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<<  -- 3 --  Alistair Hinton    THE SAME OR NOT THE SAME?


Whilst these factors are by no means irrelevant to what we are considering here, the changes that take place in an individual composer's mind are, to some extent, another matter, albeit not uninfluenced by what goes on around him/her. At a question-and-answer session following a recent seminar, an eminent BBC editor found himself embarrassingly and depressingly bombarded with a series of questions from young composition students which all sounded rather 'the same' in their common obsession to discover in what 'style' they should be writing -- in other words, what kind of stylistic persuasion might be expected of them. Not unnaturally, his responses centred on the absolute need for each of them to find and develop his/her own creative persona. That so many such questions were even contemplated, let alone actually asked, in such a forum seems a dispiriting reminder of the extent to which received opinion has come to discolour the lives of so many. The implication here seems to be that a young composer might accordingly choose to adopt what he/she is told is the 'style of the moment', only to feel obliged to discard it later in favour of something quite different when and because the tide of fashion is perceived to have changed.

That would be an appalling prospect. Nevertheless, it may reasonably be argued that the comparative complexity and diversity of the present-day climate may make it far more difficult for a creative musical spirit to catch fire now than was the case in Mozart's day. More than half a century ago, the American composer and maverick Harry Partch, in his book Genesis of a Music, wrote 'It has been said that because today more people hear Beethoven in twenty-four hours ... than heard him in his whole lifetime, the people have music ... a citizen doubtless sees more policemen now in twenty-four hours than Beethoven saw in his whole lifetime. The people hear more music, and ipso facto they are more musical? The people have more law, and ipso facto they are more lawful?'

Now -- leaving aside for a moment (a) the particular point the author is making here, (b) that Busoni would have deprecated Partch's application of the term 'musical' to something other than a device capable of producing musical sounds, (c) that policemen are supposed to enforce law, not create it and (d) that I rarely see policemen around here, especially when their presence might be deemed useful -- Partch's observation draws attention to a world in which, whatever it is, there's a lot of it about; the very presence and acceptance of concurrent musical polystylism is surely dependent upon there being a lot of it about -- a lot, that is, of easily available music of every conceivable kind within an environment wherein ever-increasing awareness and plenteous contrast and conflict are taken for granted. This, however, suggests that the development of a creative persona has not so much become more fraught with difficulty per se but subject to far more challenge than was the case in Mozart's time; the court, the Church, the wealthy patron and their respective expectations have long since given way to a climate which admits of a far wider listening rationale than Mozart or Haydn would ever have recognised -- not to say millions more actual listeners from far more cultural backgrounds than either would have contemplated.

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Copyright © 2 November 2004 Alistair Hinton, Bath UK


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