Why Save Face When You Can Sleeveface?
Tie Goes to the Dumpster

Music for Money, Symphonic Division
[with special guest: Leopold!]

Gimme a country where I can be free;
Don't need the unions buryin' me.
Keep me in exile the rest of my days,
Burn me in hell, but as long as it pays:

Art for art's sake;
Money for God's sake . . . .

-- 10cc, "Art For Art's Sake" (1975)

Tim Cavanaugh, writing on the Opinion L.A. weblog earlier this week, posted an odd little item drawing on a 2005 survey that purported to identify the ten most financially successful orchestral composers.

George Gershwin, the sole American, heads up the list -- which is unsurprising but seems slightly unfair, given that his financial success was much more dependent on his masterful popular songs than on, say, the Concerto in F.  Italians are well represented (Verdi, Rossini, Puccini and Paganini all make it) as are Germans/Austrians (Johann Strauss, Handel, Haydn) and Russians (Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff).  The French are shut out.

Cavanaugh notes the survey not for aesthetic reasons but for the light it may shed on relations between free markets and classical music:

Why is this interesting (to me at any rate)?  Because longhair music is pretty much universally recognized as an art form that can't compete in an open market and must be supported through royal or (these days) public patronage.  Yet this list is remarkable for the lack of patronage its members enjoyed.  All but two of the composers on the list date to the industrial revolution or afterward, and the two who came earlier than that — Haydn and Handel — did plenty of lucrative for-profit work in Britain, which boasted the most liberal economy in Europe.  Verdi, Rossini and Puccini were all piece-work producers who were less interested in pleasing the royal ear than in filling up the house with paying customers.  Paganini and 'Waltz King' Strauss were expert self-promoters and brand builders, Rachmaninoff made much of his fortune on recordings and performances, and Gershwin made it to the top of the list strictly by producing music for a large popular audience.  I'm not sure he ever got a dime of public support.

More interesting to me than the libertarian economics is Cavanaugh's use of "longhair" to refer to Western classical music.  That was formerly a settled usage -- hifalutin' intellectuals had a reputation for flowing locks by the mid-19th century, and the term's specifically American use in connection with classical music seems to have originated in the 1930s -- but it fell out of fashion by the 1960's when long hair on men became a token of being one of Those Dirty Hippies who didn't much care for the classics but have since grown up and taken over the government.

So, harking back to that older usage, do I need any further excuse to offer up "Long-Haired Hare," a short documentary that takes us behind the scenes of Bugs Bunny's famous appearance with the Los Angeles Philharmonic during the 1948 Hollywood Bowl season?  No, indeed I do not:


The comments to this entry are closed.