Aureole etc.




Golden Age singers

Nimbus on-line




Faure songs
Charlotte de Rothschild (soprano);

  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett


© Basil Tschaikov 2006
Index page

Back to Chapter 25

 

26

Where now?

The influence of– folk music – popular music on classical – classical music on popular. Acoustic and electronic instruments. Electronic Music. The three Tenors – ‘popular’ classical music. Increasing ‘classical-crossover’ – steep decline in symphonic recordings. Up dating opera productions. Hope for the future.

At neither the International Society for Music in Education conference in Innsbruck in 1985, when I chose as the subject for my talk ‘The Symphony Orchestra: into the 21st century’, nor a year later at the Wheatland Foundation conference, did any of us anticipate how soon so many people would have computers that would give them access to music programmes and radio stations world-wide. Or that they would be able to download and record music so easily. By the late 1990s and the start of the 21st century mobile phones and mp3 had become commonplace and a few years later so had the iPod.

Composers have always found inspiration from, or been influenced by, the popular music in their environment – their own folk music – from Haydn who drew on Croatian and Gypsy melodies to Bartók, Kodály, Vaughan Williams and Charles Ives who made use of American folk tunes and ragtime dances. Once composed, commercial popular music began to replace folk music as ‘the music of the people’ to some extent popular and classical music gained inspiration from each other.

Not long after the beginning of the 20th century some classical composers, though they did not borrow melodies, started to use the rhythms and stylistic effects of the new popular music – ragtime and jazz. Debussy in 1908 for the Golliwog’s Cakewalk, Stravinsky for his Ragtime for 11 Instruments in 1918 and Milhaud in 1922 in La création du monde and a Jazz Symphony and a Jazz Sonata by George Antheil are early examples.

Examples of another form of crossover, that between the popular music of the first half of the 20th century, jazz, and western classical music, were two compositions premiered in the 1950s. The Swiss composer Rolf Liebermann’s Concerto for Jazz Band and Symphony Orchestra, written in 1954, not only combines jazz and symphonic music but makes use of serialism as well. It has had a number of performances and was still being played in 2003 when it was in the programme of the New York Pops at Carnegie Hall. Another serialist attracted to the hybrid jazz/orchestra was Matyás Seiber who came to England from Hungary in 1935, when he was already 30. He had always been interested in jazz and when he received a commission from the London Philharmonic in 1958 decided to collaborate with John Dankworth to compose Improvisations for Jazz Band and Symphony Orchestra. Richard Rodney Bennett, best known for his film and concert music, was asked by the great American tenor saxophonist Stan Getz if he would compose a concerto for him. Bennett’s wide musical sympathies, which include both jazz and serialism – the latter no doubt as a result of his study in Paris with Pierre Boulez – made him an ideal choice. However, this was his first venture into crossover. Unfortunately, Getz died in 1990, before the concerto was completed. The first performance had to wait until 1992 when the very fine British saxophonist John Harle played it at the Proms.

In 1922, George Gershwin, then only 24, composed a short 25 minute jazz opera Blue Monday, which was orchestrated by Will Vodery. Paul Whiteman who had conducted the 1922 performance was so impressed that he asked Gershwin to compose a symphonic jazz piece for him to conduct at a concert he was planning. It was for this concert in 1924 that Gershwin composed his best known work, The Rhapsody in Blue, which was orchestrated by Ferde Grofé. The concert in New York’s Aeolian Hall was a major event and attended by amongst many Stravinsky, Rakhmaninov, Kreisler, Heifetz, Stokowski and other notable musicians. When the following year Blue Monday, now renamed 135th Street, was given a concert performance in Carnegie Hall, it was re-orchestrated by Ferde Grofé. After that Gershwin went on to compose (and orchestrate himself), the Concerto in F for piano and orchestra, An American in Paris and the opera Porgy and Bess, at the same time as he was composing popular songs – Fascinating Rhythm, The Man I Love, and countless other wonderful songs and musicals – Oh Kay!, Funny Face, Strike up the Band and the music for Fred Astaire and Ginger Rodgers films. All before his early death at 39.

Gershwin, though not a classically trained composer, was the first to compose what might be called symphonic jazz and has probably been the most successful in composing jazz orientated music for the symphony orchestra. However, he was not the first to compose a serious piece in the style that had originated in the southern states of America at the beginning of the century. In 1911 the Negro composer Scott Joplin, best known for his Maple Leaf Rag and The Entertainer, published at his own expense Treemonisha, his attempt to create an indigenous black opera. It received a single concert performance with piano accompaniment in 1915 but, to his great disappointment, failed to gain approval. However, a staged revival in 1975 by the Houston Grand Opera Company with a new orchestration by Gunther Schuller, who also conducted the performances, was a very considerable success. It is reported that the finale A Real Slow Drag had to be encored three times. After the performances in Houston the opera was taken on tour and recorded in 1976 by Deutsche Grammophon. I heard A Real Slow Drag when it was played at the Proms, sung by Jeíssye Norman with chorus and orchestra, in a very exciting performance which was enthusiastically received by the Prom audience.

While in the past it was classical composers finding inspiration in popular music, since the beginning of the 20th century the tide has turned and it has been popular music that has been raiding the classical repertoire. I remember I’m Always Chasing Rainbows, based on the Fantasie Impromptu in C Sharp Minor by Chopin, still being very popular when I was a child in the late 1920s and early 1930s. Amongst many classical compositions that were used in popular music in the 1930s, 40s, and 50s, were a Mozart piano sonata, which became In an Eighteenth-Century Drawing Room, Song of India, Tommy Dorsey’s arrangement of one of the themes in Scheherazade by Rimsky-Korsakov and Summer Moon, based on the Berceuse from Stravinsky’s ballet music for The Firebird, which Lauritz Melchior sang with considerable success. George Forrest and Robert Wright, who had had a big success, first in New York and then in 1946 in London with Song of Norway, a reworking of themes from the music of Grieg, then plundered the music by Borodin for Kismet, an even bigger success. During its London run in 1953 I played in the orchestra a number of times. Forrest and Wright had arranged the music tastefully, but could not escape trivialising Borodin’s original. The best known song Stranger in Paradise was based on a melody from the Polovtsian Dances in Borodin’s opera Prince Igor and the String Quartet in D provided Baubles, Bangles and Beads and And this is my Beloved , the quartet’s lovely second movement, originally in 3/4 time now changed to 4/4. Even that could not wholly spoil this wonderful music. I wonder if those who had not heard Borodin’s music before (the large majority) will have enjoyed it any less, in its somewhat debased form, than those of us who had enjoyed the original?

