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Classical or not? May 23, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — macbananabean @ 10:04 pm
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A few years ago I was listening to the Classic FM Hall of Fame while following them on Facebook at the same time. It was good fun to read the comments coming in from listeners about the pieces played and the order they came in. The debate over which is better between Vaughan-Williams’ Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis and The Lark Ascending still rages on. (For the record I have no idea how the twiddly, twittery little lark can possible be regarded as better than the sumptuous, dense and incredibly beautiful strings of the Fantasia!)

Another debate that popped up during the weekend was on the merit of film scores. Should they be allowed to be considered for the Hall of Fame chart? Were they classical enough? Where should the line be drawn? Too modern? Too populist? Too commercial? But what should “classical” music be?
Instrumental? What about Verdi’s Requiem, Vivaldi’s Gloria, Bach’s Magnificat? So not just instrumental then.
Orchestral? Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata, Bach’s unaccompanied violin pieces. Can’t just be orchestral then.
Old? How old? Vaughan Williams’ Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis (1910). Karl Jenkins The Armed Man (2000).
By dead composers? Craig Armstrong, Peter Maxwell Davies, John Tavener, Philip Glass. They’re all still living.
Some people objected to film scores because they were written for the screen and not for concert. Fair enough perhaps but opera scores and ballet scores weren’t written for concert either. Others objected to the music being written for commercial gain. Funnily enough, even composers and musicians need to make a living. Vivaldi had a job churning out church music week after week. Beethoven had rich patrons who commissioned works from him.
I’m not sure where the line is for “classical” music. I suggested that music from musicals probably wouldn’t be part of a classical music chart but even then, Leonard Bernstein wrote a concert suite of music from West Side Story.

I love film scores. They paint a picture, build up emotions and tell a story just like any other piece of classical music can do. They aren’t all light and fluffy either. Some of the most difficult pieces I’ve ever played in an orchestra are film scores. They are full of themes, stories and complexities. When Anakin Skywalker appears on screen in The Phantom Menace the music heard is based on The Imperial March to hint at Anakin’s future as Darth Vader. At the Battle of Helm’s Deep in Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers there is a musical nod to Back to the Future as Legolas slides down a flight of stairs standing, skateboard-like, on a shield.
I have to admit I enjoy the film score debate and will gladly defend the right of the film score to stand with Bach, Beethoven, Haydn etc as worthy of classical music. I can’t see it as “dumbing down” to hold concerts dedicated to film scores. They have their audience the same as 20th Century tone poems do.

The film score debate, however, seems to have calmed down recently. There will always be the purists who dislike them and cannot accept them as serious music but Hans Zimmer, John Williams and James Horner are all familiar names in classical music.
There is now another debate. Same arguments – populist, silly, dumbing down, commercial, rubbish. I was so excited to hear than not one but two pieces of music written for video games made the 2012 Classic FM Hall of Fame! A piece by Jeremy Soules from Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim was in at 238 while Nobuo Uematsu’s Aerith’s Theme from Final Fantasy VII was all the way up at 16. A beautiful piece building emotion, telling a story, painting a picture.
Variety is the spice of life – even in classical music. Bring it on!