Liberty resides in the rights of the music you find most odious

There has, quite rightly, been considerable criticism of the BBC's policy of exorcising new music from its recorded TV broadcasts of the Proms. Shortly after the Bill of Rights was drafted, English philosopher John Stuart Mill explained that: "Liberty resides in the rights of that person whose views you find most odious." This principle also applies to the arts, and in classical music liberty resides in the rights of the music you find most odious. The problem is that all of us have been party to the development of a culture where metrics - audience size and social media rankings - have become far more important than unfashionable concepts such as principles, rights, liberty, creativity and integrity. Would Le Sacre du Printemps have received a second performance in an age when classical music has become nothing more than a reality TV show where the audience decides which music will survive?

Difficult to choose an appropriate graphic while avoiding stigmatising the music portrayed as odious. But I have chosen the CD set of Dieter Scnebel's Missa which I tactfully described in an earlier post as being at the ragged edge of modernism. Any copyrighted material is included as "fair use", for the purpose of critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Also on Facebook and Twitter.


Joe Shelby said…
I don't necessarily think it is any intentional dislike of contemporary music, or the idea that they will lose audience members when they broadcast it.

The issue with live TV broadcast is *copyright*. With copyright comes royalties, on top of the royalties already going to the musicians. If the bean-counters decide that they can shave off a couple thousand pounds off of the budget as "nobody's heard of them anyways", they'll do it.

Here in America, this is very common: most classical stations are listener-supported and non-profit. They have to watch every dollar carefully, so it is extremely rare (and usually the result of a syndicated show, where somebody else paid for it instead) for any contemporary music to be played. It isn't the audience, it's the money. By showing ASCAP and BMI that the bulk of their material is old and out of copyright, they can get a much smaller license fee.

The alternative is that they stop broadcasting any classical altogether, because the money simply isn't there. The future of contemporary classical radio is online. There is no other space for which it can be profitable or even financially feasible.
Pliable said…
Interesting point Joe; copyright may well be a problem with US public service broadcasters, but not with the BBC. The Proms and BBC Radio 3 have the kind of guaranteed income from the license fee - which is effectively a poll tax - that any other arts organisation would die for.

In the 2014 BBC Proms season no less than thirteen concerts - many of which are televised - feature music by Richard Strauss, and some of those concerts have more than one work by him. Richard Strauss' compositions do not enter the public domain until 2020; so copyright payment is hardly a problem. Ditching just a few of the surplus Strauss works would pay for rights clearance for TV broadcasts of all the contemporary music in this year's Proms season.

If the BBC cannot pay for new music to be aired on TV why is it paying for the despicable Jonathan Ross - paid £16.9 m by BBC over three years - to return to Radio 2, and why can it afford to hire a helicopter to film a police raid on Cliff Richard's apartment in very contentious circumstances?

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