For decades, critics, historians and even neuroscientists have been pondering the question of why so-called modern music seems to perplex the average listener. After all, adventurous artists in other fields have met with a very different reception. In Why do we hate modern classical music? Alex Ross assumes that the core problem is neither physiological nor sociological. Rather, modern composers have fallen victim to a long-smouldering indifference that is intimately linked to classical music’s idolatrous relationship with the past. What must fall away is the notion of classical music as a reliable conduit for consoling beauty – a kind of spa treatment for tired souls.
I agree with Ross that (classical) music is not (only) about beauty. However, I would take physiological and sociological explanations more serious: it seems like music affects us more than other arts do – at least on a different plateau. This might be a reason why we tend to react much more passionately when it concerns music.
Click here for a German essay on modern classical music and our cerebral functions.