On First Concert at the Bradley Symphony Center, Milwaukee

JACOB RIYEFF (@riyeff) is a translator, teacher, and poet. His work focuses on the Western contemplative tradition and the natural world. Jacob lives in the Upper Midwestern U.S. with his wife and three growing children.

”A man’s attitude to life.” (Feb 20, 2022)

O Edward Elgar, did you see our faces
rapt in darkness, hearts attuned to your cello
As you lay upon your deathbed, traces
Of joy accompanying the low and mellow
Tones the strings invite our ears to hear
Amid glissando runs to keep the mind
And body clear? You cursed its weak premiere
But here a hundred years past you find
A willing crowd to celebrate your movements
As you lay in Worcester gasping for air‚
From lyric to rondo, fulfillment
In sonic pattern, virtuosic fare.
Could you see, in your final agony,
Our festival of superfluity?

Diary of an organ-playing nobody

Credit: Shutterstock
R. J. STOVE reflects on life as an antipodean performer on the King of Instruments

‘“What?”, said [piano manufacturer] Herr Stein. “A man like you …  wants to play on an instrument which has no sweetness, no expression, no piano, no forte, but is always the same?” “That does not matter,” I replied. “In my eyes and ears, the organ is the King of Instruments”.’ (Mozart)

Disheartening to report, Bismarck never uttered the epigram so often attributed to him: ‘Laws are like sausages: it is better not to see them being made.’ But each time I undertake a commercial recording – and I have undertaken three such now, all devoted to organ music – I am painfully reminded of this misattributed quotation.

Because if you contemplate classical music in recorded form (as the vast majority of journalists discussing it do contemplate it) through a haze of aestheticism, assuming that nothing ever happens in front of the microphone without the loftiest and most disinterested of motives, then the best cure for such kumbaya soft-headedness is actually to make recordings yourself. The procedure is death to entitlement culture, death to the near-enough-is-good-enough mindset, and death to all romanticist whimsies about artistic ‘inspiration.’

Among didactic processes, only an obligatory course in obstetrics would strip away more illusions from the novice, and strip them away faster, than recording production does. I cannot help musing over how much polysyllabic Marxist verbiage Walter Benjamin and Theodor Adorno would have spared us – how much Teutonic vamping about ‘the aura of mechanical reproduction’ and ‘bourgeois commodification of ritual’ they would have eschewed – if they had experienced for themselves, which they did not, the perils of needing to perform as flawlessly as possible within seconds of a producer turning a red light on. Not to mention the still greater perils of needing to keep one’s temper each time a producer is obliged to halt a take because of extraneous noise issuing from (i) seagulls overhead, (ii) a helicopter overhead, (iii) a passing ambulance siren, (iv) revving-up from a motorcyclist, or most frequently (v) all of the above.

A producer of classical recordings, if he (and, whether we like it or not, it remains a male-dominated profession) wishes to survive, has to be part surgeon, part electronic engineer, part Cecil B. De Mille, part Grand Inquisitor, part concierge, part therapist, and all musician. His role entails some of the attributes perceptible in the great symphonic conductors: notably an X-ray ear which can descry faults in even the most imposing wash of sound. When an orchestra gives its all in the mightiest of Respighian climaxes, the producer must be able to detect the third oboist who, amid the hubbub, mistakenly played an F sharp instead of the score’s indicated F natural: and to call out that oboist – politely, one trusts; rudely, if trust be impossible – over the error.

Yet that is almost the least of what the producer needs to do. He requires a retentive memory not for various takes’ musical contents alone, but for various takes’ volume levels. Should consecutive takes differ from each other in this regard, or in regard to the venue’s atmosphere (known among the cognoscenti as ‘atmos’ for short), he has to minimise those differences. No surprise that, even before the compulsory post-production chores, his copies of the sheet-music will have become so scribbled-over in red Texta as to resemble Jackson Pollock’s action-paintings. 

Physical strength is a prerequisite as well. Especially if confronted with an unfamiliar site, he will be expected to lug prodigious quantities of cords, plugs, microphones, power sockets, monitor speakers, and computer hardware from his vehicle, before he assembles them: only to carry out the whole boring process in reverse when the session concludes. In this assembling and disassembling, he cannot and must not be rushed. It is hard for even the most arrogant performer to demand, with a clear conscience, additional haste from someone who can accidentally electrocute the entire dramatis personae if an exposed cable proves insufficiently earthed or a wire has worn through its sheath.

Therefore it is understandable that for every thousand good classical musicians out there, scarcely a single good classical recording producer can be traced. The best ones – they have included Walter Legge, Brian Culverhouse, and John Culshaw among the dead, and my own brilliant producer Thomas Grubb among the living – can charge whatever fees they like. Although COVID might have decluttered their timetables, it has not reduced (nor should it reduce) their invoices. Sir George Martin, at a period when the Beatles’ fame had yet to transcend Liverpudlian city limits, produced many a classical recording for EMI. He entertainingly recounted this function’s more bizarre aspects in his 1977 memoir All You Need Is Ears.           

Nevertheless, whilst the good classical recording producer is as rare a bird as a left-handed red-headed Christadelphian, the good classical recording producer who can skilfully capture organ music is analogous to a left-handed red-headed Christadelphian who can do five hundred consecutive push-ups. With an orchestra or a chamber ensemble, after all, a producer has the luxury of operating in a more or less conventional studio. The designers of that studio will have taken some pains to soundproof it. In that studio he will be visible, albeit behind his desk, for at least some of the time to at least some of the musicians involved. He can rely on none of these advantages when recording organ music.

For as all organists – but all too few non-organists – know, pipe organs are not just musical instruments. They are, by definition, musical instruments ensconced in particular buildings, and habitually irremovable therefrom through any methods less radical than Semtex.

Many church instruments are installed in such a way as to force the organist to play with his back turned not only to the altar, but to the producer. Rear-view mirrors at the organ console possess limited efficacy. (During my own most recent sessions – cooped up as I unavoidably was in the loft – the worst thing which I could have done was the thing which all halfway decent musicians, by default, do: constantly listening to fellow performers. Instead, I needed as a deliberate procedure to play well ahead of the beat, purely so the final product’s hearers would have the aural impression of my keeping time with the five singers. All five, for balance-mandated rather than COVID-mandated reasons, remained invisible to me in the nave below. It took a crucial half-second for the organ sound to reach them from the loft’s phalanx of pipes.)

Whether a pipe organ be sacred or secular, its tuning will be always expensive. Rapid tuning is downright impossible. In a climate as manic as Melbourne’s, where two consecutive days will often enough be respectively 32 degrees or 14 degrees (not to mention vice versa), even the best-built instrument can unexpectedly acquire several out-of-tune pipes: without fail, the pipes most suitable to the music’s content. Ten times more worrying is the organist’s greatest dread: a cipher, whereby a particular keyboard note or pedal-board note sounds and cannot be switched off. Imagine the most persistent ambulance or police-car ululation which you have ever heard; then imagine such an ululation in an ecclesiastical context, when the nearest organ-tuner is unavailable through being hospitalized, or on holidays, or repairing an instrument in a different church, or simply drunk.

But you have not yet supped full on organ-related horrors. The 1970s Anglo-Saxon mania for carpeting what had been perfectly acceptable wooden or stone floors ruins many a church’s acoustics. Beautifully manufactured though a pipe organ might be, ubiquitous carpet will frequently make it sound like a Casio burp-box vended below cost price on eBay. Even churches free from carpets are apt to be located on main roads, their architecture dating from an epoch where internal combustion engines were largely unimaginable. However impressive their stonework, they offer almost no insulation from modern traffic noise. Factor in the tendency of churches to support church schools, and the aural complications are aggravated threefold. If you have never attempted to record a beautifully soft, French impressionist organ prelude while shrieking infants gallivant in the playground during their lunch break, your personal acquaintance with existential anguish is automatically limited.

Given these and other nuisances, you could be pardoned for asking why anyone would wish to record organ music in the first place: let alone to record three CDs’ worth of it, as I have done, with a fourth CD currently awaiting issue. Speaking as a middle-rank Melbourne organist with twenty-one years of remunerated public playing behind me – neither enjoying the rarely-conferred benefits of sustained cathedral employment, nor suffering the griefs of the overworked tyro frantically having to pad out an exiguous résumé – I find myself caught in not one but three perfect storms.

First of these storms is, naturally, COVID. Useless, and redundant, for me to expatiate here upon the damage which Wuhan’s most renowned export has done to live classical music performance in general; live classical music performance in Australia especially; and live classical music performance in Melbourne above all. 

The second among these storms is one which foreigners will be able to predict with a little thought: Australian churches’ continuing sex abuse crisis, primarily (though not exclusively) afflicting Catholicism. Every dollar which dioceses are ordered to spend upon paying off an abuse victim’s lawyer, is a dollar which dioceses cannot spend upon professional musicians. Australia’s Catholic parishes were in demographic free-fall long before front-page headlines screamed about the pandemic.

As far back as 2011 – in other words, not solely pre-COVID but pre-abuse scandals too – 87% of Australia’s Catholics could not bestir themselves to attend Sunday Mass. We all know the only branches of Australian Christianity where the churches are full: the Pentecostal brigades, of which Hillsong is the most celebrated. Anyone gullible enough to believe that Pentecostal jamborees are likely to include organ-playing, or any musical contributions whatever except those supplied by sub-Hendrix guitarists and gyrating Taylor Swift wannabes needs (to borrow a felicitous, long-ago phrase from Esquire) not merely his head but his entire anatomy examined. 

