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2020 – the year of Beethoven?

December 2020 marks the 250th anniversary of Beethoven’s birth.

The event seems to have split the Classical Music community. Some individuals and organisations see the occasion as an opportunity to celebrate Beethoven’s musical achievements. Others suggest that Beethoven’s music is popular enough and performances and recordings of it are already so plentiful that audiences should be exploring new repertoire and lesser known composers, and particularly work by underrepresented groups.

Beethoven is one of a group of composers from the Western Classical tradition who is often given the title ‘genius’. He was a prolific composer, writing 722 works, including 9 Symphonies, 16 overtures and incidental pieces, 16 string quartets, 32 piano sonatas, 20 sets of variations for piano, 10 works for chorus and orchestra, hundreds of songs, operas, piano trios, works for wind ensembles and concertos for violin, piano and a lost work for oboe. His development of musical forms such as the symphony, string quartet and piano sonata are seen as revolutionary, and his influence on later composers is often cited.

If you want to take 2020 as the year to explore Beethoven’s works further, check out #TheCompleteBeethoven on Twitter for advice from The Symphonist or follow the hashtag #Beethoven2020.

Beethoven led an interesting life. His father was abusive, he struggled with his health, he lived in politically turbulent times, his romantic life was complicated and he suffered hearing loss. However there are stories of his bad temper and of his poor treatment of his sister-in-law and nephew. All these elements add to the image of a tortured genius, a persona that has appealed to audiences and, it could be argued, has helped keep his music popular over the past 200 years. 

As Beethoven’s work is frequently performed, recorded and broadcast on radio, should we take his 250th anniversary as an opportunity to enjoy ever popular works such as his 9th Symphony and 5th Piano Concerto, or should we explore some of his lesser known works, such as his works for military band…

or his songs…

Or should we be exploring more obscure composers? As William Gibbons states on Twitter:

Every time I listen to Beethoven, I’m not listening to something else.

Inspired by some of the discussion around exploring a wider range of composers, Musicology Duck’s blog influenced by Book Riot’s Read Harder Challenge, has suggested a hashtag of #ListenWider. Rather than recommending specific books or pieces, both challenges give categories, allowing readers and listeners to find works that appeal to them. Musicology Duck gives 30 categories of pieces to listen to including a composition of 60 minutes or more in length by a woman or non-binary composer, a miniature composition under 90 seconds long, a top hit from the year you were born or from a country other than your own, and a concerto for tuba, bassoon or double bass. 

You could take the opportunity to explore works by other composers and performers who have key anniversaries in 2020, such as:

Dave Brubeck – 100th anniversary of his birth

Dorothea Anne Franchi – 100th anniversary of her birth

Ravi Shankar – 100th anniversary of his birth

Del Woods – 100th anniversary of her birth

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra (CBSO) – 100th anniversary

John Rutter – 75th Birthday

Of course, there is a happy medium for those who love Beethoven’s music but still want to discover new repertoire. Ensembles such as the English Symphony Orchestra are taking the opportunity to partner Beethoven’s works with lesser known composers such as Ruth Gipps and Adrian Williams.

So how will you approach your year of listening to music? Let us know what you think in the comments!

Clara Schumann – prodigy, performer, proponent and pioneer

Clara Wieck was born in Leipzig in September 1819. Although for decades she has been predominantly known as the ‘wife of Robert Schumann,’ her contribution to music as a performer, composer and inspiration was immense.

As a woman in a male-dominated world, she gives us a fascinating glimpse into creative relationships, and perhaps a sense of what other women could and did achieve, despite the familiar list of traditionally male historic composers.

She is to be celebrated for her own achievements, for the support she gave to Schumann and Brahms amongst others, and for the lost voices of many other women who were unable to achieve the same level of emancipation. Notably, while Clara’s work has often been marginalised by claims that her husband was the ‘real’ composer behind her work, she earned most of the money in the Schumann household, which was extremely unusual for the time, and her pieces were more popular than his.

Clara Schumann was a child prodigy. As Schumann’s wife she juggled an international solo career with motherhood to eight children, seven of whom survived infancy. She composed, promoted and inspired a vast amount of music, shaping the 19th century in a way few other artists could. 

Daughter of the ambitions piano teacher and instrument dealer, Friedrich Wieck, Clara Schumann spent the first 25 years of her life in Leipzig. Before her birth, her father had resolved that she would be a great musician. She made her concert debut in Leipzig’s Gewandhaus at the age of nine, her first complete piano recital was in 1830 (age 11) and her first extended tour to cities including Paris, Vienna, Copenhagen and St. Petersburg, was in 1831.

In 1830, Robert Schumann came to live and study with Weick. Seven years later, when Clara was 18, he asked permission to marry her. Weick objected and did all he could to prevent the wedding, but Robert and Clara went ahead, marrying the day before her 21st birthday, on September 12th 1840. 

From a modern perspective the image of the pushy father who had already decided his daughter’s career path and a man of 20 moving to live in a household where he subsequently married the daughter who had been 11 on first meeting doesn’t scream emancipation. But Clara was ambitious, and within the framework of society at the time, this path allowed her familial and creative happiness.

Her playing was said to be characterised by technical mastery, poetic spirit, thoughtful interpretation, a singing, tone, depth of feeling and strict observance of the composer’s markings. At the age of 13, she was one of the first pianists to perform from memory – standard practice amongst concert pianists today.

It was expected in the 1830s for performers to play their own compositions in recitals and Clara’s early compositions were written to show off her skills as a pianist, including writing for wide stretches up to tenths, due to her large hands.

Clara was just 13 when she began working on her Piano Concerto Op 7 and she performed it just after her 16th birthday at the Leipzig Gewandhaus. The work showcased Clara’s skill on the piano and gives the impression of improvisation. 

The work is being performance at the BBC Proms on Sunday 18thAugust at 7:30pm and will be broadcast live on BBC Radio 3.

One reviewer commented, “If the name of a female composer were not on the title one would never think it was written by a women.” However not all reviews were positive and one critic took issue with the unconventional key changes between movements. His only explanation for this was that, “Women are moody.” Comments such as these may help to explain Clara’s insecurities about her compositions.

