07 October 2021

A Little Light (Relief) Music

(from the St David’s Hall website)

I can’t wait to hear the choral version of Schumann’s ‘Rhenish’ Symphony!

 

BBC National Orchestra and Chorus of Wales

 Ryan Bancroft 

 conductor

 Paula Murrihy

 mezzo

 David Butt Philip 

 tenor 

 Cody Quattlebaum 

 bass-baritone

 BBC National Chorus of Wales

 

 RWCMD College Chorus

 

 

 

 Brahms

 Tragische Overture Op.81 (Tragic Overture) 

 Mozart

 Piano Concerto K.467 No.21 C Major (soloist: Jonathan Biss) 

 Schumann

 Symphony No. 3 Op.97 E-flat major (Rhenish)

 Join your very own BBC National Orchestra of Wales, our principal conductor and a stellar cast of soloists for a classical night of Brahms, Mozart and Schumann.

(Explanation: the performance was originally to have been of The Dream of Gerontius, but ‘someone in the office’ clearly doesn’t realize that this replacement programme no longer involves three vocal soloists and a chorus!)

From The Spectator, 9 October 2021:

Ian Pace

How the culture wars are killing Western classical music

People are increasingly made to feel guilt or shame for loving or teaching Bach, Beethoven or Wagner

Striking the wrong note: musicologist Philip Ewell claimed that Beethoven was little more than an ‘above average composer’

Musicology may appear an esoteric profession. But several events in the past few years have pushed musicological debates into the columns of national newspapers, from the American academic who claimed that music theory was a ‘racial ideology’ and should be dismantled, to the Oxford professor who allegedly suggested that studying ‘white European music’ caused ‘students of colour great distress’, to the high-profile resignation of a professor at Royal Holloway, University of London, reportedly in response to academic ‘cancel culture’.

These disputes have not emerged from nowhere. They are the result of longer processes that have forced serious questions about the very place of music, and above all the Western classical tradition, in Anglophone education.

Music theory has existed in Western universities since the Middle Ages, but the term ‘musicology’ dates from the late 19th century. It refers broadly to the academic study of music, which can encompass areas such as music history, theory, analysis, the study of global musics, acoustics, and more. This type of study, practised in universities, is distinct from that traditionally offered by conservatoires, which focus on high-level professional training on an instrument or voice.

Western classical music long held a central place in university music departments, though from the beginning of the discipline musicologists also investigated folk and vernacular traditions and their social and cultural contexts. But three historical developments underpin the current situation. One of these was the growth of British ‘cultural studies’ from the 1970s onwards, and work from this field mostly on popular musics. Often undertaken by those without specialised musical skills, this study concentrated on the social position of music, associated imagery, fashion, etc., while the sounds it made were frequently a secondary or minimum concern.

Another came from the rise in importance of ethnomusicology, a discipline that developed in the 1950s out of vergleichende Musikwissenschaft, the comparative study of global musics, which had added immensely to the knowledge of these in the West. While still undertaking some of this type of research, ethnomusicologists’ emphasis was as much upon the role that music played in societies as about the sounding music. The latter could become neglected, leading one to sardonically quip the term ‘Eth-no-musicology’.

Many Anglophone ethnomusicologists were also frequently hostile to aesthetic value judgments, recoiling from the hierarchical nature of this, despite evidence of musical hierarchies and value judgments existing in most societies and cultures. For this reason, the existence of a Western ‘canon’ of major works came in for particular censure.

I fear for those in education who are made to feel guilt or shame for loving Western classical music

From the 1980s a number of ethnomusicologists turned their disciplinary approaches to practices within Western classical music itself. Their findings were often roundly negative; selective and unverifiable sources (because they were anonymised), or simply broad generalisations, were used to indict the Western concert, conservatoire, or classical music culture in general, often from a ‘post-colonial’ perspective. (In Christopher Small’s studies of concert rituals, for example, concerts were ‘a celebration of the “sacred history” of the Western middle classes’.)

These attitudes were also found in the third major development, the ‘New Musicology’ that emerged in the US in the mid to late 1980s, many of whose protagonists argued that social readings of music, which reveal its ideological content, should be the musicologist’s principal concern. While this approach was much less ‘new’ than its proponents often claimed, the emphasis shifted towards questions of gender, sexuality, race and elitism. Notoriously, the feminist musicologist Susan McClary likened a passage in Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony to the frustrated, murderous rage of a rapist. The New Musicologists also took a harsh view of much avant-garde music, claiming popular music as a more worthy object of study.

The result of all this often led to what I have described as a ‘musicology without ears’: in other words, a further de-emphasis upon listening or studying the sound of music. This was especially the case as a result of a new emphasis on ethnographic methods based on participant observation, and focused on the verbal rather than the aural, which could be undertaken by those with few specifically musical skills.

