The canon: what happens to new classical music compared to what happens to new poetry

I’m wondering tonight,  comparing what happens to new classical music compositions (which I used to write a lot of) and new poems (which I currently write more of) after their creation.

I was reading in the cd notes for a recording of Benjamin Britten’s Piano Concerto that when it was written, even though people thought it was a bit showy and lacking in substance (I paraphrase) it was still a ‘welcome addition to the repertoire of 20th century piano concertos by British composers’.

Has anyone ever said anything similar about poems, that I can remember? Nothing springs totally to mind. Maybe the closest is someone saying something like ‘The Four Quartets was a welcome extended post-war statement by one of our major poets’. But that’s not quite the same thing. It’s close, but it doesn’t quite convey the sense of the utility of the artwork in terms of providing something that will ‘do’ to keep the tradition and its machinery going. I got the sense that the Britten concerto was seen as a not particularly successful bit of cooking that nonetheless filled the gap for now. Young pianists still had something contemporary to make their name with etc.

I think if the comparison between people talking about Eliot and people talking about Britten didn’t ring quite true, it’s partly to do with the differing circumstances that surround a new work in either form. With classical music, I think it’s more common perhaps for a performance to be lined up before the work is written. With poetry, there isn’t necessarily ANY performer ever involved, just the hope that there might be some readers engaged in a bit of one-on-one reception.

Is publication comparable to performance, I wonder? That’s another question.

I wonder if I’m too complacent about my poetry finding readers because I have some sort of assumption from my musical background that things that are written find an outlet? And are useful, for that matter?

What would things be like if there were figures whose profession it was to publicly read new poetry, in performances, or theatres or something? I think it’d be different to the scenario of poets just reading their work out, for example. Me, I quite like the idea of putting on a reading of other people’s poems that I thought made a nice programme, in the way that a concert programmer might with music.

As I write this, I know that there are some near examples of what I’m talking about, like I think there was a Bloodaxe tour a few years back which had a couple of actors performing contemporary poems. I like that idea. Maybe Live Literature in general is doing this a bit. The show I did as half of The Glamourous about women Beat Generation poets did this, but it also did a lot of other things simultaneously. I’m not thinking of poetry as theatre or performance poetry.

One thing I suspect is that the ratio of new classical music composed to new classical music performed is MORE EQUAL than the ratio of new poetry written to new poetry read/published.  Many reasons of course, if this is even true. Classical music’s ‘canon’ seems to be put together differently  to poetry’s ‘canon’.

This is a really unresolved thought. I want to start thinking about anthologies and whether they’re somehow implicated. I mean, they must be. They are. Will go off and ponder.


6 responses to “The canon: what happens to new classical music compared to what happens to new poetry

  1. cb53

    My dear friend, I do believe you hit it. Still pondering as to what “it” is, but you hit it. Radio probably has to do a lot with it. YouTube. Internet can probably be blamed for a lot of stuff. Take me for example. I have both poetry and music on the internet. So far 22 people have downloaded my poetry, but my music has gotten 170 views (that number being spread over five pieces). Maybe it’s just easier to listen to music than seek out poetry?

  2. That’s really interesting to hear your statistics about music v. poetry cb. Yeah, I think people trust that they are able to ‘get’ music more easily. I suspect people might be able to get more from poetry without worrying too much about whether they’re reading it the right way, too. But, music does keep going without you having to actively listen to it. With poetry, when the book’s closed, it’s stopped.

    • cb53

      Yeah exactly. When I took a literature class, the teacher was always asking what it meant. Many people have a hard time trying to figure out if they should read between the lines or take it for face value. Then as they grow older they probably remember those lessons and still think they don’t understand how to appreciate it. With music though, I hardly ever hear someone say “What does that mean?” Even with popular songs, people have no problem not knowing the exact lyrics and just humming along. I think it’s like what I said in “The Meanings” that society is only interested in the superficial right now, and don’t want to be bothered to dig deeper. Me, I don’t worry about it. Even if I don’t get a poem in the way the author meant it, at least it still has meaning to me.

  3. cb53

    Also, I’d thought I’d let you know that I posted my short stories under the Novel page. It’s Nightmares and Dreams.

    • They were too good! I mean to just have a quick look but ended up reading all four (and a half?). I could get into these more easily than some of your other writing because I like the short story form and sic-fi/fantasy/magic isn’t really my thing so much.

      And there’s as much light as dark. Dreams + Nightmares, as you say. Nice work!

      • cb53

        Thank you so much! It’s not a half, the last bit is the rest of the story told from a different point of view. I’m glad you liked them. I understand about not reading the other ones so it’s fine. I dip into a lot of different genres. I’m glad you could see the light in them. I’m sure you can understand that as the writer, my attention kind of gets stolen by the dark. I’ll keep you posted on what else I get out. 🙂

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