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Editorial Musings with Basil Ramsey

Seeking illumination


Chance reading, like chance encounters with long-lost friends, is often a link to matters unresolved in one's mind. I took down a collection of Hanslick's musical essays from my bookshelf the other day, and what caught my attention anew has lingered because a simple deduction of his gave me cause for thought. 'Mozart would not have been Mozart, and Weber would not have been Weber, had they possessed, in addition to their own peculiar charm, the exaltation and the profundity of Beethoven'. I was not desperate for an illuminating remark about composers, or for that matter, on the cultivation of roses. But once something comes as a small flash you know that there's a link with a matter long buried in the memory. I cannot recall precise details, other than my lifetime's curiosity and pleasurable thoughts about those upon whom nature has bestowed a gift for invention, be they composers or crossword compilers. Which leads to curiosity about aspects of creativity and the manner in which the medium draws out the material from the creator.

The style of a composer is partially influenced by personality, which in the case of Beethoven would not merit the use of 'sweet enchantment' as descriptive of his music in general. But it is to be regarded as a characteristic of Mozart and Weber (and many others). Having started down a path one keeps walking. Whilst Hanslick was obviously right with his chosen examples, what about Wagner? - which is not a question for Hanslick for good reason. Would one not claim that Wagner could generate an atmosphere of 'sweet contentment' as effectively as 'profundity'? Would the examples that one chose from a dozen excerpts from The Ring have the conviction that one finds in Mozart and Beethoven?

All these questions lead one into speculation rather than answers. There arises the usual conflict of opinion even within ourselves. Hanslick's solid and wonderfully argued cases for and against all manner of musical timebombs impels one's own desire for evaluation. Music, which only truly exists in time as we listen, challenges like no other art. Would we really wish it any easier?


Copyright © 3 August 2000 Basil Ramsey, Eastwood, Essex, UK


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