A shift from aesthetic to moral judgment accompanied this. McClary, for example, censured Charles Rosen for critiquing certain operas on the grounds of ‘old-fashioned hierarchies of tastes’ rather than for ‘something ideologically pernicious, such as anti-Semitism, orientalism, or misogyny’. A work could only be judged bad if it fell foul morally.

All of this has led to a situation in which it is common to read quite stentorian denunciations primarily of Western classical music and its standard repertoire and long-established scholarly methods for investigating it. Thus, in 2016, the one-time pianist turned video-game musicologist William Cheng published his book Just Vibrations: The Purpose of Sounding Good. Cheng wrote dismissively of such concepts as ‘art for art’s sake’, ‘aesthetic autonomy’, or ‘academic freedom’ and even ‘the belief that academics have a right to pursue their work free from political pressures and without fear of termination’. In place of these, which he associates with a ‘paranoid’ approach, Cheng advocates ‘a care-oriented musicology — namely, for a musicology that upholds interpersonal care as a core feature’. Whether musicology is to be judged to have achieved this was presumably to be determined by him or other ideological fellow-travellers.

Cheng’s passive-aggressive arguments — employing the tropes of victimhood to propound a highly censorious agenda — and some of the extensive praise they have received, are among the most disturbing developments in recent musicology. It is not hyperbolic to compare them to those common under Soviet-style communism, in which academic freedom and integrity were sacrificed in favour of ideological conformity.

Many others have called for the ‘decolonisation’ of the musical curriculum, the ‘colonial’ aspect usually serving as a cipher for the whole Western classical tradition, while others have directly associated Western musical notation or theory with ‘white supremacy’. Then, in 2019, the musicologist Philip Ewell, previously noted for his work on Russian music, shifted direction with a series of publications claiming that music theory embodied a ‘white racial frame’, and that Beethoven was little more than an ‘above average composer’. He focused in particular on a range of nationalistic and racist sentiments found in the work of the Austrian-Jewish musician and theorist Heinrich Schenker (1868–1935). These were already well-known and published, but Ewell went further than others in the equations he made between, for example, Schenker’s beliefs in hierarchies between pitches, and in racial hierarchies in society.

This led to a series of responses, some very critical of Ewell’s arguments, in the Journal of Schenkerian Studies, and in turn to an unhappy series of highly publicised denunciations of the journal, its editors and some of the authors, leading to suspensions and legal actions. To defend anything about Schenker’s work became in some people’s eyes little more acceptable a position than to defend the killing of George Floyd.

Most recently, the musicologist J.P.E. Harper-Scott, author of a range of monographs and articles on Elgar, Walton, Britten and others from a radical left-wing perspective, resigned from a chair at Royal Holloway, University of London, and from academia in general, at the age of 43. Harper-Scott published a statement about this on his blog. In this, he claimed that universities had become dogmatic rather than critical places, and that musicologists were ‘frankly insane’ for believing that cutting Beethoven, Wagner and others from the curriculum would ‘somehow materially improve current living conditions for the economically, socially, sexually, religiously, or racially underprivileged’. He also objected to the ways in which the term ‘decolonisation’ was used to shut down debate and shame dissenters.

Harper-Scott’s resignation statement deserves to be read in the context of his wider writing, expressed most strongly in his books The Quilting Points of Musical Modernism and The Event of Music History, which disprove any suggestions that his is a conservative critique. He had produced scathing critiques of aspects of popular music studies, ethnomusicology, ‘sound studies’ and other developments which he described as ‘crypto-capitalist’, for their denial of the value of a music that does not simply reflect an existing capitalist world but has the ability to reflect back on it or point to other worlds or forms of experience. With the decline in the aesthetic, the only value left for music is its exchange value, and he viewed these movements as openly embracing music as commodity. In contrast, he celebrated radical musical traditions that he felt resisted such a thing, and had personally found some self-liberation in first discovering them while growing up in the north-east of England where such culture was commonly marginalised.

While I believe Harper-Scott’s characterisation can be too all-encompassing, I certainly recognise the situation he describes in some contexts. It is exacerbated by a marked decline in the provision of state music education, especially that involving induction in musical notation and theory. Someone like Harper-Scott would today be much less likely to find a route into becoming a classical musician or a musicologist, and this option may soon become limited to the privately educated.

