How We Promote Neglected Music Matters

purcelltweet

There’s something I’ve noticed from those of us who are concerned with trying to increase awareness of neglected composers. It’s a tendency when people are introducing a composer that has been bothering me for a while.

I’ll use Bax as an example since regular readers know I genuinely love his music. He was influenced, among others, by Sibelius, and both wrote seven symphonies. If I introduced Bax’s symphony cycle as ‘not in the same league as Sibelius, but worth a listen’, what does this say?

For a serious classical record collector, the take-home message might be ‘go and listen to Bax’. But for anyone else, it’s simply that Bax was not as good at symphonies as Sibelius.

My point is this: framing a recommendation in this way actually reinforces the way of thinking that has kept a composer in obscurity. It’s ultimately counter-productive. I don’t for a second doubt that people make such recommendations with their heart in the right place. But it boils down to the hopelessly uninspiring sales pitch: ‘it’s good (but not that good)’. Thinking along these lines will keep works like Bax’s symphonies as something that serious record collectors pull from an alphabetised shelf once a year, but not much else.

I find the idea of paying tribute to the gods of artistic hierarchy before promoting a composer or piece of music extremely depressing. That is why on this blog I try to look at what is distinctive, noteworthy and pleasurable about music when I advocate it, and try to not to be critical about the music itself. This last point may surprise people, but I don’t see being a music critic as a personal priority. I don’t want to construct a hierarchy of my own, I want to share works that I find rewarding and interesting, and I hope that some of my readers will find them rewarding and interesting too. I will happily reserve my criticism for the music industry that marginalises so much brilliant music instead.

If I were recommending Bax to someone, I might choose to mention that his third symphony was performed nine times at the Proms in the fifteen years after it was written. Imagine that happening to a large piece of new music today. Wouldn’t you like to find out why it was so popular? (Listen here).

Just like the Radio 3 tweet above, language matters. How we frame things matters. Is Purcell the greatest British composer? My reply is a different question: why does everything nowadays have to be a damn competition?

More thoughts on the narrowness of the classical repertoire can’t be found in my guest blog for The Cross-Eyed Pianist: Our Narrow Repertoire Is Holding Classical Music Back

Corymbus relies on reader donations to publish articles on classical music. If you enjoyed this piece, consider throwing some coins this way to help fund the next one! Even small amounts soon add up. Donate with PayPal or Patreon.

Sign up to the mailing list below.