Only yesterday, I had a long discussion with an old friend about atonal music and my total rejection of it. Like a language has to have letters, vocabulary, spelling and grammar, music has to have melody, harmony, rhythm and counterpoint. Just as it is possible to continue writing in standard English, it is still possible to compose original tonal music. Some of the atonal composers from Schönberg to still a few contemporary people think that tonal music was exhausted after post-romanticism. I believe that we are not living after history, but are fully a part of history. We need not feel ashamed as composers to take influence from a tradition of music or even a given composer. I feel very much in the English tradition influenced by Tudor polyphony, and relate very warmly with Vaughan Williams and Finzi. Nevertheless, my music is my own and not an imitation of anyone else’s – but I obey the rules of music. I feel freer that way.
Apart from “serious” music, I appreciate British Light Music of composers like Frederick Curzon and Eric Coates, the generation of my grandparents and parents. See The Boulevardier. Some jazz is quite appealing, especially of around just after World War II. New Orleans ragtime is great fun, as is Glenn Miller.
I grew up with the Beatles and heard them on my father’s car radio as we went to Devonshire for our summer holidays in the caravan. I never became crazy about them. There was quite a lot of peer pressure at school to listen to rock in the 1970’s. I went along with it for a time, appreciating Led Zeppelin and Simon & Garfunkel to an extent, finding Slade and the various others of that time totally ugly. Very quickly I had the courage to appreciate the music I really liked and stop trying to pretend to like the other stuff.
I appreciate efforts to popularise “classical” music. The English radio station Classic FM has done quite a lot of good, via the same disk-jockeying methods as for pop and rock. Some styles of music are easier to listen to than others. People need to be introduced gradually, going from well-known pieces immortalised by TV commercials and the like. I think of Dvorak’s New World Symphony and Bach’s Air on the G String in particular. Parents should have their children hear good music, whilst going gently. I have heard that babies who have good music played to them grow up in a very different way, and it is most beneficial. It is a shame that many children, never play an instrument or even sing. Music in schools is vital – as long as it is sensitively taught.