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The problem today is that, in Britain and certain other 'democratic' countries, anything deemed 'élitist' must have its 'élitism' knocked out of it by dragging it -- kicking and unceremoniously screaming -- into the politically acceptable arena of universality; 'classical' music must accordingly be coerced, by hook or by crook (usually the latter), to 'reach out' to everyone irrespective of inherent desire or of racial, educational or cultural background. The motivation behind this process is not so distant from that of the attempted 'popularising' of such music through the 'musical appreciation' classes of a bygone age; its long term results, for the most part, are likely to be no more successful (Sorabji, incidentally, damned such classes as training in 'how to obtain the highest rate of investment return from Beethoven').

Mr Standford is correct in that 'attempts to arrange a meeting of popular culture and so called high art may occasionally succeed, but more often turn out to be both pretentious and embarrassing', but this fact alone does not fully encompass the 'class' issue of Mr Standford's title. No 'class divide' is so clear as neatly and conveniently to pigeon-hole 'class' members as to what 'classical' music may mean to them. One has only to consider, for example, English composers Elgar, Brian, Tippett, Birtwistle and Ferneyhough -- all from 'lower-middle class' or 'working-class' origins -- to recognise that the persuasive pull of music has infinitely greater power than mere class divisiveness can impose (and let us remember in this context Elgar's famous riposte to accusations of absence of folk elements in his work that he was 'one of the folk' so made his own folk music). Likewise, people from any 'class' background or none may come to 'classical' music regardless not only of such background but also of limited early childhood musical experience. This, however, is not what purveyors of the 'culture for all' concept want us to consider, for it implies that each of the so-called 'classes' -- assuming their continued existence and relevance -- comprise individuals, not identical and easily malleable clones. I came from a 'middle-class' background entirely devoid of music; this fact, as I soon learnt, was to have no bearing whatsoever on the effect that music would have upon me. As a fortunate consequence, in my early years in music I was never subjected to -- nor even made aware of -- any associations between 'classical' music and class divisiveness; this is, perhaps, why my later encounters with such attitudes initiated an immediate impression that such associations had been artificially contrived for reasons that had far more to do with certain kinds of political expediency than with any kinds of artistic merit.

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Copyright © 27 October 2005 Alistair Hinton, Bath UK


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Classical Music Programme Notes for concerts and recordings, by Malcolm Miller