Is it possible to be judge a piece of music objectively?

There is a school of thought which says " If I like it it's good, if I dislike it it's bad"

Whereas I believe that a judgement based solely on a subjective response is not a judgment at all, at least not one worth considering.

As a composer, even when writing for 'oneself' as opposed to writing 'applied' music to order, is it not the case that one must strive for objectivity? 

It is my belief that whatever choices one makes in a composition, it is the musical logic, language and unity of any particular piece that should inform those choices. At least to some extent. Anything which appears as arbitrary can only weaken the piece.

 

( This is a topic some of us were discussing in another thread but was deemed 'off topic' so perhaps we can carry on here.)

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  • Doug, you don't seem to follow my line of reasoning at all.  Calling it nonsense seems like a good start to an argument, but nothing else you say backs that up at all.  To whit:  Yes, Gouda is better cheese than Nike footwear because Nike footwear isn't cheese silly!  ie. asking which is a better composition between a movement from a Bach cello suite and a song by the fugs is like asking which is a better punk song (Saran Wrap is not a composition in many senses, the Bach is in no sense a punk song)   Then you go on to agree with me by saying it is all subjective in the end and it's really no big deal that that's the case, because 98% is pretty damn close to objective (same point I made).  I love it when people think they are arguing with me when they actually hold the same position I do.  So, if what I said was nonsense, so is what you said.  I think that some people tend to agree with certain people and argue with others beacuse they are like pack dogs and look to see which way the wind is blowing...Not saying that's you of course Doug, just like you weren't taking a swipe at my fear of evaluation.  Hum dee dum.

  •  A footnote:  Some seem to carry the notion that subjective means random and meaningless.  Saying that everything is subjective does not mean that all judgments are equal.  Let's go back to a knob turning to 3.  Let's say that God determines it happens at point x, Billy observes x-2, Bob observes x-10.  Neither is objectively right, but Billy's judgment is better.  I's still a subjective judgment, just without the baggage that the word "subjective" seems to carry for some.

  • As long as there is honest expression that resonates within listiner it's good. Honest is a very importand term here because only honesty can create higher feelings.

  • Tombo- you set up the impractical comparisons, which have nothing to do with judging good or bad music.

    Fugs and Bach are both music. Gouda and Nikes are not both cheese, so it's just an absurd comparison that doesn't relate to anything in the discussion. Those who say 'subjective means random and meaningless' are way off, so how does that relate to this discussion? 

  • Fugs and Bach are both music, but both are not compositions if you judge a composition to be the kind of thing that Bach did and not the kind of thing that the Fugs do, just like Bach is not a punk rocker. Nike and Gouda is just a more imaginative, fun way of saying apples and oranges.  It has to do with category comparison, which has everything with evaluating different categories of music.  Have I spelled it out clearly enough at this point?  If not, sorry, you're on your own.

    How does what people think the word "subjective" means have any relevance to a discussion about subjectivity and objectivity?  Hmmm, got me there Doug, or maybe got yourself, I can't decide.

  • I agree that we have to compare like with like but drawing a line between categories can be difficult.

    Between Fugs and Bach it's easy (for me) though some will argue about it. 

    I don't think Mikolaj's view about "honesty" is very helpful as many awful pieces of music may have been honestly and sincerely conceived and executed.


    Tombo Rombo said:

    Fugs and Bach are both music, but both are not compositions if you judge a composition to be the kind of thing that Bach did and not the kind of thing that the Fugs do, just like Bach is not a punk rocker. Nike and Gouda is just a more imaginative, fun way of saying apples and oranges.  It has to do with category comparison, which has everything with evaluating different categories of music.  Have I spelled it out clearly enough at this point?  If not, sorry, you're on your own.

    How does what people think the word "subjective" means have any relevance to a discussion about subjectivity and objectivity?  Hmmm, got me there Doug, or maybe got yourself, I can't decide.

    Good or bad? Searching for objectivity in composition.
    Is it possible to be judge a piece of music objectively? There is a school of thought which says If I like it it's good, if I dislike it it's bad…
  • Well, fair enough - i was taking a decent level of execution for granted in that case but i should have mentioned that.

    Michael Tauben said:

    I agree that we have to compare like with like but drawing a line between categories can be difficult.

    Between Fugs and Bach it's easy (for me) though some will argue about it. 

    I don't think Mikolaj's view about "honesty" is very helpful as many awful pieces of music may have been honestly and sincerely conceived and executed.


    Tombo Rombo said:

    Fugs and Bach are both music, but both are not compositions if you judge a composition to be the kind of thing that Bach did and not the kind of thing that the Fugs do, just like Bach is not a punk rocker. Nike and Gouda is just a more imaginative, fun way of saying apples and oranges.  It has to do with category comparison, which has everything with evaluating different categories of music.  Have I spelled it out clearly enough at this point?  If not, sorry, you're on your own.

    How does what people think the word "subjective" means have any relevance to a discussion about subjectivity and objectivity?  Hmmm, got me there Doug, or maybe got yourself, I can't decide.

    Good or bad? Searching for objectivity in composition.
    Is it possible to be judge a piece of music objectively? There is a school of thought which says If I like it it's good, if I dislike it it's bad W
  • Michael, we all decide what is good or bad, what we like and what we don't like. As a group or society, we can reach a general consensus. And sometimes that consensus changes with time.

