Is a baked dinner better than a
sandwich? Is a three piece suit better than a tee-shirt and
jeans? Is a Beethoven symphony better music than a three-chord
Is it valid to make a value
judgment about such things?
A three-chord folk song may be a bad choice as part of a Classical orchestral concert program (but then again maybe
Beethoven Symphony may be a bad choice at a folk festival, a
country dance or a camp-fire sing-along. But how could you legitimately say that one is
better music than another?
Some symphonies may be considered masterpieces but there are a
few which, in the opinion of
some presumably musically intelligent individuals, are badly
written or just plain dull. So to avoid the possible bias caused
by the inclusion of a specific composer, namely Beethoven, let’s drop him out of the equation to make the question more
Is a symphony better music than a folk song?
The obvious basic difference between a symphony and a folk song
is that a symphony is a relatively intricate form of
primarily instrumental music written on music manuscript for a
specific arrangement of instruments to be played by trained
musicians, whereas many well known folk songs (often simple in form)
were passed down through established cultural aural traditions,
mostly sung by ordinary untrained folk
and the original composers are usually not known.
Some of the most loved, best known
and universally time-tested musical pieces are simple ditties
like Pop Goes the Weasel, Three Blind Mice, Little Brown Jug, La Cucaracha.
and perhaps one of the best known melodies in the
Western world, Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star. Then there are
folk songs popular to millions that are not even known to
Western ears. Does the fact that folk songs are more accessible
to more people than symphonies, and are probably therefore more
popular per capita, mean that folk songs are better than
Because folk songs are simple, is their musical status inferior?
I don’t think so. Many famous symphonic composers didn’t think
so either. Some such as Haydn, Dvorak and Tchaikovsky even
incorporated folk songs into their symphonies.
Is it reasonable for someone to say
“Classical music is boring” or
“I hate Country and Western
music”? Sure it is. These are
subjective, personal opinions. There is an intrinsic difference
between someone giving an individual judgment about how one form of
music affects him personally and someone saying that one genre of music
is better than another.
So, in general terms, a person may
express his/her like or dislike of a particular type of music; a specific piece of music
may be judged good or bad
in different contexts by different people whether it be a folk
song, a jazz instrumental, a pop ballad, a string quartet, an
opera, a symphony or whatever, but can you legitimately compare
the value of one type of music against another?
Is Gouda cheese better than Cheddar? Is a sunny day better than
a rainy day? Is a Ferrari better than a Volvo? Is Expressionist
art better than Pointillism? Is a symphony better than a folk song?
There is no
universal definitive answer. The relative value of each is
influenced by personal
or cultural preference, the prevailing circumstances and context.
If compelled to answer I'd probably say, in the absence of specific context
and ignoring personal likes and dislikes, -
"No, they are of equal value".
(I could have just made this statement from the word go and
avoided writing all of the above... but then it wouldn't be an
article would it?)