During a radio interview between acts at the Metropolitan Opera in New York, a famous singer recently said she could not understand why audiences were so reluctant to listen to new music, given that they were more than ready to attend sporting events whose outcome was uncertain. It was a daft analogy. Having spent most of the last century writing music few people were expected to understand, much less enjoy, the high priests of music were now portrayed as innocent victims of the public’s lack of imagination. If they don’t know in advance whether Nadal or Federer is going to win, but still love Wimbledon, why don’t they enjoy it when an enraged percussionist plays a series of brutal, fragmented chords on his electric marimba? What’s wrong with them?
The reason the sports analogy fails is because when Spain plays Germany, everyone knows that the game will be played with one ball, not eight; and that the final score will be 1-0 or 3-2 or even 8-1 - but definitely not 1,600,758 to Arf-Arf the Chalet Ate My Banana. The public may not know in advance what the score will be, but it at least understands the rules of the game.
Someone will have to remind me who wrote this, but some time ago a smart observer noted that contemporary music was the only one of the contemporary art forms not to be granted exalted status. But that's for a very simple reason: No one actually likes any contemporary art. However you can stroll past a Rothko and, after 30 seconds, proclaim its romantic brilliance. You can pretend to have read an unreadable modern novel. But contemporary music demands that you actually sit and suffer through two hours of aural hell. And that's a price too high for fashion, even for polite society.
Update: It was the invaluable Spengler.