Tuesday, April 24, 2018

The Industrial Revolution and the Symphony

Tyler Cowen writes in Marginal Revolution how the symphony orchestra is as much a technological achievement as a cultural one, and its development happened in tandem with that of the Industrial Revolution:
I heard Mozart’s 39th symphony in concert last night, and it occurred to me (once again) that I also was witnessing one of mankind’s greatest technological achievements. Think about what went into the activity: each instrument, developed eventually to perfection and coordinated with the other instruments. The system of tuning and the underlying principles of the music. The acoustics of the music hall. The sheet music on paper and the musical notation. All of those features extremely well coordinated with the kind of compositional talent being produced in Central and Western Europe from say 1710 to 1920. And by the mid-18th century most of the key features of this system were in place and by the early 19th century they were more or less perfected. 
Sometimes I think of the Industrial Revolution as fundamentally a Cultural Revolution. The first instantiation of this Cultural Revolution maybe was the rise of early Renaissance Art in Italy and in the Low Countries. That too was based on a series of technological developments, including improved quality tempera paint, the development of oil painting, the resumption of bronze and marble techniques for sculpture, and the reintroduction of paper into Europe, which enabled artists’ sketches and drawings.
But the Industrial Revolution is over, and as we move to a more multicultural service and technology-oriented society, our cultural achievements change as well. How will orchestras and opera companies fit into this new paradigm?

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