One much-loved hymn tells us: ‘There is a happy land, far, far away.’ There are in fact several such happy lands where university posts can, and do, recompense organists for the uncertainties of ecclesiastical occupations. Unfortunately, these happy lands do not include my own. In any analysis of today’s antipodean academe, the third perfect storm afflicting organists can be at once recognised. Australia’s ever more shambolic federal government has added, to its widely-shared record of COVID-related ineptitude, a malice all its own when it comes to higher education.

The most vituperative surviving Khmer Rouge commissar, and the most frenziedly anti-intellectual Mississippi Klansman, might well blanch at the overt hatred towards humanities departments that routinely emanates from Scott Morrison and his Canberra colleagues. These legislators expend their hatred not specifically on left-wing and/or spendthrift humanities departments, but on humanities departments per se. For all their mismanagement when it comes to public health, they have demonstrated impressive populist cynicism on pedagogical issues. They discern the absolute monetary dependence upon the welfare state which has characterised Australian academe from its beginning; which is certain to characterise it until Judgement Day; and which has resisted four decades’ worth of libertarian think-tanks’ harangues about the private sector’s alleged enthusiasm for acting as Maecenas. More and more, the very concept of private universities for Australia is proving as mythical (indeed, in its bogus promises, almost as pernicious) as those other nostrums propounded by fantasising savants: The Classless Society; Sex With No Strings Attached; Exporting Democracy To The Third World; No-Fault Divorce; and – who can doubt the essential illegitimacy of this doctrine likewise? – COVID Zero.

Last year I had the privilege of an academic post, necessarily casual in nature, under Sydney University’s auspices. Having written earlier about the pleasure which I took in this post (and about how gratified I would be if the post continued into 2022, which perhaps it will), I obviously must not repeat myself here. But I would be crazy to nourish sanguine hopes that Australia will permit for me an academic – dare I even employ so ‘elitist’ a noun as the following? – ‘career.’ My sixtieth birthday fell shortly before last Christmas; and quite apart from my innate lack of youthful cred, it is hard to envisage any status less welcome to modish Human Resources departments than my own Google-aided identifiability as a white straight male Catholic.

No individual, therefore, will be more delighted than I to gain further academic emolument. Equally, no individual is less prone than I to take any such emolument for granted. My research background has been the opposite of fashionable: last year I completed my doctoral thesis on Sir Charles Villiers Stanford’s organ output. In any contest between a candidate who has specialised in Sir Charles Villiers Stanford, versus a candidate who has specialised in transgendered rappers from Bali, no prizes are offered for guessing the probable victor.

This all explains, ultimately, why I find myself investing greater and greater sunk costs in the project – which is, I concede, a First World problem – of capturing my organ-playing on record. By so doing, I might (I repeat: might) convince university employment’s arbiters to overlook my chronological, ethnic, and religious disadvantages.

Going to the effort and expense of issuing no fewer than four CDs indicates, at least, exceptional dedication and single-mindedness. So, of course, does becoming a kamikaze pilot. Time will pronounce whether the former occupational choice supplies any better long-term prospects than did the latter.

Meanwhile, in defending my own gramophonic incontinence, I am tempted to quote Maurice Chevalier’s brusque retort to a question about how much happiness he experienced in old age. What (the straw-hatted Gallic divo inquired) is the alternative?

John Pritchard – master of sonorities

STUART MILLSON recalls an unjustly overlooked conductor

The early 1980s was a vintage time for British orchestral music. Gennady Rozhdestvensky was halfway into his term (1978-1982) as Chief Conductor of the BBC Symphony Orchestra, a position which brought great kudos to the ensemble – Rozhdestvensky recording and performing Tchaikovsky ballet music, and venturing into the pastoral realm of Vaughan Williams’s Fifth Symphony. Other home-grown artists, such as Sir Charles Groves, James Loughran and Norman Del Mar also exerted a great influence, especially at the annual Henry Wood Proms season – Groves being one of the first post-war conductors to record a large amount of recondite British music, from Delius to Grace Williams. But if a seasoned concertgoer of a certain age were to wander along the Arena or Gallery queue at a Promenade concert of the last few years, and ask any of the younger Prommers: ‘Does the name, John Pritchard, mean anything to you?’ – it is likely that your question would be met by a blank expression. Switch on your radio, turn the dial to Radio 3 (if it is not already permanently in that position!) and listen to the current complement of thirty-something presenters. Again, the name of Pritchard is absent from the CD choices and schedules.

Sir John Pritchard, who died in 1989 at the age of 68, was an orchestral and operatic conductor who secured some of the most prestigious positions available in his profession: opera houses in Brussels and Cologne, not to mention a golden age at Glyndebourne, and senior roles with the Royal Liverpool, London Philharmonic and BBC Symphony orchestras. Indeed, Sir John was, at different times, Chief Conductor of all three ensembles. He was also one of the most regular guest conductors at the Proms, appearing throughout the 1960s and 1970s, and then as the BBC’s principal maestro during the early and mid-1980s. His last concert in this country was the Last Night of the 1989 season – a triumphant farewell, made even more emotional by his serious illness, and the fact that he defied medical advice to appear at all.

Although much associated with the operas of Mozart and Strauss, and the broad classical repertoire (he often mentioned his ‘own interests in the great classics’), Pritchard conducted a vast number of concerts of British and English music – the well-known, the rare, and the contemporary. Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast was a speciality, the work – with its dazzling choral writing and antiphonal brass bands – concluding his First Night of the 1984 season. And just for good measure, the evening began with A London Symphony by Vaughan Williams, and a somewhat becalmed Elgar Sea Pictures (Dame Janet Baker, soloist) in the centre. The previous year, a magnificent tribute was paid to Elgar and Walton, with the conductor and BBC Symphony Orchestra striding out in Walton’s Crown Imperial and Violin Concerto, and an epic Elgar Symphony No. 1 that greatly divided critics. For Meirion Bowen in The Guardian, it was the ‘best performance of a standard repertoire work I have heard from this conductor and orchestra.’ For Nicholas Kenyon in The Times, the evening was more hit-and-miss, the reading marred by ‘blaring, unrestrained brass’ – even though the end of the slow movement ‘worked its potent magic.’ And the 1983 season was opened by Pritchard in auspicious circumstances with a remarkable performance of the Grande Symphonie Funèbre et Triomphale by Berlioz, a piece requiring a multiplication of the usual sections of the orchestra – a panoply of brass, wind and percussion, the latter seeing the inclusion of the curious, whirling Pavillon Chinoise (or ‘jingling Johnny’). Pritchard’s operatic training enabled him to see the importance of spectacle, and honouring a score to the full.

Belshazzar’s Feast, by Rembrandt. Walton’s setting of the story was one of Pritchard’s specialities

Pritchard was often known as a master of sonorities, a reputation which can be understood by listening to an account of Elgar’s In The South, again with the BBC Symphony Orchestra, recorded on the BBC Radio Classics label, and given at the 1974 Proms. And it has to be said that the analogue sound of the period seems to capture the resonance and reverberation of the Royal Albert Hall much more than today’s supposedly superior digital relays – a surprisingly dry and boxy effect (at least, to my ears) from a place known for its grandeur and echo. The BBC S.O. of the 1970s also sounds somewhat different – a more striking, sharper brass sound than today, a weightier impact (dare I say!) from all departments of the orchestra.

The 1981 Proms saw Pritchard on the rostrum, not with an orchestral warhorse or piece of brash modernism, but with an overlooked romantic masterpiece – the 1907 Piano Concerto by Frederick Delius, with the soloist Sir Clifford Curzon. I was present at the concert, standing in about the third or fourth row of the Arena, overwhelmed by the directness of the work – for we tend to see Delius not as the writer of strong movements, but as an altogether more fluid, perhaps even meandering impressionist. How refreshing to enjoy a change from Grieg and Schumann (wonderful though they are) and to find, what Sir Henry Wood might have termed, a true novelty.

Yet atonal and contemporary music was given its place by Pritchard. During his tenure in Liverpool during the 1950s and 1960s, he launched a Musica Viva series, dedicated to the sort of experiments we have now come to expect from the Proms new-music commissioners. Some twenty years later, he continued to take up the baton for composers such as Birtwistle. I recall being much absorbed by the strangeness of The Triumph of Time given in a Radio 3 broadcast in about 1982. Although not a follower of the aforementioned composer, one must – surely – praise a conductor who (like Pritchard) is prepared to play any genre of music for a multitude of listeners and tastes, whether of the mainstream or the minority.

‘New music’ need not necessarily scare us: Britten’s Gloriana and Walton’s Second Symphony were both given their premieres by Sir John (or Mr. Pritchard as he was in those years). Reports, though, of Britten’s frustration with his conductor did not make for an easy first night or general working relationship. ‘JP’ was known as something of a bon viveur, and it was said that he became bored easily. He arrived late at Covent Garden for rehearsals, something alien to Britten – a stickler for single-minded artistic discipline. There is even a report of a Glyndebourne official being despatched to the Eastbourne seafront, with a loudhailer… ‘Is there a John Pritchard on the beach?’ Work beckoned!

Trips to the beach and restaurants aside, the conductor covered an astonishing range of native music: Holst’s The Hymn of Jesus, The Planets, Elgar’s Violin Concerto (an admirable recording exists of a 1986 rendition with Ida Haendel), a symphony by Ruth Gipps, Music for Strings by Bliss, and Parry’s Blest Pair of Sirens (programmed alongside the Enigma Variations and Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde). He also recorded works by Alan Rawsthorne with the London Philharmonic, available on the Lyrita label, and – like Sir Adrian Boult – had no difficulties with enjoying the sheer pleasures of an Eric Coates march.

