From: Alistair Hinton, UK
Mr Standford now addresses the very rationale for music itself - communication.
Much of what he writes is indeed salutary, but a few small issues occur nevertheless.
His references to 'intelligence' and 'intellect' persuade me to suggest that it may be wise to be wary of confusing the two and considering them as though they are one and the same. In his first letter to me, the composer Sorabji dealt with this by defining an 'intellectual' (a term which he seemed to invest with pejorative overtones) as someone 'educated above his intelligence'. Intelligence in communicants can perhaps aid or enhance their communication to an extent and in ways of which intellectual prowess alone may be less capable. This does not necessarily lessen the thrust of Mr Standford's observation that 'the material of communication has nothing to do with intelligence.'
While Mr Standford is right in principle to observe that 'it is ... a failure of the teaching process to assume that a lack of understanding unmasks a deficiency of intellect', I am less certain that, as he then opines, 'if modern art is not understood, it is the artist's means of communication that is at fault, not us'. Mr Standford cites verbal language and software in his observations, but the case of music - that art which is said (by someone arguably more 'intelligent' than Stravinsky!) to be 'capable of expressing everything but naming nothing' - seems to be the very one where his contention is least convincing - perhaps because it is by definition so unamenable to accounting in mere words.
If the levels of intelligence of the composer and his listener are well out of balance one with another - or when the listener's grasp of the composer's message is compromised by the former's inexperience - one may wonder to what extent it would seem reasonable to assume a listener's lack of understanding to be the composer's fault. I well recall the sheer perplexity occasioned by my first encounter with a Mozart piano concerto in my mid-'teens, having been raised almost entirely (for a short time) on Webern and the composers of what one might term the Darmstadt / Donaueschingen persuasion; my reaction was very much akin to that of 'funny modern music' which one observes in a reverse situation and its origin bears no intrinsic relation to 'intelligence' levels but to unfamiliarity. This was, I hope, no more due to lack of intelligence on my part than it was the fault of Mozart!
The context in which Mr Standford writes that 'it is surely no surprise if ... superficial performers are mystified by the cool or even derisory reception given to their recitals' has a validity which reminds me of an observation, again by Sorabji, on the hilarity occasioned in a group of sophisticated and intelligent Japanese by listening to the B minor Mass - here we have an even more acute case of unfamiliarity than that which I cited earlier.
Mr Standford ends by arguing that 'using an adapted version of the sort of outrageously confident spin-talk practiced by politicians and business tycoons, it may be possible to persuade the Chinese audience that it doesn't really understand good Chinese!' Ah, what an unpleasant truth that is! - almost as unpleasant, indeed, as the spin-talk itself. 'The ultimate sartorial deception for the Emperor'? Since it is the Chinese of which Mr Standford writes here, one might be forgiven for hoping that, regardless of the age of the clothes, it will at least be the 'Last Emperor' - although I fear such optimism will prove to be unfounded ...