Few contemporary composers seem to have drawn on rock music for inspiration to any extent so far though from the late 1950s and until the present time a surprising number of pop and rock artists and groups have incorporated extracts from or allusions to classical music. Elvis Presley had two massive hits: the first It’s Now or Never making use of O Sole Mio, which many years earlier had served Caruso very well. It had another outing as the backing for a long-running TV advert for a well-know ice-cream. The other, I Can’t Help Falling in Love With You included an old favourite Plaisir d’Amour, by the 18th century composer Padre Giovanni Martini. An example of classic rock’s borrowing from another genre was Procol Harum’s number one hit in the UK charts in the 1960s A Whiter Shade of Pale. In this they made use of Bach’s Air on the G String (often mistakenly written in Internet record advertisements as Air on a G String – a rather unfortunate error) and Sleepers Awake, from his Cantata no.140. Annie’s Song, with a little help from the big tune in the second movement of Tchaikovsky’s 5th Symphony provided both John Denver and the flautist James Galway with major hits and, more recently, Muse, a hard rock band, which has quite frequently blended classical music elements with their own, sampled some of Rakhmaninov’s Second Piano Concerto for their song Space Dementia in their album Origin of Symmetry.

In 1967 the group the Moody Blues was asked to make a rock version of Dvorak’s New World Symphony, but succeeded in persuading the record company to let them write their own composition instead. Probably the first example of crossover of pop group and symphony orchestra was when this group recorded Days of Future Past, which was orchestrated by the well-known composer and arranger Peter Knight, with the London Festival Orchestra. For their subsequent adventures into this kind of composition they used the mellotron (a synthesiser that contains samples of all the orchestral instruments), which was no doubt considerably cheaper than engaging an orchestra.

A more interesting example of pop and symphony crossover was when in 1969 Deep Purple, a hard rock-group joined the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra for a concert in the Royal Albert Hall to play Jon Lord’s Concerto for Group and Orchestra, conducted by Malcolm Arnold (later Sir Malcolm). The rehearsals did not go well – the orchestra which had been rehearsing Arnold’s 6th Symphony (the first piece in the concert) were not too happy to be working with a pop group and it seems not too co-operative either. It took all Malcolm’s charm plus, at one point some extremely strong language, to pull things together. A recording of this concert (not including the symphony) was issued in 1970. 30 years later, in 1999, Deep Purple did two performances (one now issued as a DVD) of Concerto for Group and Orchestra, this time with the London Symphony Orchestra.. Malcolm Arnold was to have conducted but sadly by then he was not well enough and Paul Mann took his place.

In 1970, the year after their very successful concert, Malcolm Arnold again conducted the group, this time with the orchestra of the Light Music Society, in another piece by Jon Lord, his Gemini Suite, which had been commissioned by the BBC.. It was recorded ‘live’ at the concert, but not issued until many years later as Gemini Suite Live. A year after the concert a studio recording of a revised version of the Suite was issued under its original title.

A number of composers have tried to combine western classical music with that of another culture. One of the first was John Mayer who from the 1950s was blending Indian and Western music. Born in India he came to Britain as a very young man to study violin and composition at the Royal Academy of Music. He joined the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra as a violinist whilst I was in the orchestra and we became friends. In fact, in 1960 he composed several short exercises for my tutor First Tunes and Studies. A few years earlier Sir Charles Groves, then conductor of the Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, commissioned Mayer to compose a piece for his orchestra and in 1958 they gave the first performance of Mayer’s Dance Suite, for sitar, flute, tabla, tambura and orchestra – it would probably now be called ‘crossover’..

In 1966 Mayer teamed up with the great Jamaican alto saxophonist Joe Harriott to form an ensemble Indo-Jazz Fusions: The Joe Harriott-John Mayer Double Quintet. The band combined elements of classical, jazz and Indian music, with on the Indo side John Mayer on violin and harpsichord, plus sitar, flute tabla and tambura, and on the jazz side Joe Harriott on alto plus trumpet, piano, bass, and drums. The band had considerable success and made some very good recordings. When Joe Harriott died in 1973 Mayer decided to close the band down and it was not until more than twenty years later that he decided in 1995 to re-form the band again, this time as John Mayer’s Indo-Jazz Fusions, with a group of much younger musicians. He said that he felt that this new group out-performed the Harriott-era ensemble because now they had far more familiarity and facility with Hindustani improvisational techniques. This group produced several CDs and continued until Mayer’s death in 2004.

It is not possible to write about the effect that the cross-fertilisation of so many varied musics has brought about without mentioning Frank Zappa. He was one of the most remarkably gifted and eclectic performers and composers of our time. In his relatively short life – he was born in 1940 and died aged only 52 in 1993 – he played and composed in every style from blues to avant-garde, taking in jazz , many forms of rock, including rock-opera, and the most contemporary techniques of classical music of his era on the way. In his own compositions of orchestral music he was particularly influenced when a very young man by Stravinsky and Webern and in particular by Edgard Varèse and included sprechstimme (a kind of speaking/singing voice) in a similar way to Arnold Schoenberg and Alban Berg.

Zappa recorded a programme of his own music with the London Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Kent Nagano and in 1992, a year before his death, he had a tremendous success in Frankfurt at a concert of his own work with the Ensemble Modern. His recorded legacy of every kind of popular (and unpopular) music is immense. It includes recordings with his group The Mothers of Invention, jazz and, quite
Click for larger picture
amazingly, a recording he made in collaboration with Pierre Boulez at IRCAM. On Boulez Conducts Zappa: The Perfect Stranger a number of the tracks are played by the Ensemble InterContemporain, conducted by Pierre Boulez and the rest are played by Zappa on the synclavier (a cross between a synthesiser and a computer, an instrument that became a favourite for Zappa ), under the strange name the Barking Pumpkin Digital Gratification Consort.

