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  The Recognition of the Composer Today (Part VII of X)  Bevillia at 07:52 on 29 December 2009

The Recognition of the Composer Today - Stephen Beville


The great problem with the capitalist media is that you never receive a fully informed picture of society, politics, but above all, culture.....because they often fail to promote or even present higher educational interests. This, no doubt, is partly because the people working in the media, hence, become so much a part of the capitalist/commercial infrastructure - have become so compromised by their own 'successes' - so as not to point out the cultural failings of the system. (What kind of democracy is it, where an individual with a viewpoint slightly different from the norm or perhaps even controversial, is not publicised by the media, as it may awaken the public's intelligence?) The consequences of the media towards profit-making are the tragic loss of individual artistry (and personality).

For example, it is the concerted attempts of television presenters, programmers and directors in trying to 'cover up' areas of culture deemed too 'high-brow' or inaccessible for the general public that I find so detestable. As a consequence, what we have is a facile, artificial culture - a culture of lies. Thanks to cultural and programme policy in the media (especially television) they have made so-called 'high art' increasingly remote from the general population; indeed, confined it to a ghetto.

I sometimes feel the situation of the great contemporary composer resembles that of the great film director, in that the best are often ignored even by the industry 'specialising' in their medium. In the list of 'greatest ever' directors as compiled by Total Film magazine, for example, how is it possible that Robert Bresson and Satyajit Ray do not make the top fifty (of any informed list)? These director's works, among with others of similar stature, are hardly ever broadcasted on our television channels, regional or satellite. If on occasion an exception is made, such films (even with a U or PG certificate) are 'intelligently' broadcast during the small hours, limiting public access and possibility for enlightenment.

Rather like the best contemporary music - Carter, Kurtag and Nono - it is the best culture we are being deprived of. That is what our commercial media (and popular culture), blown out of all proportion by capitalism, does; mask our understanding and appreciation not only of important historical culture, but of real contemporary acheivement in the arts. With regard to music, I would have to cite a generation of composers that includes Heinz Holliger, Tristan Murail, Salvatore Sciarrino, James Dillon and Roger Reynolds. It is not that great composers no longer exist, it's just there is no pride of place given to them in our society because, by and large, our musically uneducated public - as influenced and reflected by our commercial media - are unable to recognise a great contemporary composer's music. In other words, culture (real cultural acheivement) is filtered out by the dumbing-down of mass-communication.

In addition, the problem is compounded by commentators and critics* (no doubt with an eye on maintaining their own positions, and keeping the public in submission) who tell us it is better not to have any education when it comes to the appreciation of the arts. Indeed, there is some sense in this when it comes to opportunities for employment by capitalist agencies - whose administrations themsleves are often non-culturally educated. Hence to my mind, many people now working in television seem to have few cultural credentials to be justifiably employed in such a publicly influential arena. (Surely it is because most television channels and programmes seem to be produced by people with fewer and fewer higher education qualifications ?)

Recent UK examples may be cited in the context of the BBC's 'dumbing down' policy, with the appointments of Jonathan Ross as film critic, or the disastrous import of Lauren Laverne to host The Culture Show - which as previously bemoaned, has become a kind of 'counter-culture' show, at least from a musical/historical perspective; the equivalent of Top of the Pops aimed at the musical mentality of kids. How on earth did the BBC appoint someone so ignorant of European musical history? (In this respect, perhaps the BBC's Director-General Mark Thompson, and The Culture Show's editor, Edward Morgan, should take some blame). Ross was of course well known on the UK comedy circuit, and Laverne as co-presenter of CH 4's indoctrination-of-rock-music-into-young-children programme, better known as T4. Such examples would suggest a 'familiar face' presides over such considerations as real education or qualification.

In this respect, we could investigate the rise of the television presenter in our age (in whose hands culture is often skewered, and whose often illigitimate appraisals are unwittingly echoed and repeated by commentators in news and media). That is partly why we have people working in television and media with no musical qualifications telling us that such an such is great music. Sadly, for most of them, 'culture' means keeping up with the latest Hollywood gossip (like those employed for ITV's GMTV or London Tonight). In this respect, the majority of presenters do not deserve such public standing or payment.

