On Germanic Music…

November 8th, 2016

Over the years something has gradually dawned on me, I didn’t want to admit it at first but I think the time has finally arrived to come clean – I don’t like Germanic music. This isn’t an easy thing to admit, as students of Western Classical Music we are instructed in the great canon of masters – Bach, Mozart, Schubert, Beethoven and Brahms – it is part of the very fabric of the discipline, and without these composers and the influence they exert classical music would have floundered years ago. But that doesn’t mean I have to like their music, does it?

I do really admire Germanic music and the place it holds in many people’s opinions, I certainly wouldn’t be a composer today without the work done by these composers and their reputations, but I just can’t bring myself to like it. And I do find myself thinking if all the music by Austro-German composers was obliterated from history would my life be any less rich because of it? Would I find myself pining for a Schubert lied, a Mozart opera or a Beethoven symphony?

Two examples of concert experiences help to illustrate my point. When I was in Orkney in 2007 for the festival, I (along with my fellow composition students) went to the evening orchestral concerts given by the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra. This was a fabulous experience and I saw some great concerts after which we would discuss the concert, the programme and the music. The final night we were ‘treated’ to Mahler’s Fourth Symphony and after the rapturous applause we decamped to the pub to discuss the evening’s festivities. I began the discussion by suggesting “that was the dullest hour of my life – what over-blown, long-winded nonsense”, the silence and look of horror that greeted me was akin to laughing at a funeral – nobody agreed with me. For others it had been a life-affirming evening. I felt like a musical leper.

Earlier this month I had a new song-cycle premiered in a recital in the Lake District and a similar thing happened. The first half of the concert was Schubert, Brahms and Liszt (not strictly Germanic , but close enough for my liking) and the second Debussy, me and Quilter. When the first notes of Debussy’s Chansons de Bilitis began it was like someone had switched the lights on, my ears pricked and my interaction with the music suddenly increased ten-fold. The first half had completely past me by – needless to say, not many people shared my view (though hopefully they liked my songs).

I guess I just find Germanic music boring, to quote Morrissey (and why not, it’s my blog) “it says nothing to me about my life” – I find nothing in the music that interests me, even at its most passionate or intimate I am left cold and unmoved – I can understand the music, but I’m just not ‘getting’ it.

So, would my life by less rich if it was all obliterated? Well throw in all the previous composers mentioned (especially Mahler) add Handel, Haydn, Mendelssohn, Schumann, Wagner, Schoenberg, Webern, Henze – the list goes on. I would miss Berg and Hildegard von Bingen, but I guess that would be collateral damage. Now where is that Duruflé CD?


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