Frank Zappa was, perhaps more than anyone else, a one-man melting pot of the world’s music – the complete crossover man. This extraordinary and quite frequently outrageous and satirical man, as well as being a remarkably creative musician, was also a virtuoso guitarist, an accomplished commercial artist, a recording and mastering engineer and a skilled producer of his own work..

As long ago as 1907 there was an interest in how electricity could be harnessed to increase the vocabulary of sounds that could be used to compose music. In his book Sketch for a New Aesthetic of Music published that year Ferruccio Busoni discussed the use of electrical and other new sound sources in future music. He wrote of the future of music: Music as art, our so-called occidental music, is hardly four hundred years old; its state is one of development, perhaps the very first stage of a development beyond present conception. And we talk of ‘classics’ and ‘hallowed traditions’! And we have talked of them for a long time! We have formulated rules, stated principles, laid down laws — we apply laws made for maturity to a child that knows nothing of responsibility! This child-music – it floats on air! It touches not the earth with its feet. It knows no law of gravitation. It is well nigh incorporeal. Its material is transparent. It is sonorous air. It is almost Nature herself. It is free! But freedom is something that mankind has never wholly comprehended, never realised to the full. Man can neither recognise nor acknowledge it. He disavows the mission of this child; he hangs weights upon it. This buoyant creature must walk decently, like anyone else. It may scarcely be allowed to leap — when it were its joy to follow the line of the rainbow, and to break sunbeams with the clouds!

Varèse, a pupil of Busoni, was influenced by him to a great extent. When he was still studying at the Paris Conservatoire he was already saying ‘I refuse to submit to sounds that have already been heard. Rules do not make a work of art. You have the right to compose what you want to, in the way you want to. I long for instruments obedient to my thought and whim, with their contribution of a whole new world of unsuspected sounds, which will lend themselves to the exigencies of my inner rhythm’

I recall that in the 1940s while I was still a student I had one of those small, six or seven inch, 78 rpm records with pieces by Varèse on it. They were both extremely avant garde – Ionisation, written for percussion instruments, and Octandre for woodwind and brass. Varèse felt constrained by the conventions of the orchestral palette and believed that composition could be freed by the use of electronic devices. He said, ‘The raw material of music is sound’ and he became so frustrated that he was unable to continue composing with the sounds produced by the instruments available to him. He felt that composers were obsessed with tradition and were limited by the composers who had preceded them. He anticipated that a machine would be invented that would provide opportunities to explore a far greater range of pitch and volume and release us from the restrictions of the tempered scale.

Once the tape recorder had been perfected in the early 1940s it was not long before composers were splicing together a variety of sounds, musical, mechanical and natural, to produce what came to be called Musique concrète, which has been used most effectively as background music for radio, TV and films. It has also been used with success by both classical and popular composers that include Pierre Boulez, the Beatles, Karlheinz Stockhausen, Pink Floyd and Iannis Xenakis.

For a long time Varèse ceased to compose until in the 1950s when composers had started using some of the new technologies that had become available – he was already in his seventies – he came to life again. Probably the first important composition to use taped sounds and acoustic instruments was his Deserts, composed between 1950 and 1954. His next composition Poeme Electronique was performed in the Philips pavilion, at the World Fair in 1958, largely through the efforts of the great architect Le Corbusier. The pavilion was designed under Le Corbusier’s direction by another composer Iannis Xenakis (also an architect), one of whose works was also played at this concert.

Poeme Electronique includes a great variety of recorded sounds which were heard by visitors to the pavilion from the 425 loudspeakers positioned around the hall. It is hardly surprising that further performances have been limited – if, indeed, there have been any. In 2006 the Library of Congress issued a recording using the tapes that Varese had made for the original performance.

From the 1950s onwards more and more devices were invented that enabled music to be composed entirely without instrumentalists or with a combination of acoustic and electronic instruments. Compositions that combined acoustic and electronic instruments such as Turangalîla-Symphonie by Olivier Messiaen, first performed in 1949, which requires a very large orchestra and an ondes Martenot, still remain in the orchestral repertoire. By the 1960s synthesisers were becoming more manageable and in the 1970s both classical and rock musicians were making more use of them. In 1977 IRCAM opened at the Pompidou Centre in Paris, under Pierre Boulez’s direction with Luciano Berio and Vinko Globokar also involved. By then a variety of synthesisers were being used by virtually all rock bands. It was already unusual to see an acoustic instrument being played in any of the bands and when they were they would be electronically enhanced. They needed to be if they were to be heard. To begin with the groups used analogue synthesisers but by the late 1970s a number of digital synthesisers would become available as well as synclaviers, samplers and other electronic devices.

Radio, TV and film were quick to make use of the effects that the electronic instruments could provide. In the 1950s the BBC Radiophonic Workshop started to use them to provide music and effects of all kinds and the ever popular TV series Dr. Who has from 1963 to the present day always used these instruments to provide background music. A particularly effective use of the unearthly sounds these instruments can produce was in the 1971 film A Clockwork Orange.

I have never had any involvement in playing in any rock or pop groups. My only personal contact with this field of music has been through Rick Wakeman. In the late 1960s when he was a student at the Royal College of Music – his principal study was the piano – he came to me for clarinet lessons, his second study. It was clear to me from the start that his interest in playing the clarinet was minimal, but he was an agreeable chap and I got him talking about what interested him. I don’t think he learned much from me about playing the clarinet since I doubt that he made any attempt to play it from one lesson to the next. However, I did learn a good deal about pop and rock music from him. It was not long before he left and within a year or two I was seeing his name as a prominent keyboard player, first of all in 1971 with a very successful band at that time, Yes. His use of electronic keyboards became legendary, and on videos I have seen him surrounded by a vast array of keyboards, usually playing two at a time and going swiftly from one pair to another. He was something of a showman, as many pop and rock stars are, frequently appearing wearing a silver cape.

A few years later I received a phone call from the BBC asking me if I would take part in a programme they were making about Wakeman. His fame was such that they were making a documentary about his life and wanted to include something about his time at the College. As it seems he had told them I was the only one at the College that he had any time for would I be willing to be interviewed whilst giving a lesson at the Royal College of Music? The BBC had to get permission from the College, which they gave, though I don’t think it did anything to enhance my reputation there. On the other hand when the programme was broadcast I was able to bathe in reflected glory. I was amazed at the number of neighbours and acquaintances who saw the programme and were impressed at my being in it.

