Friday, 23 December 2016

Fashion in music

Radio 3's Composer of the Week this week has been Sergei Prokofiev, concentrating on the period after his return to the USSR. Tuesday's programme was dedicated to the ballet Romeo and Juliet, which Donald Macleod described as Prokofiev's best-known and best-loved work. This caught my attention, because when I was growing up the two pieces by Prokofiev one was most likely to encounter were Peter and the Wolf and the Classical Symphony, with the occasional outing for the march from The Love for Three Oranges. Although it was clearly consistently popular in Russia, the ballet did not make a great impact in the West until, I would guess, Margot Fonteyn and the asylum-granted Rudolf Nureyev formed their partnership at the Royal Ballet in the 1960s. Now many of Sergei Sergeyevich's more substantial works are in the standard orchestral repertoire. It doesn't hurt that the Dance of the Knights was taken up by Channel 4 for their NFL coverage and has since been used by Sunderland FC and Sir Alan Sugar.

The other, lighter, pieces by Prokofiev have not disappeared. However, other "light classical" works by such as Julius Fučík (the centenary of whose death passed almost unnoticed last September), Reznicek and Suppé are hardly heard these days. This in spite of the huge expansion of "straight" music on UK radio, both with Radio 3, which went 24/7 in the 1990s, and the advent of Classic FM.

One regrets the disappearance of several tonal composers during the period when Glock and Boulez dictated the trends on the Third. Gerhard and Rubbra and a few others (see various postings on are struggling back to recognition. However, in the swing back against serial music, several interesting British figures have disappeared. It would be interesting to hear some Humphrey Searle again, in particular his opera based on an Ionescu play, The Photo of the Colonel. His contributions to the Hoffnung concerts proved that not all twelve-tone composers were po-faced.

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