The discourse supporting classical music so reeks of historical blindness and sanctimonious self-regard as to render the object of its ministrations practically indefensible. Belief in its indispensability, or in its cultural superiority, is by now unrecoverable, and those who mount such arguments on its behalf morally indict themselves. Which is not to say that classical music, or any music, is morally reprehensible. Only people, not music, can be that. What is reprehensible is to see its cause as right against some wrong. What is destroying the credibility of classical music is an unacknowledged or misperceived collision of rights. The only defense classical music needs, and the only one that has any hope of succeeding, is the defense of classical music (in the words of T.W. Adorno, a premier offender) against its devotees.
Higher is not automatically better; but opponents of snobbish pretension would be foolish to lose sight of the reality of the high-low gamut. The proof of its reality is the way it reproduces itself within all discourses: now we have “classic jazz,” “classic rock,” and I will bet that somebody somewhere is touting classic kitsch. We all draw upon its full range, or as much of it as we can, and its narrowing would be a loss to everyone.
Classical music is not dying; it is changing . . . Change can be opposed, and it can be slowed down, but it cannot be stopped . . . But change is not always loss, and realizing this should not threaten but console. Altered demographics and evolving social attitudes will work their inevitable effects. New or advancing media will continue to transform what they convey. We may not like the changes, any more than speakers of Latin may have liked the transformation of their language into French or Romanian. That, too, must have looked to some like corruption, degeneration, and death. Others learned to reap its rewards.
–Richard Taruskin, “The Musical Mystique,” in The New Republic, October 22, 2007.
(A review of Julian Johnson, Who Needs Classical Music? Cultural Choice and Musical Value; Joshua Fineberg, Classical Music, Why Bother? Hearing the World of Contemporary Culture Through a Composer’s Ears; Lawrence Kramer, Why Classical Music Still Matters. Standard disclaimer: quotation does not mean endorsement of the statements contained within!)