In a previous chapter I have written about light music, the music that a great many people enjoyed. They preferred Ketelbey, Eric Coates, selections from operas and ballets (‘the tuneful bits’)the music played in restaurants, and the BBC Music While You Work and other light music broadcasts. I remember when I was a young man hearing them say, ‘I like music – but not that heavy stuff ‘. Later light music orchestras like those of George Melachrino, Eric Robinson and Mantovani captured the same audience. In the 1960s two other groups that became very popular with this audience were the Play Bach Trio and the Swingle Singers.

The Play Bach Trio, also known as the Jacques Loussier Trio, consisted of Jacques Loussier on piano plus double bass and percussion. The trio used Bach’s compositions as the basis for their tasteful jazz improvisations which, though some serious music lovers hated what they felt was sacrilege and the debasing of great music, continued to record and give concerts until they disbanded in 1980 having sold over six million records.

The Swingle Singers, an a cappella group of eight singers, with bass and drums to define the rhythm, began in 1962 when a group of freelance session singers working in Paris became tired of always singing background vocals - oo’s and ah’s – behind people like Charles Aznavour and Edith Piaf. They decided that in their spare time they would try out Ward Swingle’s suggestion and read through some of the preludes and fugues from Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier just to see if they were singable. They found that they were swinging Bach’s music quite naturally and as there were no words they improvised a kind of scat singing. By 1963 they felt confident enough to approach Philips with the idea that they might make a record. Philips agreed and when the recording, Bach’s Greatest Hits came out in the US it quickly became a great success.

For the next 10 years between touring they recorded about a dozen albums covering an extraordinary range of music, from Bach to Berio and Mozart to the Beatles and all sung in the same style as their first Bach recording. The classical music critics’ response ranged from enthusiastic to hostile. As with the Jacques Loussier Play Bach Trio there were some critics and music lovers who were appalled and one or two musicians I knew even believed that it was a sign of moral corruption.

In 1969 the Swingle Singers were asked by the New York Philharmonic Orchestra if they would premiere Sinfonia, a large work for orchestra and 8 voices composed by Luciano Berio. The premiere was conducted by Berio himself and recorded live by CBS. It was a couple of years after Ward Swingle had decided to disband the group in France and came to England in 1973 that Gavin Henderson, then manager of the Philharmonia, and I met Swingle and some other members of the group he had formed in Britain with the idea of them doing a performance of Sinfonia with the Philharmonia. At that time the Philharmonia did not have sufficient funds to risk putting on a concert that might not provide a large enough audience to cover the cost of mounting it. I think we were rather put off because we learned that they had tried a few times to combine works of Berio with their traditional repertoire and found that although the audience accepted arrangements of Bach, madrigals, folk songs and jazz standards, they drew the line at Berio. To quote Ward himself, ‘People sometimes come to a Sinfonia performance expecting to hear something like our ‘doo-boo-doo’ Bach – they generally look for the nearest exit after the first movement. Could they possibly have been expecting the Sinfonia from Bach’s Second Harpsichord Partita?’

In 1981 the group were asked to make another recording of Berio’s Sinfonia , with Pierre Boulez. conducting. In his book Swingle Singing. Ward Swingle recounts how Boulez, after a very loud and dissonant orchestral passage, stopped the orchestra and asked the 2nd bassoon player, ‘In the 9th bar of letter I, shouldn’t that be an F-sharp?’ The bassoon player realised his mistake but just couldn’t believe that Boulez could have heard it. I remember similar incidents when Boulez was conducting the Philharmonia.

Both the Jacques Loussier Trio and the Swingle Singers showed yet again that the vast majority of people wanted music with a tune. It doesn’t matter whether it is classical music, jazz, pop, rock or music from another culture, if it has a good tune, one that can be sung or hummed, even if somewhat inaccurately, they will be enjoyed. The multi-million sales of the Royal Philharmonic’s recordings proved that once again. The first of the Hooked on Classics series was issued in 1981 and continued successfully for a number of years and is reputed to have sold over ten million albums. The arrangements were made and conducted by Louis Clark who had been the arranger for the Electric Light Orchestra. His arrangements consisted mainly of adding a rhythmic beat to extracts from well-known works by classical composers. The beat would be fast or slow depending on the item. This small selection gives some idea of the eclectic repertoire covered by the original records issued on LPs: excerpts from; Also Sprach Zarathustra by Richard Strauss, the march Colonel Bogey by Kenneth Alford, Haydn’s Trumpet Concerto, the Rhapsody in Blue by George Gershwin, Bach’s Ave Maria, Capriccio Italien by Tchaikovsky, Mozart’s Rondo Alla Turca, a Violin Concerto by Vivaldi and the Gymnopédie No 2 by Erik Satie.

Again, though these recordings sold in their millions, there were those who were unhappy about what was being done to classical music. A review in the All Music Guide is a good example of the strength of feeling these recordings evoked: Devoid of any true musical worth, Hooked on Classics places many familiar classical themes to an oppressive synthetic drum track. These medleys are only of interest to those who always liked the tunes in classical music but wished there was a stronger backbeat.

By the 1990s there were so many forms of ‘popular music’ – what should we call them – pop, rock? Even ‘popular’ is not accurate as some of them have a more limited audience for their concerts and recordings than classical music has. On the other hand some have vast audiences. As a musician I have always been interested in what new music was being composed whether it was in my own field of classical and light music or rock and pop, but after the 1960s I found that it was only occasionally that I played or heard a new work with much pleasure. I listened if possible to the same piece several times to see if it would become more agreeable. In the main it did not. It seemed to me that all music was becoming increasingly cerebral or aggressive.

Muzak, or elevator music as it was sometimes called, because of its omnipresence in America in their lifts – I remember hearing it first when I was in the USA in 1950 with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra as we zoomed up and down twenty floors or more to our bedrooms – was musical wallpaper, but not unpleasant. Nor was ska, which became reggae in the late 1960s, or, as far as I was concerned the pop music into the 60s. But from the 1970s onwards I found the bewildering variety of genres and sub-genres of rock, with a few exceptions each louder and more aggressive than the last, less and less agreeable. Was this just because I was getting older – I was still only in my early fifties then – or because the environment was becoming more violent and producing a music that reflected the anger and resentment that seemed to be growing ever stronger? First punk rock and then hip hop and rap, part of a culture that includes graffiti, break-dancing and a particular attitude to dress, often seems to be one of the most aggressive.

