Peter Bjuhr Composer

Peter Bjuhr Composer

What is art music?

2012 June 13

Art music (also known as serious music, legitimate music, concert music, or erudite music) is an umbrella term used to refer to musical traditions implying advanced structural and theoretical considerations and a written musical tradition.
When you're deeply involved in making so called art music, its only natural to at some point ask the question “what is art music?” and further “what is the difference between art music and other forms of music?”. Perhaps the phrase 'art music' is not so widely used, but for me this concept is of greater relevance than others, e. g. contemporary classical music. My main point in this preliminary attempt to answer will be that the difference is not a question of stylistic differences but instead a question of attitude; the ambition of anyone making art music either as a performer or as an originator should not be to imitate the style of other music but to have an artful attitude towards ones task. That is not to deny though that art music can have a relation to other art music or other music overall; I don't think one can nor is it desirable to create in a vacuum. If this could be agreed upon, that if you have the right artful attitude in the creation the stylistic options are of secondary nature; we have nevertheless not come especially far – we still need to know a lot more of what this attitude could be. As seen in the short quote from Wikipedia in the beginning “Art music” is sometimes equated with “serious music”. Can this tell us something about the attitude, i. e. should we have a 'serious' attitude towards art? I would be deeply hesitative towards making this claim. But what I do would like to bring to the formula of the attitude we are seeking, is that we should think that art music is something important. So, not an 'serious' attitude but rather a sense of something important, or significant. If I may further expand on this, we might add the criteria that the importance or urgency should not only be important for me or you - but on a much more general scale. I hope you realise that this is increasingly more difficult and that people involved with art music, including myself, sometimes fail meeting this criteria. I also feel that I should comment shortly on the other “also known as” in the wikipedia quote above. “Legitimate music” - that some music can be more legitimate than other is for me foreign. “Concert music” - any music could potentially be presented in a concert. As a concept it is not especially clarifying; “Art is what is presented in art galleries.”, “concert music is what is presented in the concert halls.” “Erudite music” - this concept is not familiar to me, but it seems that the general idea like with legitimate music is to give a high evaluation of certain music. I think though that it is vital not to mix the categorisation of music and the evaluation of the same; after you categorised the music as belonging to a certain category it should still make sense to ask if the music is good or bad. In my mind nothing of this take us any closer to the core of art music. Next up I think we have to realise that the concept of art itself has changed over the course of history. So we could if we wanted differentiate between different attitudes for different historical periods. At the moment I'll settle for the simplistic description that art was in the past more judged for the craftmanship behind it and today it's more judged for the ideas and thought behind it. But in either case I think we have to again make the point that it is the attitude and intention which is of importance here; you can only fail to deliver an excellent piece of art if your intention has been to create such a thing in the first place. If you just whistle a tune its not intended as art music and should no less be judged as such. Admitting that the art-concept has changed its focus the most interesting would be to explore the attitude demanded by art today, even if it still would be interesting to find out how this was different in the past. I would roughly say that having an open mind and trying to see things from a new perspective is the attitude we are looking for. To be involved in art music is I suggest to be to share the artistic attitude common to other art forms. What this attitude is is not fixed and stable for all times, but there has for a long time been a consequent wish to create an other roam separatad from the ordinary and the common. Today art fill the purpose of leaving the ordinary by means of new interesting ideas and perspectives on our world and our our perception of it. I would say that it is not change our novelty for the sake of change or novelty, but to because this change or novelty is deeply felt as important. I will not attempt to suggest that this will be the final answer on what art music is, not even on this blog. Please leave a comment if you agree or disagree or has some thoughts of your own!

Peter Bjuhr

Peter Bjuhr Composer

Here I publish information of the music I've written. I also blog about my projects and thoughts about music in general.

I am a contemporary classical composer and compose music for classical musicians, but as you can see from my worklist I've also done other things - including live electronics, electroacoustic music (eam) and music for other types of ensembles (e.g. a jazz trio).

My works have been performed globally, including Europe, Asia and North America.

Follow | Contact



Please contact me with any questions or comments!