I’m delighted to read Jessica Duchen’s articulate insight into her lifelong dislike of Bruckner; not just because classical music critics don’t always express their dislikes as often as they ought to (in as justified, well-reasoned terms as I’ve just read) – but because it mirrors my own dislike of Bruckner. And Brahms. And Beethoven.

It’s often frowned upon to admit to such a fierce dislike of a Venerable Old Master; to bash Beethoven or Brahms usually results in having all of your views dismissed, even if they are well-thought through, and supported by reasonsed argument backed up by hours of listening (usually in great boredom). I left a concert recently in the interval, having gone to hear a twentieth-century piece performed by one of the world’s great string quartets, because the second half promised a piece by Beethoven, and life’s really too short for that.


Quid pro quo, Clarice...

So bravo to Duchen’s article.

(Is it me, or does Bruckner look a little Anthony Hopkins-Lecter-esque in this photo, too ?)

Modern music all the way, please. Nothing before 1903!


When fixing performers, always check what they do first

It may seem an obvious point, but it does happen: performers are fixed who don’t, or can’t, do the part for which they have been hired. Not because they haven’t practiced; because the fixer (or the conductor) got it wrong.

I’ve written before about an acquaintance who was fixed by … well, let’s not mention names … to sing a Brahms German Requiem for an insultingly low fee. What I neglected to mention was that they were hired as a soprano soloist, to sing the beautiful soprano aria ‘Ihr habt nun Traurigkeit.’

However (and here’s the rub),  they’re an alto.

Moreover, there are no alto arias in the Requiem. None at all. There’s plenty for the alto to sing in the Alto-Rhapsody, certainly; but not in the Requiem.

Oh dear. That should have rung alarm bells, even before the miniscule fee was mentioned. It’s no good hiring an alto to sing soprano.

History is littered with stories of singers being booked to perform, who turn up on the day and find the conductor asking them to sing a solo aria that’s not written for their voice-part, or who find that there’s actually another aria that they’re expected to sing, which they weren’t told about.

Fixers: please ensure the musician you hire is able to perform the part you are expecting them to. If you are also the conductor: please check the score before hiring the soloists. Singers: always double- (and triple)-check that the fixer (who, on some occasions, can also be the conductor) knows your voice-part, and has declared all the material they are wanting you to learn. Negotiations are not possible on the day; at least, not without a very great deal of stress…

As bad as I remembered it: Britten on Brahms

Britten is often quoted as saying he would periodically take Brahms scores from the shelves and play through some of Brahms’ music, in order to make sure the music was as bad as he remembered it.

Every time I read about Britten doing this, I can’t help feeling a little glow of warmth inside. Not just because it’s akin to revelling in how much one dislikes a particular composer – my feelings on Wagner are well-known amongst my acquaintances – but also, because it shows that it is alright not to like a famed and revered composer.

When I mention my dislike of Wagner – and Brahms, Beethoven, Mahler and Verdi – I am often greeted with a sharp intake of breath and looks of profound, patronising skepticism. It’s as though I’ve politely requested to eat their child, or made an improper suggestion involving cash in exchange for Services Rendered.

There’s a snobbery inherent in classical music circles, that makes the expression of dislike for Worthy Composers almost socially unacceptable. This makes me want to cry ”But it’s OK not to like some music – at least I have an opinion!” The blithe acceptance that composers from the classical tradition Must Be Liked allows radio stations like Classic FM to farm out the usual fodder from the classical tradition, concert series to recycle the Old Favourites, and musical snobs to sneer at me.

The argument that popular classical favourites sell tickets and puts bums on seats for concerts is true: but it also allows for lazy concert-planning, pandering to the usual suspects – the reactionary, ‘I know what I like’ type audiences – and doesn’t accommodate listeners who like contemporary music; nor does it widen the horizons of those who simply stick to what they know – how on earth will they experience other works if concert-planners don’t endeavour to broaden the scope of their listening ? There’s a part of me that wants, not to educate, but at least give audiences the opportunity to hear something new, something different, in concerts that I put together. At the very least, if someone in the audience hears something new that they don’t like, they can safely say they don’t like it in the future, supported by having had the experience of listening to it in performance.

I won’t have it. It’s perfectly alright not to like some music: as long as you have considered reasons for doing so. There’s much classical music that I love – some of even by those composers that I don’t like (shock and alarm!) – but the endless reverence amongst people for traditional works that sets them on pedestals and won’t allow people to take pot-shots at them (even well-reasoned, soundly-argued pot-shots) is just snobbery, masquerading as Good Breeding.

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