Much loved by Proms audiences who admired his Bruckner and Berlioz, and his sensitive reading of Vaughan Williams’s Job, and by radio listeners who would hear Bliss’s A Colour Symphony, or Janacek’s Sinfonietta, followed by Elgar’s Second Symphony, Pritchard gave remarkable and long service to the cause of artistic variety, and to that of English music. His last major recording (a commercial disc on the BBC Artium label) was of Scriabin’s Third Symphony, a voluptuous score from the very end of late-romanticism – shimmering, over-ripe orchestration and colour from a Russian master obsessed by mysticism and themes of ecstasy. Pritchard also conducted Shostakovich’s Eleventh Symphony (a work thickly layered with history and revolutionary meaning) at a Royal Festival Hall concert in 1985 – raising eyebrows, because he was hitherto unconnected to this most political of twentieth-century composers. The audience and critics alike were surprised and overwhelmed by the performance.

Pritchard’s biographer, Helen Conway, hinted at a restlessness, an unhappiness in the conductor’s life – although the book shows many pictures of the man at social gatherings, parties, exhibiting a love of (perhaps, excessive) good living. Like Benjamin Britten, Pritchard was outwardly socially conservative, always immaculately attired, elegant and formal, and although not a flamboyant maestro, nevertheless an authoritative figure on the concert podium. We must hope that the BBC still has the many tapes of his concerts and studio performances. Their loss would mean a significant gap in our appreciation of post-war British music.

Dreaming of utopias past

Henry Wrong, first administrator of the Barbican Centre, overlooking the build. Credit: Barbican Archive

Building Utopia: The Barbican Centre

Nicholas Kenyon et al, Batsford, 2022, 288pp, fully illus., £40

ALEXANDER ADAMS acknowledges a modernist monument’s coming of age

My first exposure to the Barbican Centre came obliquely. In the children’s science-fiction drama The Tripods, when the producers for the (somewhat cash-strapped) BBC programme had to come up with a futuristic city-cum-biosphere in 1985, they selected the Barbican as one filming location. The palm-filled Barbican conservatory was suitably modern and exotic – at least for a child in the provinces. Years later, I worked in an office adjacent to the Barbican and walked its disorientating aerial walkways daily by rote, knowing that any clever shortcut would lead me inevitably and inconveniently astray. Barbican library became my local library.

Isometric drawing of the Barbican Arts Centre as built, by John Ronayne, August 1982. Credit: Barbican Archive

When it was built, between 1972 and 1982, the Barbican Centre was the UK’s most ambitious urban-planning project to reach construction stage. It houses cinemas, concert halls, exhibition galleries, conference rooms, a theatre, restaurants, shops, cafés, a library and car park in an estate that consists of 2,000 residences, mostly in high-rise towers, all built in a Brutalist style. The new hardback Building Utopia: The Barbican Centre marks the 40th anniversary of the Barbican Centre’s completion, the 50th anniversary of its commencement and (approximately) the 65th anniversary of its conception. Multiple specialist writers cover the origins of the project, the politics and development of the building process and outline the highlights and remit of the cultural activities of the centre. A plethora of photographs capture the centre throughout its operation, from construction up to today, with some shots of classic performances and memorable events. 

The site of the Barbican Centre is Aldersgate, next to Silk Street, Beech Street and Whitecross Street, close to St Paul’s Cathedral in the City of London. The site had been bombed almost completely flat during the Blitz and thus the location presented itself for wholesale redevelopment – on a grand scale, integrating accommodation and facilities. It was already served by Moorgate Station (Northern line underground and mainline) and was within walking distance of the offices and banks of the City. There was little residential consultation – following wartime devastation, Cripplegate district had a residential population of 58. The photographs of the flattened district, with St Paul’s in the background, is a stark reminder of the state of British cities in the post-war aftermath. 

It seems the impetus behind having so many residences was partly political. Sir Nicholas Kenyon, former Managing Director of the Barbican Centre, writes:

The vanishing residential population of the Square Mile posed an existential threat to the survival of the Corporation [of the City of London], with its independent governance and long traditions, for there was a serious possibility in the post-war years that, without residents and voters, there might be a move to incorporate the City into London County Council.

Hostility from LCC and the Arts Council caused friction with the Barbican Centre and led to tussles over funding and control. LCC wanted greater commercial development; the Corporation wanted residences and arts. The Corporation won out and architects Chamberlin, Powell and Bon were appointed to design the centre and estate buildings. An initial costing of £10m was eventually to balloon to £150m by the time of completion.  

The Lakeside Terrace of the newly completed Barbican building in 1982, with Frobisher Crescent behind. Credit: Peter Bloomfield

The scale of the project is still – in our age of mega-structures – impressive (‘the largest single building for the arts in the Western world.’) The over thirty lifts include one that can transport a twenty-tonne lorry. The distinctive unpainted pitted concrete surfaces of walls were originally smooth before they were pick-hammered by men with pneumatic drills. This was time-consuming and thus expensive. Some aspects were flawed in design. The sculpture courtyard was rarely used because the weight of pieces was considered a potential structural danger to the building below. The gallery space has always been disappointing – a reflection of its late inclusion in the design – and has never lived up to the other facilities of the venue.   

The opening of the Barbican Centre on 3 March 1982: the Queen unveiling the plaque in the foyer, accompanied by The Rt Hon the Lord Mayor Sir Christopher Leaver. Credit: Barbican Archive

When the centre was opened by the Queen on 3 March 1982, the building seemed anachronistic – both behind the times and ahead of them. The building seemed ponderous and unsympathetic, alien in its stylistic unity; cultural tourism was not as developed and streamlined as it would become so there were many doubts about the viability of a costly arts hub. The architecture seemed heavy and uncompromising in a time when Post-Modernism was jettisoning concepts of “truth to materials”, Brutalism and stylistic conformity. Its broad walkways and windswept courtyards seemed too ambitious and forbidding; its thick brass railings seemed passé. More than anything, Brutalism’s intimidating size and lack decorative concession seemed anti-human and indicative of failed visions of Communistic Eastern Europe and corner-cutting city councils. Today, attitudes to Brutalism are changing. Brutalism is an Instagram favourite topic and subject of photo essays and coffee-table books. The high aspirations and unapologetic futurity of Brutalist concrete structures exhilarates the young urban crowd.

The London Symphony Orchestra has been resident at the Barbican since it opened.  The Royal Shakespeare Company acted as consultants as the theatre was designed. However, organisational politics and wrangles over income and subsidies caused Barbican to lose the RSC in an acrimonious parting in 2002 (‘The RSC were reluctant tenants. We were grumpy landlords.’) A transcription of a discussion between senior insiders notes that ‘the Corporation saw the conferences as money generators, and orchestras as money spenders.’ Balancing artistic considerations against commercial one is a constant negotiation, as is that of high culture versus experimental programming. (Although apparently the BBC-funded 1985 Stockhausen festival turned into a sell-out success.) Views on the acoustics of the concert hall were mixed; the acoustics noticeably improved once the Perspex hemispheres were removed from the ceiling. The opinions of performers, conductors and critics are summarised.   

Barbican Cinema brochures from the early 1980s. Credit: Barbican Archive

Most of the fittings are bespoke, which added to the cost but were congruent and effective within the overall design. (There is a great shot of Robin Day’s strongly coloured concert-hall seats.) The signage was considered inadequate from the beginning, leading to notorious navigation difficulties. A Barbican poster announced, ‘If Helen Mirren can find the new Barbican Centre before it opens in March, she will be appearing in Midsummer Night’s Dream.’ The book has many photographs of these details, as well as plans, maps, images of construction, aerial views and vintage shots. A selection of posters shows the breadth of programming over the last 40 years, reminding readers of memorable experiences. The authors are either specialists in their fields or they are individuals who have worked at a high level in Barbican Centre management. Short testimonies by knowledgeable figures (including performers, managers and users) intersperse longer narratives, which show palpable affection but address faults. Subjects include the Barbican’s architecture, theatre, music, art, cinema, typefaces and branding and plentiful insights into the management.

Building Utopia: The Barbican Centre presents a comprehensive and sympathetic presentation of one of modern Britain’s most iconic buildings. Not universally loved as a building – indeed, still disliked by many – the Barbican Centre continues to act as an important centre for high culture. Most importantly, the Barbican is largely an independent enterprise, with relatively low and indirect tax-payer subsidies. Today, the Barbican’s distance from the interfering hand of government is more vital than ever.

‘Satyagraha’ – joy and rapture at the ENO

RICHARD DOVE reflects on Philip Glass’s timeless opera

In 1960s Lower Manhattan there was a very definite merging of culture and logistics.  If you had ordered a new wardrobe or dining table it was distinctly possible that the delivery men could be the two masters of emerging minimalism, Philip Glass and Steve Reich.  They both freelanced for a company called Low Rate Movers.  The art critic Robert Hughes needed a plumber to fix his dishwasher and was more than surprised when a smock-clad man with a shock of black hair and a bag of plumber’s tools showed up.  ‘But you’re Philip Glass! What are you doing here? You’re an artist.’  Glass explained that whilst he was an artist, he was also a plumber.

The music of Philip Glass now graces concert halls and opera houses around the world.  He is a prolific composer having forged a style of layered repetition and exquisite harmonies that beguiles many and upsets not a few.  As I walked to the Coliseum in central London, I passed a few plumbers’ vans.  I hoped that, in a wonderful act of circularity, at least one or two were heading to the latest production of Glass’s totemic opera, Satyagraha.  This was the last night, so it would be their last London opportunity for some time.

