Apropos of recent discussions of the vocation of the artist under the conditions of modernity, it would be well to note that Sunday was the birthday of Josef Haydn, while today was the birthday of Sergei Rachmaninov.
Without delving into comparative criticism of various recordings and performances, I'd recommend, well, anything by Haydn, but especially the Masses, the magnificent oratorio, The Seasons, and the sublime Piano Trios. For Rachmaninov, I'm partial to the settings of the Divine Liturgy and All-Night Vigil, particularly this performance of the Liturgy by a Russian church choir and this recording of the Vigil.
Elsewhere at Taki's, Richard Spencer takes up the question of just why contemporary music is so dreadful, providing links to a pair of aural atrocities that are not to be missed. The first, in particular, had me descending into the torments of migraine in less than 30 seconds. Among other things, he observes that
There’s also no evidence that our age is any more “commercial” than the putatively golden one—Die Zäuberflöte was a beer-hall musical; Verdi was always questing for the latest “blockbuster”; and even Wagner, the ultimate anti-social composer, brought out mechanical floating Rheinmädchen for the premiere of his Ring sage.
It is an observation which I must contest. The difference between our aesthetically blighted age and that of these composers, for example, is precisely that between a society coasting on the legacy and forms of an aristocratic, Christian civilization, and one in which commercial, quantitative values have pushed art to the fringes, where one might compose a helicopter string quartet. Die Zäuberflöte may have been popular fare of a sort, but this was because higher expressions of popular culture were then authoritatively shaped by those Christian-aristocratic hangovers; grace, we might say, elevated nature. In fine, an aesthetically traditionalist nobility was a tremendous boon to artistic excellence, while the displacement of that nobility by liberal, modernizing, commercial elites - a gradual process, to be certain - set the timer on the vitality of the Western tradition. The contemporary version of an aristocracy, the meritocracy, will not get the job done, first, because where the old aristocracy saw patronage of the arts as a function of its social position, the meritocracy can only view such patronage voluntaristically, and second, because the meritocracy is an elite premised on the very quantification that banishes the arts: IQ, test scores, credentials, the most materially remunerative positions, etc. The meritocracy is the distillation of the utilitarian, calculating ethos of the age, which remains inimical to art.