Archive for holst

Hans Zimmer: Classical Composer?

Posted in Music with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 23, 2010 by Robin Gosnall

Someone asked me if the soundtrack to the film Gladiator could be regarded as classical music. Seriously. The conversation turned to the similarities between the battle scene and Mars from Gustav Holst’s Planets Suite. But he also asked if the zither/vocals and the charismatic droning of a woman’s voice in the closing titles was also derived from older music.

I have a CD entitled “Music of the Post-Byzantine High Society” by Christodoulos Halaris, and there appear to be some superficial similarities to the two works.

The music for Gladiator also features the extraordinary Jivan Gasparyan who is probably the greatest duduk player in the world, and there is an obvious nod to Armenian music.

To get back to the question: “classical music” is unfortunately a term applied so widely and loosely that it’s impossible to arrive at a consensus. For instance, some people would say it is music written in the idiom that predominated in Europe between about 1750 and 1828 (i.e. from the death of J.S. Bach to the death of Beethoven), while others seem to think that anything played by an orchestra including violins is “classical” , even if it’s “Bohemian Rhapsody”. So, subjective taste influences the use of the term.

Music composed to accompany films and TV programmes is often written for orchestras similar to those used in 19th and 20th century symphonies, and the musical idiom used often incorporates features of the “classical” music that might have been used in the period in which the film’s story is set, e.g. the Napoleonic Wars or Edwardian England, such as Patrick Gowers’ music for the Granada TV “Sherlock Holmes” which emulates part of a romantic violin concerto.

But “part of” is an important consideration, I think. Film music rarely needs to be a convincing or extended structure, because it is usually heard for a minute or so and then faded out for dialogue. This, and the fact that it often deliberately imitates the music of a previous century, may explain why many people consider it in a separate category from what they call “classical music”.

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Posted in Music with tags , , , , , , , , , on July 14, 2009 by Robin Gosnall


Some examples of attractive and enjoyable works that might be more popular if they had less forbidding titles:

Edmund Rubbra: Improvisations on Virginal Pieces by Giles Farnaby
Paul Hindemith: Symphonic Metamorphoses on Themes of Carl Maria von Weber

(Actually I suspect that Hindemith was being mischievous and perhaps even humorous with his Symphonic Metamorphoses title.) Hindemith was a bit of a wag – think of his 1925 string quartet piece “Overture to the Flying Dutchman, as played by sight by a mediocre spa orchestra at 7 a.m. in front of the drinking fountain”.

The two examples above are characterized by (a) their length and (b) the inclusion of musical terms that may be unfamiliar to some people – arguably to many. This is a combination that might discourage somebody thinking of dipping a toe in the wonderful pool of classical music. I wonder whether somebody who gets to hear of Britten’s “Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra” and considers giving it a try might feel less adventurous if confronted with a work called “Variations and Fugue on a Theme of Purcell”.

How about Holst’s Fugal Concerto and Fugal Overture? Maybe Brahms’s Academic Festival Overture (though this is popular enough despite the possibility that the first adjective could be misconstrued as referring to a quality of the work), or all those works of his (and others) that are entitled “Klavierstück” followed by a number? What about “Die Kunst der Fuge”? Carl Ruggles once said “If you ask me , Brahms was just a big cissie. Look at some of his titles : Capriccio, Intermezzo. Now, what the hell does that mean?”

This reminds me of the work by Mendelssohn called “Spring Song” – a real classic, of course, charming in its way and immensely popular. It seems that he wrote this in London during one of his visits to these shores, and originally named it after the place where he was staying – “Camberwell Green”. How would it have fared if he had not changed his mind?

Audience Development

Posted in Music with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on May 30, 2009 by Robin Gosnall


I belong to an amateur symphony orchestra. Just as full professional orchestras need financing, we obviously depend on good audiences to pay the expenses incurred in putting on a concert. Recently a debate took place at our AGM and some members and officials asserted that programme choice had little to do with audience size in their experience. I reminded them of a popular concert we gave in 2008 where West Side Story (Bernstein) and An American in Paris (Gershwin) were played as well as Samuel Barber’s Violin Concerto. This was a sell-out, a thing that has not happened for more than 20 years where we had played more classical works.

When I decide to attend a concert I am attracted first by the repertoire and to a degree by the performer. And of course one can only manage to take in and afford a limited number of performances in a given period.

This week I decided not to go to the Hallé at the Bridgewater Hall in Manchester, despite Mark Elder conducting and despite the programme including Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 5 which I have never heard and would like to discover. The reason being I don’t care for Holst’s The Planets very much and was more attracted by the Michelangelo Quartet on Monday playing Beethoven, Shostakovich and Schumann.

One cannot help noticing though that attendances for series like the Manchester Chamber Music Society, whatever the programme, are much better than for mainstream works by excellent performers which are organised by the Royal Northern College of Music on an ad hoc basis.

A very few composers (Gershwin in particular) will put me off virtually whatever else is on the programme. I did sit through a Gershwin medley once in order to hear Charles Ives’s Symphony No. 4, but I think I would rather sit in the bar than listen to any more Gershwin again.

In my experience with local orchestras and choirs, the main factors for building up and retaining an audience are the willingness and energy of players and singers to sell tickets to friends, the literal and metaphorical warmth and comfort of the venue, the welcome from front of house staff and conductor and a programme of music which appeals to your regular audience and which introduces them to something new.

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