Because it’s Xmas there is one artist that people are going to hear more than anyone else as they go about their day-to-day lives: André Rieu, the multi-platinum-selling superstar Dutch violinist and morning suit enthusiast whose compact discs are available in many of Australia’s most exclusive post offices.
And it’s easy to make fun of his sterile take on classical and popular music, but it’s important to recognise that he’s provided a valuable service to the global community.
See, I came to music very early. I was raised on the British Invasion artists that my parents adored – the Beatles, the Kinks, the Who, the Stones – with a little bit of Motown and Hendrix thrown in. I joined my school orchestra in year three, playing viola, and was thus exposed to the power and the majesty of the great classical composers.
By the time I hit double digits I was spending my pocket money almost exclusively on records, beginning an obsession with bands like the Smiths, the Cure, Models, New Order and Pet Shop Boys that has endured, with some fluctuations, to this day.
All of the most important moments of my life have been coloured by the music I was listening to at the time. Music has been my constant companion, my inspiration, my crutch and my salvation.
So André Rieu’s great lesson to us is this: music can also be cheesy and awful.
It’s so easy to forget that music can be vapid bullshit when you’re surrounded by almost a century of recorded works which are now more accessible than ever before; where you can dive into the works of Os Mutantes one moment and Gram Parsons the next, explore Bollywood superstar Asha Bhosle and then rummage through Chuck Berry’s greatest hits, devour this year’s glorious New Pornographers album and follow it with some of Yma Sumac’s inexplicable vocalisations.
With every culture on Earth creating its own astonishing music, and then cross-pollinating one another to create everything from amazing Thai beat combos to stuttering German hip-hop, one could easily spend a life exploring these endlessly fertile rivers without ever realising that music can also be stale, passionless and insipid, poisoning the soul and crushing the human spirit.
Rieu takes some of the most beautiful pieces ever created by humankind, from the liquid melodies of Handel to the sophisticated harmonic pop of ABBA, and renders them lifeless and dry, as if to say “all art is a pointless distraction from the ultimate embrace of the grave, mortals. Ever been lifted by the jubilant power of the Hallelujah Chorus, or moved by the desperation at the heart of ‘The Winner Takes It All’? Well, allow me to fix that for you.”
Like Michael Bay with cinema, EL James with literature or everyone at Rockstar Games that worked on Grand Theft Auto V, Rieu is a reminder of the power of an artist to drain all the wit, joy, skill and beauty from an art form, challenging others to ignore the limitless possibilities of the human imagination and focus instead on making as leaden and inept a work as possible.
And that, friends, is an Xmas gift that keeps on giving.