As one from a similar background to Harper-Scott (though privately educated at music school), who came to classical music simply through natural curiosity and accessibility of materials in a provincial local library, and was transfixed by first encounters with Beethoven, Chopin, Wagner, Ravel or Stockhausen, I find this immensely saddening. These composers will continue to be taught, but to an increasingly restricted social demographic, turning claims of ‘elitism’ into self-fulfilling prophecies. Furthermore, I fear for those in education who are made to feel guilt or shame for loving Western classical music, or those who one American educator asked to undertake an especially demeaning ritual in which students had to step forward to check their privilege if they were taught music theory, cared about notated music, or could read more than one clef.

Moreover, if the teaching of specifically musical skills is allowed to decline further, academic music may struggle to survive at all and could at best be relegated to an adjunct of other disciplines — sociology, anthropology, cultural studies — and might then dwindle through lack of a specific raison d’ĂȘtre.

These various controversies are far from simple disputes between ‘conservatives’ and ‘progressives’ but emblematic of a discipline in which some protagonists lack a sense of its purpose and identity, or any real belief that music has value in and of itself.

It is time to reassert the value of the study of music in its own right, as something one loves or finds fascinating, regardless of whether it has achieved mass-market commercial success. Listening to the music of Bach, Mozart or Beethoven alongside some of their now all-but-forgotten contemporaries is the surest way to appreciate just why such canonical figures are so extraordinary. Attempting to understand why this is the case, which inevitably involves a deeper analysis of the music in question, can be immensely enriching for the ears and the mind, sharpening one’s focus and perception. The relationship of this music to its social and ideological contexts is a vital area of study, but this should be the subject of continuous critical inquiry, not dogmatic platitudes.

There is no need to assert any superiority of a Western classical tradition (I certainly would not do so) over others from Africa, the Arab world, China, India, Indonesia and elsewhere to recognise the important role this Western tradition — like other Western high culture — has played in over a millennium of history, and thus how utterly natural it should be to teach it in Western societies, alongside other popular and vernacular traditions. Invoking Dante, Shakespeare, Beethoven, Virginia Woolf or Pierre Boulez primarily in order to indict them for a range of ideological crimes reveals more about those making the indictments than about these artists.

Ian Pace.

Ian Pace is a pianist, musicologist and head of the Department of Music at City, University of London, but is writing here in a personal capacity. He is co-convenor of a forthcoming 2022 conference on ‘Music and the University’, to take place at City.

04 October 2021

 

From Lorna Salzman in today’s SlippedDisc

‘We are living in an intellectual Dark Age, where merit, achievement, intelligence and artistic talent count for nothing. The obsession with race is in essence a confession that the individual has nothing else that warrants attention or praise. Wokesters tear down monuments to achievement and substitute mediocrities and unworthy idols to poke intellectuals in the eye. Anti-intellectualism is now considered de rigeur, au courant; it is the failed and unaccomplished whose mental void gets put on the pedestal. The collapse of the Roman Empire has nothing on the collapse of Western Civilization brought on by foaming at the mouth minorities who contribute nothing but social conflict to society.’

03 October 2021

 Jill Anderson


So sorry to hear this morning that Jill Anderson – BBC Radio Three announcer – has died from cancer. I first met her when she was a student at the Royal College of Music in the 1970s and we both sang for Denys Darlow in the Tilford Bach Festival Choir.  I last saw her at Martha Knight’s funeral – which I’m surprised to realize was in 2008, thirteen years ago! – where she contributed a reading, but we kept in touch with occasional e-mails. However, as is so often the case, despite living quite close to each other in north London, we never got round to accepting her open invitation to tea, and now it’s too late (and we no longer live in London).

She was an excellent announcer – always preferring the old-fashioned term to the currently-fashionable ‘presenter’ – and unlike so many over-excitable, personality-conscious broadcasters on the air today – displayed a calm, authoritative, but friendly approach, which I’m sure had many grateful admirers. She was also an excellent player and teacher of the clarinet, and a thoroughly nice person.

May she rest in peace and rise in glory.

20 September 2021

Wise Words on a Current Topic

by the composer Max Raimi, violist in the Chicago Symphony Orchestra:

My wife and I recently spent a long weekend in Virginia, staying in Charlottesville and visiting the nearby homes of three early Presidents—Jefferson, Monroe, and Madison. We were enormously impressed with the staff at each of these sites, and loved listening to what they had to say.

It seems to me that the real challenge of presenting the story of the so-called ‘Founding Fathers’ is not so much getting the story right, but recognizing that it is of no use to think of them in terms of ‘the story’. There are innumerable stories, which often collide with and seem to contradict each other, and I was astonished by the skill with which the scholars we met there were able to give all the narratives their due.

I was brought up on the heroic narrative about these men; they were freedom-loving visionaries who bravely stood in the face of tyranny and forged a nation with their ideas that is a model for the world. Increasingly a very different narrative has come to challenge it, that these men were misogynist racists who enslaved and raped their fellow human beings. Their paeans to liberty were rank hypocrisy in the face of their monstrous actions, their purported belief in equality mere lip service, a cover for their efforts to maintain the supremacy of White males.