‘This is just wonderful.’  For my audience neighbour, it was her first Philip Glass experience.  ‘Well, you’ve got a lot of catching up to do’, I replied.  Glass’s astonishing avalanche of creativity has seen the creation of over thirty operas, thirteen symphonies, small ensemble pieces, concertos and countless film scores. 

Satyagraha was the return to business of the English National Opera after what it described as ‘an extended interval.’ The opera is, to use the ENO’s highly appropriate description, a ‘meditation’ on Gandhi’s early years in South Africa, a co-production with New York’s Metropolitan Opera with conductor Carolyn Kuan and director Phelim McDermott. It is sung in Sanskrit with words from the Bhagavad Gita and some of the headline translations were mostly obscured for us on the balcony and above. It did not matter.  It was an immersing mediation, and the plot was insignificant.  It is an emotional journey through Gandhi’s embrace of non-violent protest to change minds and politics.  The looping harmonies and spectacular staging created an embracing ambiance where you can pick and choose what you look at and how you interpret the narrative.  The result is, to use another ENO programme description, ‘mesmeric’.

Satyagraha is Sanskit for ‘truth force’ and the opera takes you and back and forth in Gandhi’s life as his philosophy of protest takes shape and consequence.   Sean Panikkar brought nuance and quiet strength to the role of Gandhi as he slowly walked the stage, his voice both tender and firm.  The huge, imposing corrugated iron wall set resonated a South Africa shantytown.  Meditation became a dream populated by Phelim McDermott’s vast puppets, the wicker emu being a particular highlight, and Julian Crouch’s soaring adaptable sets. The immense power of the voices of Verity Wingate and Felicity Buckland cut through the coughing and rustling (in my vicinity) and commanded attention. 

Satyagraha is the third of Glass’s so-called Portrait trilogy – Einstein on the Beach (which he staged largely with his own savings and had to drive a New York cab and deliver furniture to recover financially) and Akhnaten, the Egyptian Sun God which was also staged by Phelim McDermott in 2016.  None of the three operas have a lateral narrative, but wander through their subjects’ lives and experiences. The music is described as minimalist, but it is nothing of the sort. The motif of repetition masks constant change and highs and lows of emotion. It requires from the players and the conductor both technical and emotional engagement. As Glass himself says:

What you hear depends on how you focus your ear. We’re not talking about inventing a new language, but rather inventing new perceptions of existing languages. I don’t like using language to convey meaning. I’d rather use images and music.

For my neighbour, new to all this, it was a state of rapture despite often not knowing what was going on. She told me she worked at St Thomas’ Hospital and it was just joyful to be part of an audience again after an horrific eighteen months. Joy and rapture, not a bad way to spend a Thursday evening.

As I left the Opera House, I noticed the plumbers’ vans had disappeared.  Some domestic emergency interrupting Act 3?  The composer is close on 85 years old and yet his creativity is undiminished.  His Symphonies No 14 and 15 receive their world premieres next year as does a new ballet called ‘Alice’.   Clearly, the days of furniture moving and dishwasher repair are long gone.

Unfinished symphony in Oz

R. J. STOVE says reports of the death of Australian classical music education have been greatly exaggerated

The most satisfying paid regular employment that I have ever experienced concluded on 11 November 2021. For a twelve-week course, I worked as a sessional tutor under the University of Sydney’s auspices. The tutorials – overarching title: ‘Music in Western Culture’ – catered not purely for first-year music majors, but for first-year majors in other fields too. (As I write this paragraph, there remains some essay-marking for me to complete.)

Initially, I felt overwhelming panic, thanks to the requirement for near-Lisztian virtuosity in the Zoom-PowerPoint combination. ‘Have I turned the sound on?’ ‘Have I turned it off?’ ‘Have I accidentally shared the answers to tutorial questions?’ Of the course’s first two weeks, almost no memories remain except my visceral technophobia.

Besides, what (I wondered) if my students turned out to be a monstrous regiment of snowflakes, merrily toppling the nearest Queen Victoria monument, when not ululating into their smartphones about being ‘triggered’ by my own ‘Eurocentric’, ‘cisgendered,’ ‘heteronormative’ ‘microaggressions’ and ‘cultural appropriations’ upholding ‘the patriarchy’? Could my restricted didactic aptitude ensure those ‘safe spaces’ that Homo Snowflakiens considers indispensable?

My fears proved excessive. Zoom’s malfunctions and eastern Australia’s draconian lockdowns notwithstanding, I received from students consistent politeness. Whether this resulted from good luck – or from, instead, some antecedent administrative colander by which the palpably woke had been strained out, before they could contaminate the main dish – others must determine. Possibly a third cause prevailed.

All in all, my first salaried academic occupation gave me intense pleasure. The moment when everything clicked occurred as I replayed one of the tutorials’ set pieces: a Haydn piano sonata scintillatingly performed by L’viv-born, Manhattan-based Emanuel Ax. Suddenly I realised: ‘I’m receiving federal subsidies for listening to this marvellous stuff.’

Last summer’s dirge from a prominent British musicologist, who has huffily left the discipline (short version: ‘Goodbye, cruel world’), inspires not the faintest empathetic echo in my bosom. The musicologist achieved a full professorship before he had turned thirty-eight; maybe therein lies his whole trouble. 

Yes, my job had its nuisances, principally an exasperating holdup in my wages’ arrival, plus a nasty bout of mid-term illness which required my hospitalisation (and which complicated my already overworked colleagues’ timetables). About these nuisances I shall say little, partly because I crave further university employment, but chiefly because such irritants come with fallen human nature. Erstwhile Esquire boss Arnold Gingrich cherished a magnificently orotund sentence redeeming, circa 1947, one otherwise humdrum epistle to the editor: ‘I find no fault in Esquire that I do not find with the age that produced it.’ Mutatis mutandis, this encapsulates my response to Australian academe.


What straightaway impressed me, regarding the ‘Music in Western Culture’ course, was its predominating old-fashioned decorum. The main textbook, A History of Western Music, is but a revision – by Indiana University’s J. Peter Burkholder – of an identically named volume known earlier as ‘Palisca’ and even earlier as ‘Grout’ (after the previous versions’ respective authors: C.V. Palisca and Donald J. Grout, who died in, respectively, 2001 and 1987).

We who grew up with ‘Palisca’ and ‘Grout’ found much of Burkholder’s tome familiar. True, Burkholder cites hip-hop and sexual identity politics, as Grout would never have done; true, feminist considerations now compel coverage of female composers – Hildegard of Bingen among them – whom Palisca and Grout either underrated or omitted. These are incidentals. Aesthetic detachment marks all three musicologists: their audiences, happily, will find no clues as to which genres are the authors’ own favourites.

It scarcely requires accentuating how objectionable this dignified scholastic model is within Critical Race Theory’s snake-pit, which one Philip Ewell now inhabits. Ewell (of City University New York) bears the same relation to a conventional apparatchik like Norman Lebrecht that Wilhelm Reich bore to Freud, Foucault to Sartre, and Pol Pot to Brezhnev.

The Wuhan market, as it were, which first disseminated Ewell’s ‘thinking’ was a 2019 lecture to the blandly named Society for Music Theory, where Ewell demanded that Western music’s ‘white racial frame’ be ‘decolonised.’ (He nowhere condescended to explain who would do the decolonising. R. Kelly?) Ewell cast special opprobrium upon theorist Heinrich Schenker, a Jewish thinker never previously charged with white supremacism. Ordinary teaching of Western staff notation, teaching liable to necessitate such elitist hierarchical signifiers as ‘dominant’ and ‘subdominant,’ goaded Ewell to rage.

Timothy Jackson, a white liberal at the University of North Texas, organised a firm but courteous refutation of Ewell. This refutation – involving fifteen writers – occupied an issue of the magazine that Jackson co-edits, the Journal of Schenkerian Studies. The issue’s appearance activated frenzied calls for Jackson’s dismissal. At his references to racial slurs among Ewell’s beloved rappers, the anti-Jackson brigade took particular offence. One touch of (inadvertent) farce emerged from Ewell’s champions, when a female Canadian pundit treated the world to its least felicitous  recent neologism: she derided Schenker’s white female adherents as ‘SchenKarens.’

Throughout my own work contract, I heard not a syllable of Ewell-advocacy. This argues for some inherent common sense within the Australian university system.


The system had other merits. On average, each of my online tutorials contained twelve students. This was (apologies for sounding Panglossian) the best of all possible class sizes. Too small a group, and a single garrulous individual can monopolise the whole hour. Too large a group encourages dumbed-down populism. The latter hazard could well plague all vast programmes aiming to save the world through one colossal music lesson.

Of the Orff and Kodály instructional methods’ details, I lack the competence to speak. Alas, no such mitigating circumstances characterise the Suzuki method, which its founder’s fake doctorate and bogus claims to Weimar Republic tuition make hard to stomach now. Nor do they characterise the Venezuela-derived El Sistema. Once viewed as the ultimate in pedagogical chic, El Sistema prompted in 2014 a devastating book-length exposé by Geoff Baker, left-wing musicologist and Guardian correspondent. Baker’s harrowing disclosures incorporate accounts of El Sistema’s explicitly erotic corruption.

So much for the New York Times feature on El Sistema (16 February 2012) with a banner typifying the method’s longstanding media hype about proletarian empowerment: ‘Fighting Poverty, Armed With Violins.’ The perfect modern validation, surely, of William Dean Howells’s acerbic epigram ‘Americans want tragedies with happy endings.’