Hip hop and many of the versions of rock that appeared from the late1980s, various electric dance musics –techno, rave, trance, drum and bass and ambient music, to name but a few –  used samplers, which allow sounds already recorded, whether music, mechanical or natural, to be re-recorded and made into a ‘composition’, sometimes by over-recording, over-lapping, adding new elements from an instrumentalist and a number of other techniques.

I had for sometime wondered why quite a few young men wore their trousers hanging from their hips in a way that I found less than attractive. It was a long time before I learned the reason for this fashion favoured by devotees of breakdancing to hip hop music, that includes jazz-rap and gangsta-rap. Breakdancing requires a great deal of energy and freedom of movement calling for clothes that are loose fitting. Baggy trousers are important. But why did they have to be worn as if they were about to fall down? I found out later that this form of dancing originated in the Bronx, in the 1980s a derelict and violent area of New York where gang warfare was rife. Many of the young men and some young women had at one time or another served a prison sentence during which their belts had been removed for obvious reasons. No doubt a combination of old habits and the wish to be comfortable when dancing – it is suggested that gang wars developed into gang dancing contests – resulted in this style of dress.

The heading ‘Music’ in British newspapers and magazines now nearly always refers only to pop and rock music. The New York Times also lists its news items about music in this way. Jazz, which had been such an influence on the early rock musicians and has continued to be an influence, now has a long enough history to cohabit with classical music on BBC Radio 3 and is often reviewed on the same page as classical music in up-market newspapers. Every month The Observer includes a colour supplement of about seventy-five pages called the Observer Music Monthly. It covers most forms of popular music and sometimes the rock influenced world music, but very seldom mentions classical and jazz.

The BBC’s magazine Radio Times, with sales of 1.1 million each week, has the second largest distribution of any magazine in Britain and is therefore seen, if not read, by a very large number of people. In July, during the 2006 BBC Prom season, nowhere throughout its 138 pages was there a section, or even a paragraph, about what is now called Classical music, a genre that also includes so much else that is not rock or pop. On the page headed MUSIC, now solely concerned with rock music, there was a highlighted section ‘This Week’s Music Choices’. The six choices for one week were: programmes about a new pop artist and her group; the Queen of Hip-Hop Soul; the Art of Pop; the Cambridge Folk Festival; the Queens of Heartache and a programme about a rock star whose behaviour as a result of his taking psychedelic drugs such as LSD led him to behave in such a disruptive and erratic way that his group had to engage another guitarist to back him up when he was hardly able to play.

To realise the extent that attitudes have changed one needs to recall that in1927, when Chappell's withdrew its financial support for the Promenade Concerts, the newly established British Broadcasting Corporation – the BBC – with Sir John Reith’s slogan ‘to inform, educate and entertain’, took over the promotion of the Proms. For the next three years the concerts were given by 'Sir Henry Wood and his Symphony Orchestra', until in 1930 the BBC established the BBC Symphony Orchestra, the first full-time symphony orchestra in Britain, and subsequently created a number of regional orchestras. The BBC has, to its very great credit, continued to promote the Proms for over seventy five years. But, clearly the spirit of Sir John no longer inhabits the Radio Times.

Of course rock is now no longer an infant or an adolescent music having been with us for over fifty years. Everyone under the age of sixty born into every economic class will have lived in an environment surrounded by this genre of music. Evidence for the effect this has had is provided by two excellent long-running programmes on BBC radio and TV.

The basis of the Radio 4 programme Desert Island Discs, which has been running for over sixty years, is that someone who has distinguished themselves in some way in politics, industry, business, sport, the arts or one of the professions is interviewed and chooses eight records they would wish to take if they were marooned on a desert island. In the past the choices were usually of classical and light music, some songs from musicals and jazz. Now it is predominantly of contemporary popular music of some kind.

University Challenge broadcast on BBC 2 pits two teams from different universities against each other to answer a number of wide-ranging difficult questions. These require considerable knowledge in many subjects that include the sciences, history, geography, politics, music and the arts. The average age of the four person teams is about twenty-one. These programmes have been so successful that they now do some programmes called University Challenge: the Professionals. Again two teams, average age forty-five to fifty-five,are pitted against each other to answer similar questions. When questions on music require answers it is clear that both age groups in general are poorly informed, but usually better informed about popular than classical music. Extracts that are selected from classical music that have been used as backing for TV advertisements are more likely to be correctly answered than others.

Can it be that, as well as being tuneful, compositions such as the Verdi Requiem, Copland’s ballet music for Rodeo, Carmina Burana by Carl Orff, Dvorak’s New World Symphony,and one of Mozart’s piano concertos, which was used as background music for the film Elvira Madigan and which is now often called by the title of the film, rather than the boring ‘No.21’, were chosen because they are all out of copyright and incur no royalties?

The concert held the evening before the 1990 FIFA World Cup in Rome, held to raise money for José Carreras’s International Leukaemia Foundation – he had recently recovered from leukaemia – also gave his friends Plácido Domingo and Luciano Pavarotti the opportunity to welcome him back after his successful treatment. It was a great success and was the start of The Three Tenors phenomenon. They repeated their success at subsequent Cup Finals in Los Angeles (1994), Paris (1998) and Yokohama (2002). They also gave concerts in other towns to enormous audiences, usually in large out-door venues and did not restrict their repertoire to only operatic extracts. They included items as varied as Torero Quiera by Manuel Panella Miguel Roai, You’ll Never Walk Alone by Rodgers and Hammerstein, Granada by Augustín Lara, I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas and Amazing Grace. These concerts shown on TV and available on recordings appealed to the world-wide audiences that enjoyed concerts put on by Raymond Gubbay and others, the Classic FM type broadcasts and the recordings and concerts by artists such as the Jacques Loussier Trio and the Swingle Singers.

