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,