Observations: Just too many anniversaries

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The Independent Culture

Time was when a composer's centenary felt like a significant event, but these days anniversaries are ten-a-penny, because they're such a wonderful crutch for programmers to lean on. When in doubt – and today's programmers at the BBC, South Bank, Barbican, etc are chronically in doubt – reach for a 100th, 150th, or 350th. It can be a birth or a death, so we're in for two doses of Mahler, whose birth 150 years ago is being celebrated this year, and whose death in 1911 will doubtless be commemorated next year.

Nicholas Kenyon liked going up in tens, so his Proms programme celebrated the 70th anniversary of the triple deaths of Holst, Elgar, and Delius in 2004. Kenyon's successor Roger Wright thinks in more conventional numbers, so his Proms in 2009 celebrated the same trio's 75th, but he still programmed their music under the same title as Kenyon – England at the Crossroads.

Last month Radio 3 turned the unlikely yoking of "anniversary" composers Purcell, Handel, Haydn, and Mendelssohn into a bizarre jump-off to see who was the audience's favourite – on the idiotic assumption that there was a meaningful way of comparing them. Poor old Mendelssohn – long underrated in his irate cheerleaders' view – still came last. This year Chopin will be in a run-off against Schumann, with Pergolesi, Arne, and Alessandro Scarlatti coming in from the outside. Sets your pulse racing?

Mine neither. On the other hand, I'm not averse to the occasional birthday celebration, which is why I'll be getting along to the Wigmore Hall on 31 January, when Paul Lewis and Steven Osborne celebrate Schubert's with his fabulous four-hand piano works. Many happy returns!

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