If we are to consider the 'Greatest Britons 2007' ceremony, as broadcast on ITV (should it have not been have entitled 'Worst Britons'?), it would seem that classical music no longer even qualifies as 'music'. After all, there were no classical music nominees for the music category. Added to that, 'musical expert' Kate Thornton rather ineptly claimed that music is "the one thing that Britain does arguably better than any nation in the world". It's amazing; either such television commentators are profoundly musically ignorant, or they continue to perpetuate a cultural lie to the believing public. And yet we may ask ourselves, why are serious minded men like Gordon Brown, involved with such a worthless enterprise?

We could say that our television directors don't really believe in classical music. For approximately nine months of the year - from September until May (between the BBC Prom seasons) - classical music is effectively lost from our television screens, save for occasional background references in political or historical documentaries. True, the composer in the 20th century has witnessed the depletion of his role in society, and has been relegated to 'support work' or backgound music, as in film and theatre. Classical music, like pop music has been relegated to muzak. However, it is the pop star who has assumed the composer's mantle as recognised 'artist', since pop and rock music is now not only compatible with modern capitalism, but has become one of its main proponents.

For despite its rebellious origins, the vast majority of pop music only reflects the age in so far as an age may be reflected by its most widely disseminated music. To my mind (and here, I am referring to the very nature of musical language ) - it does not adequately express political reality; capitalist imperialism, the fragmentation of community and communities, indeed, the disappearence of communities and the alienation of modern man. Rather, like coca-cola or Macdonalds, pop and rock music has generally become synonymous with capitalism.

Even the BBC's newly televised Electric Proms festival, as I understand, mainly features pop. (At any rate, it does not feature Stockhausen). In other words, by its very title and the respective contents, it reinforces the myth that (modern) classical music does not include electronics when as far as I am aware, electronic music was first initiated by composers working within the classical tradition. In fact, some would argue that electronics have been central to classical music development since the Second World War. In an age of post-Industrial Revolution, indeed, since the invention of electricity, it is possible that the future of serious music may no longer reside with the orchestra. Perhaps some people even think the orchestra an antiquated institution now designed for the 'archaeological excavation of classics' as at the traditional Proms. Even if one overlooked the overemphasis on period performance practise during the 1990s and early 2000s, innovative new composers were all too-often ignored in favour of 'movie music'.

Nonetheless, we must concede that the BBC Proms are perhaps the only internationally well known British festival that champions the classical tradition. In this sense, they are invaluable. However, at the same time, they run the risk of becoming monolithic in the UK, in that they seem to many the sole representative of classical music. Overburdoned with their monolithic status and duty (which approximates the whole history of Western music each year), there is little time or space available to programme the contemporary composer. In this sense, the Proms are ultimately inadequate with regard to the needs of the contemporary composer working in today's actuality; a composer whose interests, as we have seen, are underrepresented in new music coverage we receive on television, and underrepresented by popular culture - which by and large, distains the very label composer at least in the sense of someone who has absorbed and notates music according to a literal, historical tradition.

There are festivals of new 'classical' music in the UK such as the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival; however they have received and continue to receive no television coverage. The same could be said in the UK, with regard to international television broadcasts from Donnaueschingen World Music Days, the Salzburg and Strassbourg festivals of new music, the Venice Biannale or the Tanglewood Summer courses, to name but a few. For what makes these festivals any less valid with regard to 'artistic and intellectual integrity' than, say, Glastonbury, Ibiza Rocks or the V festival, that receive regular television broadcasts? Or any less valid than the kind of music featured on the BBC's weekly repeated show Later with Jools Holland - that despite being of an eclectic and versatile mix, excludes contemporary classical music, also helping to give the impression that it does not exist. Perhaps it would be an area in which Holland would be out of his depth musically (as he seemed even when he conducted an interview with Jazz pianist, Julian Joseph, for his series Great Pianists). When will the likes of Brian Ferneyhough be featured on the Jools Holland show? (Perhaps only if it were re-named the 'Jules Anderson' show!).

