Music on Radio - Music - Arts and Entertainment - The Independent

Music on Radio

Long, long ago, in the Fifties, the Third Programme broadcast a series of so-called satires by Henry Reed, documenting the trials and triumphs of a composer, Dame Hilda Tablet. She was an upper-class feminist, played by the redoubtable Mary O'Farrell as a sort of latter-day suffragette, probably lesbian, whose adoring and long-suffering sidekick, Elsa, was an eager-to-please soprano with a strong Viennese accent, played by the much-loved actress and broadcaster Marjorie Westbury. The programmes were harmless fun, but pretty wide of any marks as satire, and the music, by Donald Swann, was a philistine's idea of "this modern stuff". The hopeless vagueness of the pastiche was hilarious in itself. The obvious model for Dame Hilda's gritty determination was the long-dead Ethel Smyth - though her music was clearly focused and highly professional. It's said that the late lamented Elisabeth Lutyens thought Reed was aiming at her, though Lutyens wasn't lesbian. Obviously, Reed and Swann had all kinds of figures in mind. Dame Hilda's magnum opus was an opera, Emily Butter, with an all-female cast, suggested, surely, by Britten's Billy Budd.

Reed's romps were brought to mind by a perfectly serious programme broadcast as the Sunday Feature on Radio 3, called In Search of the Great Music. Presumably, the definite article indicated that we were not to think of Bach nor Beethoven. With his tongue in its usual place, Brian Morton examined the importance of music for the Scottish poet Hugh MacDiarmid. MacDiarmid created a "synthetic Scots", which you might suspect conveyed as much sense as Stanley Unwin.

If it's poetry's privilege to be nonsensical, what then of music? MacDiarmid became obsessed by it, though some that knew him said he spent more time reading about music than listening to it, and that he had no musical ear at all, even in his poetry. Which goes for some composers. Take the curmudgeonly Kaikhosru Shapurji Sorabji, one of MacDiarmid's particular enthusiasms in the Twenties and Thirties, who wrote his music in the Reading Room of the British Library, perhaps to impress the eye more than the ear; its glamorous, mythical reputation was enhanced for many years by a general ban Sorabji imposed on performance. Eventually he relented, though only to allow the most valiant players to conquer, the likes of John Ogdon, who once stupefied a Queen Elizabeth Hall audience with Sorabji's compendious Opus clavicembalisticum.

Perhaps MacDiarmid recognised in Sorabji a kindred spirit. But as far as regular friendship went, he deferred to a much milder character, the song composer Francis George Scott, who had taught MacDiarmid as a schoolboy. Scott set MacDiarmid's poems in a style, to judge from one example, that could be harmlessly conservative. Not surprisingly, he was sceptical of Sorabji - as many people still are. But if Sorabji was really out of touch with the likely sound of what he wrote, at least his music doesn't fall flat on its face in aiming at grandeur, like Ronald Stevenson's piano piece, The Heroic Song of Hugh MacDiarmid, with its mooning Gaelicisms and petulantly dissonant rhetoric.

The strains of Stevenson's music permeated much of the programme like a refrain, casting over it a sense of absurd aspiration and improbability. Stevenson recounted that he and MacDiarmid first met on a bus in Edinburgh - a burlesque touch worthy of Henry Reedn Adrian Jack

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Some might argue that a fleeting moment in the actor’s scintillating, silver-tongued company is worth every penny.

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Colin Firth stars as master magician Stanley Crawford in Woody Allen's 'Magic in the Moonlight'

film
Arts and Entertainment
U2 have released Songs of Innocence in partnership with Apple

musicBand have offered new record for free on iTunes
Arts and Entertainment
Brad Pitt stars in David Ayer's World War II drama Fury

film
Arts and Entertainment
Top hat: Pharrell Williams

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum star as undercover cops in 22 Jump Street

film
Arts and Entertainment
David Bowie is back with fresh music after last year's hit album The Next Day

music
Arts and Entertainment
Keith Richards is publishing 'Gus and Me: The Story of My Granddad and My First Guitar', a children's book about his introduction to music

music
Arts and Entertainment
Calvin Harris has generated £4m in royalties from the music platform

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jenna Coleman stars as the Time Lord's companion Clara in Doctor Who

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Time and time again: the popular daytime quiz has been a fixture on Channel 4 since 1982

TV
Arts and Entertainment

To mark Tolstoy's 186th birthday

books
Arts and Entertainment
Rachel McAdams is reportedly competing with Mad Men's Elisabeth Moss for a major role in True Detective

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Sam Smith returned to the top spot with his album 'In The Lonely Hour'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Steve Backshall is set to dance with Ola Jordan on Strictly Come Dancing. 'I have a friend who's a dancer and she said to me 'You want Ola because she's a fantastic dancer and she can make anyone look good' meaning 'even you'!' he said.

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Sting and Paul Simon on stage together at Carnegie Hall in New York

music
Arts and Entertainment
music
Arts and Entertainment
The Strictly Come Dancing 2014 contestants and their professional dance partners open the twelfth run of the celebrity ballroom contest

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Robin teaches Clara to shoot an arrow
doctor who
Arts and Entertainment
Queen Christina left the judges baffled with her audition
X Factor
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.

    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    The Imitation Game, film review
    England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

    England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

    Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week