Monday, November 19, 2007

Capriccio Stravagante

Last night I attended a concert of early music. Not so shocking, really; I've done that kind of thing before. But I've never, in my years of early-music concertgoing, encountered a scale like this:

Bach Level ($2000-$5000)
Mozart Level ($1000-$1999)
Handel Level ($500-$999)
Vivaldi Level ($250-$499)
Purcell Level ($100-$249)
Couperin Level ($50-$99)
Telemann Level ($25-$49)
Pachelbel Level (to $24)

My first reaction is, hey, why stop here? What about Kuhnau Level ($7)? Finger Level ($2.99)? Mattheson Level ($35)? I'm also interested exploring the liminal space between composers. If you give $99.50, are you lodged halfway between a French harpsichord suite and an early English opera? Is $1999.36 some kind of peppy contrapuntal sonata form? And what do you do if you give $6000? Do you move up to Schoenberg, or is there nowhere to go but Jesus?

I'm frantically thinking about all the preceding crap because I don't want to think about the real implications of this scale, which have not very much to do with music and quite a bit to do with its commodification. Maybe it's good to reinforce the idea that music has worth, but folks, this is a slippery slope. Start out slapping price tags on composers, and you could end up calculating the worth of every artistic experience. Two minutes of Rameau? $14. Reading Whitman? $56. Spinning around really fast and then falling over? $27.49; half-price if you squash someone else.

The danger is that the moment you know, down to the cent, what something is worth is the moment you stop experiencing and start consuming. Art is supposed to shove you around, to lead you, even if only very gently, astray. Knowing the purchase price of something is like hiking with your nose stuck in the map. You already know where you're going so you never bother to look around.

Sad. Put me down for Schmelzer at $22.

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