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
Innocent victim: Oli, a 13-year-old from Cornwall, featured in ‘Kids in Crisis?’
TV review
News
Northern exposure: social housing in Edinburgh, where Hassiba now works in a takeaway
books An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop
Arts and Entertainment
Terminator Genisys: Arnie remains doggedly true to his word as the man who said 'I'll be back', returning once more to protect Sarah Connor in a new instalment

 

film review
Arts and Entertainment
Relocation, relocation: Zawe Ashton travels the pathway to Northampton
Arts and Entertainment
BBC Three was launched a little over five years ago with the slogan: “Three, is a magic number, yes it is.”

BBC Trust agrees to axe channel from TV in favour of digital move

TV
Arts and Entertainment

festivals
Arts and Entertainment

Final Top Gear review

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

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Carl Barat perform at Glastonbury 2015

music
Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Richie performs live on the Pyramid stage during the third day of Glastonbury Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Buying a stairway to Hubbard: the Scientology centre in Los Angeles
film review Chilling inside views on a secretive church
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Williamson, left, and Andrew Fearn of Sleaford Mods
musicYou are nobody in public life until you have been soundly insulted by Sleaford Mods
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dew (Jess) in Bend It Like Beckham The Musical
theatreReview: Bend It Like Beckham hits back of the net on opening night
Arts and Entertainment
The young sea-faring Charles Darwin – seen here in an 1809 portrait – is to be portrayed as an Indiana Jones-style adventurer
film
Arts and Entertainment
The audience aimed thousands of Apple’s product units at Taylor Swift throughout the show
musicReview: On stage her manner is natural, her command of space masterful
Arts and Entertainment
Channel 4 is reviving its Chris Evans-hosted Nineties hit TFI Friday

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Harrison Ford plays Indiana Jones in The Last Crusade (1989)

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
A Glastonbury reveller hides under an umbrella at the festival last year

Glastonbury
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Miles Morales is to replace Peter Parker as the new Spider-Man

comics
Arts and Entertainment
The sequel to 1993's Jurassic Park, Jurassic World, has stormed into the global record books to score the highest worldwide opening weekend in history.

film
Arts and Entertainment
Odi (Will Tudor)
tvReview: Humans, episode 2
Arts and Entertainment
Can't cope with a Port-A-loo? We've got the solution for you

FestivalsFive ways to avoid the portable toilets

Arts and Entertainment
Some zookeepers have been braver than others in the #jurassiczoo trend

Jurassic WorldThe results are completely brilliant

Arts and Entertainment
An original Miffy illustration
art
Arts and Entertainment
Man of mystery: Ian McKellen as an ageing Sherlock Holmes
film review
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.

    John Palmer: 'Goldfinger' of British crime was murdered, say police

    Murder of the Brink’s-MAT mastermind

    'Goldfinger' of British crime's life ended in a blaze of bullets, say police
    Forget little green men - aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert

    Forget little green men

    Leading evolutionary biologist says aliens will look like humans
    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    An Algerian scientist struggles to adjust to her new life working in a Scottish kebab shop
    Bodyworlds museum: Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy

    Dying dream of Doctor Death

    Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy
    UK heatwave: Temperature reaches 39.8 degrees on Central Line - the sweatiest place in London

    39.8 degrees recorded on Tube

    There's hot (London) and too damn hot (the Underground). Simon Usborne braved the Central line to discover what its passengers suffer
    Kitchens go hi-tech: From robot chefs to recipe-shopping apps, computerised cooking is coming

    Computerised cooking is coming

    From apps that automatically make shopping lists from your recipe books to smart ovens and robot chefs, Kevin Maney rounds up innovations to make your mouth water
    Jessie Cave interview: The Harry Potter star has published a feminist collection of cartoons

    Jessie Cave's feminist cartoons

    The Harry Potter star tells Alice Jones how a one-night stand changed her life
    Football Beyond Borders: Even the most distruptive pupils score at homework club

    Education: Football Beyond Borders

    Add football to an after-school homework club, and even the naughtiest boys can score
    10 best barbecue books

    Fire up the barbie: 10 best barbecue books

    We've got Bibles to get you grilling and smoking like a true south American pro
    Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Junk balls and chop and slice are only way 5ft 1in Kurumi Nara can live with Petra Kvitova’s power

    Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

    Junk balls and chop and slice are only way 5ft 1in Kurumi Nara can live with Petra Kvitova’s power
    Ron Dennis exclusive: ‘This is one of the best McLaren teams ever – we are going to do it’

    ‘This is one of the best McLaren teams ever – we are going to do it’

    Ron Dennis shrugs off a poor start to the season in an exclusive interview, and says the glory days will come back
    Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

    Making of a killer

    What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
    UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

    Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

    Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
    Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
    Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

    Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

    Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most