    James, Bach and Beethoven are still highly regarded and that's independent of the opinions of the 'influential'.  Your first paragraph is pure conjecture. I think, to a high degree, that our common biology affects how we hear music. A major chord has that 'happy' sound, while a minor chord sounds relatively 'sad'. Combinations of frequencies produce similar responses in people. The music of vastly different cultures has an amazing amount of similarities, although often developed independently.

  • I believe many of us, including myself, remain blissfully unaware of the supreme difficulty of answer a question like this.   How does one evaluate a piece of music objectively? 

    There is such a thing as objectivity.   And yet . . .

    I cannot agree with the "objectivist" who says, "the evaluation will be based on consensus,; and the reasonable person should concede that a consensus view exists on Bach and Beethoven and Mozart, therefore objective evaluation is possible."

    That is not quite right.  But the answer to that approach does not lie in subjectivism.  It lies in calling for a more rigorous kind of objective analysis than we are accustomed to.  I said, rigorous, not rigid.

    Consider these words by Galileo, about the power of reasoning:

     "I don't know"—what a beautiful expression that is—so candid in its honesty.  The number of people that can reason well is much smaller than those that can reason badly. If reasoning were like hauling rocks, then several reasoners might be better than one. But reasoning isn't like hauling rocks, it's like, it's like racing, where a single, galloping Barbary steed easily outruns a hundred wagon-pulling horses.


    So it doesn't matter if there is a consensus regarding the musical value of the Fugs, or Jefferson Airplane, or even the Beatles.

    And it doesn't matter if there is a consensus regarding the musical value of Rossini, or Verdi or even Puccini.



    What matters is whether or not there is one intelligent person, well educated in the art and the discipline of composing, who can make a considered judgment.


    Suppose the vast majority of a thousand people say, "Love, love me do . . .  you know, I love you . . ." is better music than the first five minutes of  Bartok's 4th String Quartet; and imagine only one of the thousand says, without doubt, the Bartok String Quartet is objectively better.   I hope everyone on this forum has sufficient aesthetic understanding and enough familiarity with the art of music to know who is objectively correct.


    But  I am only hoping.  And perhaps I am even wrong to hope.   Really, many of us (myself included) would do better to answer some aesthetic questions with Galileo's (and Socrates') favorite answer to difficult queries, with that refreshing phrase, "I don't know."


    Are there universal reactions to certain assemblages of sound?


    I cannot agree with the notion that a certain major chord must make us "happy" while a certain minor chord must make us "sad."   


    The proof of this lies in the fact that I can take a very sophisticated piece of Cambodian, or Javanese (or Indian or Chinese) music, from some obscure school, and we might not have the faintest idea what we, as simple human beings, should feel when exposed to these sounds.


    It's all simply about what intervals and modes you are accustomed to.


    That is NOT an argument in favor of subjectivism.  I am just saying that "consensus" and the existence of customary chord constructions in certain cultures (including or excluding our own) are insufficient bases for universalist, objectivist arguments.

    A genuinely strong argument in favor of objective standards cannot be constructed yet, because our cultural biases are too strong, and our trans-cultural experience is too limited.  Even people who have grown up in two or more cultures are not broad enough in their tastes and education to have developed a universal aesthetic.


    Although we in the West do not think it is too much for a person to have a full grasp of the varied musical forms and styles produced by our Renaissance, Classical, Romantic, Post-Romantic, Early Modern, and Contemporary Ages, WE DO realize it is impossible to grasp all that, and to have a full and comprehensive understanding of all the music of Turkey, Persia, the Arab World (all of which are very, very different), in addition to the traditions of Carnatic and Northern India, the main cultural and language groups of China, as well as Japan, Thailand, Cambodia, Indonesia . . .  and the list goes on and on.


    We are too short-lived and too limited in our experience for us even to begin to formulate anything like an objective standard.  


    Still, that does not mean there is no such thing, ideally, as an objective standard.  


    Mozart's Jupiter is better than any of Johann Christian Bach's orchestral compositions.


    Beethoven's worst symphonies are superior to Gluck's best symphonic works.


    Stravinsky's Sacre du Printemps is better than any of Honneger's ballet scores.


    (Dare I say the Beatles are better than the Fugs?)


    When comparing obviously inferior works to obviously superior work, there is no problem.


    It can be done even across periods, with unlikely contrasts.   So we can say that Debussy's Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun is better than Beethoven's Name Day Overture.


    But once we start to ask whether Bach's Prelude and Fugue in C minor is greater than Beethoven's Waldenstein Sonata, we run into trouble.

    Such works rise so far above us, that we do not have the ability to judge between them.  


    Is Mozart's Magic Flute better than Wagner's Siegfried?

    Is Beethoven's Quartet in A minor better than Schubert's Death and the Maiden?

    Is Anton Webern's Symphony opus 21 a greater artistic achievement than Schoenberg's Pierrot Lunaire? 


    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bBf2K4S4Nmk

    Anton Webern Symphonie op.21



    I think the humble and intelligent answer is, "I don't know."




    I don't think we have enough knowledge to answer such questions.




      



  • Yes Ondib, I agree with most of what you said although the part regarding cultural bias is another debate.

    What I'm really trying to get at is whether one can or should be able to distinguish between good and bad examples of similar objects, in this case musical compositions in the same genre/period.  

    I think a piece can be judged but only on it's own terms. That is why it is pointless to compare Mozart with the Beatles. They are both great. However, when Sir Paul presents us with a cantata or an oratorio we are being asked to listen with the baggage of knowing Handel and Tippett. Those who know only the Beatles may be more impressed than those who know Bach and Stravinsky and may accuse the latter of snobbery or elitism. 

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