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The Rambler :: blog

Friday, February 25, 2005

The old chestnut, revisited 

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Contra Alex Ross's protestations that "the death of classical music is dead" there's a worthwhile article by Richard Morrison in today's [London] Times. It's not a bad piece, and is useful for putting giving a balanced context to the figures presented by Howard Goodall which attempted (in a distinctly New Labour style) to present a rosy picture of music education in Britain today.

Unfortunately Morrison's opening remark - that a century after Elgar's 'A Future for English Music' lecture "English music has no creative giant in Elgar's league to deliver such an authoritative report on the nation's musical health" - is slightly undone by the fact that the current Master of the Queen's Music, Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, has been making exactly Elgar's point, forcefully and untiringly, for the last 40 years. However, he's due a break and there's certainly no one else to take his place, so we'll let that quibble ride.

Morrison's strongest point - and this is less of a classical deathwatch observation - comes from John Adams:
In our street we have friends with lots in common. We discuss new books, films, popular culture, politics - everything except serious music. That shuts everyone up. I don't think they even know what I do.
This rings so very true. Other than those with whom I studied music, I don't think I talk seriously about music with any of my friends. Films, art, architecture, theatre, literature, yes, all of that, and frequently. But never music. (Milady is a glowing exception to this rule, but it's no coincidence that I fell in love with the one exception.) Never even seriously about pop. Music - as so many of our conservative listeners would wish - is not something one talks about, even if it's the central defining passion of your life. This is a very odd situation, because I don't imagine there can be many people who will come out of a great film that has really fired their imagination, and who can't give some sort of voice to how that has happened. But it is sadly de rigeur to listen to music (of most sorts, actually, except possibly jazz, so good on you guys) tight-lipped as though it is somehow unworthy of verbal understanding beyond a set of clichéd exclamations (of the 'bravo'/'stirring'/'profound'/'And he was deaf, you know' sort). I don't know why this is. I wish it would stop. My own theory is that it's to do with that damned 'pop'/'classical' division at the heart of music (Elvis has a lot to answer for, you know). None of the other major arts really have this. Theatre is theatre, and it's never really been pop. Art, in its historical forms, is never going to be very pop (although most of the big guns can still get a city talking when a new show rolls in), but half the point about most contemporary art is that it is so far beyond pop that it's absurd to even consider the question. Literature's greatest form, the novel, probably couldn't encompass a broader reach of high and low with such ease as it does today. And film, majestically, has always been a perfect marriage of high art idealism with a popular reach. Music, though, is entrenched around Twin Towers that shall seemingly never meet - each is embarassed that the other even exists. And then any attempt to relate the two is labelled 'crossover', and let's be honest, that embarasses all of us.

Although to be frank, as a reflection of my current listening, the whole business of music could go to hell right now as long as we got to keep Spiritualized's Ladies and gentlemen we are floating in space. I've had this on tape (then transferred to minidisc as the tape player died) since it came out in 1997 (1997!!!), but only this week got round to grabbing a CD copy off eBay, and boy, is that ever good. Haven't listened to this record in a while anyway, but there's little doubt in my mind that it's the band's best (and sometimes if I wrote down the spec for my favourite possible band, they'd sound like Spiritualized). Jason's songwriting reaches a maturity here that he never consistently manages elsewhere - 'I think I'm in love' and 'Broken heart' are damn near perfect. Like all the greatest artists, they find a complete and unique worldview that can find room for whatever they want to put in it (rock and roll, gospel, psychedelia, improv, noise, pop, orchestras, guitars, analogue drones). Jason Spaceman's world is full of drugs and love and God and drugs, which is nothing original, but no one does it this well.

So yeah, screw the naysaying, right now I couldn't be happier with the music we have.


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