Unguarded moments are frequently the starting points of accidental
statements that assume far greater significance than they should.
Like Stravinsky saying that music expressed nothing at all; it was only
necessary to play the notes at the right speed and listen.
entered such anecdotal annals when he claimed that his system for composing
with twelve unrelated notes would secure the historical supremacy of
Austro-German music for another century. He could have been almost right,
for along with the Second Viennese School came Hindemith, Carl Orff, Kurt
Weill, Wolfgang Fortner, Werner Egk, Blacher, Zimmermann (both of them) and
many other composers east and west, Hans Werner Henze and, of course,
Stockhausen. A roll call could well be the proof of it. But are they all
so enthusiastically performed still?
Is it not rather the twentieth century
Russians who have taken centre stage? Rimsky-Korsakov penetrated the first
decade of the twentieth century dragging an army of recently departed national
colleagues in with him on his dress suit tails, and precipating something
of a torrent of Russiophilia. Rakhmaninov, Stravinsky and Prokofiev soon
followed, and although many others emigrated during those early decades, it
was those three, aided by a steady flow of singers, intrumentalists,
conductors, dancers, orchestras and opera and chamber ensembles that soon
had us all thinking more of Russia than anywhere else.
The world was soon
involved in an international cultural love affair with the country, and its
music became the representation of colour and passion for the western world,
its influence spread wide, its practitioners welcomed with accolades of
excitement, its family names adopted by any who wished to feign distinction.
And today, when we are asked to name the most performed twentieth century
composers in concert programmes, we would have to call upon Rakhmaninov,
Stravinsky and Prokofiev, and perhaps admit Prokofiev to lead the field.
And the concert will no doubt end with another pyrotechnic abuse of
Tchaikovsky's 1812, making us all feel speciously nostalgic and
Copyright © 27 January 2004 Patric Standford,