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Provocative thoughts from Patric Standford


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.

Schoenberg 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 patriotically stirred.

Copyright © 27 January 2004 Patric Standford, Wakefield, UK




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