Classical: On The Air

THE TERM "Modernism" carries a stigma. Until recently only a fogy would have applied it to certain kinds of music, implying dislike. Now even liberal-minded people use it to describe a historical phase. In theology the opposite of Modernism is Fundamentalism. What could this mean in music? Possibly a belief that "tonal" music, built on key centres, is justified by an acoustical phenomenon - the hierarchy of overtones in the harmonic series - and that "atonal" music is unnatural.

Perhaps that is what Ivan Hewett was thinking when he referred to Nicholas Maw's "discreet Modernism" in Radio 3's Sunday afternoon series, The Year. Last Sunday it was 1966. I remember it well. Undoubtedly the most important event in Britain was Lina Lalandi's Bach Festival, then still based in Oxford, whither she lured Messiaen, who played his Visions de l'Amen with his wife Yvonne Loriod and her compatriot Iannis Xenakis, whose music got its first substantial British airing.

Xenakis's Akrata for eight brass and eight winds kicked off Sunday's 75-minute programme and was described as an example of how mysticism can express itself in Modernist ways. Words, words, words. Xenakis may not be the world's greatest musician (he doesn't write felicitously from an inside knowledge of what instruments or voices can do), but his way of thinking about music as the mathematics of sound goes back to the Middle Ages and beyond to the Ancient Greeks. If the title of Akrata suggests purity, the music is plain to the point of being primitive.

Yet Akrata sounds a good deal more "honest" to me than Stravinsky's Requiem Canticles, his last large-scale work, premiered also in 1966 and played at his funeral in Venice five years later, which, for all its conciseness, creaks with self-conscious artifice. Not for nothing had Schoenberg, 40 years earlier, satirised Stravinsky as "kleine Modernsky". And then Stravinsky's taste for mumbo-jumbo is merely inverted sentimentality.

As antidote to Stravinsky's "impersonal sense of ritual" (Hewett's words) - and interesting in the light of recent developments - was the closing section of Penderecki's St Luke Passion, which in 1966 created almost as big a stir as Britten's War Requiem. Hewett didn't have much time to talk, so he took Penderecki's "human drama" at face value and said his expression of religious belief was just as awesome as Messiaen's. Which was surely giving it the benefit of a very large doubt.

Religious kitsch - in which category I do not include Messiaen - has become quite commercial lately, so in that respect Penderecki was ahead of his time. But it would have been interesting to speculate on his motivation as an internationally successful composer still based in Poland, an atheist country with deep Roman Catholic roots.

By the time we had heard the Penderecki, any notion that there was a prevailing musical climate in the Sixties was well and truly scotched. The least modish work of all - and far removed from anything before it - was Nicholas Maw's Sinfonia. Of course, consistency isn't synonymous with sincerity, and a sincere composer may quite honestly take the occasional U-turn (Schoenberg did); but Maw's commitment for more than 30 years to well-crafted music with a wide range of reference independent of fashion, looks serious and commands respect.

Arts and Entertainment
books
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and the Dalek meet
tvReview: Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Arts and Entertainment
Star turns: Montacute House
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Iain reacts to his GBBO disaster

TV
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Simon Cowell is less than impressed with the Strictly/X Factor scheduling clash

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Gothic revival: artist Dave McKean’s poster for Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination
Exhibition
Arts and Entertainment
Diana Beard has left the Great British Bake Off 2014

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Lisa Kudrow, Courtney Cox and Jennifer Anniston reunite for a mini Friends sketch on Jimmy Kimmel Live

TV
Arts and Entertainment
TVDessert week was full of the usual dramas as 'bingate' ensued
Arts and Entertainment
Clara and the twelfth Doctor embark on their first adventure together
TVThe regulator received six complaints on Saturday night
Arts and Entertainment
Vinyl demand: a factory making the old-style discs
musicManufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl
Arts and Entertainment
David Baddiel concedes his show takes its inspiration from the hit US series 'Modern Family'
comedyNew comedy festival out to show that there’s more to Jewish humour than rabbi jokes
Arts and Entertainment
Puff Daddy: One Direction may actually be able to use the outrage to boost their credibility

music
Arts and Entertainment
Suha Arraf’s film ‘Villa Touma’ (left) is set in Ramallah and all the actresses are Palestinian

film
Arts and Entertainment
Madame Vastra and Jenny Flint kiss in Doctor Who episode 'Deep Breath'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Steve Carell in the poster for new film 'Foxcatcher'
filmExclusive: First look at comic actor in first major serious role
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Kingston Road in Stockton is being filmed for the second series of Benefits Street
arts + entsFilming for Channel 4 has begun despite local complaints
Arts and Entertainment
Led Zeppelin

music
Arts and Entertainment
Radio presenter Scott Mills will be hitting the Strictly Come Dancing ballroom
TV
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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.

    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
    The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

    The model for a gadget launch

    Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
    Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
    Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

    Get well soon, Joan Rivers

    She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
    Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

    A fresh take on an old foe

    Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
    Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

    Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

    As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
    Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

    Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

    ... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
    Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

    Europe's biggest steampunk convention

    Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
    Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

    Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

    Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
    Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

    Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

    The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor
    She's dark, sarcastic, and bashes life in Nowheresville ... so how did Kacey Musgraves become country music's hottest new star?

    Kacey Musgraves: Nashville's hottest new star

    The singer has two Grammys for her first album under her belt and her celebrity fans include Willie Nelson, Ryan Adams and Katy Perry
    American soldier-poet Brian Turner reveals the enduring turmoil that inspired his memoir

    Soldier-poet Brian Turner on his new memoir

    James Kidd meets the prize-winning writer, whose new memoir takes him back to the bloody battles he fought in Iraq
    Aston Villa vs Hull match preview: Villa were not surprised that Ron Vlaar was a World Cup star

    Villa were not surprised that Vlaar was a World Cup star

    Andi Weimann reveals just how good his Dutch teammate really is
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef ekes out his holiday in Italy with divine, simple salads

    Bill Granger's simple Italian salads

    Our chef presents his own version of Italian dishes, taking in the flavours and produce that inspired him while he was in the country
    The Last Word: Tumbleweed through deserted stands and suites at Wembley

    The Last Word: Tumbleweed through deserted stands and suites at Wembley

    If supporters begin to close bank accounts, switch broadband suppliers or shun satellite sales, their voices will be heard. It’s time for revolution