How Technology Separates Classical and Contemporary Music

19 Feb 2015

When Mozart and Beethoven were composing, the only way they could document what they heard in their heads was by using standard musical notation. 

Classical composers before the era of recorded music did their very best to describe their music by writing it down on paper.  It was then up to the individual conductors and musicians to interpret that score.

When people went to see a performance of, say, Beethoven’s Fifth, they had an idea of what they were going to hear but would also be interested to in the spin a given orchestra might put on things.  Because it was never permanently documented in audio form—as far as anyone tell, Beethoven himself never made a CD—we have no idea how Beethoven actually intended his symphony to sound. Back then, music was of the moment, something that happened and then was gone

When recording technology appeared, musical works were frozen for all time.  Instead of the spontaneity of the live performance, people began to assume that the way the music appeared on the record was the way it was supposed to sound.  Any subsequent live performances and recordings of that piece were copied from the recording.

But not with classical music or jazz.  Today, fans still seek out specific performances, specific conductors, specific soloists and so on. Interpretation of the original work is still highly treasured.

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