Naturally ‘Music in Western Culture’ was spared all carnal predators and all holders of counterfeit PhDs. My largely congenial experiences engendered my quiet, healthy scepticism towards anti-intellectual harangues from Fox News’s talking heads. Had I believed apocalyptic rhetoricians so obsessive that they could probably detect woke outrages on the planet Saturn, I would have been too scared to do my job.

Unlike those talking heads, I acutely recollect Australia’s higher education during the Cold War. This had its joys, above all Sydney’s Dr Andrew Riemer – specialist in Elizabethan-Jacobean drama – who gave the clearest, most fair-minded lectures which I have heard on any topic. (He subsequently produced memoirs as readable as, and striking deeper than, Clive James’s.)

Yet no milieu is less apt than my undergraduate youth to provoke my predispositions, themselves infinitesimally sparse, towards Golden Age nostalgia. Is woke craziness in 2021 truly more malevolent in its effects on academe than was Martin Bernal’s craziness (the briefly modish ‘Black Athena’ phantasm) in 1991? Or Sandinista craziness in 1981? Or anti-Vietnam-War craziness in 1971? Or D.H. Lawrence’s craziness in 1961? Or – lest we forget – Freudian craziness in 1951? Frankly, I doubt it. (I speak as one who, when a small and always fearful child, repeatedly wondered whether my father would get home alive after his daily encounters with draft-dodging, vandalising mobs who shrieked ‘Ho, Ho, Ho Chi Minh! / The NLF is gonna win!’.)

Against several benchmarks, Australian humanities departments have improved. A trivial but significant amelioration: I marvel at how attractive their latter-day recordings of medieval music are.

Students no longer gain their formative exposures to the Middle Ages’ sounds, as I gained lots of mine forty-one years ago, through the Historical Anthology of Music  series (surface-noise-infested American LPs supplementing a primer that dated from 1946). There, every second track seemed to comprise bleating from three Teutonic nonagenarians with vibratos almost wide enough to march a platoon through. It was, furthermore, mandatory to capture the nonagenarians in an acoustic resembling someone’s broom-cupboard. Today, anyone trawling through music schools’ libraries (to say nothing of Spotify or YouTube) can find more abundant and beauteous early-music renditions inside an hour than we in 1980 could have located inside six months.


More momentous are universities’ newish regulations for conduct. I think of those Australian academics in the 1980s – wielding influence disproportionate to their limited numbers – who at best channelled Lucky Jim Dixon, and at worst channelled Walter Mitty. Thanks in part to online packages like Turnitin, sanctions against plagiarism (whoever commits it) have teeth now, whereas in the 1980s no such sanctions existed. Admirers of that classic 1948 film The Red Shoes will appreciate the impunity with which unscrupulous teachers once thieved pupils’ material, in music as elsewhere.

Heaven knows, present-day Australian students are susceptible enough to the pernicious worldviews expounded by Peter Singer. That said, I – unlike those students – am conversant with the equally pernicious worldviews expounded by the University of Sydney’s 1927–1958 philosophy professor John Anderson: militantly anti-Christian demagogue and long-time Communist Party fellow-traveller, with compulsive unwillingness to differentiate the ontological concept of ‘female undergraduate’ from that of ‘sex toy.’ Nor was Anderson’s unwillingness unique. While the worst predation flourished amid the Age of Aquarius, as late as 1984 our juvenile gossip included a pervasive wisecrack concerning the relevant transaction: ‘a lay for an A.’ And this taxpayer-funded bonking  was, be it emphasised, entirely legal.

Some outstandingly toxic teacher-student relationships encompassed no physical acts. Wherever degrees are both rare and esteemed, opportunities for students to levy emotional blackmail against teachers (or vice versa) proliferate. Joyce Carol Oates’s short story ‘In the Region of Ice’ frighteningly depicts the inexorable persecution of a teaching nun by her male protégé.

‘Well, for good or evil’ – I here quote Chesterton’s Autobiography – ‘that is all dead.’ Manipulative teacher-student interactions will seldom eventuate when each participant is a mere flickering Zoom image to the other. Moreover, with the nation’s 1989–1992 university reforms, the droit du seigneur over female students (not to mention over female secretaries) disappeared from Australian tenured life’s fringe-benefits.

This tenured life itself – like its British counterpart – has dwindled to a rarity which in the USA is unimaginable. In 2006, one Australian lecturer told Inez Baranay, a Sydney-based novelist-essayist: ‘the area I teach in has not appointed any tenured academics in ten years.’ Undoubtedly, entrenching casual labour carries risks; in Sydney’s and Melbourne’s higher education systems, wage theft has reached alarming levels. But likewise undoubtedly, the pre-1989 antipodean routine of near-automatic tenure mollycoddled so many layabouts that it just had to be scrapped.

Australia’s sustained Cold War prosperity facilitated tenure’s abuse. The abolition of student fees in 1974, by Gough Whitlam’s government, merely reinforced the long-extant system whereby eighty per cent  of local undergraduates avoided paying fees anyhow (the University of Western Australia, in Perth, charged no fees at all). Nor, in that profligate epoch, did stringent selection criteria for staffers invariably operate. Thank goodness, arbiters of Australian students’ destinies no longer include that frequent pest from my young manhood: the rancorous idler who had not published a solitary article or, indeed, drawn a solitary sober breath since around 1960.


Another, and unexpected, modern improvement concerns religion. Current Australian academe has got ninety-nine problems, but Freemasonry ain’t one. (Read the 1997 biography of Australia’s classics scholar F.J.H. Letters, by his widow Kathleen, if you dispute local lodges’ former influence over universities.) Whatever my attire’s shortcomings, no-one has commanded me to rectify these by procuring a leather apron.

Neither have any university personnel weaponised against me my Catholicism, shared with Letters himself, and discoverable through five minutes on Google. To Australians my age or older, such newfound tolerance of ‘papists’ is mind-boggling. We recall the longevity of a tabloid, The Rock, which for half a century after 1944 spewed Klan-style vilification against Catholicism (it greeted sponsored Italian immigrants with headlines like ‘450 Human Wogs Arrive’).

Hardly anyone admitted to reading The Rock, but that fact indicates how many liars Australia had. Because at the tabloid’s pre-Vatican-II apex, it sold 30,000 copies per issue: a remarkable total in a country with under eleven million inhabitants, and quite adequate for coercing numerous politicians into servility. Witnessing The Rock’s diatribes and their parliamentary counterparts, Scottish newspaperman John Douglas Pringle – an unbeliever – lamented: ‘Anti-Catholic feeling is extremely strong in Australia. From time to time it bursts out like lava from a sleeping volcano, burning and destroying everything it touches.’

Of course, as the mendacious campaigns against Cardinal Pell showed, this emotion has not vanished from Australia’s midst. It still governs our state police forces and schoolteachers’ unions; all of our gutter media (what are our surviving non-gutter media, pray tell?); much of our medical establishment; and much of our judiciary. Nonetheless, for whatever reason, anti-Catholic wrath now leaves New South Wales’s universities undisturbed. Without this welcome change, I could never have attained academic emolument.

Decades back, my late Sydney chaplain friend Father Paul Stenhouse once parked his car on campus, having left visible his dashboard’s Virgin Mary statuette; he returned to find the windshield smashed. These days, comparable sectarian malevolence incurs serious penalties, Twitter castigation included. Back then, had Father Stenhouse formally submitted a complaint, campus officials would have all but laughed in his face.

Cardinal Sir Norman Gilroy, Sydney’s Catholic archbishop from 1940 to 1971, had discouraged his flock from university attendance in general. What with Marian figurines being punishable by smashed windshields – and what with Anderson the bellicose Christophobe on the prowl, sizing up the female talent – the Cardinal was conceivably on to something.


Altogether, therefore, I remain as conscious of Australian universities’ past defects as of their present ones. Whilst the latter are undeniable, I question the novelty and the immediate nature of their threat.

Incontrovertibly, it is dreadful that various full-fee-paying foreign students now graduate despite their limited spoken and written English. But even that vexation, albeit new in degree, has a prototype in kind: the Colombo Plan’s late-1950s zenith. This zenith placed academics like my father in loco parentis to numerous young Southeast Asians, who too often secured Australian degrees while insufficiently Anglophone to request a train-ticket unassisted, let alone to grasp my father’s lectures on David Hume’s metaphysics. In Dad’s own weary but eloquent aphorism: ‘the challenge is to fail.’

As for the reckless dream of higher education for all, surely the pandemic dispelled that dream faster than any libertarian think-tank could do. COVID has intensified our established dependence on couriers, cleaners, nurses, postal clerks, supermarket clerks, warehouse workers, slaughterhouse workers, aged-care workers, truck-drivers, and garbage-collectors, all of whom can acquire their specific proficiencies with not the slightest collegiate force-feeding. No First World polis can cope without these persons for twenty-four hours. Any First World polis can cope evermore without my musicological and organ-playing functions, though my school crossing function has retained since 2016 (in coronavirus-afflicted Melbourne at that) its utilitarian efficacy.

I wish to declare only this: however Augean academe’s stables might be elsewhere, my colleagues and I kept our own minuscule domain really rather neat. Hereabouts, to update Mark Twain, the death of music teaching has been greatly exaggerated. For outsiders, combating this exaggeration will rarely matter much. But if televisual pundits grew rich from proclaiming that you yourself were dead, publicising the truth would urgently matter to you and your loved ones.

