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  The Recognition of the Composer Today - (Part VI of X)  Bevillia at 01:54 on 29 December 2009

The Recognition of the Composer Today - Stephen Beville


To follow on from the 2007 UNICEF report, Britain is widely perceived to have the worst general education in Europe. The comparatively recent elevation of much Western pop-music to the status of 'high art' in the UK (following America's example), to my mind, would confirm such an appraisal. Indeed, this seems to me a disastrous product of our successive Government's (Conservative and Labour) virtual non-commitment to musico-historical education in schools over the past decades . That is not to say there should be no place for pop-music in our society (on the contrary, there should be); but that its recognition, and now acclaim, is unjustly (inversely?) disproportionate to that given to contemporary classical music.

Perhaps this is equally a product of the exuberant, irresponsible decade of the 1960s, when rock music assumed a paramount position in society and the knock-on effect this had on succeeding generations, thanks to advancing trends in capitalism. This of course has culminated in the 'philistine' (to quote the Queen's court-composer, Maxwell Davies) musical outlook of the arts and education ministries during Blair's so-called 'golden age'; their commitment to a de-musicalisation of the British population, their commitment to a 'cessation' of classical music. To make matters worse, there seems to be little chance of improvement once the so-called generation X begin to assume administrative positions in governmental, educational and commercial sectors as they are now doing. (There are now music colleges being set up for the study of modern pop-music, and I wonger how long it will be before this replaces the study of the 'classics' at most British Universities?).

The standard of general music education has been so appalling in Britain. No music history is taught at school until A-level standard (where the subject is optional) when it should perhaps be taught from Primary school years. Philosophers from Plato and Aristotle to Adorno (in their different ways) have long recognised the study of music to be a matter of critical importance to the welfare of society. For only such a musical education will awaken the public to the musical banality of our celebrity-dominated world. Where is the money going? Where is the recognition? Where is the musical quality and qualifications?! It is a crime that has been taking place over the past 50 years - as supported by our commercial media worldwide. All because music was never adequately taught to us at school. And by music, I am referring to the (Western) history of MUSICAL LANGUAGE; harmony and counterpoint and its development throughout the ages.

Are we to ban the intellect from music? Whilst most people would accept the intellect as an integral part of great literature, at present it would seem they do not accept it as integral to music - musical language (for want of better words). Music, they would argue is primarily for enjoyment and entertainment (the social feel-good party atmosphere). This is for most people, sadly what consitutes 'good music'. Here the shrill thrill and spectacle of the rock/pop concert comes into its own.

If the truth be known, it is due to the intellectual dimension of classical music - intellect by way a musical piece is constructed and unfolds in performance, and importantly that pertaining to it's expressive meaning; this is why the public regard it as 'elitist'. However, it is no different in this respect from literature (which forms such a fundamental part of our National Education Carriculum) or (to cite another performance-based art) theatre. We are thought Shakespeare in schools. Why not Purcell and the Elizabethan Madrigalists from the same golden era? Why are they considered any less than Shakespeare?

The intellect is not a static, pre-ordained thing; it may be improved and cultivated through education and most especially self-education - the never ceasing learning of life. With regard to classical music, this often means repeated listening, as the so-called 'Mozart-effect' demonstrates. (By contrast, what kind of civilization does rock music generally portend to?). Like any worthy art, classical music stimulates and nourishes the intellect; it encompasses both mind and spirit. To take just one example; few people would argue that the opening subject from the Adagio of Bruckner's Symphony No 7 does not 'mean' anything, and a meaning profound at that. It is not simply tragedy....Engaging with, and not simply dismissing such 'meaning' is what challenges and occupies the most restless philosophical mind.

However, it would seem that people at the commercial (finacial) 'top', by and large, have absolutely no musical education. I am speaking of record company executives, television and radio producers, media mugals and ceremony adjudicators. Hence we have whole corporations of broadcasting promoting and maintaing such a 'culture'. As I have mentioned, the same holds true of publishing who often have little sympathy for non-capitalist (i.e artistic) ventures. Unaware of how defective their musical knowledge really is (at least from a European historical perspective), there is an enormous amount of musically uneducated literature from The Rolling Stone and NME magazines, and Observer Music Monthly downwards.

