Mysteries of the Sibelius symphony no one will ever hear
Sir: Dominic Lawson, in his interesting piece on 28 September, didn't quite answer his opening question, "Whatever happened to Sibelius?" In fact, whilst some of his music has remained popular, wild fluctuations have occurred in the critical standing of Sibelius's music, from adulation in the 1930s and 40s to denigration in the 50s and 60s.
However, over the last two or three decades there have emerged not only outstanding biographies (the latest one is by Andrew Barnett) but also the discovery, performance and recording of a great many important but virtually unknown works, or versions of works, most unperformed for some hundred years. Thus an extraordinary reappraisal of Sibelius's music has been evolving, far more comprehensive and at a deeper level than ever before.
All this might be a mere footnote to musical history were it not for the consequent rehabilitation of Sibelius as one of the very greatest composers. Furthermore many modern and contemporary composers have admitted to finding his music profoundly influential (a point illustrated by the composer Julian Anderson in a recent seminar at the Wigmore Hall). What a far cry Sibelius is now from the "politically incorrect" figure of several decades ago!
Meanwhile concert-goers can continue to enjoy his music at the splendid series of concerts "Sibelius and Beyond" in London, Birmingham and Manchester, in commemoration of his fiftieth anniversary.
As for the Eighth Symphony, Mr Lawson made many interesting points about its non-appearance. But the headline also posed the question, "Why do we find it so difficult to accept an artist who decides he has no more to say?" Manifestly, Sibelius did have more to say. It isn't true that he wrote nothing during the "long silence" after 1930, although he wrote less. He just stopped publishing.
The evidence is that he was capable of composing high-quality music during that period. Also we now know that the Eighth Symphony was to be in four movements, and there were times when Sibelius felt its composition had gone well. But, as so often, he had second thoughts and many revisions. For example, there were apparently no fewer than seven versions of the scherzo movement (in piano score). Perhaps Sibelius was right to burn it all in the end, but perhaps not. Alas we shall never know.
John A Grimshaw
Minister's claims for academies plan
Sir: In the prospectus entitled "Academies and Independent Schools" Andrew Adonis refers to the five independent schools that have opted to join the academy programme: "These schools see themselves as pioneering modern versions of the direct grant scheme." This seems a significant volte-face, since the direct grant was abolished by the Labour government in the 1970s.
However, this "modern day version" will be missing one essential feature of the excellent direct grant schools: in addition to being a driving force for social mobility, they were also academically selective, which is taboo in current party political thinking – not just Labour but Conservative too.
Let me also correct an error in your own reporting of Lord Adonis's announcements (3 October): unlike the new academies, the direct grant schools were not part of the state sector; they were independent selective schools which charged fees but received government grants in return for admitting poorer pupils who were nominated by local authorities and whose fees were paid by the government. I was one of them.
It is interesting that Lord Adonis should pay tribute to their value, but, however laudable the intentions behind the academies, let us not be fooled into thinking they are new direct grant schools. Academies are funded by the state and are neither independent nor selective.
Headmaster, Birkenhead School (HMC), Wirral
Sir: Peter McKenna, in his response (1 October) to my letter (29 September), says that his ideal choice of school would be a "co-educational and inclusive local school". He says that this is not possible in his area because private, selective and church schools soak up "overwhelmingly middle-class, white and Christian children", especially girls.
This is certainly appalling and no one would argue that the overall effect on schools in that area is desirable. However, it is no solution to give Mr McKenna the choice he wants at the expense of the choice of other parents. Without private provision, if wealthy parents did not like their local school they would move into the catchment areas of schools they did like, increasing house prices and altering the social mix. This happens now.
One answer, certainly, is to remove all choice from everyone and ensure that children are evenly distributed across all schools according to as many social and educational factors as deemed necessary. However, under that system, Mr McKenna might find his children moved outside his area to even up the balance in a more needy school nearby.
It may be unpalatable to some, but the only part of the education system which operates the choice that most parents would like is the private sector. If we accept that choice in education is a good thing, the answer is to make state-provided education work more like private education, with schools free to excel in areas they choose and attract those children who will help them do this, free from centralised control and targets and in control of their own admissions.
Sir: Jamie Oliver's campaign may not only have put a number of children off school dinners, it may also be leading to a distortion of statistics upon which funding of more deprived pupils is based, ("Oliver's campaign fails as pupils give up school dinners", 3 October). The start of the school year has seen a statistically significant drop in the number of children opting for school dinners, including a number of those who were entitled to receive them free of charge.
Many schools in deprived areas are granted additional and targeted funding from a range of government initiatives and their qualification for such is based in part on the proportion of free school meals (FSMs) provided. It is true that those parents of children entitled to FSMs can register that entitlement by a phone call to the local authority, but they will have little incentive to do so if the children are not actually taking them. However, when Ofsted calculate whether or not a school "adds value" to its pupils' education, all the benchmarking contextual data is based on grouping schools by take-up of FSMs, not entitlement. School league tables will therefore be affected.
Without a rethink on the part of education's administrators, Mr Oliver's influence on our education system may turn out to be more significant than he intended.
Why aircraft fly in over London
Sir: To answer Mary Dejevsky's perhaps rhetorical question: "Why the flight path to Heathrow traverses the very centre of the city – surely not safe?" (28 September), it is precisely for safety reasons that it does so.
