Guardian finally publishes letter from 600 musicians

Guardian finally publishes letter from 600 musicians


norman lebrecht

April 06, 2017

After a week of procrastination, the Guardian has finally allowed 600 musicians to object to an article that rejected the teaching of musical literacy as elitist. You can read the full letter, with signatories, here.

Among the last signatories are the composers Brian Ferneyhough, Stephen Hough and Helen Grime.


  • Will Duffay says:

    They – and you – are of course correct, though there’s something rather amusing about Ferneyhough talking about the anti-elitist nature of written notation. Have you seen one of his scores?

    • John Borstlap says:

      Ferneyhough is the inventor of an entirely new notation method: you take a black sheet of paper and a bottle of tyoe-ex, and fill-in the space between the notes. And that is how it sounds.

      I was just going to enrich the list with my own signature, but now that F has signed as well, I decided to pass.

    • Hilary says:

      Acres of anonymous sounding solo flute pieces of this ilk, but this is top of the pile. The material feels really inhabited. In part because he’s a flautist? :

      Some of the more recent music I’ve heard feels rather mannered in compared to earlier gems like “Coloratura”and “Missa Brevis”

  • Eddie McGuire says:

    Thanks for bringing this letter to our attention. Should be spread far and wide and it will give a boost to counteracting the dumbing-down of music education in many schools.

  • Mike Aldren says:

    So music notation is elitist, is written language elitist too? This is the sort of ridiculous rubbish that tries to ban reading Shakespeare. The Grauniad strikes again.

  • Robert James says:

    Well obviously the original piece was moronic, though equally clearly simply designed to get the usual luvvies into a flap. So that worked.

    This guy Ian Pace who organised the letter.

    Shouldn’t we all be outraged at his suggestion in his astonishingly boring and self-righteous blog that we should all basically “no-platform” America and in particular its entartete Kunst?

    I read it so you don’t have to. My favourite bit was where he said we should listen to Michael Nyman rather than the American minimalists.

    Lefties! Luvvem!

    • Ian Pace says:

      The argument was saying how about having *one week* where one explores other culture, considering how big a part US culture plays in many people’s lives. Hardly a ‘no-platform’ approach. If I had written that about Portuguese or Dutch or Chilean or Indian culture, I wonder how many Caucasian English-speaking people would have had to make any changes at all?

      Want to urge some to

      And yes, why not listen to Michael Nyman, or Louis Andriessen, or Per Nørgård, for a change, instead of American minimalists? Or try some Russian or Japanese jazz?

  • timbits says:

    I still think there is a germ of truth to Gill’s original piece, but she presented it really clumsily. She seems to confuse “being able to read music” with some kind of heavy duty education in theory.

    We should reject any notion that music education should not require (or should even avoid) musical literacy per se. I do think that more broad based “music appreciation” curricula could be greatly greatly improved, especially at younger ages where the decision to learn music more formally is often made.

    However, I also think that requiring an aspiring jazz guitarist or church choir conductor to take three years of counterpoint and learn how to analyze Mahler symphonies and transcribe late Beethoven quartets is a significant mistake that drives a lot of gifted performers (to say nothing of those who are just dipping their toe in) away from musical studies.

  • 5566hh says:

    “the composers Brian Ferneyhough, Stephen Hough…”

    Stephen Hough is not primarily known as a composer

  • Alexander Davidson says:

    Is this not breaking a butterfly upon a wheel?

  • Ron says:

    Personally I dislike his pretentious unfounded alien-styled inhumane chaotic pseudo-random material, which exists only for it’s own sake and creates sensory responses that are not of the composer’s intention, but just happen to occur.
    Make no mistake: Ferneyhough is no real composer; and the fact that this has never been accordingly stated or criticized shows the times in which we live: Feed the people any rubbish, with just a hint of added intellectual superiority and they’ll believe it and worship your ‘message’.

    … Ferneyhough… the charlatan king of pretentious wishful implication

    • May says:

      Great to see some comments critical of Brian Ferneyhough’s ummm… “output”.

      What I can also recommend, is the youtube channel called “fremsley001”, with great videos such as:
      – “Brian Ferneyhough … in his own words”

      fremsley001 has written this, about his youtube-channel:

      “Devoted to all music that stands up by itself without the use of pretentious titles, pseudo-intellectual posturing or technical complexity for its own sake.

      Objects of derision:
      Birtwistle, Emsley, Ferneyhough, Finnissy, Stockhausen.

      Exposing phonies.

      Riling pseuds, sycophants and the humourless.”