Whatever happened to... Music?

Click to follow
The Independent Online
The Seventies

People retire home from a concert at the Festival Hall to clean their needles, put on the black vinyl and find that the 1950s Karajan is still the better version. Andre Previn shows off his sideboards and women in the string section sport Jacqueline du Pre-style hair. The rest of us are kept at a safe distance, consuming classical music via the Old Spice ad. A man surfing to the accompaniment of wailing monks poses little threat to the musical establishment.

Then 1981

Kiri Te Kanawa's singing at St Paul's Cathedral heralds the event of the century: the Royal Divorce. But first they have to go through the ritual of a wedding. That dress pulls all the headlines. A padded, striped affair of dubious design, Te Kanawa's number marks her entrance on the world stage. And opera gains ground in middle England. The event proves lucrative for both women, with a win bonus for Diana when she splits from Charles. Te Kanawa draws criticism for restricting her work to popular roles such as the Countess in The Marriage of Figaro, but Diana strangely escapes blame for her role as the Princess in The Divorce.


Classical music sales increase, helped by a general upward trend in the economy. By 1985 they account for 15 per cent of all record sales. Along with a Porsche and a mobile phone, the new CDs are the designer items of the 1980s. They also contain music, an added selling point. Classical music adds a touch of class to the candlelit meal, and greatly improves a chance of congress with your dinner guest. A sad farewell is bid to vinyl, with its covers of pastoral landscapes by Claude and serious-looking cellists: it's hello to CDs with pictures of post-coital women. Such joy is matched by the record companies which realise that people will have to duplicate everything they had on record on to CD. And Nigel Kennedy gains success by having a punk hairstyle and talking badly, 2 million copies of his 1989 Four Seasons eventually being shifted.

The Climax

The Three Tenors concert in Rome enlivens a dire 1990 World Cup. It takes classical music to new heights, sales of the album eventually reaching the 10 million mark. An American idea to award marks out of 10 to each singer at the concert is luckily scrapped, so we are spared another penalty shoot-out to find the winner.


Classical sales start to plummet - the CD boom, and the popularity of a few artists, hiding a long-term decline. In desperation record companies dress up anyone in a monk's outfit, and Vanessa Mae in not very much.


Classical music has lost out to compilations, accounting for more than half of the sales. Classic FM and BBC Music Magazine encourage the downmarket approach. The implementation of a crossover chart confirms its victory. Roberto Alagna is sold as the "Fourth Tenor", a recent documentary on Channel 4 showing his concert diary to be a match for anyone's. So will classical music ever be rid of this populism? It hardly matters to record companies, since by the next century everything will be accessed on the Internet. Nor to concert goers, since theLottery will ensure there are brilliant venues, but no one to perform in them.