The Mozarts of Today

A response to an article by Kenneth Lampl

Mr. Lampl makes some broad assumptions in addressing the question of how musical esthetic value is determined in contemporary society. The conclusion he comes to, that today’s esthetic choices are arrived at in an open and democratic system as opposed to the monarchical ruling systems of the past and that no consensus is needed in so-called popular culture for someone to deem art valuable, beautiful or truthful, is misguided. Clearly Mr. Lampl has not worked in the pop music industry or anywhere near it.

First of all the openness of our society is a complete mirage created by a technocratic system as oppresive if not more so than any monarchy or tyranny which preceeded it historically. Our contemporary society is controlled by the media which is in turn owned by corporations. Surely Mr. Lampl is not saying that a solitary person or individual living in America today has the same access and decision-making power as Exxon or AT&T or SONY. It is the CEO’s of these corporations and their subsidiaries who determine what is and what is not commercial, appealing, or valuable to our society. They are the filter through which contemporary art esthetics is squeezed.

Validation and authority continue to exist in today’s society only on a larger and more insiduous scale than they existed say in the eighteenth century or in the age of aristocratic patronage. It is still largely controlled by males and by power and prestige. There is still a consensus. Only the artists that meet the consensus of a recording company’s A&R department will be recorded and disseminated in large quantities. Yes. There are smaller independent companies but like the single individual spoken of in the preceeding paragraph their access to media is limited. And in today’s large-scale society only large-scale numbers make a difference. Tastes and buying choices are carefully planned, manipulated, stimulated and nourished by a system of promotion that is hypnotic and single-minded, and is capable of delivering millions of dollars. Sounds and images are packaged and homogeneized, the role of education is diminshed and eventually eliminated. Modern society works mechanically to make the corporate chiefs wealthy beyond any measure of previous kings and rulers. To call this an open democratic system is absurd at best blasphemous in essence.

Finally, to contradict Mr.Lampl’s conclusion there is indeed a unified cultural perspective. It is one that has been determined by mass media and its corporate hierarchy. It is simply this: downplay education and the ability to make educated choices; address the most primal desires in the human being at the expense of the most civilized; find the simplest verbal, artistic and musical means where complicated creativity is non-essential and non-intellectual participation and acceptance is preferred, indulged and satisfied; and finally, make financial gain become the only true measure of value. This is our cultural perspective and it is one that is far more limiting, far more myopic and destructive than anything the ‘old white males’ of long ago could have conceived.

Its indeed a Brave New World. Where are the Mozart’s of today? They’re writing film scores for Spielberg and jingles for the advertising agencies. They are serving their masters, much like Mozart did in his day and getting far less mileage out of it historically.

Fernando Rivas
BM Composition Juilliard 1977