Claudia Pritchard: All summer long, they'll be playing our song

Share
Related Topics

You may not have seen any posters, but an impromptu festival of British music has just begun. It will close on Saturday 10 September at the Last Night of the Proms with pieces by the Master of the Queen's Music, Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, the elder statesman of British music, Benjamin Britten, and the sing-a-long-a-lollipops Land of Hope and Glory, Rule Britannia and Jerusalem.

And it began with the arresting opening chords of I Was Glad for the entrance of the bride at the royal wedding on Friday, and the congregational singing of, yes, Jerusalem, music for both by the stalwart Sir Hubert Parry.

But splendid as the cheering power of such four-square music may be, spanning the summer months, like the delicate Clifton Suspension Bridge hung airily from Brunel's solidly engineered pillars, are compositions that not only illustrate the breadth of British music, but also show that it is quite the equal of work from further afield.

The British composer is the performing dog of classical music. For passion and drama we tend to look to the "-skys": Tchaikovsky, Rimsky-Korsakov, Stravinsky. For cast-iron technique and innovation (Vorsprung durch Technik, long before Audi), we rely on the German Bs: Beethoven, Bach and Brahms. But the composing world does not end at Calais.

The Proms will be studded with new music by composers living and working in this country, although there will be nothing by the wedding's star composer, Paul Mealor, one of dozens of composers, many far from household names, fulfilling commissions as cultural heirs to the British pantheon, from Gibbons and Purcell in the 17th century to Vaughan Williams, Britten and Bax in the 20th.

Yet while British music can hold its own on the international stage – a festival of British music has even become a regular event in St Petersburg, home of the monumental Shostakovich symphonies – there are two distinguishing characteristics that set it apart. One is the choral tradition demonstrated with such sureness by the singing of the choir at Westminster Abbey on Friday.

Much of the best British music has been written for such forces, or for the great choral societies, and the texts tend to be based on the scriptures. You may not hear it all without stepping on to hallowed ground. But just as the King James Bible has its agnostic and atheist advocates, so the miniature masterpieces of Stanford, Darke and Bairstow – virtually unknown outside their sphere – are tucked away for all to enjoy, like precious enamels conserved under dim lighting, a gift to the nation of a publicity-shy collector.

This choral tradition has fed into the remarkably high standard of singing in British opera and composition today – the brilliant James MacMillan, whose St John Passion created a landmark in British music two years ago, has a new opera, Clemency, premiering in London on Friday. English National Opera's new production of A Midsummer Night's Dream – Shakespeare and the choral tradition made one flesh – opens two weeks later, Oberon sung by Iestyn Davies, product of St John's College, Cambridge and Wells Cathedral Choir.

British music's second USP is the willingness with which these shores have accepted those from other lands. Delius, born in Bradford, had Westphalian ancestry. Holst was born in Cheltenham, but was of Latvian and Russian descent. No diversity, no On Hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring, no Planets suite. Land of hope and glory? You bet.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SAP Project Manager

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: SAP PROJECT MANAGER - 3 MONTHS - BERKSHI...

SAP Project Manager

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: SAP PROJECT MANAGER - 3 MONTHS - BERKSHI...

Senior Investment Accounting Change Manager

£600 - £700 per day + competitive: Orgtel: Senior Investment Accounting Change...

Microsoft Dynamics AX Functional Consultant

£65000 - £75000 per annum + benefits: Progressive Recruitment: A rare opportun...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Children of a bygone era  

Kids these days aren't what they used to be — they're a lot better. So why the fuss?

Archie Bland
A suited man eyes up the moral calibre of a burlesque troupe  

Be they burlesque dancers or arms dealers, a bank has no business judging the morality of its clients

John Walsh
Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

Spanx launches range of jeans

The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
10 best over-ear headphones

Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
Commonwealth Games 2014: David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end

Commonwealth Games

David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end
UCI Mountain Bike World Cup 2014: Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings

UCI Mountain Bike World Cup

Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings
Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

Broadcasting plays and exhibitions to cinemas is a sure-fire box office smash