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Monday, October 7, 2013

The Secret of André Rieu

I hope you know who André Rieu is - if not, just check YouTube. I wrote about him before, because I like to try to understand why other people like other music than I do, and Rieu for me is a good field to examine this. And also I like occasionally to mention his name in the conservatoire where I work, just to check the reactions of my colleagues (horror, concern - "Do you feel alright?", the assumption that I am sarcastic; but also sometimes sheer admiration).

But I am not the only one who is curious. In Maastricht (Rieu comes from that area, I remember being taught by one of his brothers when I studied at the Maastricht Conservatoire, and his father was conductor of the local symphony orchestra and one of the music tycoons there), in Maastricht - as I was starting to say - there is a group of researchers who will study Rieu the coming few years. The project is called"The secret of André Rieu", and they present themselves to the general public as the "Rieu Academy".

They have at least learnt something from Rieu's PR-machine. "This research project will bring together art, science, cultural history and the Rieu-audience", the Rieu Academy writes in an announcement for an afternoon where they will discuss Rieu's work, stating that this, "our first performance" (!), will deepen the experience of Rieu's concert visitors.

So what are they going to research? I quote: how do Rieu, his orchestra, his musical guests and his choice of repertoire contribute to bridging the gap between 'low' and 'high' culture? How does Rieu popularize classical music? What is he doing with it? How does he revive old songs, nearly vanished from our collective memory? What is the contribution of the attire of the orchestra members , how do the special effects work, when does he move the listeners?

Mildly interesting, I would say. I would never start any research based on ideas about a gap between 'low' and 'high' culture. I mean: project those terms in your questions and rest assured that they will boomerang back on you in the conclusions. "Mind the gap", the English say - "Avoid the gap" would, in this case, be more fitting.

Elsewhere I read that one of the questions is whether Rieu's success can be replicated by someone else in the future. Hardly a question, I guess. The answer is "Yes, if that someone else is André Rieu and the future cirumstances are the same as the current circumstances". Annoying, those social scientists who still want to figure out whether history is repeatable or not, and whether or not mankind is a machine.

And in yet another place, about Rieu's waltzes: "The dance is one of the most ancient sources of music. Folk music actually is nothing else then dance music."

I don't think there is much hope for this research project.

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