Britain and Europe - European music: radio programme. Sample containing about 2116 words speech recorded in educational context

2 speakers recorded by respondent number C864

PS63E X m (a, age unknown) unspecified
PS63F X u (mh, age unknown) unspecified

1 recordings

  1. Tape 139401 recorded on unknown date.


[recorded jingle]
a (PS63E) [1] Good evening.
[2] In this programme we are going to look at the way in which British music has developed in recent years and its relationship to that produced by Continental Europe.
[3] I recently talked to Michael Hall, who lectures in music at the university.
[4] I asked him whether I was right in supposing that over the years British music had been influenced much more by the Continent than vice-versa.
mh (PS63F) [6] Yes, it's absolutely right.
[7] No doubt about it.
[8] Apart from two periods ... apart from the beginning of the fifteenth century, and I think in certain respects in our own day, and for the rest of the time we were dass land ohne muziek ... the land without music, I fear.
[9] As far as the Continentals were concerned, it was the sensuality of English music.
[10] What had happened in the fourteenth century, mainly French music had become very, very intellectual, very austere, very formal.
[11] The English at that time had produced a kind of ravishing sensuality which when we invaded Europe in France in the Hundred Years War and influenced the Burgundians, they were fascinated by the kind of sensuous sounds we were producing.
[12] And one composer in particular, a man called John Dunstable, had a profound influence on the direction which Continental music was going to take.
[13] In fact, his music is found not in England, it is found in mainly Italian and Burgundian libraries.
[14] Even at the end of the sixteenth century, which is a great golden era as far as we were concerned, you know, the madrigal came from Italy and it was the Italian import that influenced English composers, rather than the other way round.
a (PS63E) [15] I think asked Michael whether people in France and Germany, for example, knew of the work of British composers such as Elgar.
mh (PS63F) [16] Hardly then at all.
[17] Well, they are played but not, not very often, and they are treated not with the same respect as we treat them.
[18] It's quite staggering, really amazing.
[19] I once conducted a major European orchestra, a German orchestra, and I conducted the introduction Allegro of Elgar and it was the first time they'd ever, ever played any Elgar, and they didn't like the piece.
[20] They thought it was slightly wishy-washy, or something.
[21] I thought it was a fantastic piece.
[22] And we do, you know, for us it's a standard classic.
[23] But no, the kind of subtlety, the rubarto was, you know, that is very, the hallmark of Elgar they didn't like at all.
[24] I think it's a musical difference in taste.
[25] I think, I mean, if you take Elgar I think what we admire about Elgar is this very strange, slightly introverted quality, this dark quality, this fluidity, this flexibility, this lack of rigid formal devices.
[26] Again, it's like Dunstable, this slight sensuality about Elgar.
[27] I don't mean that Elgar is a sensuous composer, but I mean the fluidity of Elgar, which is very much his style, which we admire and which is part and parcel of our sort of heritage, they don't see the point of it, they can't really enter into the spirit of it.
[28] It is something peculiarly English I think.
[29] The more contemporary serious composers are much more appreciated.
[30] I mean since Britten, and then later on Tippet and now Maxwell Davis and Birtwhistle, there is a general respect for English music and quite frequently the Continentals will commission a piece by Birtwhistle or Maxwell Davis now as if they were major composers, and indeed they are of course.
[31] So that there has been a major breakthrough in the appreciation of English music, but it's not quite, it's still on the periphery, I think, of erm music as far as the Germans, the French and the Italians are concerned.
a (PS63E) [32] I asked Michael about the recent success of Benjamin Britten's opera, Peter Grimes, in Paris.
mh (PS63F) [33] Yes, but this is amazing.
[34] Peter Grimes was put on in Paris, but the first time a French company has put on Peter Grimes.
[35] Well Peter Grimes is, what, 1945.
[36] It's an old piece, thirty-six years old.
[37] It's a masterpiece, I mean we have been ... it's on every year in this country somewhere, and the idea that the first time a Parisian company should put on Peter Grimes in 1981 is staggering.
[38] It was done by Sadlers Wells in the late forties, but there has been no new production until this recent one in the opera.
[39] Well that really shows the kind of [laugh] lack of respect that the French have had for, after all, what is an accredited masterpiece by a masterly composer.
[40] In fairness the Peter Grimes is done frequently in Germany, although strangely enough it is not quite as popular as some of the other pieces.
[41] It is very interesting that Peter Grimes, of all Britain's operas is not the popular opera as it is here.
[42] It is, however, done regularly in Germany, and all Britten's music is done frequently in Eastern Block and Russia.
a (PS63E) [43] But what is the difference between orchestra and singers in Britain and the Continent?
mh (PS63F) [44] The sound is different.
[45] It's the sound of exceptionally brilliant wind players that we have, not such good string players.
[46] We are weak on our string players.
[47] We are not as accomplished as the best German orchestras, and this is not because we are bad string players, but simply because we're a kind of pot pourri, we have all kinds of different string styles in England.
[48] We haven't got and English string style, whilst there is a specific German string style or a specific Belgian, a specific Russian, a specific French — we haven't got that and we haven't got the richness and fullness of the string sound of the Continental orchestras on the whole.
[49] Our wind playing, however, is an incredibly high standard and what we have got in our orchestras are brilliant sight readers and if you want a sort of erm an orchestra to learn something then an English orchestra will take, I don't know, a quarter of the time that any other Continental orchestra will take.