While Clara’s ambitions as a concert pianist and composer were naturally hindered by the responsibilities of family life (though she still managed a career total of 38 concert tours outside of Germany), Robert encouraged her to compose. Their musical discourse was intense, and they studies scores, performances and literature together. They would write diary entries to each other, chronicling a significant and intimate narrative of the lives of two artists.

In 1853, composer Johannes Brahms met the Schumanns. Brahms remained a close friend of both until their deaths, despite the fact that he was in love with Clara.

In 1854, Robert, who had various mental health problems, attempted suicide, and was, at his own request, placed in an asylum. Brahms, who at this point came to stay in their home to offer support, was allowed to visit, but Clara could not visit her husband. She did not see him again until two days before his death in 1856.

Clara was 36 when her husband died, and notably, given this personal tragedy and the loss of her creative champion, all of her compositions date from 1853 or before. She simply stopped composing.  

In later life she said:

I once believed that I possessed creative talent, but I have given up this idea; a woman must not desire to compose—there has never yet been one able to do it. Should I expect to be the one?

In 1857, after her husband’s death, Clara moved to Berlin. Here, she taught, performed (she played regularly with the violinist Joseph Joachim and others) and edited Robert’s works and letters continuing to support her family.

Having had a direct influence on their compositions, she became known as both advocate and interpreter of the music of Brahms and Schumann. Brahms was always supportive of Clara’s professional career, and she was the first person to publicly perform any of his work (specifically the Andante and Scherzo from the Sonata in F minor, in Leipzig, 23 October 1854).

Clara continued to travel, whilst the children were looked after at home. In 1856 she first visited England, where critics received Robert’s music coolly. However she returned to London in 1865 and made regular appearances there in later years.

She became the authoritative editor of her husband’s compositions for Breitkopf & Härtel. It was speculated that she and Brahms destroyed many of Schumann’s late works which were tainted by his illness, but the Violin Concerto, the Fantasy for Violin and Orchestra and the Violin Sonata No. 3, all from 1853, have entered the repertoire, and only Five Pieces for Cello and Pianoare known to have been lost. She was instrumental in getting the works of Robert Schumann recognised, appreciated and added to the repertoire, promoting him tirelessly. Although when she began, his music was unknown or disliked, and the only other important figure in music to occasionally play Schumann was Liszt, she continued until the end of her long career. Those, therefore, who consider Schumann to have been influential on the 19thcentury must look to Clara for the fact that this influence has been realised. 

In 1878 Clara Schumann was honoured at a ceremony in Leipzig’s Gewandhaus to mark her 50th year as an artist.

She died on May 20th, 1896 (aged 76) in Frankfurt.

Her compositions include 29 songs, 3 partsongs, 4 pieces for piano and orchestra, 20 pieces for solo piano, and cadenzas for 3 piano concertos by Beethoven and Mozart; her works are numbered up to Op. 23, with 17 others without opus numbers. She set poetry by: Heine, Rückert, H. Rollet, E. Geibel, Kerner, F. Serre, Goethe, Lyser, and Burns (translated by Gerhard).

Movers and Shakers: Sir Charles Hallé and Sir Henry Wood

March 2019 is the 150th ‘birthday’ of Henry Wood, and April 2019 marks the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Hallé. Both men left a lasting musical legacy integral to the orchestral world in the UK. But where did they come from and what inspired their achievements?  In this ‘double bill’ we celebrate the lives of two great musicians…

Sir Henry Wood

Sir Henry Wood, described in an interview in the Guardian from October 1938 as the ‘busiest and most versatile of Britain’s musicians,’ began his career conducting at a church choral society in 1888 where he earned ‘the enormous sum’ of two guineas.

Born within a stone’s throw of Oxford Street, Wood’s interest in music was encouraged by an intensely musical engineer father. Trained in the UK (he studied composition and voice at the Royal Academy of Music from 1886) he travelled widely to see and learn from great international musicians.

Often credited with founding the Proms, Henry Wood was instrumental in bringing the summer music series to London. He did so in partnership with the entrepreneur, Robert Newman who became manager and lessee of the newly opened Queen’s Hall in 1894, and Harley Street throat specialist, Dr. George Cathcart, who funded the first season. The vision was a series of classical concerts that anyone could attend, regardless of income. In 1895, Promming tickets cost one shilling, the equivalent of around 60p today.

It was Newman who devised the idea of Promenade concerts on the French model and who took on Wood as the sole conductor. However, while Newman and Cathcart’s input was essential, it was short lived. Newman went bust in 1902, and the main backer withdrew in 1926 leaving the Proms without support until the BBC took over in 1927, yet Henry Wood continued.

Drawing of the inside of Queens Hall

The first ever ‘First Night of the Proms’ was on August 10th 1895. 2,500 people gathered for the concert, which opened with the National Anthem. The programme featured popular works by Saint-Saëns, Haydn and Liszt, as well as London premieres of works by Chopin and Bizet. By the time of the 1938 interview, Wood was in his 44th season at Queen’s Hall, and had conducted nearly 3,000 Promenade Concerts, nearly 1,000 Sunday concerts and 600 symphony concerts.

The 1939 Proms season was abandoned after only 3 weeks following the declaration of war: The season, which had opened during the Battle of Britain, was forced to close early due to the Blitz. The concert on September 7th 1939 was the last Prom concert to take place at the Queen’s Hall, as the building was destroyed when a bomb hit the roof on 10th May 1941. In its 50th season, now at the Royal Albert Hall (RAH), the Proms again finished early because of the war, but concerts scheduled for broadcasting continued from the BBC’s Bedford wartime studios.

Wood was a charismatic presence on stage, embracing a new German style of conducting where the conductor’s role was much more expressive, not confined to keeping time. And he had a voracious appetite for music of all kinds. He and Newman had been determined to introduce a broad range of music to a wider audience, working to democratise the genre. The concert atmosphere was informal, with eating and drinking allowed during the performance, and the music had to be popular.

