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There’s A Difference Between The Artist And The Professional

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The very headline here reeks of misunderstanding:

Classical music will prosper if it embraces young disruptors

Classical music being, by definition, that which is not new and not subject to disruption. It is what has survived Bernard Levin’s Sieve Of History. Humans have been making music for tens of millennia at least and the vast majority of it has been humdrum at very best. Some few parts of it have been shit hot. The stuff we play today from that back catalogue is the few bits that are that shit hot. Mozart survives and Scalieri’s 167th quartet doesn’t get much of an airing. Weburn gets rolled out for a scrape occasionally and Beethoven is an anthem, Bach is used to advertise cigars.

Some part of the Beatles’ repertoire will still be played or whistled in 200 years, not so much of the Slade B sides. OK, that’s just the way it works.

Channel-flicking the other evening, I happened upon an archive clip from 1967, showing the classical musician and critic, Hans Keller, in conversation with Roger Waters, the co-founder of Pink Floyd. It was an even-tempered exchange, which ended with Keller observing that the Floyd’s music struck him as “a little bit of a regression to childhood – but after all, why not?” There followed another would-be confrontation between classical and pop, with Sir William Walton invited to give his verdict on The Who. The composer of Façade and Crown Imperial said of course he liked The Who: his godson, Kit Lambert, was the band’s manager.

The generosity of spirit shown by the older classical musicians to the young disruptors was striking.

But those weren’t disruptors of classical music, were they? They were disruptors of music, which is a very different thing. And of course good musicians will be interested in new music. The electric guitar was only 20 years – or so – old by then. Amplification was equally new. So new ways of playing on new instruments were possible. Which artist would not want to explore that soundscape?

Come, mix and match our history for a bit. Who thinks that Paganini wouldn’t have written for Hendrix? Beethoven for multitrack recording systems? Even, who thinks that Paul McCartney wouldn’t have risen to the top of Tin Pan Alley circa 1910. Or even 1810?

That is, the artist would have, as they did, used the technology of the time to make music. As, umm, Beethoven himself did, the pianoforte was a very new thing when he were a lad. He didn’t bother much with stuff for the virginal.

But then we get this:

Reactions were vehement: “There is much about the Proms that is wonderful, but you wouldn’t guess it from this advert”, tweeted Martin Fitzpatrick, head of music at English National Opera. “Surely it’s possible to embrace variety and diversity without apologising for the core repertoire of the festival?” added Oliver Webber, professor at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama.

Ah, the placemen and the mere professionals. Wedded to the method, manner, of production and not the essence of what is created as would be the artist. If it’s being done with one or two century old technology then it’s acceptable. Whereas the art is being created elsewhere – as it always has been.

Think on it, “Classical” music now largely means that done with an orchestra or some part of it. Those greats who wrote for that tech wouldn’t do so if they came back now. We might not see Ludwig van shredding it with Jimmy and Eric, although we would, as above, Niccolo, but he and Wolfgang and Johann Sebastian would all be kicking George Martin and Phil Spector off the mixing desk soon enough.

The artist will use the best available technology of the time, it’s the pedestrians, the mere placemen and professionals, who get hung up on the method.

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