  Re: The Recognition of the Composer Today (Part VII of X)  Zak at 23:01 on 17 January 2010

I would say that the problem is not so much capitalism as it is an educational practice based on science and mathmatics rather than logic and the arts, and a popular misconception that being intelligent in any respect (though I wouldn't say that music requires much intelligence to appreciate) is "uncool". If there were more of a push for more music education in general and at earlier stages of education (it certainly would be possible to set aside time for listening to western art music both of our time and of the past in kindergarten and elementary school), the state of the modern composer might be elevated somewhat; though I don't see a resurgence of popular interest in art music any time soon, at least not without greater effort on the part those in the art music community.

  Re: The Recognition of the Composer Today (Part VII of X)  MartinY at 12:40 on 20 January 2010

If I can make a comment about the state of general music education in the UK, it is to say that music is now in the national curriculum at primary level, after many years of being absent. This has not been greeted entirely with joy by teachers some of whom are wondering how they wil be able to teach something they were never educated in themselves and some of whom are wondering how to keep secret that they can play the piano and read music and therefore would have to lots of stuff that nobody else can do.

I cannot say any more as having fluncked out of the opportunity to teach descant recorder at the primary level I do not propose solutions that I am not able to get involved in myself.......

  Re: The Recognition of the Composer Today (Part VII of X)  Bevillia at 16:49 on 20 January 2010

With regard to the need for proper musical education in schools, I am in total agreement with you (please see Part VI). The very idea of 'coolness', trends and fashions are however, if not a product of, then, in my view, profoundly influenced by the capitalist principle of making money (via commercial advertising) and making culture increasingly uniform. Hence, the advent of the global village ('globalisation' ) and its corresponding need for a global, standardized culture as regular and uniform as the highstreet retailers we now see common in practically every Western town. The nature of capitalism is one of the most important issues of our time, and I think Part II fully illustrates the problems with regard to the recognition of great music, and the other arts. True, capitalism is one side of the coin, and Part VIII deals with the responsibility of what you refer to as the 'artistic community'.


Martin, I am very glad to hear it! But what kind of musical education in Primary schools is it? I would hope it involves learning to read and write music (as it is with language), some instruction in harmony and counterpoint and teaching in classical music history (ie... not just practical).

  Re: The Recognition of the Composer Today (Part VII of X)  Zak at 21:24 on 20 January 2010

True, I don't like globalization any more than you do. And I certainly don't like any move towards a globally standardized culture, as, though I feel Western culture is superior (the Western art music tradition is no better proof of this), I also feel that other cultures ought to be free to reject it. I also agree that the nature of capitalism is the major political/economical issue of our times. However, I don't think that the notion of "coolness" is a result of "the capitalist principle of making money", though certainly the major corporations and advertising firms have played a major role in promoting this idea. On education, it is nice to know that music is being taught at the primary level over there in Britain, Martin. Over here in America I have seen some glimmers of hope for music education; I know of at least one charity that provides instruments to inner-city school children, hopefully this idea catches on.


Also, though perhaps instruction in harmony and counterpoint is getting a little too technical, I think it would be good to provide, at the primary level, lessons in basic theory (notation, scales, the basics of harmony) as required classes, and then provide more in-depth instruction as options to those students who show promise.


One more thing, how can you refer to a "capitalist media" when it is my (uninformed) understanding that the BBC is at least partially owned by the British government? (Though I don't know much about the media in the U.K., so correct me if I am mistaken.)

  Re: The Recognition of the Composer Today (Part VII of X)  Bevillia at 22:02 on 20 January 2010

Well, as far as I understand, the BBC is a seperate organization, and has a separate agenda from the government (which of course it has to, in order to be 'impartial', at least in news affairs). The BBC is subject to a license fee, which the viewing public pays, so it is to all extent and purposes, capitalist, in the sense that it must cater for the mass/majority audience. And as we are all to aware in this country, the mass/majority of the public are musically undereducated - at least as far as I understand from my generation (there was never any proper musical education at Primary school or Secondary school until A-level where the subject was optional). In that sense the BBC must please (often rather than educate) the masses, like any other capitalist enterprise.

