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View Full Version : Are English composers underappreciated?


Pavlos
08-15-2009, 07:00 PM
This is an interesting question that a friend at the RCM asked me the other day: are English composers such as Vaughan Williams (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oz1hWcPkods), Holst (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3B49N46I39Y), or Tallis (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yvpONvhqsDg) rightfully shunned in favour of the Teutonic greats? An anonymous Italian visitor to England in the thirteenth century commented on the beauty of the English choral compositions, exotically and excitingly, performed outside of church; goodness me. Yet, a recent documentary on BBC 4 about "The British Composers" featured Mendelssohn, Handel, Haydn, and Purcell. While there can be no doubt that the first three (particularly Handel) were influenced by British culture and that element of their music deserves exploration, the fact remains that only Purcell (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jpXofPTqbxY) is actually British. An opportunity to explore the music of Britten (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ku3TRcjLpyY) or Blow (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yZCwxVqb-mU) was ignored, perhaps rightfully so, in favour of more famous, German, names.

When was the last time HMV had a special offer on Purcell's Dido and Aeneas (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m8CHfGr3W5s)? Why is it that when, in those drunken four in the morning discussions that students have in their kitchens about the "greatest composer" (generally just before that the time when they work out plans to end world hunger, bring about peace on Earth, and then congratulate themselves on a job well done by sleeping with one another) Elgar's music is agreed upon and dismissed as an imperialistic embarrassment like slavery, the Great War, or William McGonagall? Is it right that our minds fly to Germany and Austria when we talk of music? Is English just not exotic enough?

Oh and... why? For:

Is not their climate foggy, raw and dull,
On whom, as in despite, the sun looks pale,
Killing their fruit with frowns? Can sodden water,
A drench for sur-rein'd jades, their barley-broth,
Decoct their cold blood to such valiant heat?

Astor
08-15-2009, 07:23 PM
I'm no expert, having only discovered classical and baroque a few months ago, but I wouldn't say that they're underappreciated - 'overshadowed' would seem to be a better word, I think.

While they're not high on my playlist, I do have selections from Purcell and other English composers on my iPod. I don't exactly know why I like them, but I do agree that they deserve a little more affection.

Jae Onasi
08-15-2009, 07:26 PM
I think British composers are ignored in favor of of composers from other countries for many genres of music, with the exceptions of the madrigal and rock--who can ignore the Beatles? That may have more to do with what has survived musically over the centuries, the history of the nationality of patrons of musicians during the Middle Ages, Renaissance, early modern Europe, and so forth, and less to do with the quality of the composer, however. For instance, a lot of Josquin des Prez's choral music survived, but it doesn't appear that a lot of British choral composers had works that survived from that time period. In addition, during the Renaissance the Italians and French patronized artists of all types more than the British, and a few hundred years later it was the Holy Roman Empire that became one of the big centers for music and arts. Naturally, this would foster Italian, French, and German/Austrian composers more than British.

Darth InSidious
08-15-2009, 07:53 PM
who can ignore the Beatles?
No-one, unfortunately - though not for want of trying. :p

Sabretooth
08-15-2009, 09:16 PM
I think British composers are ignored in favor of of composers from other countries for many genres of music, with the exceptions of the madrigal and rock

And METAL.

http://dkpresents.files.wordpress.com/2008/11/judas-priest-britsh-steel.jpg

Rabish Bini
08-16-2009, 05:13 AM
And METAL.

http://dkpresents.files.wordpress.com/2008/11/judas-priest-britsh-steel.jpg
The most metal album you can buy o_Q

While I'm no expert, I personally prefer the 'teutonic' composers.

Q
08-16-2009, 08:09 AM
I was going to make some sly, witty remark about it being for the same reason that the British build these beautiful, sexy cars that fall apart after a few thousand miles, but, with the notable exception of BMW and maybe Porsche, this is now apparently true for the Germans as well. :p

Music composition is so dependent upon individual ability and achievement that I don't believe that nationality could have much, if anything, to do with it.

Darth InSidious
08-16-2009, 08:47 AM
This is an interesting question that a friend at the RCM asked me the other day: are English composers such as Vaughan Williams (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oz1hWcPkods), Holst (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3B49N46I39Y), or Tallis (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yvpONvhqsDg) rightfully shunned in favour of the Teutonic greats? An anonymous Italian visitor to England in the thirteenth century commented on the beauty of the English choral compositions, exotically and excitingly, performed outside of church; goodness me. Yet, a recent documentary on BBC 4 about "The British Composers" featured Mendelssohn, Handel, Haydn, and Purcell. While there can be no doubt that the first three (particularly Handel) were influenced by British culture and that element of their music deserves exploration, the fact remains that only Purcell (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jpXofPTqbxY) is actually British. An opportunity to explore the music of Britten (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ku3TRcjLpyY) or Blow (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yZCwxVqb-mU) was ignored, perhaps rightfully so, in favour of more famous, German, names.

When was the last time HMV had a special offer on Purcell's Dido and Aeneas (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m8CHfGr3W5s)? Why is it that when, in those drunken four in the morning discussions that students have in their kitchens about the "greatest composer" (generally just before that the time when they work out plans to end world hunger, bring about peace on Earth, and then congratulate themselves on a job well done by sleeping with one another) Elgar's music is agreed upon and dismissed as an imperialistic embarrassment like slavery, the Great War, or William McGonagall? Is it right that our minds fly to Germany and Austria when we talk of music? Is English just not exotic enough?

Oh and... why? For:

Is not their climate foggy, raw and dull,
On whom, as in despite, the sun looks pale,
Killing their fruit with frowns? Can sodden water,
A drench for sur-rein'd jades, their barley-broth,
Decoct their cold blood to such valiant heat?


Since we're already dealing with the subset of society that listens to anything other than what's on Now (Vomit) 82, and the even smaller subset who listen to "classical" music, the answer is already "yes"; but are Purcell, Tallis etc. valued to the same extent as, say, Mozart, Beethoven, Bach, etc.? No. Partly because the Renaissance is generally not considered, but also because people like Bach were hugely successful in their own time, and very influential.

Perhaps in this country we didn't have the patronage of music that other European countries did; we tended to put more effort into the stage.

Darth Avlectus
08-17-2009, 01:21 AM
As generally uneducated as I am in this area of music, what I have heard of the old stuff has been pleasant in its own right. Some of it surprisingly good (if not great) to my ears for never having heard it.

So simply, YES!

Astor
08-17-2009, 03:33 AM
Perhaps in this country we didn't have the patronage of music that other European countries did; we tended to put more effort into the stage.

The only major example of patronage that I can think of is George I's (and later, George II's) patronage of Handel, but he had been in the employ of George I before he ascended to the throne.

But then again, as you know, both of them were German, even if Handel would later consider himself to be English.