Sunday, October 24, 2010
The Bartok effect
The BBC Symphony Orchestra is celebrating its 80th birthday and this post starts from my thread about chief conductors of the orchestra. Above is the LP Antal Doráti made in 1975 with the BBC Symphony Orchestra of fellow Hungarian Béla Bartók's masterpiece, Music for Strings, Percussion, and Celesta. Doráti was chief conductor of the orchestra from 1973 to 1976. He was an outstanding conductor and composer, but his contribution went far beyond the purely musical.
Antal Doráti's written testament 'For Inner and Outer Peace'* dates from his last years and takes its title from Beethoven's own annotation over the first appearance of the 'Dona nobis' theme in the Missa Solemnis. I have previously written of the links between the ideas in 'For Inner and Outer Peace' and those of intercultural ambassador for the European Union Jordi Savall, but the links extend much further. For instance, the message of Antal Doráti's book and the thoughts expressed by Jordi Savall in the closing section of his 2008 interview with me resonate with the concept of inner peace that is central to Tibetan Buddhism, a faith that informs the music of composers including Philip Glass, Jonathan Harvey and Lou Harrison. And 'For Inner and Outer Peace' also resonates with the ecstatic music of Islam which achieves inner peace through trance rituals.
But the search for inner peace takes us beyond belief systems to an even more important human need - health. In the past theories linking music and health from French ENT specialist Alfred Tomatis, Don 'Mozart Effect' Campbell, neurologist Oliver Sacks and others have lacked academic credibility. But very recent work from Dr Richard Davidson at the University of Wisconsin's Laboratory for Affective Neuroscience is providing hard evidence of the beneficial effects of increased brain activity and could be the precursor to establishing a credible link between classical music and both physical and mental health. At which point the work and funding of a whole raft of practitioners from music therapists and music thanatologists to music educators, youth orchestras and 'scratch' orchestras will be seen in a new light.
This path started with a 1975 LP, but it does pose questions that are remarkably relevant to classical music in 2010. Has classical music painted itself into a corner by positioning itself as one of the entertainment arts? Does this explain why it is seen today as being, to quote Andrew Wilson-Dickson, "decorative, perhaps enhancing, but inessential?" Is the way forward for classical music to make itself more relevant and less dispensable by abandoning its media driven celebrity culture? Should classical music instead be following the example of Eastern cultures where creative activities are inseparable from everyday life?
* For Inner and Outer Peace seems to be completely unavailable. It was published in 1991 by the Swiss publisher Araqua Verlag and my copy, which was bought from IPPNW, does not carry an ISBN. But Maestro Doráti's recording of Beethoven's Missa Solemnis is still available from BIS and a recording of Doráti's Second Symphony has just been released on the IPPNW label.
** Two little known books tell us more about classical music's current dilemna that all the current outpourings of our highly paid arts administrators put together. One is The Story of Christian Music by Andrew Wilson-Dickson (ISBN 0745951198), which is not the 'happy clappy' tome that the title may suggest. The first chapter, The Power of Music, is a salutary reminder that funding is not all that is missing from much Western classic music today and it also supplied the quote in my concluding paragraph. Another book that influenced this post is The Benedictine Gift to Music by Katharine Le Mée (Paulist Pree ISBN 0809141787) - a classical Christman number one anyone?
Also on Facebook and Twitter. All books and records mentioned in this post were bought at retail. Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk