The following is a statement by an exceedingly annoying man whom one should never cite as an example of anything, except in extreme circumstances, because it only encourages him.
“The idea that classical music is the province of white-wigged old farts shows a failure of imagination and rank snobbery,”
Thus sayeth, rightly, the nation’s favourite prep school master, Stephen Fry, who I admit can be quite interesting in small doses. This week, the omnipresent omnididact was on his hind legs in the Cambridge Union to oppose the motion,
‘This House believes classical music is irrelevant to today’s youth’,
… proposed by a radio DJ whose professional life centres on yoof culcha. Let us forgive Fry’s non-accidental, leftie-luvvie omission of the word ‘inverse’ in his accusation of snobbery since the motion was heavily defeated.
The audience, of course, comprised the mainly middle-class members of an elite English university which has contributed massively and arguably more than any other to the classical music scene in the United Kingdom and the wider world, so one may assume that the audience would include several young classical musicians.
(Think of a British classical singer or conductor and it’s about evens that he or she is a Cantab alumnus and/or don whose career began in a Cambridge college chapel.) Cambridge musicians have enriched and continue to enrich the musical life of this country, Europe and the wider western world to an extraordinary degree.
They perform in all the great concert halls of the world’s cultural centres where – and here we approach the burden of this post – they lay before each generation the vast treasure trove of western society’s priceless musical heritage. They were never going to support the motion. But in a different forum… the BBC Question Time studio, perhaps… would the vote have gone the same way? I would dearly love to think so but I do not.
Classical music expresses the ineffable and, as it does so, elicits an immemorial recognition, the Ah! response, in the depths of the hearer’s soul providing the hearer knows how to hear it. It both feeds and empowers the imagination. No poem or painting can express exquisite erotic ecstasy as well as Wagner’s Liebestod. Nowhere in all art is a human cry of remorse more starkly heartbreaking than in Bach’s Erbarme dich.
Triumph over adversity has never been roared more joyfully than in the finale of Handel’s Saul. As for the human instinct for transcendence, ‘He who sings, prays twice’, and ‘When the angels play for God, they play Mozart, but when they play for pure joy, for themselves, they play Schubert.’
Gather a group of people, any group of people (if such there be) who have never, ever heard any classical music. Bring before them an orchestra and a chorus of singers and give them the Hallelujah chorus from Messiah. I use the word ‘give’ deliberately for hearing this music live, right there, right in front of you, blotting out all other sound and banishing all other thoughts, is to be aware of receiving a priceless gift, as indeed Handel, the great classical music showman, well knew. It makes the hearer grateful as well as joyful.
Not all great and, in the context of this post, important music is as instantly accessible as the Hallelujah chorus. Some, perhaps most, classical music is tricky to ‘get’ without a run-up of some sort on the part of the audience. One needs to train the ear, the sensibility.
Music is a language and the would-be traveller in music-land needs a phrase-book, at the very least, in order to begin to understand it. But imagine for a moment that phrase-books are banned, that the authorities forbid you to even hear, let alone learn, the language of a place you are curious to visit. ‘Oi, you. Switch that Linguaphone CD off. Plain English is all your sort needs.
You’d never understand those foreigners, not that it matters because you’re staying right here and not going anywhere. We have taught you everything you need to know in order to live as we instruct you. Where we keep you. Foreign language my arse. We decide what you will hear and how you will think. But we have your interests at heart, my dear. We have laid on loads of easy-to-understand entertainment for you. Your sort of thing. Sit back and enjoy it and don’t make trouble, now.’
Tony Blair rose to power on a promise to liberate the people from such servitude, chanting Education, Education, Education which was not exactly what Lenin meant when he said Learning, Learning, Learning but, passing over that can of worms for the moment, one must admit that, mistaken and amoral imperialist as he was, Lenin genuinely wanted people to learn in order to be able to throw off their chains (as he defined them).
That is why the Soviet Union made a point of giving everyone a thorough musical education. (Irony, thy name is Communism.) When Peter Donohoe and Vladimir Ovchinnikov took joint second prize at Moscow’s International Tchaikovsky Competition they were mobbed like rock stars by crowds of thousands who partied outside the musicians’ hotel all night long. How different from the cultural life of our own dear nation.
Even if Blair thought he meant what he said, he ceded total control of all domestic UK policy to an utterly cynical professional iconoclast. Gordon Brown’s philistine single-issue agenda was not, in contrast with Lenin’s, the liberation of his people by the empowerment of their minds through learning but the construction of an ignorant, fearful, grovellingly grateful client-underclass of welfare and immigration ballot-box fodder who, if they were capable of voting (best not, actually) would vote solidly, overwhelmingly and in perpetuity for his party, led by himself, and be taught to fear and therefore hate all who opposed him. Brown is an evil, destructive, seditious bastard. But I digress.
To achieve their oppressive Gramscian objective, Brown and his ilk have made it their business to detach the masses from their cultural roots, which means from their history. By stealth. While ostentatiously hosing other people’s money over ‘education’. A smokescreen from a bonfire of banknotes. (Mixing metaphors is fun.)
The first step is to create a climate of fear about the language one uses, so that those who have gone beyond the state school system, i.e., adults, learn to speak only in newspeak modes with exceptions being punished. This cultivates the essential group-think. (None of this is new, of course.)
The next step is to detach children from parents, dismantling the traditional family by abolishing and disparaging marriage, pontificating the while: ‘We care equally for all family types because all are equally good’, thus removing from society its greatest bastion of liberty, for when the members of a nuclear family support and defend each other against all comers, the state is powerless to intimidate the adult partners or to alienate or indoctrinate the children. But, split the parents, cast the child-rearer into dependency upon the state (‘we are the caring party and only we will look after you – the others want you to rot in poverty’), remove the children – psychologically – from their parents’ baleful influence, and there’s your slave class, your socialist ballot-fodder.
Next, alienate detached-from-family children from their parents’ and their country’s history. It’s Year Zero, every year. Apart from the old chestnut about the nation which forgets its history being condemned to repeat it, an understanding of one’s national historical narrative (which conveys ‘we’, as opposed to isolated anecdotes which convey ‘they’) implants a sense of identity.
Of course, this is absolutely inimical to The Project, in which you are to be given your identity by those who control you, cf. Gordon Brown defining ‘Britishness’ using his personal, p.c., socialist lexicon (ed. H Harman). To learn history, to become aware of one’s individual identity and place in the tribe, and to begin to appreciate the historical development and treasures of one’s culture, enables the individual to learn about and appreciate humanity’s constant and urgent striving for liberty and to see how human beings have become progressively enlightened and so increasingly able to strive for the fulfilment of the fathomless emotional-intellectual hunger which defines us as human.
Finally, the most all-encompassing element of the Gramscian, i.e., Marxist, project is the management of Culture (capital C) itself of which the two most malleable elements are education and entertainment.
Deprive the young of high culture at all costs. It is dangerous. It is a fundamental threat to the Project. It must be available only to the nomenklatura who alone are capable of setting it in its true historical-political context. Blot out its very existence from the imagination of hoi polloi by flooding their perception-world with easy-to-grasp, noisy, energy-consuming bread and circuses. These will be supplied by the nomenklatura and opportunist capitalist useful-idiots.
Give the slaves a bloody good time. Stress repeatedly that the pop culture they enjoy so much is just as ‘culturally valid’ as their boring-old progenitors’ boring-old classical music an’ ‘at. TOWIE, Kissy Sell Out, wha’evah – Yoof Culcha, innit? Old farts don’t get it? And I should care, why? They’ll be dead soon anyway. Dance on, bro’. Classical music? You wha’?
All that sitting in silence, listening to somebody else making music – which is so fundamentally alien to youth’s desire to get up and dance, or get up and make music for themselves. – Ivan Hewitt, Telegraph
And thus it is, in too many – but not yet all – state schools in the grip of teachers drilled by Marxist union leaders and academics (avid concert goers all) who offer pupils – sorry, students – steel pans rather than pianos (‘it’s the cuts’) and preach that DM-booted but politically acceptable, ‘radical’, ‘street’ Stomp-ing is more ‘relevant’ than Promming.
Keep the peasants ignorant and their emotional and intellectual development stunted. Restrict violins and Vivaldi to toff-spawn in private schools, at least until they are taxed out of existence and bankers’ kids have to learn to rap like state sector kids. ‘Kee-eep dancin’!’ Fire live ammo at their feet if necessary.
And thus universities like Cambridge fill up with the violin-playing, Latin-singing progeny of middle-class parents who struggled to give their children a real education which teaches them to value the work of history’s geniuses, the giants on whose shoulders even pop musicians stand.
If we want our children to grow up to be free persons who value liberty and hate slavery, we must teach them to think about how they have arrived at this point in their history. European political history? Play them the Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves and tell them it was the anthem of a whole bloody revolution, and that this is classical music written by a classical composer called Verdi and that the people, the everyday people, carried him shoulder-high through the streets because he was theirs. They owned him and his music.
We must show growing children the masterpieces of Titian, and Europe’s soaring cathedrals, explaining why they are there, at all. We must teach them how to hear Beethoven and Bartok, Palestrina and Mozart, Biber and Bach, Strauss and Shostakovich. The beautiful creations of these geniuses are as critical to our children’s historical understanding and as central to their cultural inheritance, and as fundamental to the flowering of their own innate gifts as Cologne and Durham, Botticelli and Monet and the ideas of Ptolemy, Einstein, Aristotle and Hume.
All children are entitled to be acquainted with these things because they own them. They are theirs. Their history. Their culture. To blind them to it, or to allow others to do so, is premeditated theft of their potential and therefore of their innate liberty, condemning them to imprisonment of mind and soul. To make them slaves.
Learning is the door of liberty.
‘I would teach children music, physics, and philosophy, but most importantly music, for in the patterns of music and all the arts are the keys of learning’ – Plato