio: Oxford University Press, USA
Pages   140
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 9.54" Width: 6.48" Height: 0.67"
Weight:   0.8 lbs.
Binding  Hardcover
Release Date   Mar 28, 2002
Publisher   Oxford University Press
ISBN  0195146816  
ISBN13  9780195146813  

Availability  0 units.

More About Julian Johnson

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Julian Johnson is Professor of Music at Royal Holloway, University of London. He was awarded the Dent Medal of the Royal Musical Association for "outstanding contributions to musicology."

Julian Johnson has an academic affiliation as follows - University of Sussex Royal Holloway University of London University of.

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Product Categories

1Books > Subjects > Entertainment > Music > General
2Books > Subjects > Entertainment > Music > Musical Genres > Classical > General
3Books > Subjects > Entertainment > Music > Theory, Composition & Performance > Appreciation
4Books > Subjects > Entertainment > Music > Theory, Composition & Performance > Theory
5Books > Subjects > Nonfiction > Philosophy > Aesthetics

Reviews - What do customers think about Who Needs Classical Music?: Cultural Choice and Musical Value?

Good, though rather short and incomplete  Apr 27, 2006
As someone who stands out for having no interest in popular music and a love of classical music, I was overjoyed to discover this book. Finally, someone out there who finds current trends in music as depressing as I do, someone who is willing to defend classical music from the myriad of charges against it (and there are certainly many).

I was surprised by Johnson's approach. I was expecting something comparing the complexity of classical music to popular music when I first heard about it. Nonetheless, I was surprised and pleased to see that Johnson followed a more philosophical approach, focusing on the purpose of classical as compared to pop. Specifically, Johnson argues that classical music is important because it represents art rather than mere entertainment.

Although I found it to be a very good book, I withheld a star because it does have some shortcomings. It is a very short read and I think it would have been better if it went into more depth on issues it only touched on. Johnson notes that rock music is quite rhythmically impoverished and that popular music relies on decidedly archaic harmonic language, for example. These are very good points, but he does not elaborate on them as much as I hoped he would.

I would have also liked to see his take on the various forms of jazz and progressive rock that I often see cited by those arguing in favor of popular music. Many seriously argue that they constitute art on the same level as classical music. Given that, it seems unlikely that a staunch fan would find this case for classical music particularly convincing. Though Johnson makes a good case that there is more than taste at work, I fear that alone will do little to save classical music.
Thoughts of an age 25 white male  Aug 19, 2004
First off, this is not a an academic or musicological book. But it is a very thoughtful one. It felt like a grouping of essays from which one could base discussions.

During this last paragraph of this book I was reminded of Wynton Marsalis' comment in the Ken Burns Jazz documentary that, Beethoven does not come to you, you have to come to him. Johnson seems to be expressing that classical music requires determined effort to truly appreciate.

I personally came to classical music from the standpoint that a good deal of effort is put into creating it and much of it require virtuosity, so surely a good deal of insight can be gained from it, as long as one puts forth the patience and can maintain some modesty towards it. At the very least, it should be respected. Classical music requires that you don't use it as mood music, but that you earnestly devote your attention and immediate focus to it.

In the final chapter, Johnson goes on a bit more of a modern society rant. e.g. Television being the antithesis of classical music in that only the most minimal involvement is required to absorb its full meaning.

Although he makes some decent arguments for setting classical music apart as mindful art music, there are errors in his logic/proofs. Surely some Satie, Chopin, Schubert lieder, and works of Bach are no different from our songs (lieder) of today of a similar ABA structure. Though he used Beethoven's Fifth as a example of the discursive quality of classical... it would be hard to lose the argument if all classical music were as potent!

Self-referrentiality, also, was a component of his argument for classical, yet Jazz and Hip Hop are loaded with it. Jazz has its references to bop, dixieland, cool jazz, free jazz, etc. I think it is hard to see some Hip Hop being respected 50 years on when every other line makes a soon-to-be-outdated pop culture reference. (But then Beethoven and Mozart used Janissary music references - pop culture in their time, yes?)

Don't get me wrong, there are a lot of great morsels in here, like his reference to the popularity of the fade-out as the "solution" to the lack of denouement in pop songs. I also appreciated his reference of the polarity of modern life: think hard at work so you can come home and turn off your brain via TV or the Spice Girls. Rarely do we budget our meager free time towards leisure activities requring mental effort.

While his overall argument has its foibles, myriad directions are delightfully taken that would otherwise be ignored in a less thorough and less entertaining survey.
A compelling argument for classical music  Dec 7, 2003
Julian Johnson confronts the complex issue of the value to society of art music -- and the differences between art music and popular music. Although densely written (this is not a book for skimming, nor for light reading), I found the book compelling and cogently argued. Johnson tries to define the relationship between art music and our human qualities -- and argues convincingly that there are real differences between popular and serious culture, and that those differences should not be minimized in the name of political correctness. It is not easy to summarize the book, because of the complexity of its subject and the depth of his argument. But anyone with an interest in the place of classical music in our society today should read this.
Yes this is good  Apr 1, 2003
Johnson embarks on what is actually a very challenging subject. This is a stimulating and a provoking text, in which a sensible and cohesive argument is set out (very occasional slightly silly parodies aside - i think the other reviewers may not understand the slight toungue-in-cheek nature of some of these). I would very definately reccomend this book for anyone interested in music, culture, art and people!
Tragically, J.J. Might Be Hiding His Heart Behind His Head  May 1, 2002
Unfortunately, time does not permit me the luxury of the in-depth critique that this important and useful book does indeed deserve.Perhaps I shall be able to return to this task in the not-too-distant future, in order to do the critique detailed justice, following the shining example of fellow-reader John Grabowski.

But I believe that it may be fairly written, in brief, that while
the defense of the wonderful Western classical or art music tradition is a necessary and noble undertaking, it is almost impossible to divine defender Johnson's soul through his too-thickly-textured intellect. Thus, if the work is meant for the cognoscenti, the author has the ear, so to speak, of those most sympathetic to his sometimes slightly-tortured arguments. But if it is meant as a paean unto THE WORLD AT LARGE, including the dubious as well as the barbarians at and inside the gate, Defender Johnson has created an uphill battle for himself -- for the simple reason that THE WORLD AT LARGE, including the dubious and the barbarians at and inside the gate, cannot and will not be persuaded or convinced by argument overloaded with sophisticated intellect but woefully empty of the kind of good-old-fashioned passion which is the very hallmark of the beauty which he seeks to preserve, protect, and defend! { I hope my quasi-Teutonic sentence structure here hasn't been overly-influenced by the mode of the book itself! }

If the text were only imbued with the spirit of the title -- direct,engaging, challenging, alive -- well, then, we might have a five star special on our hands. But alas, I fear that the work,
with whose major premises I wholeheartedly agree, will not have the reach that a defense of this precious tradition ought to have in its very real hour of need.

That's tragic -- and frustrating.


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