What is classical music?

What is classical music? What is this strange entity to which I, like many others, instrumentalists, composers, conductors, simple enthusiasts, have dedicated and continue to dedicate their best energies, a relevant part of their free time, summer vacations, mornings, afternoons and evenings? What is this strange object that has the strength to conquer so much space in the lives of so many individuals?

Let’s start with definitions. The word “classical” next to “music” began to be used in the nineteenth century: in the era of the great classifications, in which all human knowledge had to be normalized and above all “framed”, this definition was born, useful precisely to perimeter the period that at the time was seen as that of formal perfection in the musical sphere.

Thus, just as in the figurative arts, “classical art” was understood to be that of the ancient Greeks and Romans, because it was seen as a period of maximum perfection and a reference point for subsequent eras, also in music it was believed that the period that went from Bach to Beethoven was the golden age of music, therefore also worthy of being defined “classical”. This label, over time, then extended to a whole musical genre, as opposed to music defined “pop” or “light”.

When you talk about classical music to people who do not know it, it often seems to touch an almost rough subject. How many times have I been asked, about the artistic programming of Roma Tre Orchestra, if we were only doing classical music or something else (to be read in the tone of those who ask with almost dismay and certainly upset mood).

My answer in these cases has always been a ‘yes’ said without uncertainty, without shame, bearing in mind that making classical music, in fact, is not exactly like dealing drugs or selling weapons on the black market.

But why this? Why is classical music seen as dinosaur stuff? Why should it taste old, boring, stale, something that healthy people should beware of very carefully? Why does it have to be seen as stuff by smart-alecky intellectuals who underneath it all despise it but say they love it just to make figs (ok, there are, yes, even smart-alecky intellectuals who like to make figs, but let’s say they are a minority)?

My answer is: out of ignorance. Those who say this simply do not know what they are talking about. He has never listened to it, he has never come close to it. At school you make art history, but you don’t say anything about music.

Of course, I don’t want to sound naive or, worse than ever, give the impression of believing in the innate elevation of spirit of all individuals. Certainly there will be those who, even if they listen to it starting from the simplest things, will still not appreciate it, just as there are people who, if you show them the Sistine Chapel, get bored, or others who are not passionate about any reading, no film, etc..

There are narrow-minded people – one should have no illusions – who do not understand anything beyond their primary physiological needs, but fortunately they are a minority.

There is a majority of people who, more or less, however, appreciate beautiful things, appreciate the paintings of Raphael and Van Gogh, when they enter St. Peter’s – like the philosopher Immanuel Kant – feel the sense of the sublime, love to watch a good film or go to a photographic exhibition.

Here, with regard to all these subjects, classical music cannot but break through. Because classical music is just that: the sublime in music. It is the use of sound in its deepest form, a succession of auditory stimuli that manages to touch our soul.

In Roma we have been organizing for years a didactic activity called Laboratory of musical language. It is a beautiful initiative, which serves precisely this purpose: to bring people who had never before been in a concert hall to listen to and practice great music. And it is always a pleasure to discover how many young people, after the mere cfu award, stay in touch with us, keep a curiosity for classical music.

Let’s say that between light music and classical music passes the same difference that there is between beer and wine. A beer can certainly be of higher or lower quality. It can be artisanal, abbey beer, light, dark, amber…there are many people who appreciate beer more than wine, many who even drink only this beer.

But wine…ladies and gentlemen, let’s not joke: wine is something else. The wine, red of course, can reach levels of absolute perfection. Wine is an art, precisely. Wine can vary in infinite ways, it has no price limits because it has no limits of perfection.

And classical music is just that: a musical form that has only the sky as its limit. How big is Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony? There are no words to define it, of course. It has no time, it has always existed, it was in our collective consciousness before it was written, it is there today, it will always be there.

And so we go back to the question we asked ourselves at the beginning. Can one dedicate one’s whole life to classical music? Certainly yes. Because it means dedicating it to something sublime, precisely. To something that lasts forever, whose value is immutable and unchanged in time.

Those who deal with classical music must certainly remember that we must be in step with the times: the ways of communicating must adapt to today’s means, the expressive channels of those who write, those who play, those who organize, must be in time.

If we do not want to be perceived as dinosaurs, first of all we have to start by not looking like dinosaurs ourselves. But here, if the ways and channels can and indeed must change, the substance cannot. The search for Art cannot know compromises