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Provocative thoughts from Patric Standford


It is far more likely to be the familiarity of a style than that of the music itself which attracts our idle ears to the British twenty-four-hour everlasting classical radio programmes, and it is just this familiarity that breeds the contempt so often proved in other avenues of life.

It is the familiarity of the overall commodity itself, like a music supermarket that makes such easy availability of a vast range of goods that the small shopkeeper, with far more exclusive goods to offer, is viewed with an amiable contempt, the sort of distain that suggests the diminutive business is far removed from the real thrusting commercial world and deals only in trivia, in trifling superficialities unworthy of the attention of the real connoisseur.

There was a time (and my earliest musical experience was matured through it) when music was more rare, more precious, and was savoured as much for its unfamiliarity as for its acknowledged greatness. There was as much excitement in discovering an unfamiliar Haydn quartet as recent works from far afield by Bartók or Schoenberg, or new optimistic symphonic scores from our home ground by Rawsthorne or Searle. We were elated by the unfamiliar that stood boldly beside Brahms and Schumann and would be enjoyed together with them as a valued treasury of music. Perhaps the piquancy of some, whether Biber, Barber, Berlioz or Berio may have been too spicy or sour for our tastes, but it was none the less an experience, and something that enhanced the rare and cherished nature of the commodity we valued so much.

But now the commodity is cheap; it is far too available, and to value it seems a rather quaint eccentricity, like wearing old fashioned clothes, breadmaking or growing vegetables. In such a climate, where the classics are only vehicles upon which a seemingly endless stream of young technically astonishing yet musically fatuous stars hang their virtuosity, and almost anyone with an easily built home studio and imaginations to match their computers can compose, how shall we know the value of anything valuable? Would different but equally exciting talents like Britten, Boulez, Cage or Copland, were they beginning now, even have the remotest chance to be noticed amidst the plundered past and modern debris we leave around us?

Though the earth is revived with some compost, it cannot yield anything if it is saturated with effluent.

Copyright © 25 March 2003 Patric Standford, Wakefield, UK




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