To some extent, the recent battles over the ‘1619’ and ‘1776’ manifestos that are being played out across our political divide are an argument as to which of these stories is the true one. I would argue that this misses the point to some extent. Is it not possible that both narratives, notwithstanding the cognitive dissonance required to believe them both, are essentially true, that these men were both monsters and also brilliant idealists who accomplished something extraordinary?

The presentations we saw at the homes of these Presidents certainly did not sugarcoat their culpability, striving with great success to depict the enslaved people at these sites as three-dimensional characters. We were able to see them as fellow human beings who suffered inexcusably. All three of these Presidents treated those they enslaved appallingly.

But still. What they achieved was miraculous. They created the first government founded on Enlightenment principles, with a mechanism that allowed for increasing democratic participation, utterly free of religious dogma. And they essentially created it out of whole cloth, with no particularly relevant precedents to guide them.

I am not one to fetishize the Constitution, and I think the ‘Original Intent’ people are basically creating an idolatry around these men as a means to consolidate and maintain economic and political privilege. I find it impossible to read the Constitution (which I make a point of doing each July 4) without being struck by its miscalculations, notwithstanding my great admiration for it. It was the result of a lot of hard-fought compromises, bringing to mind Ambrose Bierce’s definition of ‘compromise’ in The Devil’s Dictionary: ‘Such an adjustment of conflicting interests as gives each adversary the satisfaction of thinking he has got what he ought not to have, and is deprived of nothing except what was justly his due.’

And yet, the fact remains that there has now been well over two centuries of more or less democratic elections and peaceful transfers of power in our nation, time after time. No other political system, as far as I know, has ever achieved this. Indeed, the attempt to break this string last January was to a great extent defeated by the safeguards envisioned by these long-dead White guys. I recognize that this story is all but impossible to reconcile with the appalling inhumanity with which they conducted so much of their lives, but that does not make it invalid.

Which brings us to the issues that precipitated Mr Harper-Scott’s change of careers. There has been a long overdue movement to make classical music more diverse and inclusive in recent years. One unfortunate side effect of this, however, has been the growing chorus of voices he cites denigrating the composers in our canon, and the culture that spawned them. In a notorious manifesto covered on this site, the musicologist Philip Ewell wrote ‘Beethoven was an above average composer—let’s leave it at that.’ He argued that our veneration for Beethoven comes out of a racist and misogynist need to elevate White men, and is completely out of proportion to the quality of his music.

After James Levine died, somebody posted on a friend’s Facebook page, ‘The so-called “greatness” of musicians like Levine and Wagner is a direct result of the free passes they got on being rapists, or anti-Semites, and that “greatness” came at the direct expense of the demographics they harmed. They were not born with such ‘greatness’ inside that they succeeded despite their abhorrent characters; they succeeded for the same reason that they got those free passes in the first place – namely, that they were white men with status quo appeal, in the right place, at the right time, and with the right connections. In other words, their despicable behaviours AND their successes are actually just two different symptoms of a much bigger, systemic sickness in the classical music world, that doles out resources, reputation and opportunity on the basis of a whole lot of things other than merit.’

The poster went on to argue that we can be certain that there were innumerable other composers just as good as those we now revere in Europe at the time. They have remained unknown to us, the poster argued, because a racist and misogynist power structure requires the concept of genius (which the poster derided as ‘idiocy’) to maintain its hegemony.

In a later discussion, this poster wrote that ‘greatness is a construct’, that the esteem in which we hold the canonical composers is essentially a structure erected to keep current women and people of color down in the world of classical music.

My friend on whose Facebook page these arguments unfolded made a characteristically wise observation: ‘I like Robert Pirsig’s idea about Quality in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Quality is not in the music, it’s not in the listener; quality in the interaction between the two. Quality not a characteristic of a work; it is an experience.

‘As I see it, a quality experience happens partly because the music is created to foster high-quality interaction, and partly because listeners are able to co-create quality with that music. A listener’s ability to co-create quality comes partly through inborn ability to hear and respond, and partly through acculturation—learning to respond to the musical signals of a particular culture, and learning the culture’s priorities.’

As with Jefferson and his contemporaries, there are a number of conflicting stories simultaneously at play in classical music. Our core repertoire emerged out of a world that did not regard women as anything like equals, and didn’t often acknowledge the humanity of people of color. It came out of the Age of Empire, when the European powers assiduously went about the task of enslaving and plundering the rest of the world. There was a stultifying overlay of class and privilege that severely restricted who could take part as performers, composers, and even listeners.

