Featured Post


I am posting this as a benchmark, not because I think I'm playing very well yet.  The idea would be post a video every month for a ye...

Saturday, February 1, 2020

Mayhew's Fallacy Revisited

I'm learning an adagio from a Mozart sonata, and I was reminded of Mayhew's fallacy, or the idea that people who like inferior things simply don't know enough of the good stuff to even know that what they like is not so good. I forgot who termed it Mayhew's fallacy. I am glad to view it as a fallacy, because, while I do believe it, I don't expect anyone else to share my belief!

It seemed to me that Mozart (or Bach) when you see what it's really about in any detail, you realize it really is superb in an almost objective way. You can just see that Mozart uses in this adagio these weird harmonies in an unexpected but still seamless way. I had been playing a Beethoven Sonata that is easy, and not quite as subtle in what it does, and I saw after a little while that this Mozart piece had more than that Beethoven did (not one of Beethoven's greatest, though.). It is in a short binary form, with two themes; in the second part he takes the themes in another direction, then comes back and resolves it all in F minor.  

So that someone who thought Clementi or Telemann was the culmination of music, well, maybe they hadn't heard Mozart or Bach. I think Clementi is fine too. In other words, you listen to him and the music makes sense and is memorable. It is excellent in its own fashion, just not superb. There are just several other layers in Mozart so that you don't even have to consider them in the same category.

Kyle Gann in an old blog post said that there are various values in music. Craftmanship, depth, innovation, etc... and that subjectivity comes into play in deciding which of those values you value. But he argues that you can demonstrate more or less objectively which composers have those particular values in what degree. This seems convincing to me, though I can't analyze music well enough to make those judgments about those particular categories.  

When you just go immediately to the position that all value are simply relative and contingent, you lose out on the value of the Mozart epiphany. If you haven't had the Mozart epiphany (not necessarily with Mozart, but with any artist in any medium) then you almost don't get to take part in the conversation. It's easy to believe there is no such thing as greatness if you have never had the experience of greatness.

No comments: