British Composers - Do they cut the mustard?

Discussion in 'Films, Music and All Things Artsy' started by lumpy2, Jun 17, 2011.

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  1. A letter in the Daily Wail today (I know, I shouldn't read that drivel), has got my dander up somewhat. The gist of it was, the writer was surprised at the number of British composers featured on Desert Island Discs, and implied that this was a sad reflection on the population's collective musical intelligence. He went on to compare the "lightweight" (his word) Lark Ascending by Vaughan Williams with compositions by the likes of Mozart, Beethoven and other 18th/19th century european composers.

    Surely such comparisons are spurious - VW could no more have written the Eroica than Beethoven could have written the Lark. Each composer is of his time, and following the musical trends of that time.

    I would suggest that composers such as VW captured something uniquely English in their music, which has entered the collective consciousness (in their home country), and that the English feel a personal affinity with them, hence their popularity (which the DM letter writer seems to imply is some sort of "dumbing down").

    Now I've got that off my chest, what do other musical arrsers think?
  2. LancePrivateJones

    LancePrivateJones LE Book Reviewer

    For me Vaughan Williams is the daddy of British composers. His symphonies can be immensely complicated yet skirt around VW's trademark simplicity. Furthermore his music is built out of 'Englishness'. His 6th symphony is one of the best examples of musical contrast that will make the hairs on your neck stand up.

    Benjamin Britten can be surprisingly pleasant, if opera isn't your bag give 'Four Sea Interludes and Passacaglia' from Peter Grimes a go, I would hope you wouldn't be disappointed.

    Holst is another sadly neglected English composer, everybody knows bits of the 'Planets Suite' but Holst was much much more than this. Give him a go, you might be pleasantly surprised.

    As for good old Elgar, it is sometimes hard to separate the jingoistic from the real music.
    Everybody knows 'Pomp & Circumstance' No 1 and No 4 but his symphonies are brilliant, plus his cello concerto plus his 'Introduction and Allegro' for strings, all good stuff.

    We have William Walton (which can be an acquired taste, especially his 'Facade') and Arthur Bliss who both wrote a lot of good stuff. Give the final movement from 'Checkmate' by Bliss a go, exciting music and not in the least bit dated. John Williams might have a bit of trouble earning a living if Bliss was still around IMO.

    There are many more, Frederick Delius for example, a much neglected composer capable of astoundingly beautiful music.

    Our best composers have never been given the status that Mozart, Beethoven etc had in their own countries because our society has never really appreciated them in the same way that the continentals do. Vaughan Williams for an example was a teacher at Charterhouse and never made much from his music. Elgar was in charge of the Worcester County Lunatic Asylum Band until his works gave him a more comfortable living.

    For an island of our size, we have more than our fair share of musical brilliance past and present.

    For anybody to suggest that British music is in some way 'dumbed down' shows a remarkable lack of intelligence, subject knowledge, and 'dumbed down' philistinism on the part of the author.
  3. rampant

    rampant LE Reviewer Book Reviewer

    Wot LPJ said, I would also add that Elizabethan composers such as Tallis, Byrd or Gibbons are well worth a look in.
  4. LancePrivateJones

    LancePrivateJones LE Book Reviewer

    Plus your very own Hamish McCunn who hopefully will be rediscovered one day.
  5. rampant

    rampant LE Reviewer Book Reviewer



    Luvverly Stuff
  6. Trans-sane

    Trans-sane LE Book Reviewer

    Nimrod remains one of the finest and most moving pieces of music I have ever listened to. I start welling up whenever I hear it.

    As a debating point, would Handel be considered a Brit composer given he was a naturalised British Subject for much of his life?
  7. LancePrivateJones

    LancePrivateJones LE Book Reviewer

    Would have become Scotland's own Vaughan Williams had he lived long enough IMHO.

    Nice recording, thanks.

    ******* Daily Mail readers, a musical knowledge of 'Nessun Dorma' and '1812' :roll:

    @Trans-sane, Handel is a hard one to work out, I would call him German/English. However his influence on future British music was immense. I think it is safe to call him an English Composer.
  8. Comparing one piece of music to another is a prime example of comparing apples and oranges.

    Which one of these is the best bit of music;

    Stairway to heaven
    Moonlight seranade
    Night on bare mountain?

    British composers are as good as any, as has been said, but there has been less acclaim for them in their own country.
  9. LancePrivateJones

    LancePrivateJones LE Book Reviewer

    My Bold

    However, British composers (and musicians) do have huge respect throughout the rest of the world.

    Not many people seem to know that.
  10. we just bought a composter from B&Q, don't know if it's British or not but my mate in 2PARA said it was pretty good.
  11. Fang_Farrier

    Fang_Farrier LE Reviewer Book Reviewer

    For those with a taste in music may I recommend that you avoid anything by Sir Peter Maxwell Davies,
    • Like Like x 1
  12. LancePrivateJones

    LancePrivateJones LE Book Reviewer

    That is ******* hilarious. :blank:
  13. Purcell's not been mentioned yet for some reason, strange considering this is an army forum. When I am laid in Earth is, in my opinion an aria that stands up very well against the more overwrought stuff of the Romantic era.

    What L/Pte Jones says about British music being appreciated abroad is very true, while the snobs of the chattering classes would like to give the impression that it never gets farther than Classic FM's signal a trawl of Youtube reveals Elgar and VW being played as far afield as Shanghai and Tehran.

    I suspect that for many the root of the contempt for the Lark... is a metropolitan disdain for anything apparently to do with rural England.
    • Like Like x 1
  14. In my opinion British Composers are as good as any in the whole world and as diverse. Maybe not as full of Strum and Drang as their continental counterparts, but their music has a unique feel. Purcell's Arias are as good as any by Puccini or Mozart and Birtwhistle is... well Birtwhistle.

    It boils down the traditional British public attitude of if it's British it's rubbish. Good music will move you wherever it is from.
  15. LancePrivateJones

    LancePrivateJones LE Book Reviewer

    As an aside (from a military perspective), I have been looking at a biography of Vaughan Williams and was surprised to find out about his service in WW1. Joined RAMC as a Private stretcher bearer and served in France and Salonika. Commissioned into the Gunners in 1917 and once again served on the western front until the end. Many often say his 6th Symphony was his 'War Symphony' and I can now understand where he got his inspiration from.

    Also, often forgotten is George Butterworth MC. Composer of the lovely 'Shropshire Lad'. Lt in the DLI and killed in action, 1916.

    Butterworth was seen as a future musical giant but he died alongside many of the unknown talent of that generation.