But there is another story too, I would argue. Out of that rather problematic world emerged a body of work that ranks among the greatest beauty ever created by humankind. Believe me, I wish Beethoven’s music wasn’t so much better than mine. Lord knows I try. I struggle to touch the heart of my listeners in anything like the way that Schubert does, to conjure out of the orchestra vivid sound worlds as brilliantly executed as Berlioz, to come up with my own harmonic and structural schemes that are in remotely the same league as those of Bela Bartok. And so on.

The extraordinary music that came out of Europe over the course of a couple of centuries was a freak occurrence, comparable perhaps to what happened in art in Renaissance Italy, in the tragedies of Ancient Greece, and no doubt in a number of other places lost in the sands of time.

If you only accept the validity of the first story, that the classical music of the past is a story of racism, misogyny, and class privilege, then your interaction with it will no doubt lack the ‘quality’ that my friend so perceptively referred to. The listener who only accepts that story cannot forge a ‘high quality interaction’ with the old masterworks. Wagner still cannot seem to get any traction in Israel. Too many of the listeners see his story as wholly one of proto-Nazism, and are in no state to perceive what is going on in the music itself; that is a story they prefer not to be told. And I would argue that this is the case with so many who deride the great classical music of the past. The story they tell themselves makes them unable to truly hear it. They can’t accept that there are other stories as well, very much in conflict with the entirely valid story they accept, but nonetheless just as true.

17 May 2021

 

Further comments on the arts education cuts

 

From The Stage, 4 May:


Actor Samuel West, who is chair of the National Campaign for the Arts, branded the cuts "horrific" on social media.

  He told The Stage: "The arts are now shouting from so many barricades: Covid, education, Brexit, funding, local government.

  ‘We are spread thinly and getting hoarse. But even among the government’s recent proposals, this one is particularly ill-thought-out and must be opposed.

  ‘Art is not a hobby and talent can come from anywhere. Affordable music, drama and design courses fund a profitable world-class industry that keeps us sane and civilised.’

  West said the cuts would ‘narrow and eventually choke’ the talent pipeline in the industry.

  ‘How can you think that [our] industry is not “a priority”, unless through some twisted world view that believes turning out empathetic people who work collectively and are skilled in critical thinking is inimical to your vision? That punitive, philistine agenda is now the only explanation I can think of,’ he added.

  The Musicians’ Union warned that the cuts would be ‘catastrophic’ for music provision at HE level and said they would affect its members’ work, the financial viability of music courses as well as training for the next generation of musicians and music professionals.

  According to the MU, the notice given of the cut is ‘far too short to enable HE institutions to plan for September’ and could result in the UK losing its ‘world-leading status’ for music provision.

  Meanwhile, BECTU head Philippa Childs said it was ‘extremely disappointing to see the arts devalued in this way’.

  She added: ‘The arts make a vital contribution to the economy and the social fabric of the country, and it’s high time this was recognised by the government.’

  Equity general secretary Paul W Fleming said the union also strongly opposed the cuts.

‘This is yet another government attack on arts education, following years of deprioritising drama and other creative subjects in our schools,’ he told The Stage.

  ‘What is most troubling about the proposal to cut 50% of funding for these HE courses is that it blocks a route into the creative industries for working-class and other marginalised groups.’

  National Drama, the professional association for drama teachers, said it was ‘appalled by and extremely critical’ of the government’s proposal.

  Writing on behalf of campaign group MusicHE, Graeme Du Fresne, who is head of music and singing at Italia Conti, said opportunities for students from disadvantaged backgrounds would be reduced by the funding cuts.

  Du Fresne said: ‘There’s a strong whiff of the government knowing the price of everything and the value of nothing in their thinking, which appears to be driven by the notion that graduate career income in performing arts subjects fares poorly with some other professions.

  ‘This analysis fails to consider a number of benefits arts performance delivers to communities and the country as a whole. For example, during the pandemic we have witnessed the arts’ ability to foster well- being, helping to heal and nourish the nation in lockdown.’

  Others who have spoken in opposition of the cuts include director Gemma Bodinetz and set and costume designer Vicki Mortimer.

  Mortimer argued that the funding cut would ‘threaten the financial viability of training courses in creative and performing arts, and reduce the opportunities for the next generation of creative-sector professionals’.

  A spokesman for the Office for Statistics said: ‘We are currently consulting on proposals and we will take account of responses from universities, students, and others before making any final decisions on our funding method.’

  The Department for Education has been contacted for comment.

 

16 May 2021

 A devastating blow to the arts.