As might be expected there were opera buffs who scorned the selection of bits out of the operas, torn from their proper settings and sometimes sung by all three tenors at the same time, while there were others who felt that these concerts brought opera to many who had previously had no contact with it before, though there is no evidence that the audiences at opera houses increased as a result of this exposure. Rather it proved, once again, that what the majority of people enjoy is ‘a good tune’. Not long before he died Sir Thomas Beecham put it more succinctly: he is quoted as saying, ‘The function of music is to release us from the tyranny of conscious thought.’ Recent enquiries into whether the sound of music can actually help those experiencing pain seem to suggest that it can. At the same time there is sufficient evidence that some forms of rock have very much the opposite effect. Perhaps neither of these phenomena should surprise us: mothers have been singing lullabies to their infants, lovers serenading and warriors singing, dancing and marching to victory or defeat, as far back in time as we have any information.

The vastly greater profits made by the record company, in spite of the tremendous fees paid to the three tenors and their conductors Zubin Mehta and James Levine, accelerated the classical record industry’s decision to follow the path taken by popular music, which had shown for at least thirty years that the crossover of genres increased sales. It was around this time that I first became aware of the phrase Classical Crossover. The sale of classical recordings, however successful even in the halcyon times from the 1950s into the 1980s, had never matched in number and therefore profitability that of other more popular music recordings. The up-front cost of engaging a symphony orchestra, a famous conductor and perhaps a soloist is so much greater than for other music, and more sessions are required to produce a symphony lasting anything from thirty to fifty minutes or longer; furthermore, as a rule, because of its complexity, less music can be successfully recorded in each three hour session. This has always been reflected in the recording fees the Musicians’ Union has agreed for the members of symphony orchestras, which from the start of recording have always been lower than for the recording of all other forms of music, which require fewer musicians, take less time to record and sell in greater numbers.

The tradition of symphony orchestras playing non-symphonic music goes back a long way. Four years after the formation of the Boston Symphony Orchestra in 1881 the Boston Pops Orchestra was founded as an off-shoot of the symphony orchestra – in effect the symphony orchestra without its principal players, what in America they call their ‘first chair men’. The major orchestras all had co- principals, as the BBC Symphony Orchestra had in 1930 when my father was the co-principal clarinet with Frederick Thurston. The Pops Orchestra’s programmes consisted of light classical music, tunes from the current hit musicals, and sometimes a novelty piece. The Pops programs are much the same now except that the items from musicals and the novelty pieces have changed. From 1930, when Arthur Fiedler became its principal conductor, the orchestra is reputed to have sold the most recordings of any orchestra – in total over 50 million, in a variety of formats. The most popular has been Sleigh Ride by Leroy Anderson, not a piece usually found in a symphony orchestra’s repertoire. Since 1980 John Williams, famous for his film music that includes Star Wars and Indiana Jones, has been their principal conductor. Of a number of other Pops orchestras in America the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra, under its conductor Erich Kunzel, has since 1977 probably been the most successful and like the Boston Pops has made many recordings.

The continuing success of the Three Tenors throughout the 1990s led the record companies to search for other recordings that would sell in their millions – The Three Tenors in Concert sold ten million copies. In 1992 the recording of the contemporary Polish composer Henryk Górecki’s Third Symphony, for soprano and orchestra, sold more than 1 million CDs and for a time was played regularly on Classic FM. Even more remarkable was the success of Chant, a record of Gregorian chant sung by Benedictine monks in northern Spain, which achieved sales of over four million copies.

Increasing numbers of easy listening albums of extracts from the most popular classical music and opera and recordings of lighter music played by outstanding artists like Itzhak Perlman and Joshua Bell began to appear in place of new recordings by the orchestras. In 1995 the young violinist Vanessa Mae released an album The Violin Player that featured her playing a fusion of classics, pop, rock and techno – compositions that ranged from Bach to rock. She was also featured emerging from the sea with her dress wet and clinging to her shapely body. Being young, attractive, and if possible sexy, became a feature of what was by then becoming known as Classical Crossover.

For many years the Grammy Awards for Classical Music had been the most prestigious prizes for classical music and musicians. In 1999 a new category was added – Best Classical Crossover Album. The first one was awarded to the cellist Yo-Yo Ma for his recording of Soul of the Tango - The Music of Astor Piazzolla. Some of the most recent winners have been the violinist Joshua Bell with the percussionist Evelyn Glennie and others for Perpetual Motion, André Previn with the London Symphony Orchestra for Previn Conducts Korngold (the film music for Sea Hawk; Captain Blood, etc.) and in 2006 The Turtle Island String Quartet and the Ying Quartet for 4+four. This is one of the most interesting awards so far. Turtle Island String Quartet, an innovative string group, improvises and arranges an extraordinary range of music that includes jazz standards classical, country, rock, New Age, swing, Latin and Middle Eastern music. On this particular album they have collaborated with the Ying Quartet and include their usual variety of sources plus a re-arranged version of Darius Milhaud’s La Création du Monde.

A year later, in 2000, the British Phonographic Industry (BPI), the organisation of record companies, decided to start the Classical Brit. awards. The Brit Awards, the pop industry’s awards, had for many years been a very successful marketing device and it was hoped that the Classical Brits would do the same for the ailing classical market. Until then there had only been the Gramophone Awards for classical music. Voting for the awards was by a committee that included industry executives, representatives from the media, the British Association of Record Dealers, members of the Musicians Union, lawyers, promoters, and orchestra leaders. I have always been interested in who the ‘orchestra leaders’ have been as I have never come across anyone who admitted being involved in the voting, The categories in the first year were: British Artist of the Year, Female Artist of the Year, Album of the Year, Young British Classical Performer and Outstanding Contribution to Music. The award for Best Album of the Year is voted for by listeners to Classic FM.

That year the British Artist of the Year Award was given to the fourteen year old Charlotte Church whose recording Voice of an Angel, on which she sang arias, sacred and traditional songs had been a big success. Three years later on Dream a Dream she sang mostly Christmas carols and pop songs. This was the start of her future career as a pop singer. The other awards were received by Martha Argerich, Bryn Terfel, Andrea Bocelli (for Sacred Arias, the Album of the Year), Daniel Harding and Nigel Kennedy. In the following years the categories changed and additional categories were added. In 2001 the Album of the Year was Russell Watson’s The Voice; in 2002 the Biggest-selling Classical Album was Russell Watson’s Encore and the Outstanding Contribution to Music went Andrea Bocelli who in 1993 won the Album of the Year with Sentimento; the 1994 Album of the Year was won by Bryn Terfel with Bryn; in 2005 and 2006 the Album of the Year went to Katherine Jenkins.

