Thursday, September 09, 2010

Critiquing Music Choice

Another aspect of being pretty much confined to home during convalescence has been developing some familiarity with MusicChoice, the music channels provided by our cable service. I choose to find amusement in the fact that while there are about a dozen channels featuring what they call rock of various kinds to cover maybe 60 years of music development, there are only two "classical" channels to cover some 600 years of music. Ah, well. I suppose there are about 200 rock fans for every classical fan, so it makes sense to give the people what they want. The two channels are labeled "classical" and "light classical." Jen has gotten used to falling asleep to the latter playing very softly, so we've listened to it quite a bit. But it's not entirely clear what makes it "light" compared to the other.

From listening, I'd venture that the major differentiation is length. The "light" channel may play single movements of symphonies and concerti from about 1800 on, but not the entire work, unless it is one of those short sinfonias from the baroque or rococo period. I used to think of "light" classical as the kind of thing they would play in "pops" concerts -- 19th century opera and operetta overtures, short nocturnes, dance movements, popular program music and the like. They played the first movement of Mozart's 40th today, which I consider admirably "heavy." I don't think Mahler knew how to write anything light, but they've featured a couple of symphonic movements -- so long as they were about 7 minutes or less.

Such quibbles aside, I'm pleased they play so much Baroque, which is still my favorite genre, and that they have introduced me to composers I didn't know existed. Ever heard of Johann Friederich Fasch (1688-1758)? Not me, but his music is nice. I have heard of Cesar Cui as one of the "Russian Five" (with Borodin, Mussorgsky, etc) but had literally never heard any of his music before encountering it on MusicChoice Light. It confirms the impression of a skillful but not especially original composer. They play a fair amount of John Field, the "Irish Chopin," whom I had heard before but not much. Did you know there was a Christian Cannabich (1731-1798)? I thought I knew quite a bit about so-called classical music, and I do, but it's pleasing to think that there's always more to know.

The "Music Lover's Encyclopedia," edited by Deems Taylor and published in 1947, which I picked up in I'm not sure which used bookstore years ago, has been especially helpful in filling in information. It has essays with attitude, which I don't think is done, or not so often, these days.


digital maestro said...

As the person who programs those two classical channels for MUSIC CHOICE I am very happy to read the comments of a listener who really "gets" the formats. Alan answers his own question quite appropriately, and close to what I would have said had I answered it myself. While Light Classical is "light" overall, I still include the most recognizable works of Classical music since some customers only get the one channel. I realize some of the pieces come close to going over the line of being considered strictly "light," but I include them for their recognition factor. I think that also keeps people listening longer.

Alan Bock said...

Wow! Who knew the post would get to such an eminence! It's a good explanation of the aspect that slightly puzzled me. Thanks.