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  The Recognition of the Composer Today - Part VIII  Bevillia at 21:18 on 20 January 2010

The Recognition of the Composer Today - Stephen Beville


In Britain, there is an unnecessary separation (segregation?), especially in the field of music, between higher education (or simply musical education) and society. For with regard to the study and understanding of music, there would seem to be very little INTERACTION between educational institutions and the public/commercial sector. As in America, our music colleges and universities have increasingly become enclosed worlds....cultural ghettos. In his interview with Ensemble Sospeso, Pierre Boulez spoke for a greater integration, both in America and the UK, between university culture and the surrounding province of the town or city - like in France, Germany or Italy. Indeed, having visited, and studied at British universities and music colleges, the impression sometimes given is that many of the faculty from the music departments care little for the culture of the wider community or even their surrounding town . Perhaps this is a consequence of lack of sufficient state-funding? (Hence the non-availability of quality musical literature - including scores of the classics - and musicology in general and local bookshops).

In fact, I would now argue that to have studied music to the highest degree in creative and performing roles (as in the UK) at one of our music conservatoires would ensure far less chances of employment and professional success in today's commercial world. That is why so many composers and instrumentalists return to music colleges as teachers, because there are few prospects elsewhere, and the vicious cycle continues. (Most contemporary composers end up teaching a subject that for the most part will not professionally or economically sustain themselves or their students).

Thus, the greater the musical education would seem to amount to less financial and social rewards, and hence less recognition. By contrast, most of the 'great' pop and rock legends from the past 50 years and today (as for example, listed in The Rolling Stone magazine's 'Greatest Artists of All Time' ) usually had or have not studied Western musical history in any capacity or form, but have managed to acheive great 'critical' acclaim, global fame and have become multi-millionaires. For what is rock music but the American Dream writ large and taken to ridiculous lengths; that someone without any music education may make it as a musician and acheive worldwide fame and wealth. (However, the problem is that people/society really should have equal opportunities for musical education in the first place). And, as discussed, it is the products of such musically uneducated 'artists' that now receive all or most 'critical' attention, public reference and discussion in the media and press. This gulf seems to point out the profound injustice of our society.

If there is no interaction between institutions of musical education and the commercial sector, perhaps there is no point in studying music, its history or composition - as often it leads to obscurity or poverty? With that in mind, has not the music college system just become a cynical exercise in student exploitation, drawing enough money from them to prolong its impending extinction? (Perhaps the situation should be vice-versa; music conservatoires should pay their talented students for contributing and making possible their musical life and community). Indeed, it begs the question whether our music academies and universities should, in fact, be shut down, since such education and study seems to be of extremely limited use in the wider world. Why have universities, or to be specific, why have music courses? Why teach composition, piano or singing if they are just to be undermined by popular culture? (Such a closure would, however, no doubt co-incide with the overall depletion of our culture).

Even the small group of classical movers and shakers from the 'music buisness' today, are often extremely imperceptive with regard to new music. Alas, the majority of them seem not even interested in music as an art. Classical music is so underrepresented yet paradoxically over-enrolled, that our music agencies have no time to read or listen to an up-and-coming composer's work, or for that matter, listen to a demo-CD by an up-and-coming performing artist. For the majority of performing pianists (who do not have the orchestras to fall back on) there are comparatively slim chances of finding work....(unless of course, you're a Mayleen Klass!)

In this respect, should not 'Sir' Mick Jagger be appointed Head of Composition at the Royal Northern College of Music, or 'Sir' Elton John Head of Keyboard Studies? For as our music academies are fully aware, it is not a matter of how talented you are (incidentally, a message endorsed by bureacratic directors of every music agency, classical or otherwise. Perhaps it never was.......? So why bother training to standards of excellence that have little validity in our commercial world? - standards, in fact, that the music academy teacher would not dare apply outside the classroom, let alone to commercial artists of greater fame, wealth and social power.

Perhaps it would be much easier if we simply decided to scrap our professional orchestras, ensembles and classical music courses in the UK, in acknowledgement that if you are seriously interested in classical music and its development, you must go abroad to that bastion of kultur, Germany? (For what many Germans consider as kultur simply does not exist in the UK; we do not seem to understand how it contributes to the general wellfare of society). Perhaps we may add a censorship of all historical studies, in order to allow the morons of British barbarism - that today seem to constitute much of the population - to enjoy their nightclubs, drugs and Hollywood.

However, we should be forewarned by Oswald Spengler, who as early as 1918 prophesised in his Decline of the West; 'One day the last portrait of Rembrandt and the last bar of Mozart will have ceased to be - though possibly a coloured canvas and sheet of notes may remain - because the last eye and ear accessible to their message would have gone'. The important word here is accessible, but Spengler is not referring to the kind of commercial accessibility we think of today; rather the musical and artistic cultivation of mind, known as bildung in the German speaking countries; a synthesis of education and culture necessary for the appreciation and understanding of such art. This, in turn is echoed by Gadamer in Wahrheit und Methode, where he reflects on the writings of art-historian Jacob Burckhardt:

'Burckhardt is quite right to view the continuity of Western cultural tradition as the very existence of Western culture. The collapse of this tradition, the rise of a new barbarism, which Burckhardt prophesised, would not, for the historical worldview, be a catastrophe within history but the end of history itself, at least in so far as it tries to understand itself as a world-historical unity.'

Is it really too much to ask for general population, or society to try and musically cultivate itself? Perhaps Schumann was right; only genius fully understands genius - incidentally a theory further advocated by Gadamer ('Genius in understanding corresponds to genius in creation' ). However, that should not excuse want of trying.

Unless some critical engagement is applied to pop-music in light of musical history, and in comparison with contemporary classical music of today (with regard to its artistic/intellectual stature and profundity) the latter is in danger of disappearing entirely off the map.

  Re: The Recognition of the Composer Today - Part VIII  Zak at 23:25 on 20 January 2010

You are (sadly) correct. There is too much seperation between higher education and society in general. But how can this be corrected? The sad truth of the matter is that there simply isn't enough emphasis on education in our society today; Hollywood, sports, popular music--these have our society so absorbed that education is no longer seen as important if you can read a script some one else wrote, sing a song some one else wrote, or hit a ball with a bat (or do any number of other pointless things with a ball).

  Re: The Recognition of the Composer Today - Part VIII  Zak at 23:04 on 21 January 2010

I must say, having now read Parts I-VIII (I had only read Parts I, II, and VII before), I have a better sense of what your saying. I, too, often ask "What has become of Western civilization? What has become of the culture that produced Aristotle, Cicero, Leonardo da Vinci, Michaelangelo, Shakespeare, J.S. Bach, John Locke, Thomas Jefferson, Mozart, Beethoven, and numerous others? Are we really reduced to rock stars, Hollywood fame junkies, and other such phillistines?" I think, to some extent, we Westerners (well, not us in particular, but Western culture in general) have forgotten where we come from; in short, we have lost our identity as Westerners. The quote above about the continuity of Western culture being the existence of Western culture is particularly relevant, and I think that this is the flaw in how we teach history (or at least in how I was taught history): that we teach history not as a three-dimensional, complete political/philosophical/artistic whole, but rather as just a series of events, often removed from any context (and, of course, art of all kinds is often regarded as irrelevant to history, never mind that art is often a more accurate reflection of a society than its political system), and therefore we lose the whole picture of who we as a culture are.


And therefore our educational practice fails to continue Western culture.


Well, at least here in America, though I imagine Britain can't be much different.

  Re: The Recognition of the Composer Today - Part VIII  Bevillia at 16:18 on 23 January 2010

Yes....I quite agree.