Classical: On The Air

COMPOSERS HAVE always been capable of responding to a blast from the past. Haydn's vision was newly focused by the overwhelming experience of hearing Handel in Westminster Abbey from a choir of totally unauthentic size; Bach's counterpoint immeasurably enriched the work of Mozart's late years; Beethoven responded as powerfully as did Haydn to the music of Handel, who was by then even more distant in historical perspective. The list is endless, and includes most creators of genius. Indeed, the ability to respond in this way without being overwhelmed is perhaps one of the characteristics of creative vigour.

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.

Arts and Entertainment

eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Fearne Cotton is leaving Radio 1 after a decade

radio
Arts and Entertainment
The light stuff: Britt Robertson and George Clooney in ‘Tomorrowland: a World Beyond’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Radio
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
I am flute: Azeem Ward and his now-famous instrument
music
Arts and Entertainment
A glass act: Dr Chris van Tulleken (left) and twin Xand get set for their drinking challenge
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
MIA perform at Lovebox 2014 in London Fields, Hackney

music
Arts and Entertainment
Finnish punk band PKN hope to enter Eurovision 2015 and raise awareness for Down's Syndrome

eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
William Shakespeare on the cover of John Gerard's The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes

books
Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones review
Arts and Entertainment
Grayson Perry dedicates his Essex home to Julie

Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treat

tv
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the original Swedish version of the sci-fi TV drama ‘Real Humans’
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Hugh Keays-Byrne plays Immortan Joe, the terrifying gang leader, in the new film
filmActor who played Toecutter returns - but as a different villain in reboot
Arts and Entertainment
Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jessica Hynes in W1A
tvReview: Perhaps the creators of W1A should lay off the copy and paste function spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Power play: Mitsuko Uchida in concert

classical
Arts and Entertainment
Dangerous liaisons: Dominic West, Jake Richard Siciliano, Maura Tierney and Leya Catlett in ‘The Affair’ – a contradictory drama but one which is sure to reel the viewers in
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Herring, pictured performing at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival two years ago
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
Music freak: Max Runham in the funfair band
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
film 'I felt under-used by Hollywood'
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study

    One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
    From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

    Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

    'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
    'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

    Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

    This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

    Songs from the bell jar

    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
    How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

    One man's day in high heels

    ...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
    The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

    King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

    The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

    End of the Aussie brain drain

    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
    Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

    Can meditation be bad for you?

    Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
    Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

    Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

    Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
    Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

    Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

    Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
    Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

    Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

    Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
    Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

    Join the tequila gold rush

    The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
    12 best statement wallpapers

    12 best statement wallpapers

    Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
    Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

    Paul Scholes column

    Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?