Sadly, perhaps my age (I am 59) will preclude further academic employment. Yet if offered it, would I accept it? Verily I say unto you, ‘Bring it on.’

From The Cruel Sea to St. Trinian’s…

Still from ‘The Cruel Sea’ (1953)
STUART MILLSON revels in British film music at the Proms

It seems unthinkable that a Proms season in peacetime would have to be abandoned, but this is almost what happened last year at the height of the Covid pandemic. With much-reduced orchestras – their players spread widely across an extended Royal Albert Hall platform in order to preserve social distancing – the BBC resolutely produced a Proms 2020, but with the stalls, arena, gallery and boxes of the great Hall empty. The Prommers had to content themselves with listening to the skeleton season on Radio 3, or watching the proceedings on BBC Four television. But it was better than nothing.

This year, audiences returned, but on the basis that concertgoers showed evidence of a double Covid vaccination, or a negative test for the virus. And even then, the famous Proms queues, the pre-concert drinks, atmosphere and general buzz of the season – little of what we understand by this remarkable and long-established music festival existed.

Doreen Carwithen (Mary Alwyn)

On the 2nd September your reviewer ventured into London to enjoy a Prom given by the 60-strong BBC Concert Orchestra, possibly the most versatile orchestra to be employed by the BBC – covering the classical repertoire (often lighter or more recondite works); show music and the songs of theatreland; and even touching upon jazz and pop. For my evening, the BBC CO conveyed its audience through the Odeon doors and into the world of British film music, beginning with Doreen Carwithen (real name, Mary Alwyn) and her overture to the 1954 film, The Men of Sherwood. What a good choice: asplendid curtain-raiser which immediately lifted the spirits of the 2,000 people present; the music immediately taking everyone away from their Covid concerns and back into a world of Lincoln green and derring-do. Carwithen’s overture was reminiscent of her better-known Suffolk Suite, an effective piece of scene painting – with rhapsodic evocations of the English landscape mixed with trumpets and brass, as men of valour meet in combat on battlements.

The programme notes for the evening tended to be a little sniffy about the quality of the film – underlining the point by reproducing the original theatrical poster from the time, and referring to “scrappily-drawn faux mediaeval title cards” and “an illuminated manuscript of the lowest wattage”. A trifle harsh, perhaps – given the general good intentions of the film-makers, who in those days at least tried to celebrate our English past. In fact, there is much reassurance in the mythical country evoked by the props and artwork on the 1950s. In our age of political correctness, it is encouraging that such images should have been dusted down and brought out before an audience.

Similar notions of the countryside and olde England were also found in one of the major items on the bill: Vaughan Williams’s Three Portraits from the England of Elizabeth, the result of the composer’s collaboration with nationalised British Railways. Just as the travel poster was used in the 1930s to inspire holidaymakers to head for the ‘Cornish Riviera’ or the breathtaking Lakeland, the 1950s embraced the technology of the in-house film unit – the perfect opportunity for composers to earn money quickly (instead of waiting for an orchestra to include their new work in a Festival Hall programme). And so, Vaughan Williams’s style – a gracious blend of Tudor-infused tone-painting, with the echo of the village green never far away – proved to be the ideal accompaniment to British Transport’s public information films. Yet played on their own in the concert hall (with the listener, perhaps not even aware of how they were commissioned or written), the ‘Three Portraits’ could very easily have been a short, long-lost folk symphony by Vaughan Williams.

Alan Rawsthorne, William Alwyn and Malcolm Arnold were also dominant figures in the film industry and it was fascinating to hear – live – Rawsthorne’s dark score to The Cruel Sea (1953) which starred Jack Hawkins and told the story of the Battle of the Atlantic. Rawsthorne is hardly ever played these days in his own native Britain, the Second Piano Concerto surfacing, perhaps, every 30 years at the Proms. It is high time for a re-evaluation of this masterful composer, capable of bringing a psychological sense of sea warfare and the limitless ocean into a conventional British war film.

Is there a tendency for film music to be bitty? Not so, in the case of William Alwyn’s truly large-scale symphonic contribution to the 1947 Carol Reed production, Odd Man Out – the tense, anguished story of an Irish nationalist (named Johnny McQueen) injured, and on the run through the mean streets of Belfast. Again, here is an example of music that could easily have been the first movement of a symphony: Alwyn conceiving large, heavily-woven expanses of ideas – with much complicated development, instead of simply relying on a simple, repetitive theme for the film-goer. A satisfying span of gripping, tragic proportions.

Peter Cushing in ‘The Skull’

The most avant garde work of the evening was the Elisabeth Lutyens score for the 1965 Peter Cushing film, The Skull, made in 1965. Not afraid to produce haunting sounds, by using modernist techniques, Lutyens could almost be described as an English (female) Bela Bartok. A strange, disjointed, disharmony at the edge of tonality brings to life the occult world of Peter Cushing’s obsessive character, Dr. Christopher Maitland – the Proms programme editor finding a marvellous still from the film: Cushing staring into the eye sockets of the Marquis de Sade’s skull.

Finally, a complete change in mood – the BBC Concert Orchestra bringing the house down with the skittish score by Malcolm Arnold for The Belles of St. Trinian’s: a dazzling, tongue-in-cheek, belly-laugh of an extravanganza, complete with shifty ‘Flash Harry’s’ furtive schemes (played to perfection by the great George Cole); and all the unleashed anarchy of the worst girls’ school in cinematic Britain (headed by the ever-so-slightly alarming Alistair Sim as ‘Miss Fritton’). Arnold had the rare ability to match the mood of so many productions, from war stories to comedies, but succeeding in everything he did because of his limitless, lyrical self-confidence, mastery of the orchestra, and refusal to see anything in conventional terms. It is possible to say that without Arnold’s dizzying, barrier-breaking sound-world – music that is the equivalent of a downing a treble gin and tonic in the company of the best British comedy actors of the ’50s – The Belles of St. Trinian’s might not have been the classic that it became.

The BBC Concert Orchestra marched us out of the Royal Albert Hall with a rousing film encore – again by Malcolm Arnold, the unforgettable Bridge on the River Kwai, with conductor, Bramwell Tovey, making sure that everyone clapped and whistled along to that famous evocation of parade-ground swagger and cheerful British heroism, ‘Colonel Bogey’.

England’s musical Shakespeare

Henry Purcell
STUART MILLSON gives a glimpse into the life of Henry Purcell

Henry Purcell (1659-95) is forever associated with the birth of opera (or masques) in England – works such as King Arthur and The Fairy Queen – the creation of semi-operatic scenic cantatas, like his music for The Tempest, and with expansive works for church and state, especially his odes for William and Mary and their ‘Glorious Revolution’ – and, later, funeral music of intense mourning for Queen Mary. Not all artists or musicians are celebrated in their lifetime, but Purcell was recognised as a great composer, ascending to the heights of achievement for his time – a reputation which enhanced the career of his younger brother, Daniel – also a composer. But it is in our own world that Purcell has truly come into his own: an unending stream of recordings, often in period-instrument form, from some of the greatest interpreters of baroque music, such as Sir John Eliot Gardiner and William Christie. For Denis Arnold, the renowned General Editor of The New Oxford Companion to Music, Purcell warranted not just a few paragraphs and a portrait, but three pages of musical description and discussion – another impressive measure of the man.

Jan van Kessel, ‘Personification of Music’

Purcell was the second of four brothers and followed an early career as a young chorister in the Chapel Royal of Charles II, enjoying the early Restoration flowering of art and music. By 1673, his angelic voice was no more, but his musical talents had made such an impression that he was appointed as the custodian of the King’s collection of instruments. He also became a composer-in-residence at Westminster Abbey, going on to succeed the great John Blow as organist.

Composers such as William Lawes wrote very much for the delight or diversion of the Stuart court; just half-a-century later, ‘serious’ music had emerged as a force to be reckoned with, especially in the theatre – as a form of art increasingly enjoyed by the wider society, with provocative political allegory never far from the surface. A perfect example is King Arthur (1691), with its libretto by John Dryden, which goes far beyond the boundaries of any conventional theatrical format – the story of the mythical warrior-king of the Britons, but with overtones of the contemporary struggle between the cause of James II (the rightful heir – but a Catholic) and the triumph of the Protestant succession, in the form of William of Orange. With its famous, ethereal patriotic air, ‘Fairest Isle’ – a slow, contemplative song sometimes extracted from the score and performed as a piece in its own right – Purcell emerges as a ‘composer-laureate’, long before the era of the national-composers of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, with their oratorios of ‘Blood and State’ (Parry) or ‘Banners of St. George’ (Elgar).

Purcell’s English mysticism is something we tend to associate with musicians of an epoch much closer to our own, such as Vaughan Williams with his Flos Campi or Five Mystical Songs, and Holst’s unchanging, unforgiving Wessex landscape of Egdon Heath. Purcell brings us into a markedly supernatural country, of charms and prophecies, and the extraordinary presence of a ghostly character, the ‘Cold Genius’ – a singing spirit of frost, ice and wasteland, brought to stuttering life by a shivering bass singer, accompanied in a curious pre-echo of 20th-century music by the icy, scratchy, toneless, guttural bowing of string instruments. Purcell was ahead of his time in other ways too –with the rumble of wind and thunder machines in The Tempest, and waves of scurrying strings suggesting a rushing tide about to break across the land – a scene straight from Benjamin Britten’s 1945 Suffolk opera, Peter Grimes (credited as the first great English opera since Purcell).

