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Text-based music

It’s often easier to say what classical music is not, than to say what it is.

Somehow it remains a struggle to define the term “classical music.” Some people call it “concert music,” which seems a little too broad, or “art music,” a little too exclusive, or “serious music,” which is an insult to every other kind of music. It’s often easier to say what classical music is not: it’s not any one of the countless different styles of music that fall in the general category of “pop” music. Recently, though, I heard a definition that I like: “text-based music.” The presence of a composed musical text—and the required fidelity to the details of that text—is in fact a central, if not the central feature of classical music. And where a text exists, the music has no expiration date. Interpretations of Beethoven’s Fifth may change, for example, but the text of the music as Beethoven composed it, the notes themselves, will remain unchanged forever, which is why the music can endure forever.

A Minute with Miles is a production of South Carolina Public Radio, made possible by the J.M. Smith Corporation.

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