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
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
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