06 Jun

Show me what you value and I’ll tell you what you’re worth

By six o’clock in the evenings, I have finished the day’s work and so I put down my pen and turn on the wireless to hear what’s going on

Last evening I first tried the news on Radio Four. So now, let me ask you a question: to how many questions are you able to give the complete answer in a single word? Well, at least I managed one such answer last evening. The BBC correspondent, invited by the newsreader to contribute asked, “Are government cuts the cause of a great rise in the number of cases of syphilis?”

That was an easy one: NO

The next item was the news that the Maida Vale recording studios, used for the last eighty years, are to close in spite of the fact, as the newsreader told us, “They have been home to some of our greatest musicians such as David Bowie and The Beatles.”

Now surely no one of a charitable disposition would wish to say anything too severe about Bowie and the Beatles – as one might easily be tempted to say something very severe about Elton John or Arianna Grande, the singer of near-pornographic songs to great crowds, including many preteens. But Bowie and the Beatles are/were not among “our greatest musicians.” They are popular entertainers with a goodly amount of the sort of talent required in order to pursue that vocation. The fact that Bowie and The Beatles were described as among our greatest musicians tells us all we need to know about the musical and aesthetic competence of the BBC

After all, if that newsreader had wanted to mention some of the truly great musicians who have preformed at the Maida Vale studios, he might have mentioned Vaughan Williams or Myra Hess, one of the finest pianists ever: for Maida Vale was the home of the BBC Symphony Orchestra

I switched from the news to Radio Three , the alleged classical music channel. This was a mess described as “In Tune mixtape” which interspersed snippets of the sort of music I wouldn’t want to listen to anywhere or ever with acres of mindless promotional chat

There was nothing for it then but try Classic FM. At that time in the evening the station offers “uninterrupted, the big piece after 6pm” – presumably in the hope of winning back listeners who tired of hearing music chopped up into minute excerpts and punctuated by advertising jingles.

Here surely there were grounds for hope. We were promised Dvorak’s lovely New World Symphony. I pricked up my ears, as they say. But “the big piece after 6pm” turned out to be only the little piece after six, the truncated piece after six: for they played only the last movement.

What insane cultural vandalism! Like reading an Agatha Christie thriller – but only the last fifty pages. Whodunnit? It would be rather a case of Whodunnwot? Do we need to spell out to the people in charge of classical music provision on national radio that the symphony is one of the most sublime musical forms ever developed? The first movement sets the scene, as it were, and the succeeding movements develop this and bring it finally to resolution. Thus it is impossible to make sense of the final movement without our having heard what went before.

But then we should hardly expect even such elementary discernment from the sorts of folk who regard David Bowie and The Beatles as “some of our greatest musicians.”

I think in future when it gets to 6pm I’ll download old episodes of Strictly Come Dancing or Britain’s Got Talent.

Why do that? Because at least I know that those programmes are utter rubbish. So I won’t be disappointed because I was hoping for something better.

16 Dec

Musical Treacle

I don’t know why I put myself through it. Why do I never learn? I suppose it must be some fugitive spirit of optimism in me which makes me persist when, in the words of G.K. Chesterton, I ought to “chuck it.”

I was at it again last evening. I switched on Radio Three’s teatime music programme. No music – only “studio guests” and “celebs” gushing more soft soap at one another than you could find in Widow Twanky’s laundry. That was my first mistake. The second was even more irretrievable: I switched over to Classic FM where they played one after another late Romantic rhapsodies of such treacliness that they reminded me of one critic’s comment on Tosca as “…the opera in which Puccini’s music achieves its final putrescence.” I was listening to the programme on television and throughout the screen bore a legend which purported to describe for me what I was listening to:

“Sublime, relaxing music to ease the stresses and strains of the day.”

Obviously, I had been mistaken. I had switched on in the hope of hearing some music, but what we were being offered was a short course in psychotherapy. And it was offensive in the extreme.

The word “sublime” does not indicate a palliative nor is it “relaxing.” Edmund Burke in his Essay on the Sublime and Beautiful (1757) writes:

“The passion caused by the great and sublime in nature is astonishment; and astonishment is that state of the soul, in which all its motions are suspended, with some degree of horror. In this case the mind is so entirely filled with its object, that it cannot entertain any other.”

Examples of the sublime would include Jacob’s exclamation, “How dreadful is this place!” (Genesis 28:17) and God’s words to Moses at the burning bush, “Put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the ground whereon thou standest is holy ground” (Exodus 3:5).

Think of The Tempest and “Be not affeared, the isle is full of noises” Or, “What are the roots that clutch? What branches grow out of this stony rubbish?”

Think Bach and the Sanctus from the Mass in B-minor. Or the last movement of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony when the chord of C-major finally emerges, blazing out of all that jumble. (He gets it from the Bible and Haydn: “Let there be light!”)

One man asks for bread and is given a stone.

When we switch on a music programme we hope for inspiration, to be exhilarated and, from time to time, overawed. Instead Classic FM gives us a box of sickly bon-bons.

Thank God for CDs and YouTube