Scandalously penalised for not being Mahler
East Anglia is currently in the grip of heavy snowfall and the extreme weather has brought the region to a standstill. What is particularly striking in our snow-covered Zen garden this morning is the total silence. Zen gardens were a particular influence on Toru Takemitsu (seen above), who once explained that 'I design gardens with music'. In his book In Quest of Spirit: Thoughts on Music composer Jonthan Harvey wrote that:
Toru Takemitsu was working in a Western musical language, but, like a Japanese novel translated into English, his compositions contain something different. Takemitsu said he only uttered 80 per cent of any idea, in what could be construed as powerful understatement; the rest is silence, the pregnancy of the unsaid, ma. Ma, a profoundly important concept in Japanese culture, is the silent understanding when friends are together, or when one is contemplating nature or art - when meaning is intense but nothing is expressed.Toru Takemitsu is just one of many fine accessible composers who are scandalously penalised for not being Mahler. You are doubtless as weary of reading about dumbing down as I am of writing about it. But let's not forget that in the last seven years Paddington Bear has made more appearances at the BBC Proms than Takemitsu's music. It is very good news indeed that classical music's longstanding male/female imbalance is being tackled by a gender equality pledge supported by classical festivals including the Proms. Let us hope this will be followed shortly by a similar composer equality pledge enabling more exposure for Toru Takemitsu, Elizabeth Maconchy, Malcolm Arnold, Philippa Schuyler, Eduard Tubin, Elisabeth Lutyens, Arnold Bax, Alberich Magnard, Edmund Rubbra, Rebecca Saunders, Alan Hovhaness, Lou Harrison et al and less for Mahler, Shostakovich and their overexposed peers. And while we are on the subject of pledges; it may not play as well on media - social and otherwise - but an ethnicity equality pledge is also long overdue.
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I wouldn't claim that Alwyn, Arnold, Bax and Rubbra are on a par with Mahler, Shostakovich or Sibelius but it would be nice if we had, say, one Rubbra 5 for every ten Sibelius 5s. In fact, one for 100 would be an improvement!