When Peter Gelb, then the President of Sony Classical, said in 1997 ‘For the classical record industry, the writing is already on the wall’, I wonder if he foresaw the extent to which this would have come true by 2006? By then the major labels were only infrequently producing new recordings. The smaller companies, Harmonia Mundi, Hyperion, Chandos, Opera Rara and the low-cost phenomenon Naxos continued to be more successful.

By 2006 a number of major orchestras in Europe and the USA – the first in Britain had been the London Symphony Orchestra in 1999 – began issuing recordings on their own labels. The Musicians’ Union was obliged to allow the orchestras to record their concert performances without any additional fee to the musicians on the understanding that when the sales provided sufficient profit the musicians would receive a share. This did away with the cost previously incurred of paying a large number of musicians for recording the music in the studio and, of course it reduced the income earned by the musicians. As the average sales for each recording has been in the 8000/12,000 range the profit required to pay an orchestra of eighty has yet to be reached. However, in the circumstances the musicians are glad if the recordings act as a spur to audiences attending their concerts. It is now even possible at the end of some concerts to buy a recording of the first part of the concert you have just attended.

There is not a lot that can be done to change the format of the symphony concert in order to make it more attractive to those who have been affected by the popular music with which they have been surrounded all their lives and the changed listening habits that the new means of communication have brought about. Various attempts have been made – by the orchestra wearing a more contemporary style of dress; changing the time the concerts are held so as to make it easier for the audience to come straight from work or having a shorter, one hour concert at lunch time; creating a more friendly, intimate atmosphere by the conductor talking to the audience about the programme; having a glass of wine before or after the concert with an opportunity to meet and talk to members of the orchestra – but nothing has made any real difference.

It has been much easier in the opera house to bring productions more up to date . Among Jonathan Miller’s many opera productions both his 1982 production of Verdi’s Rigoletto for which the setting of the opera is changed from Mantua to Little Italy, with the Mafia replacing the Duke’s court, and his version of Bizet’s Carmen which he up-dated to Franco’s Spain, were extremely successful. The American Peter Sellars’s productions have been rather more radical (though some of Miller’s later productions followed suit). Sellars set Mozart’s Così fan tutte in a diner on Cape Cod, The Marriage of Figaro in a grand apartment in Trump Tower in New York and Don Giovanni in New York’s Spanish Harlem. His production of Don Giovanni that I saw, with sub-titles in English, so changed not only the milieu but changed the characters in such a way that it seemed to me the nature of the work became distorted.

But this was as nothing compared with what Glyndebourne decided to do as part of their education programme. For several years they have tried to stimulate an interest in opera in children, believing that if you catch them young enough a future audience will be created. Misper, for the under twelves, and Zoei intended for teenagers are both original works by John Lunn. They were written for and performed by the children themselves, in collaboration with professionals. They received praise from the critics but have not maintained a place in Glyndebourne’s repertoire nor been put on elsewhere. Zoe was shown on Channel 4 but had poor viewing figures. Then in 2005 an ‘operatic thriller’ in three acts, Tangier Tattoo, again by John Lunn was mounted, this time aimed at an older audience, the eighteen to thirty year olds. The general director David Pickard said ‘It’s quite racy – that’s partly because we wanted to create a piece that that particular age group could relate to’. Like the previous two Lunn operas the story had similar ingredients to many TV series and plays – sex, violence, intrigue and mystery. Depending on the age range of the audience the degree of each element has varied. The music for Tangier Tango is very loud, making use of elements of pop music and electronic samples, so that the singers had to be ‘miked’. Even though operas have sometimes failed because the story and libretto have been unsatisfactory, in the end if the music is really good even a stupid story will not wreck it. Lunn’s music does not seem to have been strong enough to attract a young or an older audience.

I was saddened, remembering the wonderful performances I had been so fortunate to take part in at Glyndebourne, to read that the following year, in yet another endeavour to attract a younger audience, Glyndebourne had asked the rapper Paradise to create a hip hop opera from Mozart’s Così fan tutte. When he was asked how he came to be involved in this project he said ‘…they wanted to reach the youth, because they felt their target audience was too narrow, about 65 and over. They wanted to tap into the youth culture as well, and a guy in Germany actually came up with the idea of ‘hip h’opera’, fusing elements of hip hop and opera…’. In March 2006. the transformation of Così fan tutte into School 4 Lovers by rapper Paradise and the producer and saxophonist Charlie Parker changed the setting from Naples to an inner city estate and the role of Don Alfonso was played by the rapper Paradise who said this fusion was ‘ neither culture shock, nor culture clash – this is cultural evolution!’

The comments in the press, before the opera was actually produced, about the kind of ‘street’ language co-opted into the adaptation called Hip-Hop Così: ‘School 4 Lovers’ were unfavourable. I have been unable to find out whether any of the three performances that the opera house told me were sold out were attended by the critics, as there seem to have been no reviews. However, it seems to me we do not need to be worried on Mozart’s or his librettist Da Ponte’s behalf. This masterpiece has survived several centuries and even though it had to wait until 1910 for Beecham to give its first unexpurgated performance in Britain it has lost none of its beauty and insight. What is so worrying is that because no work of our own time is attractive enough to entice an audience it was considered necessary to distort and even cannibalise one of the most beautiful operas in order to provide contemporary entertainment.

The Spanish director Calixto Bieito’s staging, first for Barcelona and then for English National Opera, of Un ballo in maschera by Verdi, in which in the opening scene the conspirators are found sitting on the toilet with their trousers down was even more disagreeable than School 4 Lovers. Still, we must be grateful that so far we have been spared his violation of Mozart’s The Abduction from the Seraglio for the Komische Oper in Berlin. He decided that this opera is about prostitution, drug abuse and sadistic violence. The details are too disgusting to describe and would certainly have received an x certificate if it had been a film.

