The Rambler :: blog

Monday, September 15, 2003

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I've been reading a lot of music journals from the 1950s and '60s recently (there's nowt much to do round our way), and never mind your two-pen'orths over on the BBC site slagging off Dizzee. Back then, people felt really threatened by the direction music seemed to be taking. Don't forget that this was the generation that saw the first reports from Belsen, Hiroshima, and was writing at the height of the Cold War. I don't have any quotations to hand, but go and see any issue of Musical Times, Tempo, Music Review or Musical Quarterly from the mid-1950s on and you'll see what I mean. What Boulez, Stockhausen, Cage et al were doing was barely taken seriously. Critics who were happy and sure of themselves reviewing the latest book on Renaissance Venice were suddenly dispatched to Darmstadt, Cologne or Warsaw and returned shaken and confused. One, Reginald Smith Brindle, has in fact been a long-standing associate of new music in Italy, and is the author of a number of books on 20th-century music. Yet he wrote a series of four articles, on electronic music, aleatory, and the like, grouped under the heading 'The Lunatic Fringe'. What you sense from reading many articles and reviews like these are that they have almost all been written to confirm, not confound, the suspicions of their readers; and these are 'serious' journals. Resistance to the new and the challenging in music ran much, much deeper then than now, when the loudest objections to Dizzee seem to be the semi-anonymous comments on pages like the BBC's (there's another, more balanced one, here), where they can be safely ignored. 'Iain' from England commented on one of these lists that the Mercury was becoming the Turner prize for music. Not really, in the sense I'm talking about here. Every year the Turner is blighted by childish editors on all the nation's broadsheet and taboid papers poking fun at its shortlist (and don't get me started on John Humphrys...); at least this hasn't happened here. No matter how irrelevant awards actually are, they do generate the real press, and the real public feeling: perhaps the least we can hope for is that music has put some of this in the past.

Update [23/09/03]: Found out yesterday that Smith Brindle recently died, a few days before I posted this. His obituary's here.

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