‘Here’s why I prefer composers from my own country’

‘Here’s why I prefer composers from my own country’


norman lebrecht

April 24, 2015

The anonymous Corymbus makes an interesting St George’s Day attempt to redefine the idea of nationalism in relation to English music. Can parochialism be universal? Read here.

green and pleasant land


  • Alexander says:

    I have to admit that I come at this issue from the opposite direction. With the exception of my beloved native London, which, like Disraeli, I think of as a nation in its own right, I have throughout my adult life become increasingly less fond of my native country and at the same time increasingly uninterested in much of its musical heritage. Of course, one would have to be an absolute philistine to have no interest in any British music, but the British music which I appreciate I appreciate because it is good music, not because it is British music.

    It was my great misfortune to spend six and a half years of my childhood as a chorister at an English cathedral to which for the time being I shall prudently attribute no name. As a consequence of this miserable experience, which has almost ruined the whole of the rest of my life, I find that I have a great aversion to the quintessentially Anglican choral music of composers such as Herbert Howells, Francis Jackson, C.V. Stanford, and S.S. Wesley. Of course, I am not an absolute philistine, and I am able to appreciate the music of the great Catholic composers Byrd and Tallis, the great Anglican composers Gibbons and Purcell, and of those composers of whom I do not think first and foremost as composers of Anglican choral music, such as Britten and Vaughan Williams.

    I have long felt much more dawn to the culture of central Europe, and also to its musical heritage. Although the Czech Republic is not, and presumably never will be, my own “Má vlast”, I cannot ever hear the opening notes of Smetana’s Vltava without feeling a sense of the comfort of home and the memories of happy days spent on its banks. It represents the heroism, the dignity, and the beauty of the struggles for national self-determination of all the peoples of the former German, Austro-Hungarian, and Russian empires. My very long-term partner is Polish, and we hope to spend an increasingly greater proportion of our time in Poland in the future, and at the same time I have found myself more and more interested in the music of Poland, especially the music of Chopin, in whom I had previously taken little interest. Of course, the music of the Austro-German tradition has always occupied a central place in my musical interests, with early passions for Bach and Mozart, but more recently a growing love of the music of Wagner, Mahler, Strauss, Schoenberg, and Berg. I have never felt the slightest objection to the closing scene of Die Meistersinger: it must surely be the case that poetry and music are the defining qualities of German identity.

    So I suppose that I am in a way in agreement with the original post, except that my own musical nationalism is for a nation other than my own, and is to a great extent in reaction against the nationalism of my own country.

  • Ppellay says:

    Speaking as someone with not a drop of English blood in his veins, the answer is “Yes”!