Music Appreciation is a revealing phrase: It doesn’t mean what it says.  It doesn’t mean that music is getting more expensive, though it is true that music is appreciating.  It doesn’t mean even a proper regard, as in “I appreciate your efforts.”  What it does mean is a matter more of pedantry than of anything else, but the anything else is the fun part.  I mean the part connected to money and snarky tones and snobbery.  This is the good stuff that they never admit, but you can save a lot of money on graduate-school tuition and nights at the opera if you just pay keen attention to the ensuing revelations.  One of them is that among the cognoscenti, Music Appreciation is called, familiarly, “music apprish.”  Yes, my oracular pronouncements are well worth the investment you have unknowingly made in them.  Trust me—I know.

The cheapest and most effective way to develop Music Apprish is unquestionably by listening to National Public Radio.  This is the efficient vehicle of musical experience, most of it negative, which means that you learn what you don’t like by not liking it, and then you remember its name because it was so annoying, or as the Vietnamese say, “Hanoi-ing.”  Add a few of these experiences together, and the next thing you know, you have a position in the music-appreciation rainbow, or the Music Apprish racket.

The retrograde cultural markers that we learn from the credentialed philistines of NPR are crude enough for facile apprehension.  “Viennese” music is in three-quarter time with a special lilt, and cymbals—not symbols.  “English” music is pastoral droning, sometimes by Ralph Vaughan Williams or Delius or Grainger, but always somnolent or soporific.  “American” music is Boulanger’d out by way of Aaron Copland, copycatted by Bernstein with mixed meters, and, though boring, this music is nevertheless also annoying.  It continues to be produced in our time, though it was already passé as long ago as the 1930’s.

We always know when music is German/Austrian, though if an unfamiliar string quartet is particularly striking, it’s by Haydn, not Mozart.  Sviatoslav Richter once observed that Haydn is better than Mozart, and he was right.  As for French music, all of Ravel is in the repertory, and if you don’t know some French composition, it’s probably somewhere between Debussy and Babar.

Spanish music always sounds like Spanish music; even when it is being ripped off, it still sounds like Spanish music.  Such music for guitar is good, and almost the only good music for guitar there is, except when Django Reinhardt is making it up.  Russian music also has a core of integrity and identity; usually, it sounds like Russian music—depressing, exciting, and nostalgic.  There is a special place here for Stravinsky, who never wrote any good music after his three great compositions for ballet.  In later life, he became questionable as a composer, a fraud with an attitude and publicity to match.  As a conductor, he was not a fraud.  Thanks, Igor, for those first three Tchaikovsky symphonies.  But when he writes “baroque” music, you can be certain that it would never be played as a period piece.  But to resume, when music is kind of Russian or French but neither, then it must be Scandinavian.  You have to watch out for that, if it isn’t Sibe lius or the Alfvén Swedish Rhapsody they keep trying to run in on you.  And this is the place to mention that the familiar Swedish Rhapsody would have been better off if it had not been recorded by Percy Faith, for there is no mistaking the association with Muzak.  That association of classical music and Muzak is one which NPR pushes to this day.

So yes, NPR is effective at provoking negative emotions, and these are actually good for you, because the rage provoked sharpens the memory and the discriminatory impulse.  At a certain pitch of boosted awareness, we are ready to assimilate the pertinent information that we will find not only useful but necessary.  These distinctions are musical and historical, but oddly function as markers of class distinctions—and there is nothing wrong with those, particularly when you are on the right side of them.

One set of such markers are Köchel numbers, a chronological list of Mozart’s compositions first consolidated in 1862 by Ludwig von Köchel, and since extended.  The most important thing to know about this scholarly service is that the umlaut in Köchel is really rather annoying, and should be flaunted whenever possible, rather than flouted.  Nothing could be easier than remembering the K. 626, and referring to the Requiem that way lets people know that you mean business, particularly if your musical understanding is limited.  If you refer to the Mozart Piano Concerto No. 21 in C major, K. 467, people will not suspect the truth: that you first heard the thing in a second-rate performance by Géza Anda in a smug Swedish film, all tarted up with porn-corn and art and beauty; and that the beautiful music was presented to the public as “the Elvira Madigan concerto.”  So the Köchel numbers are our friend, and even remove some of the blot of vulgar exploitation.