Does not this lack of musical education make a mockery of all publicly elected music-awards?. For the rest of us, we have to suspend our musical intelligence, and try and convince ourselves (often with great difficulty) that such publicly 'honoured' music is worthy of such acclaim. As a result, we composers must often apologise (dumb-down) to the media for having studied music in any capacity or form, in order that we might feature in such 'high profile' company.

Even the belated (and posthumous) recognition of, say, Stravinsky with a 'Grammy award for lifetime acheivement' does not disguise the astonishing ignorance evident from so many juries and jurors the world over - at most prize-giving ceremonies (from Grammy and Mercury Music right down to the Brit and World Music Awards) - who are often unable to recognise real musical greatness, and instead, opt for non (intellctually) challenging music. In addition, it would seem that the Classic FM and Classical Brit awards are almost as ridiculous, increasingly informed by an overriding biasness towards celebrity. The comparitive abesense of serious compostion prizes in the UK is presumably due to a lack of sufficient funding, and an insufficient number of truly enlightened jurors and critics. Despite the British Composer Awards, we have nothing to compare financially with the Siemens Prize in Germany, or even the the Grewemeyer award in the USA.

If pubic, historical education in music has proven to be unsustainable, or untenable - as noticeable when we generally observe our television and radio networks, when we read the tabloids, when we are confronted with the rock music that has completely swamped the market - why should we not take this policy into other fields of art, including literature? That would mean a complete 'cessation' on the widespead availability of 'canonic' books, the study of Shakespeare or any other 'classic' author from history. Perhaps any canon in the history of the arts should now be deemed 'irrelevant'.....just like classical music?!


By the way I mean public (not pubic) in the last paragraph - but if you like, it could also be pubic in a metaphorical sense!


I could not find this Part listed in the Forums????

  Re: The Recognition of the Composer Today - (Part VI of X)  Misuc at 17:08 on 15 December 2011

Quite right.

I was teaching [composition] an A-level music group recently, none of whom had actually heard a single classical piece all the way through from beginning to end! [though they had had to play one or two and some had tried to 'compose' some].

They did have to answer questions about 'sonata form' but their ideas of what this was about were inevitably confused on account of the artificial arbitrary decadent academic sterile way in which the subject is taught - trying to pin an evanescent dynamic principle down to a series of meaningless words [exposition - development etc.] presumably in order to make life easier for the examiner.

But this dumbing down has a long and 'honourable' history. When I first went to Oxford University [many years ago] I had to write essays on e.g. the development of sonata form during the 18th century. Today I would find that a fascinating and crucial subject, but then I had had and got no teaching. I just thought about what sonata form movements I knew and said what I thought about them in a naive way. My tutor said "We're going to have to tame you" What I didn't say - but should have - was "not tame - teach". Eventually I took to copying my essays from Groves
[suitably cut to bits to save writing time]"Oh. I see you're improving" was the comment.At last I went red and then silent and then timidly confessed I had been cheating "Nonsense, my boy! The Encyclopaedia knows better than you or I" I reckoned that a deaf person would find it easier to get a good degree than a music-lover.

[Later I discovered that Encyclopaedias don't - in any case - know better. I got a job working on an "Encyclopaedia of the Arts". A major part of my job was to go into the British Museum Reading Room [now the British Library] and steal information from other encyclopaedias [which was, presumably how these encyclopaedias had gathered their information]. I was told to check through at least three different encyclopaedias and not put in info which had not been confirmed by at least two - since they had a tendency deliberately to put in false info precisely to catch people like us! I am not kidding!

And this was only the beginning of what I came to learn of the corruption and disinformation spread by commercialised "culture". The best and only real defence we have is the IMSLP and one or two courageous fighters like yourself