As the seasons progressed, Wood developed an enterprising, challenging and entertaining selection of music, always programming new works. He conducted an astonishing list of premieres during his career: 716 works by 356 composers, including Debussy’s L’Apres-midi d’un Faun. In fact, he was responsible for introducing many of the leading composers of the day to the Proms audiences, including Richard Strauss, Debussy, Rachmaninov, Ravel and Vaughan Williams. He was also passionate about promoting young and talented performers, and worked to raise the standard of orchestral playing.

[Image by: Ed g2s/wikicommons images]

Wood passed away on 19 August 1944 aged 75. He had conducted at the Proms for nearly 50 years. After his death, the concerts were renamed the “Henry Wood Promenade Concerts”, and the Proms continues as the longest running series of orchestral concerts in the world. Henry Wood is remembered every year, by the placing of a bronze bust (borrowed from the Royal Academy of Music) at the back of the RAH stage. His legacy is celebrated at the Last Night concert when a member of the audience drapes a wreath around the neck of the bust and the conductor leads ‘three cheers’ for Henry Wood.


Pianist and conductor Charles Hallé was born Karl Hallé on April 11th 1819 in Hagen, Westphalia. His father, a choirmaster and organist, first introduced him to music, and he quickly excelled. He was a child prodigy, first performing a sonatina in public at the age of 4, and in 1828 he played in a concert where he attracted the attention of the virtuoso violinist (and inventor of the violin chin rest) Louis Spohr.

Aged 16, he studied at Darmstadt with the organist and composer Rinck, and at 17 he went to Paris, where he stayed for 12 years. Whilst in Paris, he knew everybody worth knowing, counting musical greats including Cherubini, Chopin, Lisz and Wagner among his friends.

His time in the French capital ended with the February Revolution of 1848. Hallé had begun a series of chamber concerts in a small room at the Conservatoire, but the third series was cut short by the revolution and finding musical life in Paris had suffered after the revolution, he left for England.

His first appearance in his new home country was as soloist in an orchestral concert at Covent Garden, May 12th, 1848, where he performed Beethoven’s Concerto in E flat. In fact, the familiarity of the Beethoven piano sonatas in England is largely due to Hallé, who was the first pianist to play the complete series here.

He was also the inventor of a mechanical page-turning device for pianists. The pages were set into the mechanism, which was operated by means of a foot pedal. According to Harold C Schonberg’s 1963 book, The Great Pianists: “People would go to his concerts just to see the spectacle of leaf after leaf turning over, ghostlike, without the intervention of human hands.” 

But Hallé didn’t much like London, and in 1853 he accepted an offer to run Manchester’s Gentleman’s Concerts, which had its own orchestra. This orchestra was apparently so bad that Hallé considered returning to Paris, but he was industrious and meticulous. Being the type of person who would not open a letter until he had answered all previous correspondence, he taught himself English every morning on the way to work, and he stuck with the orchestra.

In May 1857, Hallé was asked to put together a small orchestra to play for Prince Albert at the opening ceremony of the Art Treasures of Great Britain. This was the biggest single exhibition Manchester had ever hosted. Hallé accepted the challenge and was so happy with the results that he kept the group together until October. This was the beginning of the Hallé Orchestra, now one of the oldest professional orchestras in England.

Hallé went on to start his own concert series, raising the orchestra to a standard far higher than normal for English music at that time. He decided to keep working with the musicians on a more formal basis, and on January 30th, 1858, the Hallé gave its first concert.

He conducted almost every concert and performed as piano soloist at many, until his death in 1895. He excited the public about music, raising standards and expectations, and introducing new concepts and works including premieres of Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique and The Damnation of Faust.

A passage in the 1890 publication Manchester Faces and Places describes the change in attitude to music during Hallé’s time in Manchester:

… he declares his conviction that the progress of music in England has been greater during that time than in any other country.

This remark is illustrated by several anecdotes including this:

At that period [Hallé] discovered that if he asked a gentleman in society, ‘Do you play an instrument?’ this appeared to be considered an insult. Did not Lord Chesterfield indeed warn his son not ‘to fiddle,’ on pain of forfeiting his claim to rank as a gentleman? But since then how great is the change! A love of music is now becoming the common passion uniting all classes. A few years ago Sir Charles Hallé was waiting for the train at Derby, when a railway porter who recognised him said, ‘Can you tell me, Mr. Halle, when the ‘Elijah’ will be next performed in Manchester, because I can have leave to take my missus there?’ Only the other day a music-seller in Sheffield, who is in a position to know, assured Sir Charles that there are in that town alone between five hundred and six hundred artisans who play the violin.

Hallé’s death on October 25th, 1895, shook Manchester and the wider musical world, and his funeral procession brought the city to a standstill. Three of his closest friends, Henry Simon, Gustav Behrens and James Forsyth, immediately set about securing the future of the Orchestra, guaranteeing the 1895-96 season against loss. This commitment was renewed for a further three years whilst the Hallé Concerts Society was formed. Under the guidance of such distinguished conductors as Hans Richter, Sir Hamilton Harty and Sir John Barbirolli the Orchestra continued to thrive and develop.

In an interview for the Telegraph, Mark Elder, current music director of the Hallé since 2000 (seen in the image above with the orchestra in 2011), explains the driving force in the success of the orchestra both then and now:

One way in which Hallé was ahead of his time was his understanding that education is absolutely key to an orchestra’s success. When you understand something, you enjoy it. That’s why he was so keen to bring the latest music to England, and why he was the first person to play a complete cycle of Beethoven piano sonatas.

He also understood that to reach a public you have to make the effort to go out to them. Part of the secret, I feel, is to link the orchestra to its community in a way that goes beyond concert-going.



Both Hallé and Wood were passionate, not only about their own musical careers, but about sharing their love and excitement for music with the wider community. The legacy of these two historic artists centres around what is now a formal body of classical music but one which, in the case of both the Hallé and the Proms, still works to engage the wider community in as many ways as possible, staying true to its original intent. It is almost impossible to quantify the value of those musicians who work so hard to share their gifts, except in the enjoyment of the opportunities and organisations they leave behind, whatever the challenges they faced. In a time when the future of music in education is unclear, it is encouraging to understand how much difference one person with talent and vision can make.