[50] They are very, very, very quick indeed and very, very efficient, and this is why, since the War London has been the centre of the recording industry, simply because it's been worth the while for Americans in recording companies, for example, to record in London rather than anywhere else because we are so efficient.
[51] At one time, British singers were, dare I say it, almost rock bottom.
[52] No Continental opera house would engage an English singer erm now it's quite different.
[53] I would be surprised if there's a major opera house in Europe now which hasn't got and English singer.
[54] They are in tremendous demand, it really is surprising.
[55] I don't know whether it's just our standards are going up, or there's are going down.
[56] I think ours are going up very, very rapidly, but again the astonishing thing is the efficiency of the English singer.
[57] I mean, okay, we've produced some astonishingly good voices, nice sounds, but we are also very, very efficient.
[58] We can ready quickly, we can learn things quickly, we can cope, we can act on the whole rather better and rather quicker than the Continentals.
[59] In other words, we are able to sort of erm to fulfil a role in the opera house which is extremely beneficial to the Continentals.
[60] In any case, the situation has changed and we are, you know, almost pre-eminent in terms of opera singers at the moment.
a (PS63E) [61] I asked Michael whether people ever came to England to study music.
mh (PS63F) [62] Yes, they do.
[63] They come to Sussex to study music.
[64] erm we've always had foreign students, music students, at Sussex.
[65] It's the same, I think, at the College Academy.
[66] Not great quantities, but there are certain aspects of music which we're still very good at and people want to learn from us.
a (PS63E) [67] I asked Michael what was the second period when British music influenced the Continent.
mh (PS63F) [68] Well now, and it's not in serious music, it's in erm in popular music, in pop.
[69] I think that what has happened, certainly since the sixties, the sixties and seventies, English pop was absolutely pre-eminent.
[70] Of course, America has always been highly influential, but when one thinks of the Rolling Stones and Beatles erm and what have you in the sixties and seventies, and how much it has influenced Continental light music, not light music but popular culture, it is incredible.
[71] And what I find interesting is that it's the sheer vitality of the English sound — it's not just the Liverpool sound, it's the English sound — the vitality, the sensuality, the letting one's hair down quality, that is exactly what the Continentals admired in Dunstable, and strangely enough in a way what Elgar's got — this incredible sort of desire not to be over formal and to break down certain formal barriers which seems to be so characteristic of English music.
[72] I think I'm probably drawing too many parallels between the serious situation and the pop situation, but certainly no doubt that English pop for the last twenty years has been pre-eminent in Europe, and still is.
[73] It's the fact that we are so close to America, that we've got this highly dynamic American sound that we had in the sixties in this country with the kind of dynamism in the sixties and the desire to sort of break through all kinds of formal barriers — I mean the mini skirt period, you know what I mean ... and in certain cities, like Liverpool, where this feeling of it is necessary to break through barriers to create this kind of dynamic sort of extremely vital sound.
[74] Compare that with, you know, the very, very formal kind of pop or light music you get from Germany, or even Italy, compared to what we've produced.
[75] It is part of our society.
[76] We are accused of being the poor men of Europe, and I think we are economically and industrially the poor men of Europe or at least our performances haven't been very good in this respect since the War, but the other side is that because we are the poor men and are self-conscious about it, that we have compensated, in a sense, in the vitality of our music and of our culture, and certainly in the pop culture.
[77] Our pop culture is, as I say, to use the word again, pre-eminent.
a (PS63E) [78] But do we have the same vitality in our serious music?
mh (PS63F) [79] Admittedly we haven't had a Stockhausen in our midst erm we haven't had a Boulez perhaps.
[80] These two men, in particular, who have absolutely dominated the post-War scene.
[81] But my feeling is that the sort of run-of-the-mill, solid English composer, I say solid — they are not actually solid — but I mean the Harrison Birtwhistles, the Maxwell Davises of this world are some of the most interesting people in the world at the moment.
[82] My favourite is Harrison Birtwhistle.
[83] I find that his vitality, his sort of erm sense of rightness is incredibly interesting and much more rewarding than a lot of things that are going on on the Continent.
[84] The Continent is still self-conscious about its music.
[85] Our music is much more spontaneous, I think, like the pop.
a (PS63E) [86] Michael had this to say about the inaccessibility to the general public of recent contemporary music.
mh (PS63F) [87] The truth is that the [...] are surprisingly perceptive of what is good and what is bad, and it is very interesting that the best contemporary composers are those that actually will fill the hall — people will come and hear them.
[88] We moan a great deal about bad [...] for contemporary music, but put on a big new Stockhausen piece in London and the likelihood is that you will fill that hall, provided you prepare it.
[89] I suppose I'm feeling slightly sceptical about the [...] situation, but if you ask me as blankly as that of course my immediate reaction, my old reaction would be ‘but of course I feel confident about the future of British music’, you know, in my more sceptical mood now I still would say ‘yes’, but not quite so enthusiastically as before.
[90] I still think, however, that there is, there will always be a future for music and we have any vitality we will produce music, so if music dies, we die.
[91] That's an awful thing to say.
a (PS63E) [92] Well hopefully music will not die, but will continue to give joy and meaning to the lives of millions.
[93] Next Tuesday it's the turn of drama and literature, and I shall be looking at the place of Britain in Europe with the help of Gabriel Droskapovchy .
[94] Until next week, then, goodnight. [recorded jingle]