The philistinism of politicians knows no bounds. Gavin Williamson, M.P. (he of the GCSE algorithms fiasco) has proposed cuts of fifty per cent to arts education budgets - for subjects not counted as ‘strategic priorities’ – with potential  ‘further reductions’ to central funding for such courses in future years, once again reflecting the lack of respect our government holds for culture.

    I thought the Secretary of State for Education was supposed to be on the side of education, not determined to decimate it? A ridiculously short deadline was offered for responses to a public consultation.

    Life is not simply making money. We need spiritual nourishment, such as the creative and performing arts provide; and to continue to provide this essential service, new blood needs to be trained and encouraged through education. The hunger for culture has been particularly pronounced during the pandemic. Who are Gavin Williamson, and the government, to say what subjects are 'important' (important to whom?) or not?

    If money is the primary consideration, which of course it is, look at what the arts earn for Great Britain every year, in addition to the worldwide reputation the arts bring to this country, and the reason why many tourists come here. The Society of London Theatres reports that more people go to the theatre each year than attend all annual UK League football matches

    Many educational establishments will close: the London College of Fashion has already said it will have to close if these proposals come to fruition. The fashion industry is surely a major earner of income for this country? £26 billion and 800,000 jobs according to the British Council - the country's largest creative industry, apparently. Under the new plans this will simply fade away because the supply of trained expertise will dry up. The arts and culture industry in general, according to the Arts Council, contributes £10.8 billion to the U.K. economy - more than agriculture - and generates £5 in taxes for every £1 of funding! Clearly not for much longer.

    And why has archaeology been included? I can only think that a future shortage (owing to the closure of archaeology courses) may mean not enough archaeologists to investigate historic building sites, to the advantage of greedy developers more interested in lining their own pockets as quickly as possible, rather than respecting our culture and heritage.

    If the government is short of money, save the estimated £100 billion for HS2 - a scandalous waste considering that the result is to get businessmen to Birmingham a mere 20 minutes faster!

    As Richard Jordan writes in The Stage (13 May): ‘It will take time to comprehend the emotional and economic impact of the pandemic, but the arts will clearly play a vital role in this recovery and the rebuilding of communities and lives, which is why I am gravely concerned about Williamson’s announcement.’

23 April 2021

Duke of Edinburgh's funeral music

I wrote a review for the Church Times of the music at the Duke of Edinburgh's funeral, but made the mistake of drawing the editor's attention to John Rutter's blog on the same subject (see previous post), with the result that today's Church Times printed only a fraction of my piece, but appended extracts from Rutter's blog as if they were part of it! Therefore, in order not to waste what I actually wrote, I'm publishing my original submission here, and hope you will enjoy it:

SERVICE MUSIC AT THE FUNERAL OF HIS ROYAL HIGHNESS THE PRINCE PHILIP, DUKE OF EDINBURGH: St George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle; Saturday 17 April 2021, 3.00 p.m.

Any fear that the Duke of Edinburgh’s funeral would be diminished by the imposition of Covid restrictions was quickly dispelled as the day began to unfold and it now seems generally to be agreed that these restrictions gave an added poignancy and emotional power to the proceedings.

The service music was no exception and was performed, not by the full St George’s Chapel choir of men and boys, but by just three of the lay clerks (alto Tom Lilburn, tenor Nicholas Madden and bass Simon Whiteley) with the soprano Miriam Allan taking the treble line. (Ms Allen is married to another lay clerk at Windsor, so all the singers live within the Castle walls.)

This proved to be highly successful, not least in several familiar hymns which – in this guise, and because no congregational singing was allowed – were sung very beautifully and musically. The four singers, organist Luke Bond and director of music James Vivian will not fail to have impressed and moved many millions of viewers and listeners who may not have thought themselves susceptible to Anglican church music.

So many aspects of the day were said to have been planned by the Duke himself, including the music, and it is good to remember that two of the pieces, Benjamin Britten’s Jubilate and the guitarist and composer William Lovelady’s setting of Psalm 104, were actually commissioned by him: the Britten in 1961, written for St George’s Chapel, and the Lovelady, originally a three-movement cantata in honour of the Duke’s 75th birthday in 1996, adapted for the funeral by James Vivian.

The singers perhaps relished the acoustics of the empty chapel and there was particularly fine singing from the soprano and tenor, for whom the music provided many opportunities.

In addition to the major pieces by Britten and Lovelady there was familiar music on a more intimate scale: William Croft’s setting of the Funeral Sentences, William Smith’s Lesser Litany and Robert Stone’s setting of The Lord’s Prayer. As well as James Vivian, former organists of St George’s Chapel were recalled: Roger Judd (assistant organist, 1985-2008 and acting organist, 2002-04) adapted the Smith Litany, the service ended with the Russian Kontakion of the Departed, arranged by Sir Walter Parratt (organist, 1882-1924), and the organ music before and after the service, in addition to pieces by Bach, Vierne, Whitlock and Vaughan Williams, included the Adagio espressivo movement from the Sonata in A minor by Sir William Harris (organist, 1933-61).

