Monday, November 18, 2013

Controversy: If it is new can it be a masterpiece?

Did the first listeners of Pachelbel's "Canon in Dm," Bach's Brandenburg Concertos, Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, Satie's "GymnopĂ©dies," Verdi's Carmen, Irving Berlin's "White Christmas," Miles Davis' Kind of Blue or The Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band know that they were listening to "masterpieces" when they heard them? I am willing to bet that there were those who did.
     I believe that there are some people in every generation that are able and willing to hear and recognize and even value masterful composition, creative artistry, innovation and expansion within art forms like music. I also believe that there are more people in each generation that get stuck or comfortable in the familiar--people who find it easy to accommodate and assimilate the styles, constructs and forms to which they are most familiar, surrounded and conditioned. These same people, however, often find it difficult to find room in their familiar, comfortable world to accommodate and accept "new," less familiar (especially ground-breaking, innovative) art.
     How many artists have there been through history that died uncelebrated, despondent and impoverished because their art was not embraced--because it took time for their challenges to accepted and familiar constructs to be understood, valued and embraced? And yet, how many artists were upheld and celebrated for their use of and conformity to accepted methods and styles and constructs? Which artists have greater merit?
     My argument would be:  Neither. Both have value to add to society and civilization: one more for their deepened exploration and celebratory reinforcement of current forms and styles, the other for their visionary compulsion to push further, to go beyond the past and present, to striving to expand and evolve an art from.
     I believe that there are masterpieces of music being released today, this year, in the 21st Century, that a few will recognize, value and champion--masterpieces from both kinds of artists:  those that strive to explore and deepen the forms and styles that have come before, and those that are driven to take music farther, into new, 'uncharted' territory. Whose masterpieces will withstand the test of time no one can say. Were we able to reflect on the music of the past 40 years we might recognize that there are some albums (or bands) that were once highly acclaimed that have fallen in the public esteem (e.g., ELP, Phil Collins, Marillion, Dream Theater), some that have maintained their original esteem (Yes, Genesis, Rush, Metallica, Porcupine Tree), and others that have 'suddenly' become "recognized" and risen to the top of the public's esteem (e.g., Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock, The Strawbs, Univers Zero, Ozric Tentacles, Kingston Wall, maudlin of The Well).  
     I myself have declared no less than 29 albums of this second decade of the 21st Century as masterpieces; that's five from 2010, ten from 2011, eight from 2012, and six from 2013. If one considers that no less than 50 of ProgArchives' Top 100 Studio Albums of All-time are from the "peak years" of progressive rock (1970 through 1974), and then consider that many more albums are being released today than there were in the 1970s, I think it only fair to believe that these four years of the second decade of the 21st Century will turn out to produce at least 30 albums that history will recognize as "masterpieces of progressive rock music," don't you?