Whitewashing the history of music

'The 150th anniversary celebrations give the impression that the whole of Elgar’s reputation is based on the Cello Concerto: the Classic FM view of Elgar' writes David Derrick over on The Toynbee convector.

That's a view I totally agree with. On Friday Radio 3 started its Elgar celebration with a concert of his overture In The South, the Cello Concerto and the First Symphony, a typically unimaginative piece of BBC programming that made no attempt to place the composer in a wider context. Elgar was composing on the cusp between late-Romanticism and the twentieth-century. The anniversary programmes would have done him far more justice by juxtaposing his music with contemporaneous works such as Stravinsky's Fireworks, Webern's Passacaglia, Bloch's Suite for Viola and Orchestra, and the rarely played Symphonic Fantasia from Richard Strauss' opera Die Frau ohne Schatten.

Elgar's wonderful String Quartet and Piano Quintet were another missed opportunity. They deserve to be programmed, and could have been framed by music from those strange years of transition after the First World War, Bloch's Violin Sonata No. 1, Shostakovich's Five Preludes for Piano, and Béla Bartók's String Quartet No. 2 . Sadly David Derrick's description 'The Classic FM view of Elgar' says it all.

Meanwhile another reader raises concerns about BBC Radio 4's new six week series The Making of Music which starts tomorrow with James Naughtie as presenter. The trailer for the first programme sets the Western, white and Christian agenda: 'It was in the churches and monasteries of the Christian world, from Constantinople in the East to Iona in Scotland, the building blocks of classical music were formed. These places were the crucibles of cultural and intellectual life - and, as we'll discover, classical music has always been bound up with the centres of power.'

The description of the next Making of Music programme then perpetuates another common error: 'As Notre Dame was being built, two men were writing the music that would fill it. They are the first named composers to come out of history, and their music still survives. Their names are Perotin and his pupil Leonin.' In fact Notre Dame was not consecrated until 1163, and Hildegard of Bingen, who lived in Germany from 1089-1179, is recognised as the first composer whose history and music are known.

Hardly acceptable at Classic FM, definitely not acceptable at the BBC. But, if you want the Western, Christian, white, male and inaccurate view listen to the first webcast of Radio 4's Making of Music at 3.45pm BST tomorrow June 3.

Meanwhile inclusiveness is also taking a hammering over at London's newly refurbished Royal Festival Hall. If you want to make a telephone booking for a concert you have to use a premium rate 0871 phone line, and you also get whacked for a £2 'transaction charge'. But that's not all. The top price for the Philharmonia's Mahler 3 on June 12 is £50, plus a £1.50 booking fee. And we wonder why audiences are down for classical music.

Now read more about music history rewritten.
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Pliable said…
Email received ...

The entire system of classical music's scales/tonal basis in the west originated not only with Pythagoras (600 years before Christ), and his mathematics, but also natural physical laws which were discovered and appreciated in so many different forms throughout the planet.
Pliable said…
Email received:

Dear Pliable

In your posting today (June 3) in On An Overgrown Path, you wrote: "...and Hildegard of Bingen, who lived in Germany from 1089-1179, is recognised as the first composer whose history and music are known."

May I draw your attention to a known composer who lived more than two centuries earlier: bishop Etienne de Liege (c. 850 - 920), and whose music is also known and performed.

http://www.bautz.de/bbkl/s/s4/stephan_b_v_l.shtml (page in German)



Best wishes,

Ivo Swinnen
As, Belgium
Pliable said…
Another email ...

My take on the Elgar anniversary:

Sir Edward Elgar: Allegro vivace e nobilmente http://3quarksdaily.blogs.com/3quarksdaily/2007/06/sir_edward_elga.html

Regards, Peter Nicholson
Edward Knighton said…
To be fair to the BBC, they broadcast the major concerts on offer. The programming for the orchestral concerts broadcast was that of the Philharmonia, not the BBC. And although the Philharmonia's programming was perhaps quite conventional, nonetheless the quality was magnificent and they certainly took the programmes to all parts of the country.
Pliable said…
Edward, you say To be fair to the BBC, they broadcast the major concerts on offer.

In fact the BBC has complete control, including broadcasts, public performances, touring, and programmes, of five leading orchestras, plus the BBC Singers. They also have total control over the world's largest music festival, the BBC Promenade Concerts.

Those are the most comprehensive classical music resources in the world. Surely, with those available, they could have come up with some imaginative programming to showcase the Elgar anniversary?

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