The intimacy of this otherwise very public occasion was enhanced, in the BBC Television transmission, by the complete absence of commentary during and immediately before the ceremony, thus allowing viewers to focus completely and without distraction on the liturgy and, especially, the music. A very special experience indeed.

GARRY HUMPHREYS

21 April 2021

 

Reprinted, without permission, from John Rutter's website:

Did they mention the music?

Reflections on a royal funeral

I have borrowed my main title from Henry Mancini’s autobiography. He was, among other musical accomplishments, the composer of many Hollywood film scores, notably the Pink Panther series and Breakfast at Tiffany’s. In studio-era Hollywood, composers always worked under great pressure and often bearing heavy responsibility for the success or otherwise of a film, but by custom were excluded from its private pre-release screening attended by the studio moguls and their acolytes. As the composer, all you could do was to ask someone who had been privy to the post-screening discussions whether anyone had mentioned the music (generally not, it seems), and if so, whether the verdict was favourable.

I was reminded of this telling insight as I channel-hopped around the post-funeral TV coverage following the Duke of Edinburgh’s funeral. Amid all the torrents of expert or would-be expert verbiage about the service and those attending it, I heard not one word of comment about the music which had formed such a crucial part of the funeral service, much less any commendation of the musicians who had planned and executed it with such flawless professionalism and unstinting commitment.

Was I surprised? Not really. I learned a bitter lesson as a young organist sometimes drafted in to play at weddings: not everyone loves and cares about music as you do. Being accustomed to respectful and attentive concert audiences, I was shocked at what seemed to me the rudeness and indifference of wedding congregations who fidgeted in the pews, brought howling infants with them, coughed and rustled their Orders of Service, and chattered during our lovingly rehearsed anthem accompanying the signing of the register.

But let’s return to films. If you doubt the importance of music in film, try watching the desert scenes in Lawrence of Arabia with the sound turned off, or (sorry if you’re reading this over breakfast) the shower scene in Psycho – where what is actually a rather tame piece of cinematography is made terrifying by Bernard Herrmann’s music with its much-imitated shrieking violins.

There are parallels with church music here. As with a film, music in a church service is there not for its own sake but to form part of a tapestry of words, music, action, costume, and (if you’re in St George’s Windsor or somewhere like it) scenic splendour. It’s called liturgy, and if music plays its part properly, the event is lifted heavenward, and if it does not, the whole thing can fall flat.

Unlike in a film, the music at a church service is generally not the work of a single composer, and the task of whoever plans the service – in this case with some required inclusions of music chosen by the Duke – is to make it all fit together and flow smoothly, which was triumphantly achieved at Windsor, working with the Covid constraints allowing only a solo quartet of voices rather than the full choir. If you have studied (say) the structure of a Beethoven symphony, you will know how important the key structure is in binding a whole work together. And at the funeral there was similarly meticulous planning of keys. (Skip the next bit if it doesn’t interest you.) It was all built around G, minor and major, which we were prepared for by the final pre-service organ voluntary, Vaughan Williams’s Rhosymedre Prelude in the major, leading into a subdued improvisation in the minor. William Croft’s timeless Burial Sentences followed (G minor) . . . and after the Bidding Prayer, Dykes’s beloved Eternal Father (in the related key of the subdominant major, C) – in James Vivian’s arrangement boldly leaving the first verse to an unaccompanied solo voice, rather like the lone trumpet at the start of The Godfather which makes you pay attention and listen. We stay in C major for Britten’s Jubilate written at the Duke’s request in 1961, brisk, concise and no-nonsense (qualities he would have encouraged, no doubt) . . . a return to G minor for William Lovelady’s Psalm 104 setting, its key and ground-bass structure echoing one of the greatest of all laments, Dido’s from Purcell’s opera . . . William Smith’s Responses from the early 17th century bringing a shaft of sunlight in G major, then the Russian Kontakion returning to sombre G minor, a sidestep to G minor’s relative major for the Last Post in B flat, its subdominant E flat for Reveille, and a sense of return and release with the National Anthem in G major. Beethoven couldn’t have planned it better. Non-musicians will not have been consciously aware of all this thread of careful planning, but, trust me, the funeral service wouldn’t have felt the same without it.

