Wednesday 22 January 2020
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theguardian - 1 month ago

This isle is full of noises: the trouble with English music

Over the past century, the term ‘English music’ has solidified into a narrow nostalgic genre with - now - Brexity overtones. But the rich variety of the UK’s classical music knows no bordersWhen Arnold Schoenberg died in 1951, Ralph Vaughan Williams wrote that the composer “meant nothing to me – but as he apparently meant a lot to a lot of other people I daresay it is all my own fault.” To English composers working in the 1920s – such as Vaughan Williams, Herbert Howells and Gerald Finzi – the sounds of European modernism, and especially the 12-tone music of Schoenberg, Berg and Webern, came to symbolise disorder and chaos. Following the first world war, stability and reassurance, folksong and archaic modality, the refuge of unspoilt rural idylls, had become the prevalent direction of English music. Folksong earthed music in fundamental truths – the very same roots that Schoenberg’s atonality, apparently, weeded out.Vaughan Williams deserves respectful understanding. As an ambulance driver during the war, he had witnessed Europe at its most destructive. Flos Campi (Flower of the Field), his 1925 work for viola, chorus and chamber orchestra, was his shell-shocked memorial to the fallen. But, almost a century later, the instinctive suspicion within the UK’s mainstream classical music culture for central European music feels far less forgivable. Continue reading...

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