Aircraft on approach are lined up with their landing runway at least 10 miles out, in order for them to lock on to the guidance beams and be completely stabilised and configured (wheels and flaps) before landing. If aircraft had to perform a significant turn close to the runway, this could reduce safety. Heathrow's runways are aligned east-west, so when aircraft land towards the west, they approach over London. As a pilot, I have flown into Heathrow many times, and I can tell you the UK's air traffic controllers are the best in the world. Inhabitants of London need have no safety concerns over the routing of aircraft.
Regarding noise, I trust Ms Dejevsky is not one of those who failed to consult a map before deciding where to live. One would not expect to buy a house within earshot of a railway or motorway and then be surprised about the noise. Heathrow's juxtaposition with greater London is perhaps unfortunate, but neither was built yesterday.
Having said all that, I completely agree with Ms Dejevsky that Heathrow needs sorting out and smartening up, particularly as it is a gateway to the UK.
The threat from Iran is real
Sir: Your correspondent Ian Callaghan claims that Iran is no threat to Israel, the US or anyone else (letter, 2 October).
In 2003 Iran paraded six Shehab ballistic missiles daubed with the captions "Israel must be wiped off the map" and "We will crush America underfoot". The exact translation here cannot be the issue. Last year, Iran reportedly took delivery of North Korean ballistic missiles with longer range, of which 18 were ordered.
And don't tell me that Iran's massive arming of Hezbollah in Lebanon is all over a few disputed farms and prisoners.
I agree however that any attempt to bomb Iran out of a nuclear programme would be futile and unsustainable.
Stock up now for the light-bulb ban
Sir: So Mr Benn is planning to save the planet by phasing out incandescent light bulbs. As a result we will have no lights that can be dimmed, none with a 150 watt-equivalent output and no replacement for clear glass bulbs.
More importantly, there is at present no substitute for the small halogen downlighter, millions of which have been fitted in homes, shops and offices over the last few years. Perhaps we should all stock up now as it will be some time before the technology catches up with this ill thought-out political initiative.
R F Parrott
Sir: It is fashionable in modern minimalist housing to have dazzling levels of white light with dozens of expensive spotlights in walls, floors and ceilings.
Perhaps it is time to return to fashionable low-level lighting of the 18th century. My 12-volt yacht lighting runs off solar power, with individual lights for reading. It is very pleasant and could easily be adapted for domestic use.
Nicholas Wood RIBA FRGS
Sir: If low-energy bulbs are now really as good as Joan Ruddock claims (letter, 4 October), plus they save the householder money, where is the need for a law to ban filament bulbs? Why not simply allow the market to do its job, perhaps with a little help from a government information campaign?
Dr D R Cooper
Heavenly language in a drab world
Sir: The response to R V Watts' question, "Why are the Welsh so keen to preserve a language that only enables them to communicate with some Welsh people?" (letter, 4 October), depends on an individual's perspective. I see any active language as a living and evolving masterpiece of art, a rich cultural inheritance to be protected and cherished; the mainstay of a beautiful and colourful local tradition, holding at bay the encroaching drabness of globalisation.
We should all speak two languages as a minimum: one local and the other global. With international agreement the global could be English, leaving me one short – Ancient Briton (Welsh) perhaps?
Sir: R V Watts queries the need to preserve Welsh on the grounds that there are few people to communicate with. As everyone knows however, Welsh is the language of Heaven, and so speakers of that tongue may one day have a much bigger population to talk to. Although presumably not Professor Richard Dawkins.
West Wittering, West Sussex
Sir: Gordon Brown should have told Parliament first that the number of troops in Iraq were being reduced by 1,000, but at least in telling the troops first he gave the news to those who appreciate it most. That 500 troops were being sent home as he spoke is irrelevant; units are brought home at the end of their tour of duty and others sent out as replacements all the time.
Petts Wood, Kent
Sir: We are currently co-writing a book about modern hypocrisy and would like to offer our deepest thanks to Terry Eagleton for providing us with such a glorious example of it ("Eagleton stirs up the campus with attack on 'racist' Amis and son", 4 October). For anyone, even a "Marxist literary critic", to attack Kingsley Amis for his supposed anti-semitism, misogyny and homophobia whilst defending Islam, in whose name an abundance of those three phenomena is committed, is breathtaking.
Datchet, Berkshire Julie Burchill Hove, Sussex
Election cost not a game
Sir: The cost to the taxpayer of holding a general election cannot be insignificant. What kind of government is prepared to squander our money to secure itself an electoral advantage when it already has an unhealthily large Commons majority and three years to go before an election is necessary? Perhaps it is time the new Prime Minister and his colleagues realised that this is not a football match and that we are not willing spectators to the misuse of public resources that could be used to benefit those who contribute to them.
Professor Roger Iredale
West Coker, Somerset
Snail mail fails
Sir: Can someone explain to me, a humble "customer", how the liberalisation of postal deliveries is an "improvement"? Mail now takes two or more days to arrive instead of next day. Actually posting anything is now more difficult, what with the new rules for weight and size often meaning a trip to a branch of the PO, most of which seem to have been closed down. About the only level that hasn't gone down is the cost to the paying customer. And to top it off, they are now going on strike. Again!
Sir: Mr Hasell's letter about his "convenience fee" (3 October) simply shows what mugs we British are. The answer is simple – don't pay, don't buy those tickets. That's why I shan't be seeing the Ballet Rambert in Leeds next month. If we stopped going to the theatre for a while, managements would soon impose honest increases in ticket prices rather than the stealth tax dodges they currently employ. It might be inconvenient, but at least it would be honest.
Holmfirth, West Yorkshire
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