How well I remember some sage advice about Köchel numbers I received decades ago—and I remember the names of the purveyors of the misinformation.  I was told not to bother listening to any Mozart until he has passed K. 375.  What nonsense!  Are we not supposed to know how Mozart was treated by the music faculty at the University of Bologna, when he was only 11 years old?  Don’t we know that the Violin Concertos have early Köchel numbers for obvious reasons?  Now it is true that some early Mozart is unrewarding, but the Violin Concertos are hardly that—quite the opposite!  The five concertos are in B-flat major, K. 207; D major, K. 211; G major, K. 216; D major, K. 218; and A major, K. 219.  The Sinfonia Concertante for Violin and Viola, in E-flat major, K. 364, stands apart, but all of these have their beauties and are indispensable.  And so are Köchel numbers, and thank goodness, there are other such numbers, though the names are umlaut-frei.

There are, for example, the indices of Schubert’s works as devised by Otto Erich Deutsch.  And since it is a small world, it’s appropriate here that I reveal that I once, in a private home, sat at the “Schubert desk” that had belonged to the musicologist Deutsch.  But returning to the matter of numbers, Deutsch did Schubert because Schubert needed doing.  The first time I ever heard Schubert’s “Great C Major” symphony—the one that impressed Schumann with its “heavenly length”—it was labeled as No. 7, not No. 9 as we do today.  But either way, it is D. 944.  And the Impromptus I thought of as Op. 90 and Op. 142, are D. 899 and D. 935 in the rectified system.  I know it sounds more impressive with an umlaut, but let’s face it: You can’t trust these composers to keep their work in order.

Another set of such markers are the Kirkpatrick numbers devised even more recently by Ralph Kirkpatrick for one of the three great Baroque composers born in 1685: Domenico Scarlatti.  So long after the Longo numbers of the early 20th century, we have moved over to the K. or even Kk. numbers of later scholarship.  The accomplished scholar and player no doubt earned his way into the new practice, though since 1967, another scholar, Pestelli, has revised some numbers once again.  So as far as Scarlatti is concerned, there are three systems, and even the discarded Czerny one.  It’s a nice way to provoke disputes, or at least a source of deployable irritation.

But I must add, as far as Music Apprish goes, that there is sometimes a destructive aspect, which can take the form of snobbery.  And if there is an understanding of what snobbery really is, then the destructive aspects can be avoided.  Paradoxically, I have noticed that music snobbery sometimes takes the form of deploring various works of the standard repertory.  You might be surprised to know how much of it causes some eyebrows to be raised in disapproval—the literal meaning of superciliousness.

I think that the word snob means more than simply someone with imposing standards, but rather someone who affects those standards for social, not aesthetic, reasons.  And I find it remarkable that even in the world of classical music, there is snobbery for which we should be alert.  Some pieces or even composers are the subject of contemptuous treatment, and this within the standard repertory!  I find such questionable practices to be as revealing as they are destructive.

Obviously appealing music is sometimes scorned precisely because it is appealing—a curious phenomenon.  But don’t we know that the fame of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony does not discredit such a feat of composition?  Less-exalted works are treated even more roughly—Bizet’s L’Arlésienne Suites, various works of Tchaikovsky, the Scheherazade of Rimsky-Korsakov—these are but the beginnings of a hit list that directly attacks musical appeal when it becomes too successful and too widely enjoyed.  Never mind that Tchaikovsky’s Sixth Symphony was on Mahler’s mind when he wrote his Ninth Symphony—probably his finest work.  Never mind that the best recordings of Rimsky-Korsakov’s work were led by Fritz Reiner and Sir Thomas Beecham—superior conductors that they were, and as Valery Gergiev is, today.

The musical and technological revolutions of the last 120 years have left us in a bizarre position, in which we are challenged to justify our musical agendas, and even then to sanction the latest inversion of values with snobbish affectations.  But the search for musical satisfaction does not need to be confused with any illusions or pretenses.  We don’t have to cave in to the grossness of pop music today, any more than we have to pretend to take serialism seriously.  There are still plenty of ways to find musical mastery and fine performances of accomplished music—and we need every one of them.