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

Julian Johnson
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Aug. 19 2011
Praised in The Economist as "heartfelt and finely reasoned...wise, perceptive and inspiring," Who Needs Classical Music? offers a fresh and balanced defense of the value of classical music in contemporary culture. Challenging the many cultural critics who contend that the division between "high" and "low" art is an artificial one, that Beethoven's Ninth and "Blue Suede Shoes" are equally valuable, Julian Johnson counters that music is more than just "a matter of taste." Music can provideentertainment or simply serve as background noise. Classical music, he suggests, is shaped by its claim to function as art. It is distinguished by a self-conscious attention to its own materials and their formal patterning. Far from being irrelevant today, Johnson argues, classical music continues to offer rich and engaging insights into our experience of modern life. The paperback edition includes a new preface from the author, bringing his argument up to date. Who Needs Classical Music?will stimulate readers to reflect on their own investment (or lack of it) in music and art of all kinds.

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"You will often cheer out loud! I did...more profound than can be communicated in a book review. I read this twice. Like all my favorite books, I will read it again and again. Nothing is more relevant to classical music devotees."--American Record Guide

"[A] heartfelt and finely reasoned appeal....wise, perceptive and inspiring book."--The Economist

"[A] soberly argued defense of classical tradition as uniquely valuable in its own right, and hence worth sustaining as a cultural option open to all. Who Needs Classical Music? is neither a last-ditch lament nor an aggressive counter-attack....Every page -at times, every sentence-is loaded with implications for further thought deserves the widest attention." --BBC online

"[A] sophisticated yet accessible defense of classical music's value."--Choice

About the Author

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."

Inside This Book (Learn More)
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

4.4 out of 5 stars
4.4 out of 5 stars
Most helpful customer reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Fresh insights here, a different perspective April 24 2002
This is a courageous book to write in the current anti-intellectual climate. Julian Johnson flies in the face of the prevailing winds, not just in popular culture, but in much academia today as well. What Dr. Johnson says, essentially, is that the trend of seeing so-called "high culture" and particularly classical music, as elitist, as exclusionist, is itself actually elitist. He reasons that people or organizations that set themselves up as today's cultural arbiters are in fact exclusionary, because they are determining what is right for the public, what they desire. It's far more than just a clever contrarian argument. Johnson gets to the core of classical music, its essence, what makes it different from any other music in history, by discussing how it is put together, how it develops, how it works through time, and then shows how these techniques are not present in today's popular music, which rely instead on simple, short repetitions to create and reinforce a mood, a moment, a feeling. Thus, he argues, pop music is more about feeling, about gratification of the senses, about "taste" and subjective preference, while classical music, from a musicological point of view, has traditionally measured greatness by how the individual work exceeds the expectations and limitations of the form in which it is set. Classical music's tension is (generally) in this structural conflict between the formal and the individual, whereas pop music's (generally) is from the personal reaction the listener has to the textures, sounds, and lyrical message, conveyed through repetition, circular (non-developing) structures, and novelty of sound conveyed through electronics more often than not. And there is a difference, as he points out, between novelty and originality. Read more ›
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5.0 out of 5 stars A compelling argument for classical music Dec 6 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.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Yes this is good March 31 2003
By A Customer
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!
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5.0 out of 5 stars THE NEED OF A REBIRTH. April 23 2013
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Gives a greater understanding of the mess we are in no time is the #1 problem

On the good side NOT too heavy ,,just well researched A real "ear" opener without being rich to have a better understanding ,,,music is art ......I can believe now when I hear someone talk about the colors in music a my personal need for classical music (all types) as I am painting with my pastels.
When I paint outside, nature herself provide all. A cricket...a huge storm coming.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
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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