I do not agree with you that 'coolness', fashions... are not profoundly influenced by capitalism. Patterns, trends in human behaviour may be analysed, and predicted. Usually it is a product of the age-old sexual seduction methods, that capitalism accentuates for financial return, in music, movies....just about everything....Think of all the female music 'artistes' who have followed the example of Madonna in her wake....It is a formula that is endlessly rehashed as it continues to sell and make money.... born on each new generation. In this respect, please see Part V.

  Re: The Recognition of the Composer Today (Part VII of X)  Zak at 22:57 on 20 January 2010

And then we come back to education. This discussion, interesting as it is, seems to be a circle. I'll post any more comments I might have on part VIII.

  Re: The Recognition of the Composer Today (Part VII of X)  Bevillia at 13:33 on 30 June 2010

I do not agree....If our musical culture really is to change, such a musical education needs radical implementation (learning to read and write, harmony and counterpoint should be made compulsory). A typical half-baked Anglo/American solution will not suffice.

  Re: The Recognition of the Composer Today (Part VII of X)  Zak at 13:00 on 01 July 2010

Well, I do not disagree in so far as we are discussing an ideal end. However, reality will always differ from our ideals, no matter how radically they are applied to it. I simply think that such an approach is highly impractical in a real-world situation, and that it is more important to teach music history than the technical aspects, instruction in which can be sought independently (i.e., as an extracurricular activity). (Of course, some theoretical knowledge is necessary for an appropriate understanding of certain developments over the course of that history, so that much would have to be a part of such an education.)

There is a second problem with this approach (though only a slight one), that it is rather "tunnel visoned" and "kitchen sink", so to speak. There is a great deal that modern students are expected to learn already--and rightly so, for there is much in the world to aquire understanding of, but learning is different from understanding--, that to pile more on top of them would be somewhat uncaring. However, I am of the belief (and it is, in fact, my experience) that the modern educational system is overly redundant and actually destructive of what ought to be its goal: the intellectual and cultural development of the students as individuals. This is, of course, an ideal goal, and therefore unattainable--but there is something about our ideals that I did not mention above: we can come closer to them! It is a matter of finding a suitable and reasonable compromise between our ideals and reality.

  Re: The Recognition of the Composer Today (Part VII of X)  MartinY at 08:22 on 02 July 2010

Something you will learn in education pretty quickly is that you must go for the best result possible not the best possible result. There is no way that what we would like the generality of the population to understand when they leave school is going to happen, whichever government is in power or whether there is a doubling of the education budget. Even at the university graduate level I can believe there are people who cannot tell a diminished chord from a minor chord, as mentioned elsewhere, because they have not done enough hearing work (not necessarially ear tests) and have not been forced to pass examination in order to progress. (At a conference a professor told me that 50% of his institution's, (a good Russell group university), science graduates could not rearrange an equation after graduating. This was probably a firing offence to mention (maybe not because it is so widespread and well known) but I am sure it was true.) This is because the problem solving, practice, testing and enforcement (therefore failures) cannot be done and the department stay in business and get good student assessments.

I was reading about an economist who tested both professionals and students on the fundamentals of the subject using 4 answer multiple choice questions. The answers were such that the 3 wrong ones were all the plausible results of common misunderstandings and the calculations which follow from the misunderstandings, so there was just as much incentive to select the wrong answer, backed up by a calculation, as the right. The students scored slightly statistically significantly worse than the monkey, showing there was anti-knowledge in action. The professionals scored slightly better than the monkey, showing something? They interpreted this as being due to skating over the fundamentals in the 1st year lectures instead of doing hours and hours of problems to get the understanding deeply embedded. This happens in the courses whose students did well at the test. However I do not know what all those hours of doingproblems do for student feedback!