As a concertgoer or buyer of recordings, it is worth remembering your first experience of a particular work – and often more fun to replay that memory (or vinyl disc) and compare it to the many other versions which have proliferated in the intervening years. I first encountered Purcell’s Chaconne on a record-buying expedition in 1981, the work appearing on a Decca LP collection entitled ‘English Music for Strings’ – a 1968 recording made at Snape Maltings, with Benjamin Britten conducting the English Chamber Orchestra.

The Chaconne, or ‘Chacony’ as it is sometimes written, is an old dance-form, made up of variations (in Purcell’s piece, 18 in number) which flow effortlessly into one another, and founded upon what musicians know as a ground-bass theme (the deeper, more sonorous theme or tune that seems to underpin or “anchor” the whole work). Britten, a great admirer of Purcell, and of older English music generally, was immediately attracted to the gently-noble, faintly melancholic melody of the Chaconne, which had been preserved in a collection of Purcell manuscripts, stored in the British Museum.

Even with Britten’s modern string instrumentation and the rich reverberation it creates, we are transported in the first moments of the work to an England of 300 years ago – of lute- and viol-playing ‘people of quality’ at courts and country houses, of misty deer parks and an adjoining countryside of ancient steadings – and yet, despite the clear antiquity of the style, there is a universal essence to this music (very much like Bach) which somehow defies time. Readers may also enjoy the more authentic version of the Chaconne, performed by Canada’s Aradia Baroque Ensemble, which appears on the Naxos label, an interpretation that brings us the delicate, glassy, crystal feel of authentic baroque-era strings. The CD catalogues and Youtube brim with Purcell recordings.

This remarkable man, in charge of England’s musical formalities, was also fond of the occasional joke: listen, for example, to his Ode for the Birthday of Queen MaryCome Ye Sons of Art – to the section entitled, ‘Sound the trumpet’ and the line, “… the listening shores…” Something to do with all England listening for the word of its monarch, perhaps? Or a joke at the expense of trumpet-players, with the surname Shore – who had nothing to do in that particular section!

Pier Francesco Cittadini, ‘Vanitas – Stillleben’

Timelessness seems the very essence of Purcell, that shaper of national myth in music, a ghost who still comes back to life as the cold genius of our isle. It was the cold which brought about the composer’s untimely death in 1695: returning home late at night during a bitterly-cold November, so the story goes, it seems that he found himself locked out of his Marsham Street home by his wife of 14 years. And curiously, from then on, his country began to forget about him. The musicians and choristers of the Chapel Royal and Westminster Abbey honoured his passing in a great service of remembrance ; yet the decades and centuries that followed saw the virtual disappearance of his name. Perhaps it was only Britten’s rediscovery in the 1940s and ‘60s that brought Purcell back to life – a crusade assisted and added to by composer-conductor, Malcolm Arnold, conducting full-blown arrangements of the 17th-century composer’s works at a Proms concert in the late 1960s.

What we can say with certainty is that the jibe made during the mid-19th century (principally by Germans), that England was “the land without music” was only partially true. We had simply forgotten about our own geniuses.

Cornysh, Campion, Dowland: England’s sweet songsmiths

STUART MILLSON dives into old English ‘ayrs’

There is a persistent idea that English music only really got going with Parry and Elgar, but four centuries earlier William Cornysh, Thomas Campion and John Dowland had possessed national and European reputations.

William Cornysh was one of England’s leading Tudor composers, gaining the attention and then patronage of that most difficult-to-please of monarchs, King Henry VIII. There is disagreement about the date of his birth, especially as he was christened with the same name as that of his father, also a musician, who, during the late 15th century was Master of Choristers at Westminster.

Cornysh (senior) was also a Gentleman of the Chapel Royal, to which institution his son gravitated and remained connected for nearly 15 years, from 1496. Choral scholars through the ages have marvelled at the treasures contained within the ancient manuscripts of sacred choral music, the Eton and Caius choirbooks, both containing important works by Cornysh; yet this is a composer who could also turn his hand to occasional and secular pieces.

Then, as now, music was considered an essential background to great events of state, and in 1520 Cornysh achieved a high-point of his career – embarking with his monarch upon a state mission across the English Channel, the famous meeting between Henry VIII and the King of France (François l) at the “Field of the Cloth of Gold”. Here, amid the ornate (but temporary) pavilions and awnings, Cornysh and his musicians of the Chapel Royal serenaded the monarchs and their entourages, whilst the latter engaged in their schemes, diplomacy, power-struggles and court gossip.

It is always remarked upon how that later 16th century composer, John Dowland, was the master of melancholia, yet in Cornysh’s Adieu, my Heartes Lust (a piece for four voices, typical of his style) we can find the essence of the yearning poet (in the English of the time), consumed for all his fretful, wintry waking hours in a state of emotional purgatory:

Adew, adew my hartis lust. / Adew, my joy and solace. / With dubyl sorrow, complain I must, / until I dye, I must, I must.

Campion’s England

Thomas Campion (1567-1620) achieved a great deal in his 53 years, despite an unpromising start: leaving Cambridge without taking a degree, and leaving Gray’s Inn without being called to the bar. However, in 1605, academic distinction eventually came, in the form of a medical degree from the University of Caen. He spent the rest of his professional life practising as a physician in London, and remaining a bachelor until his dying day.

Yet Campion remained drawn to the beating heart of his other passions, poetry and music. Writing in the shadow of the most famous poet of the time, Sir Philip Sidney, in 1602 Campion effectively produced a manifesto against “vulgarity” in poetry (Observations in the Art of English Poesie), decrying the act of “riming”. He also went on to publish a book of great interest to musicologists, a thesis on counterpoint – as well as many musical “ayrs”, masques and songs, and in 1613, to mark young Prince Henry’s death (King James I’s heir-apparent), the plangent Songs of Mourning. Campion’s work touched the spirit of the moment, in a country that was said to be distraught with tears and regret.

The beautiful part-song, Never WeatherBeaten Sail , with words by the composer, dates from the same year, and forms part of Campion’s First Book of Ayrs. For the man who decried “riming”, the piece has a beauty, simplicity – and rhyme – that makes it almost like (to our ears, today) a traditional hymn:

“Never Weather-Beaten-Sail, more willing bent to shore / Never tired pilgrim’s limbs affected slumber more…”

The two-and-a-half minutes of the song, as all good songs do, seems to reach out, in simple terms, to a lifetime’s experience and the need to grasp that last anchorage on our voyage: a vision of “Heaven’s high paradise…”, of the weary human being “with troubled breast” coming to that eternal shore, where the Lord will “take my soul to rest.” With music that never soars to too high a degree of emotion, Campion’s music nevertheless has much pathos, great beauty for its vocalists, and forms a benediction in miniature. It is a perfect moment for reflection on mortality, for all those who have set sail upon the mysterious voyage to one English composer’s safe harbour.

Dowland in Denmark

The Danish royal family of the late 16th century was a generous employer – John Dowland achieving the material gains which often eluded him in his native land. Yet despite his chagrin at later being excluded from England’s official high circles, due to his Roman Catholic beliefs, the composer’s life had been a full and productive one, with some time even spent in the service of Sir Henry Cobham, Ambassador to France.

With books of songs, psalms and lachrimae galore – some 20 pieces to each collection – Dowland can be viewed as one of the most prolific composers of his era. Perhaps, he can be een as one of the true founding-fathers, or presiding spirits of our music – an echo of which reached to the 20th century, when Benjamin Britten incorporated a theme by the composer in his Lachrymae for viola and orchestra.

To pick but one piece, Come again, sweet love doth now invite comes from his First Booke of Songs or Ayres, and can be performed either as a conventional lute-song, or expanded slightly into a piece for a small group of vocalists. Whether a melancholy discourse for one singer, the lute conjuring that sense of lonely winter twilight, or lifted into the realms of a madrigal (but still resonating regret and longing, sighing and soft tears), this short work is one of extreme delicacy. Yet as the work comes toward to its conclusion, Dowland repeats and re-emphasises the important lines from each of the (three) verses: “To see, to hear, to touch, to kiss, to die”. These are words that embody the soul of the composer, the essence of his age, and the character of the times to come in English music.

Orpheans of the fringes

STUART MILLSON celebrates Celtic composers

We tend to think of British music, and the landscape of the British repertoire, as belonging to English composers such as Elgar, Vaughan Williams and Britten. But it is not just bucolic, visionary southern English landscapes that have inspired great music.

The Welsh landscape is just as much a place of legend, poetry and long thoughts, and here another school of British music may be found and appreciated, of 20th-century romantics and romantic-modernists – Alun Hoddinott, William Mathias, Daniel Jones, Grace Williams, and Arwel Hughes. For Hoddinott, the Welsh landscape and Welsh lore provided huge sources of inspiration, although his work also included pieces that stood alone from ‘Welshness’ and demonstrated a pure, contemporary appeal, such as The Sun, the Great Luminary of the Universe. Mathias and Jones are known for their symphonies (Jones also achieving note as a prolific writer of string quartets), and Grace Williams for her Sea Sketches and Fantasia on Welsh Nursery Rhymes, but Arwel Hughes might be less familiar to music-lovers, certainly to an English audience. The time has now come to rediscover British music, to understand it through its Welsh, Scottish and Irish voices, beginning with the magnificent, and largely unknown, music of Arwel Hughes.