There were other threads of connection skilfully woven into the fabric of the service – royal, historical, and local. William Croft (1678–1727) shared the same teacher, John Blow, as his older contemporary Henry Purcell (to whom Lovelady’s Psalm 104 setting pays homage), and like him he was a Gentleman of the Chapel Royal and Organist of Westminster Abbey. Most of Croft’s music is forgotten, but his hymn tune to O God, our help in ages past is still a firm favourite and his Burial Sentences which opened the service have been sung at the funeral of every British sovereign since George II. The Russian Kontakion – brought into the Anglican repertoire in its arrangement by St George’s organist Sir Walter Parratt over a hundred years ago – reminded us of the Duke’s background in the Orthodox Church. Another St George’s organist, Sir William Harris – piano teacher to the young Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret – composed one of the organ preludes before the service. His friend and Windsor colleague Canon Edmund Fellowes was the first to edit William Smith’s Responses from the early seventeenth century which we heard skilfully arranged for four voices (there were five in the original) by former St George’s Assistant Organist Roger Judd.

And what of our superb quartet of voices? Tom Lilburn, Nicholas Madden, and Simon Whiteley, lay clerks in St George’s Choir, were joined by another member of the St George’s community, Miriam Allan (married to their colleague Richard Bannan, I directed the choir at their wedding) . . . Luke Bond was the impeccable organist who knew just how to match his instrument to the four voices . . . James Vivian,  St George’s Organist and Choirmaster, directed the music but did far more than that, in drawing together the threads of the tapestry to make the funeral, planned in the midst of a pandemic, the ‘austere yet eloquent’ tribute to the Duke that it was recognised to be by the Sunday Times music critic Hugh Canning. In The Spectator the eminent composer Sir James MacMillan described it as having ‘a gentle but huge impact’ on those who witnessed it.

Others better qualified than I am will, I hope, have commented on the splendid contribution to the day made by the military contingents in the Castle precincts and the two eminent clergymen leading the service, but I have given you my musician’s-eye view. So I, at least, have mentioned the music.

John

11 January 2021

Visas or no visas?


It has recently been reported that 'the UK [has] rejected an offer of visa-free tours by musicians to EU countries, despite [previously] blaming Brussels for what the industry is calling the devastating blow of them requiring permits. The composer Michael Berkeley proposes to raise this in the House of Lords.

'A “standard” proposal to exempt performers from the huge cost and bureaucracy for 90 days was turned down, The Independent has been told – because the government is insisting on denying that to EU artists visiting this country.

'“It is usually in our agreements with third countries, that [work] visas are not required for musicians. We tried to include it, but the UK said no,” an EU source close to the negotiations said.'

The Incorporated Society of Musicians (of which I am a member) comments:

‘If these reports are true then we are looking at a serious breach of trust after the Government provided multiple assurances throughout 2020 that they understood the importance of frictionless travel for UK musicians and would be negotiating an ambitious agreement to achieve this objective.

‘We join the call with leading UK businesses that trade negotiations with Brussels should restart to address the serious regulatory challenges facing many industries, and a better deal for UK musicians should be included in those talks. We need complete transparency on what was discussed during the negotiations and an urgent statement in the House of Commons outlining what steps the Government are taking to protect our world leading performing arts sector.’

On the classical music blog SlippeDDisc, Robert King writes:

'Thank you so much to Michael Berkeley: behind the scenes (and in this case, in front of them) he and a handful of other members of the House of Lords continue to try to hold the UK government to account.

'All power to Michael’s elbow (and to that of the ISM, MU, ABO, IAMA and all the other major representative bodies fighting for UK performers to continue to be able to make a living), because the cost of a visa for (say) a member of a chamber orchestra heading off for a day to perform at a European concert hall is now all but prohibitive. As example, a visa to perform for one night in Germany will cost €80 per person, plus attendance at the embassy to get this visa assigned (so that’s another half day – more if you live outside London: a half day during which you can’t earn or work). If a tour covers more than one country, each country has a different set of criteria: apparently a visa for Spain currently has a waiting list of many months. So a four concert tour across four countries (a typical scenario) could see several days in advance spent queuing for visas (no earnings for those days), plus hundreds of pounds of cost for each performer.

'“Oh, they can afford it”. No: most of them can’t! For a section violinist or chamber choir singer whose daily touring fee may be around £150, to have to add another unpaid half day (to queue up) plus €80 for the visa – multiply that for each separate country – makes such dates and tours, which are the lifeblood of many a freelance orchestral player or choral singer, all but impossible.

'Across the UK classical music sector, with dozens of symphony and chamber orchestras, chamber choirs and instrumental ensembles doing such dates, in a typical year we are talking many millions of pounds of income which used to come into the UK economy. All these dates are now at serious risk. Whatever people may feel about the UK “taking back control”, there are no winners here.'

 

Using the statements from the ISM (of which I am a member) and Robert King as a basis, I have written to my MP. Others may wish to do likewise.