A Classical Cure: Classical music as an antidote to the modern malaise of speed

Faculty Sponsor

David Western


Arts and Sciences


Christ College

Presentation Type

Oral Presentation

Symposium Date

Spring 4-23-2016


Often seen as an exclusive, archaic art form, classical music seems to have now fallen to the background of modern discussion. But can classical music serve a higher purpose—something other than a fossilized record of the development of Western music? In this paper I argue that classical music can be employed as a corrective to the 21st-century’s modern obsession with speed. The modern world is constantly focused on achieving the next goal with utmost expediency. This “gospel of speed” constantly pushes humans to achieve more in exceedingly less time, promoting superficiality and self-absorption. An obsession like this leaves no time for humans to live their lives with meaning and empathy. Classical music, I argue, remains as relevant and important an art form today as ever exactly because it can somehow work towards correcting the shallowness and ignorance that accompanies the ever-increasing pace of our lives. Through its ability to conjure emotions and promote reflection, classical music allows its listeners to contemplate their lives. This paper employs Johann Sebastian Bach’s Mass in B Minor as a case study that illustrates this claim. Through musical analysis I demonstrate how specific movements of Bach’s most monumental work can promote emotional realization and reflection, which can help modern listeners slow down and look at their lives with depth and attention. A modern listener can identify with the emotions that lie within the music (through melodic contour, harmonic progression, text-painting, madrigalisms, expressive phrasing, dynamics) and see the diorama of their own lives through this musically emotional lens. Through classical music we can look ahead of and beyond ourselves, not in a furious effort to hastily reach the next goal, but in a search for meaning, emotion, experience, and humanity.

Biographical Information about Author(s)

Evan Arceneaux is a senior majoring in both English and music. His paper, which attempts to combine his interests in both music and the humanities, was written to fulfill the honors thesis requirement of the Christ College Scholar track. After graduation in May 2016, Evan plans to accept a position in the Teaching Assistant Program in France, where he will teach English to French high school students.

This document is currently not available here.