Can classical music really be appreciated?

Some people have asked me before on how to “appreciate” classical music or commented that they do not “appreciate” classical music. I’m not sure why classical music is something that needs to be “appreciated”.

I’d clarify that although I listen to classical music frequently, studied an instrument and bought a lot of CDs (until constantly moving home made collecting CDs impractical), I’m not a specialist or any sort of authority on classical music. But as a music lover, I truly believe that music as a gift to humanity is not supposed to be that complex to listen to, enjoy or even be a source of inspiration or insight.

Sure, the term “classical music” itself is already a topic of much debate and technical dissection: broadly, it refers to the Western (a nebulous enough word) classical music tradition that could be traced back to the 11th century, and which somewhat took shape in the 15th-16th century. In this article, I’ll just start the clock running from the time of the likes of Bach, Handel and Vivaldi (17th century) for the simple reason that most people who are exposed to Western culture would associate their music as being “classical” music (of the Baroque era). The tricky bit for me is what might be the cut-off time; that is hard to say, as there are also contemporary composers who write music in the classical music tradition, even if with some variations: e.g. former Beatles member Paul McCartney and his symphonic poem.

So say there’s no cut-off time. From the 17th century to date – that’s almost 400 years of human history. And probably a tonne of music produced within the western classical sphere alone. Classical music embodies a sheer variety of forms, instrumentation, styles, genres and periods – and that’s not counting those that were never published or publicly performed, or taking into account the “new music” that evolved from change in performance style, improvement on instruments and transformation of medium (from concert halls to self-made youtube videos).

I’m reminded of a scene from the movie Bean: in a comedy of errors, the eponymous Mr Bean was mistaken for an art expert and was pushed to give a talk to a supposedly discerning audience:

“Hello, I’m Dr. Bean… And my job is to sit and look at paintings.”

The audience gasps in awe at the simplicity of the apparent insight.

In the same vein, I don’t think classical music requires any particular way to be appreciated. For those who can read music, music can be read. Otherwise, music just needs to be listened to. Simple as that. And so what if you don’t get Bach? I didn’t either when I was younger. There are plenty of music literature throughout the history of time. Go forth and explore, and today you can do that very easily (I find radio stations to be the best and cheapest means of discovery).

Who is to say that you might not find something that speaks out to you like no other?

Here are some of the radio stations & live streaming sites that I tune into; feel free to add to the list:-

Symphony 92.4

Classic FM

WQXR

Deutsche Grammophon

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