The changes in life style and listening habits referred to earlier have over the past twenty years or so had an increasing effect on the music profession. By the end of the 1990s the reduction in the amount of work available and the earning capacity of musicians in Britain had declined sufficiently for the Musicians’ Union to commission a survey of musicians’ employment in the period between 1978 and 1998. The report of the research carried out at Westminster University, Nice Work if you can get it! A survey of Musicians’ Employment, was published in 2000. In comparing the situation with twenty years earlier the researchers found that less work was available in all sectors of the profession – less live performance, broadcasting, recording and teaching than previously and that fees in general were worth less in real terms. It was also noted that in a number of orchestras fewer musicians were now being employed.

The decline had been felt most keenly by orchestral musicians for whom broadcasting and recording had been an important source of income for both those in the London orchestras and free-lance players. The report showed that not only had there had been a reduction in employment but also that the number of players engaged full-time in the contract orchestras, in which average salaries remained pitifully low, had also declined over the previous twenty years. Since the end of the 1990s more young free-lance classical musicians had been obliged to create their own small chamber groups and become far more entrepreneurial and self-promoting than had been necessary in the past. The number leaving the conservatoires has continued to be far greater than the profession can absorb so that quite a number have had to find additional employment outside performing and teaching in order to survive financially.

I use the term orchestral musician to mean all those who are not jazz, pop or rock musicians of any kind. By the nature of the number of years required before entering the profession orchestral and chamber musicians hope from the start to remain professional performers throughout their lives. This has rarely been the case for pop and rock musicians because the nature of their music is far more ephemeral. With the notable exception of a few groups such as the Rolling Stones and the Who and some individual artists who have been exceptionally successful the great majority of pop and rock musicians remain working for only a few years. For those who compose their own music and lyrics it is difficult to continue to be creative over many years and performers in this genre need to be able to reinvent themselves as fashion changes. Many who set out seeking fame and fortune abandon their quest within quite a short time when they find it eludes them. Even the Beatles, probably the most successful and influential group – they are credited with having sold over a billion records before 1990 – remained together for less than ten years.

While attendance at art galleries for exhibitions of masterpieces of the past are increasing and those for contemporary painting, sculpture, installations and light shows are attracting even larger crowds, why is it that concert attendance continues to decline and cause concern and programmes of contemporary music appear to still drive the average music lover away?

Not only is going to a concert so much more expensive than going to an art gallery, but going to a concert has become unnecessary: One can now listen to music whenever and wherever one is so much more conveniently and cheaply. Perhaps even more important is the freedom that a visit to any form of art provides in contrast to the need to commit oneself to two hours of passive concentration when attending a concert. At a concert one cannot go back and forth to a phrase or passage one has enjoyed as one can go back and look at a picture or a piece of sculpture – nor as one can when listening to a recording.

A piece of contemporary art in whatever form can be ignored or passed by quite quickly whereas if one is listening to a piece of music in a concert hall it requires considerable courage to get up in the middle of a performance, disturb one’s neighbours and walk out. While new classical music composers have been addressing an ever decreasing audience, the music of the past has for the last fifty years been trying to reinvent itself. On the one hand there are those who play Mozart in a style that purports to be ‘authentic’ and on what pretend to be ‘original instruments’, though they are reproductions, with improved intonation without which they would be unacceptable to a modern audience. On the other there are those willing to turn classical music into ‘easy listening’ and happy to change the story, the words and the culture of operas so as to imitate our own contemporary culture.

Having been involved in the music profession, the music business and now the music industry for over sixty years I am saddened that the profession I have known is being swept away and that the music I love and which in the first twenty years as a player seemed to be growing in popularity has fallen on such hard times. But I am not surprised. As Chairman of the Philharmonia, in the mid-1970s I suggested to my colleagues, who were already becoming concerned for the future, that as much as we all loved the music we played and the life we were lucky enough to enjoy, it would not go on for ever – nothing ever has or ever will. We had seen other thriving industries disappear; coal mines closed, the steel industry collapse, shipbuilding and fishing ...

The Musicians’ Union, in the past, when I had been involved in negotiating with employers at every level from night club owners to representatives of the BBC, ITV and the major record companies, had then been able to be effective on behalf of its members and could rely on their support because it represented their wishes. With the changes in the law that made the ‘closed-shop’ illegal together with a reduction in employment opportunities and sufficient financial support for symphony orchestras and opera houses, the Musicians’ Union ability to bargain on behalf of its members has been substantially reduced

A time when everything is valued in terms of how much money it can make is not one that is good for the performing arts and this is especially so for classical music, which is so labour intensive. While popular music, responding to the current mood throughout the world, becomes either more aggressive or maudlin, classical music and jazz have become increasingly more cerebral. And while the advances in communication technology have made the commercialisation of popular music one of the most profitable industries, classical music is attempting to fight a rearguard action.

In a world rife with conflict of every kind and when it seems we are bent on destroying our own environment it is difficult to be optimistic. But out of the old something new always grows. There is so much new technology young people are using in remarkably inventive ways that perhaps this is the way music will go. No doubt in the 17th century when musicians were playing recorders, natural trumpets and viols and before the well tempered scale which adjusted the notes within an octave so it became possible to modulate from one key to another, they would be astounded to see the instruments we play and the music we take for granted. However music is provided and whatever it will sound like, I hope it will provide as much pleasure and inspiration as the music I have known has given me. For thinking and feeling people, contemplating the future is not easy. But of one thing we can be absolutely certain: as long as there are men and women there will be music.

 



Gerard Hoffnung CDs

Advertising on
Musicweb


Donate and get a free CD

New Releases

Naxos Classical

Hyperion

Musicweb sells the following labels
Acte Préalable
Alto
Arcodiva
Atoll
CDAccord
Cameo Classics
Centaur
Hallé
Hortus
Lyrita
Nimbus
Northern Flowers
Redcliffe
Sheva
Talent
Toccata Classics


Follow us on Twitter

Subscribe to our free weekly review listing
sample

Return to Index

Untitled Document


Reviews from previous months
Join the mailing list and receive a hyperlinked weekly update on the discs reviewed. details
We welcome feedback on our reviews. Please use the Bulletin Board
Please paste in the first line of your comments the URL of the review to which you refer.