Back in June i found myself drinking latte in a supermarket cafe just on the outskirts of Swindon. Worse than that, I managed to get involved in something known as a ‘meeting’. Apparently this occurs when a group of people get together to spend many hours discussing something at length, rather than just doing what was initially proposed before the coffee was even poured. On this occasion, the purpose of said meeting was to discuss ideas for the finale to a choir concert which was being held in Swindon a few weeks later.
With little inclination to spend much time drinking a latte which had been made by the co-op, I decided I would not entertain a discussion but instead just present the solution and leave. So I made my way to the meeting point, looked at the others who had gathered expectantly poised with their notepads and simply said, Elgar, Arne and Parry – I’ll wave, Lorraine will play and Luana will sing. With that I left, and a few weeks later the finale to the concert was a great success.
Last weekend, this same combination of songs was presented at a concert in the Royal Albert Hall with Sakrai Oramo conducting and Nina Stemme dressing up as Valkyrie to sing about William Blake’s Green and Pleasant land. In the conductors ‘last night of the proms’ speech, Oramo referred to the ‘immminent demise of classical music’. Looking up from the rostrum at the crowds of anti Brexit campaigners with their blue and yellow flags, he then concluded that the future of classical music was bolstered by events such as the Proms. This immediately got me thinking about the ancient Sumerians who, in 3200BC, developed a system of writing called cuneiform.
The name originates from the Latin word cuneus for ‘wedge’ owing to the wedge-shaped style of writing. In cuneiform, a carefully cut writing implement known as a stylus is pressed into soft clay to produce wedge-like impressions that represent word-signs (pictographs) and, later, phonograms or `word-concepts’ (closer to a modern day understanding of a `word’). All of the great Mesopotamian civilizations used cuneiform (the Sumerians, Akkadians, Babylonians, Elamites, Hatti, Hittites, Assyrians, Hurrians and others) until it was abandoned in favour of the alphabetic script at some point after 100BC.
The Sumerians may not have known it at the time but technically they were also defining Western Classical Music from around the 6th century AD up to the present day. The term classical music is often misunderstood and should not be confused with the ‘classical style’ which refers to music written around the time of Mozart and Haydn in the late 18th century. Classical music encompasses complex writing such as fugues and the symphonic form. But actually at its most basic level the term simply refers to music for which their is a written score. This is in direct comparison to folk music which was passed on through the generations mainly by ear.
One of the premiere’s featuring in this years Proms was Harrison Birtwhistle’s ‘Deep Time’. The concept of Deep Time follows on from the work of the 18th century Scottish geologist James Hutton who proposed that the processes of rock erosion, sedimentation and formation have ‘no vestige of a beginning, no prospect of an end’, and are in a state of perpetual change.
Prom 8 didn’t have any premieres but instead was a celebration of John Williams’ 85th birthday and included some of his greatest tunes written for the silver screen. This too is counted as ‘classical’ music again on the basis that Williams writes in down and produces a musical score.
And therein lies the future of classical music to my mind. Listening to yet another classical chart produced by Classic FM a couple of weeks ago I was interested to hear hear an increasing amount of music which featured either in films or was written for a computer game. Whilst not a gamer myself, I think the inclusion of properly composed music for the genre was long overdue, and it pleases me greatly to see that classical music is finding new ways to appeal to the next generation. Birtwhistle may have hit the nail on the head with his Deep Time. Instead of declaring the end of Classical Music, we should see it as something which is constantly evolving and continues to inspire new generations of composers to produce music that is more accessible than ever before.
Jules Addison is a Music Producer who keeps threatening to write a song for his choirs, but has never quite got around to it!