Nationalism in Music: A Grand Expression of Political Turbulence

The Eduqas A-level music syllabus includes study of Western Classical music of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

The syllabus asks students to explore this era, which “witnessed a fading romanticism and looked forward to new directions and musical challenges”.

This was a period of change and emancipation. No single composer led the way in terms of style, and artistic creativity was expressed with compositional devices including explorations in instrumental sonority and harmony, including increased use of dissonance and chromaticism. Nationalism, the use of cultural and patriotic references including the integration of elements of folk songs and folklore (often as programmatic forms and ideas) became an important feature.

However, alongside the stylistic emancipation, which has to some extent become romanticised in itself in the music history texts, this was a period of significant upheaval and in some areas of the world, restriction, dictatorship and death camps.

What Prompted the Rise of Nationalism?

Nationalism in music did not exist out of context. Rather topically to today’s political events, it was an ideological movement that provided an important factor in the development of Europe. In the late 19th century (1871), both Germany and Italy were newly unified, created from their various regional states and given a common ‘national identity’. Other countries, including Serbia, Poland, Greece, Bulgaria and Romania, were formed in uprisings against the Ottoman Empire and Russia. At a time of social and political upheaval, romantic nationalism purportedly represented a general optimism for self-determined rule by newly formed government in place of the traditional monarchies and foreign control of territories. 

The Dark Side of Nationalism

It is common for nationalism in music to be superficially explained as the patriotic exploration of a nation’s folk music in the high cultural field, which makes sense in light of the new feeling of identity. However, if nationalism can be described as calling on people “to identify with the interests of their national group and to support the creation of a state – a nation-state – to support those interests,” (Professor Leon Baradat) music could also be used as a propaganda tool. It is interesting that when current politics demonstrate the dangers of nationalism, or of strong national identity without inclusion or integration, this element is often romanticised as a positive expression in the context of classical music

The truth is, composers were not always exploring nationalist ideas out of sheer creative and patriotic inspiration. This was demonstrated with the discovery of a Suite on Finnish Themesby Dmitri Shostakovich, which was written in 1939 but only discovered in 2001. The composer had never claimed authorship of the suite, it was never performed in his lifetime, and only one reference is made to it in his letters. Why?

The Winter War began on November 30th 1939, when the Red Army invaded Finland. Research shows that the Soviet government commissioned Shostakovich to write a suite based on Finnish melodies. The commission was instigated between November 23rd and 25th 1939, with a completion date of December 2nd, representing the timeframe of the invasion and the proposed date of occupation. 

A Finnish machine gun station during the Winter War

This was a propaganda tool. If the invasion had succeeded, Shostakovich’s suite would have been performed by Red Army marching bands in the streets of Helsinki, either with the intention to demonstrate the Soviet commitment to nurturing Finnish culture and prevent dissent, or to further humiliate the Finnish people after their defeat.

Shostakovich had a notably difficult relationship with the Soviet state throughout his life. He was one of the few composers who did not flee Russia when the revolution took place, and he was kept under close scrutiny. The Finnish commission of 1939 came some time after the composer’s first denouncement by the Communist Party, and these condemnations of Shostakovich’s music were not insignificant.

In fear for his life, Shostakovic was forced to take a more conservative and patriotic approach, as heard in particular in his 1937 Fifth Symphony. His acceptance of the commission to write the Suite on Finnish Themes demonstrates this forced patriotism. Shostakovich needed to escape the Communist Party backlash and return to Stalin’s favour. His alternative, the consequence for dissention, the Gulags. 

Further Examples of Nationalism in Music

Edvard Grieg – Norway

Grieg combined elements of traditional Norwegian folk songs with the Romantic style, often using poems by Norwegian poets such as Henrik Ibsen and Bjornstjerne Bjornson to set to his vocal songs.

His Opus 25, a set of six songs all set to poems by Ibsen, is a good example of his compositional style, demonstrating his feelings about nationalism through his synthesis of compositional elements and text. The form, harmony and melody of his works reflect his close relationship with the landscape of his home country. 

Bela Bartók – Hungary

Bartók is often painted as a highly nationalist composter, but study of his music shows how his idea of nationalism developed throughout his career and actually became diluted by social awareness.

In his late teens, in allegiance to the divisive politics of Hungarian nationalism he was attracted to what was known as the Hungarian popular music, often performed by Gypsy musicians. One of his early works, the 1903 symphonic poem Kossuth, tells the story of one of the heroes of the 1848-9 revolution.

This work employs characteristic features of the urban Gypsy music, which is also heard in the music of Franz Liszt. Musical devices include the use of a minor key scale with a sharpened fourth note, a short-long rhythmic figure (much like the Scotch-snap found in Scottish folk music) derived from the stress pattern of Hungarian speech, and the emulation of the performance style of indigenous instruments. These included the hammered dulcimer or cimbalom, the sound of which was later made famous in Anton Karas’s score for The Third Man.

However, through the influence of his friend Zoltán Kodály, Bartók was to discover a very different type of Hungarian popular music – music from the countryside. Much like Cecil Sharpe who built up the English folk song and dance collection, Bartók subsequently spent much of his life collecting, editing and cataloguing these folk songs, which he recorded in Hungary, Romania, Slovakia, Serbia, Croatia, North Africa, and Turkey. Along with 2700 Hungarian melodies, Bartók collected 3500 Romanian and 3400 Slovakian tunes, and 10,000 other melodies from field workers.

Gypsy musicians in Budapest, May 1946, image source: http://www.fortepan.hu

One notable aspect of Bartók’s research was that he attempted to be properly systematic and scientific, making use of the recently developed phonograph rather than transcribing by ear. He refined the approach thoughout his life, creating ever more detailed transcriptions and seeking out points of correspondence between the music he had sourced from people of different ethnic backgrounds.

Through this ethnomusicological study he effectively reorientated himself. What had begun in his youth as a narrow Hungarian nationalist outlook became a much broader and more inclusive view. He came to see an essential unity between the rural working people of Hungary and its neighbouring states. In compositional terms this led to a musical style with a firm base in Hungary but which was permeated by elements derived from other cultures.

