On the website of the San Francisco Classical Voice an article appeared which revealed that the leftish ideologies of the 'social relevance' of classical, serious art music are still alive in some quarters, where obvious nonsense is presented as serious argument.
Such ideology, which claims that only music with a 'message' directly relating to the outside world of the moment, is 'relevant', is one of the causes of the erosion of classical music's meaning and position within the modern world. It is a result of the same materialism that lie at the heart of all the attacks upon the art form, from all those people ignorant of what the art form is and what it means, but without any inhibition to enter the field of debate and try to push music in their narrow box of understanding.
“Art needs to have social relevance,” Măcelaru insists. “It needs to have a now. Once an artist embraces that, then the connection to the audience is that much more relevant. To that extent I don’t think the art form (of classical music) is dying at all.”
Having said that, Măcelaru feels that in the last 10 years there’s been a growing disconnect between the message of the composer and the way the audience understands it — “if only because the message itself is lacking. Which is why I’ve encouraged all the composers I collaborate with to find something that speaks to the 21st century, that’s socially relevant or politically charged — even if it’s emotionally upsetting — something that has to do with who we are in the 21st century.
“After all, Beethoven spoke of social relevance in his time. So did Shostakovich and so did Bernstein. And note how different they are from each other. Think of how Figaro was an incredible social statement at the time. This suggests how some composers have been able to stay relevant because they spoke of the people’s needs not just in terms of experiencing the art form, but also in understanding the life around them ... I don’t think it’s our place as composers to give an answer, but it’s our responsibility to ask the questions so that we as a society can have a discussion about it.”
Do we listen to Beethoven because of his social relevance? Or to Shostakovich because of his undercover references to Soviet life? No, these works have still relevance to us because they have transcended the temporal into something universal, which music - as a non-conceptual art form - can do pretty well. It is not the 'message' that gives musical works a chance to survive the passing of time, but its universal human characteristics which can resonate with people in different times and places. Music as an art form is not the place to discuss the realities of social issues, but the place where these issues are transcended into universal, timeless artistic experiences. That does not make the issues less urgent, but universalizes them and makes them accessible far beyond their initial inspirations - we don't listen to the Eroica because of Napoleon but because it is a great work of art symbolizing the heroic life with all its ups and downs.
If music would need a 'now' to be 'relevant', ALL music from before today would be meaningless.