Classical: On The Air
Friday 16 April 1999
In the present century, the opportunities for such influential experience have increased a hundredfold. Haydn would not have had to wait until his old age before hearing Handel - a radio or CD player would have served his needs decades earlier - although that is not to say that his hearing Handel did not occur at just the right time in his creative development. But that is another story. The point is that the incredible amount of music, going back to the dawn of cultural time, which is now available at the turning of a knob or insertion of a disc poses a crucial problem; and composers from Stravinsky onwards have had to go through torturous stylistic hoops in order to preserve their creative integrity in the face of an increasingly available past, whether embodied in a Beethoven symphony, a Bach Passion or a Machaut Mass. We live in an era that is obsessed with the past, a fact not unconnected with that past's well-nigh exhaustive documentation on disc. Post-Stravinskian composers are becoming increasingly aware of a greatly extended cultural heritage that somehow has to be dealt with.
It has led to a number of them writing music about other music, rather than dealing with primary thought and emotion at first hand. The resulting vision is most sophisticatedly layered, as in the Scenes from Schumann by Robin Holloway, broadcast live from Belfast last week as part of BBC Radio 3's Sounding the Century, but there exists the ever-present danger of becoming psychologically crippled by emotional dependence.
There are many different ways of falling into this trap, and often fascinating music results, as in the case of Berio's Sinfonia, but danger still lurks. In Holloway's case there is abundant invention and brilliant compositional virtuosity, as he sifts, reflects upon, refracts, distorts and reworks ideas from Schumann's songs. There is, indeed, an exhilarating reclamation here of Romantic expression after his Constructivist earlier pieces, but allusions to a previous zeitgeist, rather than recognisable quotations, might well have been a healthier response to his needs.
Jonathan Harvey, whose deeply stirring Passion and Resurrection was broadcast half-an-hour later on Radio 3's Hear and Now, showed equally sophisticated links with a grand tradition stretching back through the centuries. The austerity and concentration of Heinrich Schutz's Passion music had been a nourishing presence during the work's conception, not to speak of the high drama and spiritual intensity of Bach's Passions.
However, while Bach's processes may have been pressed into service - those halos in harmonics that crown Christ's sayings, for instance - quotation is not part of Harvey's compositional armoury. This superbly sustained church opera, directed with wholly committed concentration by Martin Neary, maintains a respectful distance from its models, allowing self-reliant creativity its head.
Is the comedy album making a comeback?comedy
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Sabina Altynbekova, the girl branded 'too good looking' for volleyball, says social media obsession with her is a 'bit much'
- 2 Disney heiress Abigail disowns her share of family profits in West Bank company
- 3 The secret report that helps Israel hide facts
- 4 'Women should not laugh in public,' says Turkey's Deputy Prime Minister in morality speech
- 5 Israel's propaganda machine is finally starting to misfire
Led Zeppelin to release alternative Stairway To Heaven after 43 years
Freddie Prinze Jr on 24: 'Kiefer Sutherland was the most unprofessional dude in the world – I hated every moment of it'
Guardians of the Galaxy review: A superficial and half-hearted Marvel film
Great British Bake Off 2014 contestants revealed: Meet the baker's dozen
R Kelly 'dropped' from Ohio music festival following backlash
The secret report that helps Israel hide facts
Woman and two children killed by mob in riots over 'blasphemous' Facebook post in Pakistan
A day in the life of Vladimir Putin: The dictator in his labyrinth
Putin is 'thuggish, dishonest and reckless', says British ambassador to US
Richard Dawkins tweets: 'Date rape is bad, stranger rape is worse'
Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – Britain as others see us
- < Previous
- Next >