Kubrick and the Timelessness of Classical Music

2018 is the 50th anniversary of Stanley Kubrick’s groundbreaking science fiction film, 2001: A Space Odyssey.

The narrative follows a voyage to Jupiter with a sentient computer called HAL. It explores themes of human evolution, technology, existentialism, artificial intelligence and the possibility of extraterrestrial life. The film features scientifically accurate depictions of spaceflight, ambitious imagery and groundbreaking special effects.

However, the aspect that arguably makes the film so memorable is the use of sound. Dialogue is sparse – there are only 40 minutes of it in a two and a half hour movie – and rather than the constant underscoring to which film audiences have become accustomed, almost no music is used in scenes with dialogue.

When there is music, the choice and use of music is significant. Whilst two composers, first Frank Cordell, then leading Hollywood professional Alex North were engaged to score the film, Cordell never got off the starting blocks, and Kubrick abandoned North’s score, deciding instead to use a selection of pieces of classical music – pieces that have now become synonymous with the film – marrying music from an age with which we might feel detached with an exploration of an age we have not yet lived.

In 1968 the use of classical music in films was not new (for example, David Lean used Rachmaninoff’s Second Piano Concerto to great effect in his film Brief Encounter in 1945) it had been standard practice since the dawn of the ‘talkies’ to score music directly for each film. In fact, a major part of the appeal for movie audiences was the chance to hear new, original music.

And film music had been as original as it comes from the start. For the 1951 film, The Day the Earth Stood Still, Bernard Herrmann pioneered an early form of multi-track recording, laying down the sound of two Hammond organs, a vibraphone, an electrically-amplified violin and a pair of Theremins. ‘

Seven years later, in 1958, Louis and Bebe Barron generated the world’s first all-electronic film score for Forbidden Planet. The score was so modernist that the studio billed them as creators of “electronic tonalities” rather than as musicians.

Despite his very different approach, Kubrick’s use of music was breathtakingly innovative, both in the illustrative power of music to support visual effects and in the way he managed to create such originality with pre-existing music.

Take the “stargate” sequence near the end of the film. It’s nothing more than a mosaic of brilliant colours rushing past and would have been completely ineffective without the music of György Ligeti, yet the scene was not conceived around the music any more than the music was written for the scene.

In this scene, the vast loneliness of space is wonderfully expressed in Khachaturian’s Adagio from the Gayane Ballet Suite.

Ligeti was understandably shocked on attending the Vienna premiere of the film to discover that four of his compositions had been used without permission. He was later to receive a modest payment from Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios (MGM) and substantial royalties. However, by acknowledging Ligeti’s work in the final credits, Kubrick made the composer world famous and the two became friends over subsequent collaborations. Alex North was equally shocked to discover that his score had been totally dropped.

Although MGM Studios were not advocates of the ‘unoriginal’ soundtrack, they were perhaps instrumental in its existence. In March 1966, the studio had become concerned about the progress of the film. Kubrick put together a show reel of footage to an ad hoc soundtrack of classical recordings. The studio bosses were delighted with the results, and Kubrick abandoned North’s score in favour of his ‘guide pieces’. 

Kubrick explained his reasoning in an interview with Michel Ciment:

However good our best film composers may be, they are not a Beethoven, a Mozart or a Brahms. Why use music which is less good when there is such a multitude of great orchestral music available from the past and from our own time? When you are editing a film, it’s very helpful to be able to try out different pieces of music to see how they work with the scene…Well, with a little more care and thought, these temporary tracks can become the final score.

The most easily recognised piece and the one perhaps most associated with 2001 is the opening theme from the Richard Strauss tone poem, Also sprach Zarathustra(Usually translated as “Thus Spake Zarathustra” or “Thus Spoke Zarathustra”.

The theme is used both at the start and the conclusion of the film.

While the end music credits do not list a conductor and orchestra for Also Sprach Zarathustra, Kubrick wanted the Herbert von Karajan/Vienna Philharmonic version. Decca executives did not want their recording ‘cheapened’ by association with the movie, and so gave permission for its use on the condition that the conductor and orchestra were not named. When the movie was a massive success, the label tried to rectify its blunder by re-releasing the recording with an “As Heard in 2001” flag printed on the album cover…

The full track listing comprises only six pieces of music:

  1. Also sprach Zarathustra by Richard Strauss         
  2. Requiem for Soprano, Mezzo-Soprano, 2 Mixed Choirs and Orchestra by György Ligeti
  3. Lux Aeterna by György Ligeti
  4. The Blue Danube by Johann Strauss II
  5. Gayane Ballet Suite (Adagio) by Aram Khachaturian
  6. Atmosphères by György Ligeti
  7. The Blue Danube by Johann Strauss II
  8. Also sprach Zarathustra by Richard Strauss

It’s notable that Kubrick’s spaceships waltzed to the Blue Danube by Johann Strauss II while NASA was girding its technological loins to put the first man on the moon.

2001: A Space Odysseyis widely considered to be one of the greatest and most influential films ever made. In 1991, the United States Library of Congress deemed it to be “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” and selected the film for preservation in the National Film Registry. Sight & Soundmagazine ranked 2001: A Space Odysseysixth in the top ten films of all time in its 2002 and 2012 critics’ polls editions. It also won joint second place in the magazine’s 2012 directors’ poll. In 2010, it was named the greatest film of all time by The Moving Arts Film Journal (source Wikipedia).

Music for Video Games – Exploring A New Classical ‘Access Point’

A new survey by YouGov, commissioned by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra (RPO), shows video games as an important access point for young people to experience classical music.

The research, which included children aged six to 16, found that 15% said they listen to classical music “when it’s part of a computer game I’m playing”, while only 11% said “when I go to music concerts”. In fact, technology and screen-time seems to be the first place that many children hear classical music, with film tracks and television forming the basis for most exposure.

The managing director of the RPO, James Williams, believes that video game music is as valid an introduction to classical music for children as a live concert.

[Image: Takosuke]

In an interview with the Telegraph, Williams said, “I think exposure to orchestral music in all its forms is a fantastic thing. It is encouraging to hear that there are platforms and opportunities for young people to engage with orchestral music, albeit in different mediums. It is about sparking their interest.

