Music and Vision homepage


Editorial Musings with Basil Ramsey

Composers anonymous



Without composers there's no music, unless it be ascribed to the most prolific composer of all - 'traditional'. Having spent much of my professional life in the business of helping composers, mostly in the area of promotion, I have great regard for the natural gifts and skill that enables them to further enrich the art with their music.

At the point where a work is completed, the material provided for the performers, and listeners are about to hear a first performance, the composer is at that crucial stage where others have control of both his music and its effect upon listeners. I've experienced composers at both extremes of such a delicate operation - triumph or disaster. There are many stages in between the two, and sometimes innumerable explanations come from the various parties when things do not go smoothly. Nonetheless, a composer is extremely vulnerable with a new work, and if critics are present the resultant reviews rely heavily upon the effect of the performance.

There is nothing new in the preceding paragraph yet its message is rarely heeded by the musical public. The composer is presumed to have written what was heard regardless of the catalogue of risks which can so easily and effectively mar or even destroy his - or her - piece.

It is unrealistic to imagine this scenario as an exaggeration of what really happens to most composers at least once in their career. But premières usually provide a fair representation of the composer's score. And there are the happy occasions when they receive a scintillating send off to a series of performances, often on a tour.

The biggest headache is for composers whose complexity of style is liable to alienate those in the audience who are scornful of music that does not immediately appeal. Fortunately, composers in this category are fully aware of the 'problems', and usually have a generous stock of patience to absorb the misunderstanding that can rage around their heads!

Those who read these words anywhere around the globe will, some of them, interpret my remarks as unnecessary because of their personal awareness of the general challenges for new music, and some will take the opposite stance as implacable opponents of all this dreadful modern stuff, and some always remain neutral and avoid opinions about new music because they don't understand it.

Despite all these reservations about new music and audiences, I'm always surprised and delighted at the amount of enthusiastic applause that meets the premières at the BBC Promenade Concerts in London each summer - this new season is full of promise. A Prom audience is something miraculous as it usually reacts in a way that has no comparison with other public musicmaking. There is an atmosphere unique to the Proms that goes into hiding from one season to the next.

I write not out of despair but firmly to a hard core of music lovers who ignore 20th century music. Music stops for them round about 1900, and they still have a large repertory to choose from. Perhaps some of the younger ones will succumb to the 20th century's repertory as this new century gradually unfolds. The Rite of Spring will celebrate the centenary of its première in 2013. There's a thought to reckon with....!


Copyright © 20 June 2000 Basil Ramsey, Eastwood, Essex, UK


The floor is yours ...
A selection of e-mails from readers
is scheduled for publication on Thursday
as Editor's Inbox. If you would like your letter
considered for publication, please submit it now.

 << Music & Vision home             The outlook: shocking talk >>