alan little’s weblog

a real classical music blogger

8th April 2004 permanent link

Back in January, thinking about Brian Micklethwait’s thoughts about film music, I said:

Here’s a half-formed Big Thought: film music is a return to musical normality. Throughout most of human history in most societies (including our own), music has mainly been a mood-altering adjunct to other activities, generally religious ceremonies and/or dancing. (Religious ceremonies and dancing having also been much the same thing throughout most of human history). What western classical music has tried to do in the last two hundred years is take music out of the temple, off of the dancefloor and make listening an end in itself, a quasi-religious act in its own right. An interesting experiment that, in the long run, didn’t work.

Which at the time I thought was broadly true as far as my limited knowledge goes, but quite likely to be ripped to pieces by people who really know about such things. Apparently not. Greg Sandow knows a lot about musical history – among other things he teaches at Juilliard, America’s top music college. He also writes an excellent weblog for, billed as “Greg Sandow on the future of Classical Music”. Here he is on the kind of atmosphere Mozart would have been used to performing in:

Canaletto Rotunda

As a footnote to my little piece of Mozart history, in my last post, here’s a Canaletto painting, done in 1754, called "London: Interior of the Rotunda at Ranelagh." It shows a concert. Notice how informal it is, and in some ways how much like a modern rock club. A few people are gathered by the stage, listening (I’d think) intently. Others are scattered through the space, talking and hanging out. It’s easy to see how in an atmosphere like this, people would feel free to clap right in the middle of the music, if they heard something that they liked. Our concept of "classical music" simply didn’t exist yet, and people listened quite informally.

See the rest of Greg’s October archive for a lot more on the same subject. Ah, I feel so … vindicated.

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