Classical music should swap entertainment for wisdom
Yesterday’s trenchant post about Michael Berkeley’s BBC Radio 3 programme prompted me to listen again to the magnificent sounding Lyrita CD of his father’s music seen above. In common with many other composers, Lennox Berkeley's music is neglected not because it lacks merit, but because the industry power brokers do not see him as a commercial opportunity. Today he is usually remembered for his relationship with Benjamin Britten, but there is much else worth noting. He was an influential teacher whose pupils included David Bedford, Richard Rodney Bennett, William Mathias, Nicholas Maw and John Tavener. Berkeley’s own teacher was Nadia Boulanger who was also instrumental in his conversion to Roman Catholicism. In turn Berkeley encouraged John Tavener to embrace the Roman rite, which started the long journey via the Orthodox Church which ultimately led Tavener to the perennialism of René Guénon.
Although the Lyrita CD does not contain any music that is remotely 'sacred', in the sleeve note Berkeley’s biographer Peter Dickinson talks of the composer’s "profound religious faith which made everything [he] wrote religious". Lennox Berkeley was just one of many contemporary composers influenced by the perennial wisdom - sophia perennis - that is shared by all the great faith traditions; John Cage’s links to Zen Buddhism are common knowledge, but the Deo gratias annotation on the score of Karlheinz Stockhausen's Gruppen is less well known. In fact it would be easier to list the contemporary composers not influenced in some way by perennial wisdom; the definition of which extends far beyond the understandably discredited established churches to include diverse esoteric traditions. Yet classical music remains in denial about its congruence with the ineffable, and instead actively aligns itself with secular materialism. Which is yet another example of the entertainment fallacy leading classical music in completely the wrong direction.
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