Arwel Hughes

Hughes was born in 1909, in the mining village of Rhosllannerchrugog, near Wrexham. Hughes’s background was shaped by family, by the kindness of a very musical elder brother, and by local nonconformist (Baptist) traditions. Yet self-containment need not be inward-looking, and it was clear that the young Arwel’s talents would propel him toward an academic musical career of the highest quality. His son, the conductor Owain Arwel Hughes, wrote of those early years:

My father was a highly-gifted keyboard player from a very young age, quite astonishing when one thinks of his upbringing as the tenth and youngest child of a mining family with no musical heritage whatsoever. He went to the Royal College of Music to study composition and organ, a courageous decision, not to say a huge financial burden considering his background

And what a step it proved to be for the young Welshman alone in London, as Owain Arwel explained:

My father studied composition under that musical giant Ralph Vaughan Williams, whose influence was profound not only as an inspiring teacher but also as a gentle, caring father figure…

Vaughan Williams was not the only luminary to influence Hughes; other tutors included Gordon Jacob (who arranged Vaughan Williams’s English Folk-Song Suite), and Gustav Holst. It was not long before the student from North Wales was absorbed into the English High Church musical tradition, as an organist and choirmaster at the Church of SS. Philip and James, Oxford. In 1935, the chance came to return to Wales in a role for the BBC, that of Studio Assistant at the Corporation’s offices in Cardiff – the prelude to a successful career that was to last until 1971, when Hughes retired from the post of Head of Music.

During that long span, Hughes devoted much time to championing his fellow Welsh composers, and this generosity of spirit may have interrupted his own progress as a writer of symphonic works. However, time was found in the evening to compose, and there is no doubting the natural inspiration and gift for momentum, mood and melody at the heart of Hughes’s wide output. It is also worth noting that this quiet and unassuming administrator (alongside his Welsh BBC colleague, the conductor, Mansel Thomas) gave us one of the country’s much-loved television institutions. Dechrau Canu, Dechrau Canmol was a Welsh programme devoted to community hymn-singing, and it was always Hughes’s desire to see music – religious, or otherwise – actively touch the hearts and daily lives of ordinary people. The formula was taken up by the English BBC and entitled Songs of Praise; it was fitting that the show should have been presented by that great Welshman, Sir Harry Secombe.

Possibly Hughes’s best-known piece is the highly-accessible oratorio, Dewi Sant (Saint David), commissioned as a Welsh contribution to the 1951 Festival of Britain. For soprano, tenor, baritone, chorus and large orchestra, the work begins with a flourish – “Praise the Lord for all of His saints/Praise the Lord for David our Patron…” Straightforward and a showpiece for a Welsh choir, the opening section then gives way to a meditative pastoralism, every bit as touching as the English masses and impressionism of Vaughan Williams or Howells:

Who’ll bring his sickle to the yellowing wheat and his scythe to the meadow at morn?
Who’ll come to burn the tares that choketh the rip’ning corn?

But there are also some blood-stirring lines for chapel-going Welsh patriots:

In Cymru’s vineyard the tree was planted; 
Fed were its roots with the blood of the martyrs, / Beneath its bloody branch is shelter, 
Find refuge and rest in the arms of the Saviour, 
For on this precious tree doth grow 
The leaves to heal the nation’s woe

The words for Dewi Sant were written by Hughes’s fellow countryman, the poet Aneurin Talfan Davies, and the work was first performed at that great shrine to Celtic Christendom, St. David’s Cathedral, Pembroke, in the July of that momentous Festival of Britain year.

Another well worked-out piece – finely-structured, again accessible yet with a deep saying – is the comparatively early Fantasia in A minor, for strings (1936). It is a piece of “absolute music” – music for music’s sake, although the Welshness is one of impressionism and shadow. The composition is immediately appealing: a quiet, slow introduction, and the gradual gathering of energy, to achieve the soaring, intense statement on strings to be found in Vaughan Williams’s Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis, in parts of Herbert Howell’s Elegy for Viola and Strings – or in the introspection of Britten’s Lachrymae for viola and strings.

More obviously Welsh themes appear in Hughes’s Owain Glyndwr (1979), Anatiomaros (“Great Soul”) (1943), his Prelude “To the Youth of Wales” from 1945, and an opera, inspired by folk legends, entitled Menna – a spirit in operatic writing, reminiscent of the English composer Rutland Boughton’s ancient Arthurian and mystical dramas, or of Delius’s Irmelin. Apart from the whole of Menna (which has received at least one studio performance by the BBC Concert Orchestra), all of the Hughes works mentioned in this article have been recorded under the baton of the composer’s son, conducting Camerata Wales and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, thanks to the innovative Swedish record label, BIS.

There is one stirring piece that has not, as yet, been recorded for posterity. Written especially for the Welsh Proms at St. David’s Hall, Cardiff (a concert series founded in 1986 by Owain Arwel Hughes), it is that national favourite – God Bless the Prince of Wales. A magnificent arrangement of a traditional hymn of praise to Wales and its Prince, Hughes conceived the work as a Welsh version of Jerusalem – something noble and heroic for a Celtic audience to sing at the end of their promenade concerts. With its evocations of “ancient mountains and lovely dales”, and the spirit of the people who dwell there, a nostalgia – or sense of hiraeth – fills the concert-hall. It is difficult to understand why the works of this pupil of Vaughan Williams and master in his own right should be so unfamiliar.

Alun Hoddinott

The inspiration for Wales’s other 20th century composers came from many different sources. For Alun Hoddinott (1929-2008), there was the lyricism of Welsh folk-music – idioms and archetypes incorporated into his sets of Welsh Dances (similar in spirit to Sir Malcolm Arnold’s English and Cornish Dances of the 1960s). He also set out to commemorate specific events in Welsh life, such as the Investiture of HRH The Prince of Wales in 1969. Three Investiture Dances were the result – a suite most definitely in the native style, but with a surprisingly dark-in-tone, slow central movement – which seems to take us into a strange, craggy region of mountains, Neolithic stones, and skies ruled by birds of prey.

Another composer from west of the Severn is Daniel Jones (1912-93), a remarkable man – friend of Dylan Thomas, wartime cryptographer, and the composer of 13 symphonies and eight string quartets. Jones did not self-consciously promote Welshness in his music, but rather produced his work as an artist who just happened to be born in Wales. An orchestral item of his was performed at the 1982 Proms, his Dance Fantasy, and I was able to obtain the composer’s autograph on the concert programme – Jones standing by the artists’ entrance, quite informally, at the end of the evening, genial, friendly and quite ‘everyday’ in his manner. Jones’s string quartets belong to the same sound-world as the chamber music of Britten or Tippett. They are brilliantly well-crafted, and yet seem to evoke mind’s-eye images of sea or landscapes in Pembrokeshire and west Wales.

Sir Edward German

One piece of music that is self-consciously Cambrian is Welsh Rhapsody by Sir Edward German, a composer born in England – but with Welsh blood in his veins – and originally known as Edward German Jones. He is, perhaps, best known for his lyrical light opera, Merrie England, but also gained considerable acclaim in his lifetime with music for many other plays; for coronation music for George V, and symphonies (one subtitled, The Norwich).

Now to the wild domains of Scotland, and Victorian and Edwardian high-romanticism. It fell to a Scottish composer, Hamish MacCunn (1868-1916), to create a musical world of drama and legend – MacCunn being, perhaps, the Sir Walter Scott of orchestral works and opera. MacCunn was one of the first students at the new Royal College of Music, which was founded by the future Edward VII, and opened in 1882, and his best-known work is The Land of the Mountain and the Flood, a piece of great melody, atmosphere and power. Just like Mendelssohn’s Fingal’s Cave, MacCunn’s scene-painting has an immediate fresh-air, open-air quality; with the drama and overwhelming presence of majestic natural forces flowing through his rich score. Scottish moorland, mountains, rivers, and shifting weather conditions are all felt in the overture, with a sense of Scottish clans, border raids, blood feuds and ancient folklore never far away.

Cecil Coles

Then there was Cecil Coles, who entered the Royal College of Music in 1907. Coles was influenced by Highland themes and landscape, and a number of years ago at the Proms, the National Youth Orchestra of Scotland performed his bright, energetic The Comedy of Errors. Coles served in the Great War, and actually became bandmaster of his regiment, but, like his English contemporaries George Butterworth and Ernest Farrar, he was killed, in his case whilst helping retrieve injured comrades by dragging them back to the British lines. Who knows where British music might have gone, and what works might have been created, had not the war cut down such talents?

Sir Hamilton Harty

Similar inspirations – landscape, longing, memory, history – but this time in the landscape of the island of Ireland, can be enjoyed in the Irish Symphony and tone-poems, With the Wild Geese and The Children of Lir by Sir Hamilton Harty, a charismatic conductor and composer, born in County Down in 1879. Again, the name – Hamilton Harty – is unfamiliar to modern concert audiences, although recordings by the National Symphony Orchestra of Ireland, and the Ulster Orchestra, have at least maintained his presence on CD. The muscular, immediately impressive styles of Berlioz or Tchaikovsky come to mind in the Irish composer’s assertive, call-to-arms, yet occasionally dreamy music. With the Wild Geese is especially intriguing, Harty’s wild spirits being the Irish soldiers who fought with the French at the Battle of Fontenoy in 1745, but whose spirits returned to the skies and lands of Ireland in the form of a flock of birds.

The great wealth of music and musical inspiration from across the British Isles is to be treasured and cherished, and yet it seems that apart from a few specialist music festivals, BBC Radio 3 and the occasional outing for one or two of the works mentioned, our composers and their works are largely unknown. Modern society’s obsessions with dissolving the past, living only for the moment, and our general, gradual journey into a malaise of self-doubt are all taking us away from the bedrock of our culture. Now, more than ever, we need to find again our national voices in art and music – to re-anchor and rediscover the music of the isles.