“What we are finding is once we have lit that fire there is a real desire to carry that journey on and explore. If [computer games] are the trigger and the catalyst that can only be a really positive thing.”

Video game music is an area that has grown in popularity in recent years, becoming as sophisticated as film music in its execution. It attracts high salaries and prestigious composers including those like Hans Zimmer who are primarily known for their film writing. Music from games regularly features in Classic FM’s annual countdown of the UK’s favourite classical music. In Classic FM Hall of Fame 2016, Nobuo Uematsu’s Final Fantasy soundtrack reached number 17 while Kingdom Hearts by Yoko Shimomura was number at 30.

Recognising this popularity, Classic FM partnered with the RPO in 2017 to present a concert at London’s Royal Albert Hall called PlayStation in Concert.

According to Williams, the concert attracted audience members who had never been to a live classical music concert before. “This is in no way undermining Beethoven and Brahms which are still the core repertoire,” he explained, “But we are embracing all these new opportunities, they are access points for new audiences.”

Williams also stressed that the music is of high quality, and that the RPO’s inclusion of video game music was not a dumbing-down. The past five years have seen a real acceleration in video game music, and the music industry is always keen to explore new initiatives. At the same time, Williams reflects that teachers are no longer encouraging music in the way they used to, citing research which found that less than a third of children are exposed to classical music at school.

Williams said, “The thing I found most alarming is the fact that in those schools that didn’t encourage music, the number who went on to discover other music fell dramatically. That is a worrying trend.”

Film composers who have worked on video games:

Hans Zimmer

Considered to be one of the greatest, and certainly prolific, film composers, Zimmer is responsible for the scores to movies including Pirates of the Caribbean, Rain Man, Driving Miss Daisy, Backdraft, True Romance, Gladiator, The Last Samurai and Inception. He’s collaborated with many top filmmakers such as Ridley Scott, Ron Howard, and Christopher Nolan.

He’s also worked on soundtracks for video games, notably with Lorne Balfe on Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2. When asked whether video game music was still art, he said, “Absolutely, that we can’t even question anymore. When movies first came out, maybe they were in black and white and there wasn’t any sound and people were saying the theatre is still the place to be. But now movies and theatre have found their own place in the world. They are each legitimate art forms.”

Joe Hisaishi

The Japanese have long been known as pioneers in the video-game world. Icons such as Pac-Man and the Nintendo brand came from Japan. It makes sense, therefore, that one of Japan’s most critically acclaimed film composers also writes for video games.

Hisaishi has written music for films including those of animator Hayao Miyazaki (famous for Spirited Away). He also composed the soundtrack for the fantasy video game series “Ni No Kuni.”

Harry Gregson Williams

Williams has worked as a film composer on films including the Shrek franchise and The Chronicles of Narnia. He has also written for Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare, and the Metal Gear series of games.

In this short video, Williams explains the process of writing for games:

 Video game music inhabits two traditionally male-dominated worlds, music composition and technology. While there is focus on addressing gender bias in classical music composition in general, it’s interesting to note that many successful video game composers are women too.

Female Video Game Composers:

Winifred Philips – Composition credits include God of War, Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation, and the Little Big Planet series.

Yoko Shimomura – Kingdom Hearts

Rika Muranaka – Metal Gear Solid

Shinobu Tanaka – Mario Kart’s “Rainbow Road” track

Hayat Selim – Initia: Elemental Arena, The Solar System

Women’s Hour Music Power List 2018

Friday 28th September was BBC Music Day. Women’s Hour celebrated by revealing their list of the 40 most influential women in music.

Three out of the top five women are top selling artists, with Adele at #4, Taylor Swift at #2 and Beyonce at #1, but the list also celebrates the contributions of women who work behind the scenes.

Adele (Image: Christopher Macsurak)

At #3 is Vanessa Reed, Chief Executive of the PRS Foundation. This year, Reed has targeted a total of 100 festivals to sign up to PRS’s Keychange initiative, aiming to create a 50:50 gender balance at music festivals and conferences by 2022.

Stacey Tang, Managing Director of RCA UK, is at #5. In 2017 she oversaw six UK #1 albums. Tang is also a founding member of The Digital Future Council, an organisation set up to bridge the gap between media, advertising and technology.

Numbers six to 10 feature a mix of well known names, including some perhaps only known in the musical world. Prominent women include conductor Marin Alsop at #8. Alsop is the only woman to have conducted the Last Night of the Proms – a role she has undertaken on two occasions.

Chi-chi Nwanoku, Double Bassist and Founder of the Chineke! Foundation is at #9. Read more about the Foundation in our blog, Chineke! Leading by Example.

At #6, 7 and 9 are women who are leaders behind the scenes. At #6 is Gillian Moore, Director of Music at Southbank Centre. Gillian has previously been head of Contemporary Culture and Classical Music at Southbank Centre, and her current role to brings these areas together. She is known for championing women musicians.

At #7 is Rebecca Allen, President of Decca Records. She is one of a very few female presidents at major record labels in this country and has overseen the signing of successful artists such as Alfie Boe Ennio Morricone and Sheku Kanneh-Mason.

Success in music events was celebrated at #10 with Maggie Crowe, Director of Events and Charities at the British Phonographic Industry, who oversees the BRIT awards and The Mercury Prize. Crowe is also Administrator of the BRIT Trust and a member of the board at the BRIT school.

Nicola Benedetti (Image: Allanbeavis)

The world of music education was championed in the list with Nicola Benedetti, violinist and educationalist at #18. Benedetti was recognised for her passion for music education and the work she has done to support young talent nationally, regionally and internationally.

At #21, is Kathryn McDowell, Managing Director at the London Symphony Orchestra who, alongside her work on the Artistic Programming of the orchestra, has developed the LSO Live label, as well as extending the orchestra’s well known and respected education and community work.

The ISM’s Chief Executive, Deborah Annetts is at #33. Annetts’ campaigning includes promoting the importance of music through education through the EBacc campaign. Read more about the ISM EBacc campaign in our blog post.

