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The to-ing and fro-ing dance

Basil Ramsey replies to David Arditti

Sadly David Arditti has misconstrued the purpose of my Call to Arms which preluded a survey of readers' choice of three composers whose life and work was considered to be the way forward into the next century. There is an assumption that I was tempting readers to forsake music with which they are most comfortable for a moonscape where composers live in space suits and dream up electronic burps. I was not inviting readers to look backwards or even sideways. What is ahead, which may be fuelled by music now written, is the issue spelt out clearly, and for which readers have been voting. No doubt we shall be wrong in most of our prognosis, but what does it matter? At least we look - and think - in the right direction even if we are in fog. It is an exercise in testing feelings and relating today's musical striving with what could happen. It is exciting and a positive element to put alongside our other discovery modes, whether for Bach or Takemitsu.

Surely the entire history of mankind has been ruled by evolutionary processes: developing organisms, attempts by Man to find ways of living better, eating better, or drawing on walls with chalk. Music has steadily progressed and absorbed the best of the past and left the unwanted to wither away. You find parallels of pioneering everywhere, whether in tennis or tomato growing.

In Music this century has witnessed the disruption of tonality by some and new styles within its framework from others. Electricity has led to the electronic revolution, with a diversionary foray into devising ways of harnessing it for musical creation. Likewise, anything that can be hit to make a sort-of musical sound is today pounced upon by composers (or creators if it is more appropriate), and if this stimulates will be harnessed into a score. And if the composer is really smart, electronics will modulate the raw percussive sounds into absolutely anything fancied. This is not Man playing games or being comfortable and finding solace in what is familiar, rather the irresistable urge to tread new ground, to discover something else that can stimulate response within that is in some way a meaningful experience.

I'm one with David Arditti in needing my own musical experience to contain something loved and familiar, and valid in terms of creativity. Since my stroke such things have become more acute within me. I shall not forget the TV recording of Elgar's The Dream of Gerontius from St Paul's Cathedral in London a year or so ago with the BBC forces conducted by Andrew Davis. I sat with tears streaming down my face in sheer joy and thankfulness for such wondrous music.

What will mid-21st century Man make of what he's inherited from 20th century Man? The evolutionary process will be there quietly in the background, and there could even be a David Arditti and Basil Ramsey gently chiding each other for differing viewpoints. But what form of music will be exciting attention - and debate?

 Copyright © Basil Ramsey, May 16th 1999