New Dances for Architecture


Talking about music has been famously compared to dancing about architecture – the point being that the two media have nothing in common. But of course musicians talk about music with each other all the time. And for this purpose they have developed their own specialized vocabulary.

That’s fine for the musicians. But pity the poor music critic who must address a broad readership that may or may not have much musical training. A critic must consider whether it’s effectively communicative to pepper a review with terms like "fauxbourdon," "acciaccatura," or "Klangfarbenmelodie." Musicians know what these things are – or, at least, they should – but it’s hard to know how much of this terminology is understood by the general public these days.

Surely part of the problem is that much of classical music’s lexicon was established over 100 years ago, and reflects the thinking of a bygone era. So perhaps what’s needed is an update: new ways of discussing music that invoke contemporary language and concepts. I’d like to propose some new terms, to bring a more modern aspect to the business of writing about classical music.

Arcolepsy: The incapacity of an orchestral string player to bow in unison with other players in the section.

Acute Operitis: The severe inflammation of a popular song when sung by a famous opera singer as "crossover" repertoire.

Beethoven Moment: A musical passage during which a musician cannot hear his/her own performance – commonly experienced by players who sit directly in front of the brass section of an orchestra.

Cage Rage: Hostility directed towards experimental new music.

Hyperauthenticity: The belief that it is necessary to have head-lice to correctly perform the music of J.S. Bach.

Mahleria: A feverish condition that afflicts some composers and conductors, caused by extreme egomania.

The Nepomuk Effect: The tendency for some composers to retain a place in the repertoire solely because they have unusual middle names.

Obsessive-Compulsive Contrapunctalosis: The inability to stop writing fugues.

Quadri-Seasonal Depression: A mental state brought on by hearing too many performances of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons.

Requiem Anxiety: The feeling that a performance of Mozart’s Requiem is somehow intended for you specifically, and the irrational premonition that you will die before it is finished.

Tchaikovsky’s Law of Thermodynamics: The diminished results that accrue from increasingly extreme dynamic markings in a musical score.

Transpositional Discrepancy Disorder: The inability of some singers to perform in the same key as their accompanist.

Verdisimilitude: A musical work composed in imitation of a 19th-century Italian opera.

Zarathustra Syndrome: When a piece of music begins in a spectacular fashion but soon grows tiresome.