Have we then filled the last two decades of our musical world with charlatans? There would seem to be a surfeit of singers that can barely sing, performers who have a few tricks in a glittering superficial repertoire, and sonic inventors calling themselves composers.
There have been many periods in musical history when the giant has dominated the stage, and grown to such a state of obesity that no one else was able to do more than peer around the curtains. These giants did of course set the standard, and very often the standard was exceedingly high. Some are still spoken of with reverence: singers like Farinelli and Melba or the violinist Paganini dominated the concert platforms of their times (and earned the sort of phenomenal fees that left little money for anyone else!).
There were conductors too, once that particular 'profession' had been invented, that so dominated the field that other hopefuls could not even approach the podium -- and some of those giants would use their own devices to make sure their positions were not challenged. Being a powerful giant can bring out the worst in a person!
Composers too filled the halls with their presence. The young Elgar travelled to London to hear a rehearsal of his orchestral piece only to return home disappointed because Sullivan had demanded the whole rehearsal for himself. Elgar was to do the same to others when he became the giant. In another age, Boulez so dominated the European new music air-waves and concert halls that no one else was able to enter the arena as either a conductor or a composer of the ultra modern.
So we can continue to bemoan a world subjugated by giants when we are among the many who are made to feel -- and (sadly) appear to others to be -- like pigmies. But when there are no giants filling the platforms with their wizardry and setting standards for us all with their sheer technical brilliance, none to fight against or envy or aspire to, then far from feeling relieved that the coast is clear and invasion possible, we may be without our natural anchorage. We may feel the lack of that stabilizer, that yard-stick that could, possibly, just keep us above the mediocrity line.
I think our musical life is now, and has been for some time, weaker both technically and spiritually for want of giants. A climate that encourages everyone to feel they have a right to an audience, fame and fortune, without being aware of the highest standards, is one that can only provide the lowest common denominator for a public that, it has to be admitted perhaps reluctantly, deserves its quality giants.
Copyright © 29 November 2005 Patric Standford,