(Image: Knight Foundation)

Composer and Educator Issie Barratt is at #38, celebrating her commitment to music education. Barratt founded, and is a Fellow of, the Jazz faculty at Trinity Laban and performs, composes and has created a record label, as well as being a trustee for the Women’s Jazz Archive.

The music world is traditionally seen as male dominated, with men often predominantly taking the roles of top-selling artist, composer, conductor and executive. But the landscape is changing.  It’s important to celebrate the work of these inspirational women in order to encourage future generations of young women to see how they can play a vital role as performers, conductors, educators and managers.

Links:

The top 10 women in music:  https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/av/entertainment-arts-45677295/bbc-woman-s-hour-publishes-music-power-list

Woman’s Hour (playback): https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b0b39v9r


Music for Peace

21st September is World Peace Day, or the International Day of Peace. It was established in 1981 by the United Nations General Assembly, and, in 2001, the General Assembly designated the Day as a period of non-violence and cease-fire.

This year’s Peace Day celebrates the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the theme is The Right to Peace.

Peace Day is celebrated in a range of different ways across the world, for example: Minute of silence at 12 noon (all timezones), peace education events, Intercultural and interfaith dialogues, community gatherings , concerts and festivals, marches, parades and flag ceremonies and engaging youth in peace-building activities.

Paper Cranes, Children’s Peace Memorial, Hiroshima

There are lots of ways to get involved with Peace Day.

Peace One Day is a charity that aims to institutionalise Peace Day 21 September, making it a day that is self-sustaining, an annual day of global unity and a day of intercultural cooperation on a scale that humanity has never known.

One of their global initiatives is “Set for Peace”, a call to action to DJs and musicians worldwide. The action is simple: Dedicate a set of music to Peace Day – September 18-21:

One Day One Choir is a global peace initiative which uses the power of singing together to unite people around the world on Peace Day. It was launched in 2014 as a response to growing unrest and conflict in the world. Since then, more than a million people from all walks of life and a wide range of different singing groups have joined in to sing in more than 50 countries. One Day One Choir are keen for people to get involved, you can register at http://www.onedayonechoir.org/singing-for-schools

One Day One Choir also offers a list of recommended resources on their website. These include, Out of Ark’s free song, Sing a Song in Unison.

http://www.outoftheark.co.uk/resources/one-day-one-choir/

Sing Up have put together resources as well, available at https://www.singup.org/world-peace-day/

This will be our reply to violence: to make music more intensely, more beautifully, more devotedly than ever before

– Leonard Bernstein

Here are some of our recommendations for songs for Peace Day:

Imagine by John Lennon:

Give Peace a Chance also by John Lennon:

Shalom Chaverim, a Traditional Jewish Song:

Let there be Peace on Earth, Jill Jackson Miller:

Venus, Bringer of Peace from the Planets Suite by Gustav Holst:

Peace, Horace Silver:

War Requiem, Benjamin Britten. Commissioned to inaugurate the rebuilt Coventry Cathedral in 1962, the soloists in the ‘Libera Me’ were intended to be a Russian soprano, an English tenor and a German baritone:

We Shall Overcome, Pete Seeger:

Blowin’ in the Wind, Bob Dylan:

Adagio for Strings, Samuel Barber (from the String Quartet Op. 11, now integrated as an expression of grief in times of conflict, synonymous with incidents including September 11, the death of John F Kennedy, the Manchester Arena bombing and many others):

And in its original version:

War and Peace, Sergey Prokofiev:

The Etiquette of Applause

It’s a question that comes up seemingly annually, often around the BBC Proms Season, it’s confusing and even controversial in classical music: when it the “correct” time to clap? The Music Workshop Company’s Founder and Artistic Director, Maria Thomas, shares her feelings about applause and its impact on the concert experience.

“Different styles of music each have their own traditions about when clapping is appropriate. In Latin American music clapping along to the music is often encouraged. In jazz is it usual to clap immediately after a solo and then again at the end of piece. In classical music, recent tradition suggests audiences should refrain from clapping until the end of the piece, signified by the conductor placing the baton down on the music stand, rather than at the end of each movement. The etiquette of clapping in opera seems to be particularly nuanced depending on programming and venue.

The topic of concert etiquette is so challenging it even has its own Wikipedia page.

Note that I mentioned “recent tradition” with reference to Classical Music above. In the past it was usual for audiences to applaud between the movements of symphonies, and if enough enthusiasm was shown, a movement would be repeated before the next movement was played. The response of audiences indicated to composers and performers the views of those listening.

[Image: Domdomegg]

However, in the 19th and 20th Century there was a move to restrict clapping so audiences would only applaud at the end of a piece. Mahler apparently specified in the score of his Kindertotenlieder that its movements should not be punctuated by applause.

The debate on clapping in classical music has been raging for decades. Arthur Rubinstein, the pianist, said in a 1966 interview, “It’s barbaric to tell people it is uncivilized to applaud something you like.” Alex Ross’s discussion in The Rest Is Noise gives a variety of examples of the debate.

Back in 2016, the Telegraph discussed the response to clapping in between movements at the Proms and reported that many regular ‘prommers’ dislike the habit, whereas Proms Director David Pickard believes it is a good thing:

If you’re listening to something and you think it’s exciting you applaud it.

This year the question was raised again by Chi Chi Nwanoku, double bass player and Founder of the Chineke! Orchestra. In an article in the Guardian, Nwanoku states:

I despair when anyone is reprimanded for showing their spontaneous response at the end of a movement, particularly a heady one that ends on a high… It’s absolutely fantastic to be on the receiving end of rapturous and spontaneous applause.

The Guardian’s letters page featured a number of responses to this comment, some agreeing with Nwanoku’s opinion:

It is intellectual snobbery at its worst to maintain that one must listen to the entire work in silence.

And some disagreeing:

The silence at the end was a profoundly emotional one. And it was into that silence that a small amount of applause broke the spell.

Those who support the idea of clapping in between the movements of a classical work seem to come both from both sides of the performance; auditorium and the stage.

As Nwanoku discussed, reasons for accepting that people will clap in between movements include cultural differences and the possibility that people might be put off attending concerts because they don’t understand the etiquette or are worried about getting something wrong.

