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Ronald Stevenson -- a composer/performer from a 'working-class' background -- appositely spoke of 'the aristocracy of the mind'; this is the kind of aristocracy that accounts, at least in part, for the fact that 'high art' neither recognises, nor is amenable to, class boundaries. In any case, many members of what is conventionally understood to be the present-day 'aristocracy' probably give no more of a fig for 'classical' music than do many 'working-class' folk, other than that the former may have far greater means wherewith to be seen to embrace it (albeit often at a comfortably detached distance) and do so purely from a received belief that it is expected of them because of the historical association of 'wealth' with 'high art' to which Mr Standford draws attention. This fact may in part be responsible for the instance and growth of snobbish attitudes that have come to cling around 'classical' music but which could largely be 'sent empty away' by means of an educational emphasis on the intellectual disciplines and emotional aspirations that are the pain quotidien of 'classical' composers and performers; this kind of teaching would be a vital component of the kind of cultural 'outreach' project that present-day society really needs.

Mr Standford's reference to taking string quartets to factories, prisons, etc, recalls the scoffs that greeted a recording of a Mozart quartet when, years ago, I played an extract to a group of victims of the received opinion -- 'classically' exemplified by string quartets -- that 'classical' music was for respectable toffs. I followed it hastily with judiciously selected extracts from Carter's Quartet No 1, Bartók's Quartet No 5 and Xenakis's Tetras; the first two clearly raised doubts about quite what the string quartet really represented and, perhaps inevitably, the last most effectively blew the entire concept to smithereens. Such an example is only one possible road to salvation, of course, but it is not inconceivable that healthy exposure to certain kinds of music less than a century old may assist in the demolition of some musically inexperienced inverted snobs' received and preconceived notions.

The most significant issue implicit in Mr Standford's present 'thoughts' is the burgeoning industry in evangelism -- 'proselytising fury', René Guénon would doubtless have called it -- about the undesirability in a 'democratic' society of the rôle of 'high art' and its attendant cultural élitism, with the clear intent of forcing everyone to understand that the evangelists -- 'arts tsars'? -- alone know what's best for us all. It's neither as baldly simple nor as wholesale as that, of course, but such lowest-common-denominator persuasions are nevertheless far too prevalent to be denied. These democratic drug-pushers also carefully and conveniently omit any recognition that those who choose to espouse products of élitist artistic merit accept them as amply life-enhancing rather than employ them as sticks of superiority with which to beat the culturally undernourished -- or, to put it another way, those who live in 'class' houses do not usually throw stones ...

Copyright © 27 October 2005 Alistair Hinton, Bath UK




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