Cover image for Who needs classical music? : cultural choice and musical value
Who needs classical music? : cultural choice and musical value
Johnson, Julian.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Oxford ; New York : Oxford University Press, 2002.
Physical Description:
140 pages ; 25 cm
Reading Level:
1330 Lexile.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
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Item Holds
ML3800 .J64 2002 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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During the last few decades, most cultural critics have come to agree that the division between "high" and "low" art is an artificial one, that Beethoven's Ninth and "Blue Suede Shoes" are equally valuable as cultural texts. In Who Needs Classical Music?, Julian Johnson challenges theseassumptions about the relativism of cultural judgements. The author maintains that music is more than just "a matter of taste": while some music provides entertainment, or serves as background noise, other music claims to function as art. This book considers the value of classical music incontemporary society, arguing that it remains distinctive because it works in quite different ways to most of the other music that surrounds us. This intellectually sophisticated yet accessible book offers a new and balanced defense of the specific values of classical music in contemporary culture. Who Needs Classical Music? will stimulate readers to reflect on their own investment (or lack of it) in music and art of all kinds.

Author Notes

Julian Johnson was educated at the University of Cambridge, Dartington College of the Arts, and the University of Sussex, and is currently a lecturer in music at the University of Oxford. Johnson is well known for his work on music aesthetics and the relation of music to society. He is also a composer

Reviews 1

Choice Review

Building on the philosophical preoccupations of Theodore Adorno in Aesthetic Theory (1984; new trans./ed., CH, Sep'97) and Introduction to the Sociology of Music (CH, Feb'77), Johnson (Univ. of Oxford, UK) here considers the place of classical music in contemporary society, arguing that it remains distinctive because it functions differently from popular music. He cites Bach's choral music, Beethoven's piano sonatas, Brahms's symphonies, etc., which, in contrast to popular music (the Beatles, Duke Ellington), he finds to be more "redemptive," giving back to the listener "a sense of ... absolute value that a relativist society denies." In the six chapters that follow, Johnson offers a sophisticated yet accessible defense of classical music's value, arguing that it lies in being something in and of itself--and therefore essentially ethical. In view of the relatively sparse attention Johnson gives to (a very few examples of) popular music, the reader might justifiably conclude that the author's preference has less to do with the intrinsic values of each genre than with his greater familiarity with classical music. Johnson does not stop to offer foot- or endnotes, but he includes a selected bibliography and a full index. Tepidly recommended for music libraries at any level. M. Meckna Texas Christian University

Table of Contents

Introductionp. 3
Chapter 1. Musical Valuesp. 10
Chapter 2. Uses and Abusesp. 33
Chapter 3. Music As Artp. 51
Chapter 4. Understanding Musicp. 72
Chapter 5. The Old, the New, and the Contemporaryp. 91
Chapter 6. Cultural Choicesp. 111
Bibliographyp. 131
Indexp. 133