As both a performer and concert-goer (including regularly as a ‘prommer’), I know what I prefer in the concert hall, and that is saving the clapping until the end. As noted by the Guardian letter-writer above, there is often a magical moment at the end of a movement, a short pause before moving into the next.

In a similar way, I find it frustrating when a classical radio station plays individual movements of symphonies. The end of the movement is reached, and if I know the work I am mentally preparing for the opening of the next movement when the presenter speaks…

I also find it frustrating in jazz gigs when audiences clap over the music to acknowledge a solo.

As one of the Guardian letter-writers acknowledged:

I would never be so rude as shushing those who clap between movements, but that doesn’t mean that I like it.

So is there an alternative way for audiences to show their appreciation? Orchestral musicians shuffle their feet when a colleague has performed particularly well. It can only be heard by those nearby and is designed to be a subtle movement and sound, but large audiences doing this would still break that magical silence.

How about adopting an alternative way of showing appreciation that is in use by many people already – the gesture of waving both hands in the air, sometimes called ‘jazz hands’ that is used by the deaf community and others such as those with autism. It allows people to ‘applaud’ without breaking the peace, and for those who do not want to be disturbed between movements, they can shut their eyes and enjoy the silence.”

How do you feel about concert etiquette and applause? Does clapping between movements bother you, or would you prefer to be able to spontaneously express your appreciation of a particularly fine performance? Is it elitist or respectful to follow tradition? Would worries about correct etiquette put you off attending concerts? Let us know what you think!

[Image: Niccolò Caranti]

Debussy: Trailblazing Modernity

Achille Claude Debussy, or Claude Debussy as he’s usually known, was, along with Maurice Ravel, the most prominent French composer of classical music associated with Impressionism. Born in 1862, he died on March 25th, 1918, making this year the centenary of his death. His music is still incredibly popular, and ‘centenary’ recordings are trending in the classical music charts.

Impressionism is a term used to describe both music and art. In music, it indicates works that convey emotion, suggestion and atmosphere, using timbre (texture) harmony (colour) and orchestration (palette) in the same way that impressionist painters such as Monet and Renoir built an overall impression rather than a detailed realistic image.

Children on the Beach at Guernsey, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, 1883

These styles were in keeping with the literary fashion of the time: Symbolism. Symbolism was a reaction against the grittiness of realism. It featured metaphor and suggestion. Individual objects were given symbolic meanings with the intention of representing ‘absolute truths’ that could only be described indirectly.

Debussy rejected the term ‘Impressionism’ when applied to his music. In a letter of 1908 he wrote,

I am trying to do ‘something different’ — in a way realities — what the imbeciles call ‘impressionism’ is a term which is as poorly used as possible, particularly by art critics.

In fact, the composer spent a lot of time, and shared many ideals with symbolist writers, including Mallarmé and Pierre Loüys. Although the label of ‘impressionist’ that was given him in a less than flattering way after he submitted Le Printemps to the Conseil de Art (it was refused by the Académie’s Secretary in a letter warning him about “impressionism, the most dangerous enemy of artistic truth”), he adhered more to symbolism than impressionism, and transcended both.

Debussy at the Piano

Debussy’s musical language marked the era of modernity. His focus was constantly on originality – a genuine trailblazer in the world of music. Experimental from the outset, he was also a brilliant pianist and a fantastic sight-reader. While he applied the techniques of the old masters, he pushed these to their limits. He used whole tone scales, pentatonicism, and unresolved dissonances by removing them from the tonal framework.

Travels to Russia in his youth had interested in non-European music. These trips possibly also prepared him for the Paris Exposition Universelle of 1889, where he discovered the Japanese gamelan and Annamite theatre. By integrating these elements into his language, he created a sound that was previously unknown and was to spark modernism in music.

Russian music itself made a strong impression. Influences from late nineteenth-century Russian music, including that of Tchaikovsky, Mussorgsky, and Borodin can be heard in Debussy. There was increasing cross-cultural flow during the period of the Franco-Russian alliance in the late nineteenth century, and Russian music was also performed and popularised by musicians including Liszt and Saint-Saëns.

As winner of the 1884 Prix de Rome with his composition L’enfant prodigue, Debussy had received a scholarship to the Académie des Beaux-Arts. This included a four-year residence at the Villa Medici, the French Academy in Rome, to further his studies (1885–1887).

In his letters to Marie-Blanche Vasnier (a singer with whom he went on to have an eigth-year affair) he complained that he found the artistic atmosphere stifling. He didn’t enjoy the culture in Rome either. The operas of Donizetti and Verdi were distinctly not to his taste. He was often depressed and unable to compose. He was, however, inspired by Franz Liszt, whose command of the keyboard he found admirable.

In June 1885, he wrote of his desire to follow his own way, saying,

I am sure the Institute would not approve, for, naturally it regards the path which it ordains as the only right one. But there is no help for it! I am too enamoured of my freedom, too fond of my own ideas.

It was Debussy who can to some extent be attributed with the development of modern music in the United States in the early twentieth century. American music critics showed mixed reactions to the composer’s highly original harmonic language and style, but his modernistic musical language and symbolist ideals soon evoked enthusiasm. In the early decades of the century, Debussy’s orchestral music was championed more than that of any other contemporary composer by the symphony orchestras of Boston, Chicago, and New York. His work is also thought to have influenced American jazz long after his death.

Debussy died of rectal cancer at home in Paris home at the age of just 55. His death occurred in the midst of the aerial and artillery bombardment of Paris during the German Spring Offensive of World War I.

His funeral procession passed through deserted streets to Père Lachaise Cemetery as the German guns bombarded the city. The military situation in France was grave, and the public funeral he would otherwise have received, with its pomp and ceremonious graveside orations, was impossible. The following year, his body was reinterred in the small Passy Cemetery  behind the Trocadéro, fulfilling his wish to rest “among the trees and the birds”.

Further Reading:

Debussy: The first ‘modern’ composer (a New York Times article by Pianist Stephen Hough

Five pop-ish musicians who owe a debt to Debussy 

Debussy’s influence on jazz

And check out our MWC ‘Debussy’ Spotify playlists:

Debussy’s Piano Music

Debussy’s Orchestral Music

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