How classical music got louder

Photo credit: Liam Keane licensed under CC BY 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This wonderful piece in the New York Times discusses how classical music evolved from quiet to loud. The article discusses both how composers wrote generally quiet music until Beethoven started writing louder music, with those who followed him writing even louder music. Then orchestras started playing more loudly, to the point where audiences put their fingers in their ears during the loudest passages.

My wife and I attend concerts of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. When Essa-Pekka Salonen was music director, his specialty was conducting Mahler’s works. The sound levels were tolerable.

I developed tinnitus and hyperacusis at the end of 2007, after a one-time exposure to loud noise at a New Year’s Eve dinner in a restaurant.

The current music director, the wonderful Gustavo Dudamel, replaced Maestro Salonen in 2009. Gustavo–everybody in LA just calls him Gustavo–conducts the orchestra at a greater sound level. Especially for works like Stravinsky’s Firebird, I find the sound painfully loud.

I just insert my earplugs and enjoy the concert comfortably.

Dr. Daniel Fink is a leading noise activist based in the Los Angeles area. He is the founding chair of The Quiet Coalition, an organization of science, health, and legal professionals concerned about the impacts of noise on health, environment, learning, productivity, and quality of life in America. Dr Fink also is the interim chair of Quiet Communities’ Health Advisory Council, and he served on the board of the American Tinnitus Association from 2015-2018.

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