Friday, February 13, 2009

Peter Tchaikovsky, Don Ameche, a first piano concerto and why snobs of all stripes are a waste of space

Why do so many classical music lovers look down on Tchaikovsky? Not everyone, by any means, but an unfortunate and unfortunately large number of musical snobs regard his music as easy, candyfloss, that kind of thing. They regard an admission of liking his music as a kind of innocence, a lack of sophistication, the mark of a man who is not wholly serious about music.
Well, in describing them as 'snobs' I shall indicated what I think of such self-regarding prats. Should the worth of a composer really be judged on how 'tuneful' he is or not? Does apparent cacophony (and here I am thinking of what I'm told orchestral players often refer to as 'squeaky gate music', the allusion being obvious) mark out the 'worthwhile composer' whereas those who come up with music which one can whistle or sing along to are to be written off as second-rate? I should bloody well hope not, but to hear some people speaking of poor Tchaikovsky you would think so. A typical criticism is that his music is 'vulgar and lacking in elevated thought'. Dear soul, lacking in elevated thought - what a crime.
Well, I'm not one of them. Between the ages of nine and 13, I lived in Berlin and in all that time I attended German schools, first Die Steubenschule in Berlin-Charlottenburg down the road from where we live (it was a short tram journey away down the Heerstraße), then, from Easter 1960, I went to Das Canisius Kolleg, a Jesuit secondary school in Berlin-Tiergarten near the Siegessäule and the Brandenburg Gate. The German schoolday runs six days a week from 8/8.30/9am in the morning until 1pm, so I would get home for just before two, have lunch, then sit down to do my homework. And part of that routine was switching on my transistor radio and tuning into AFN and listening to the Don Ameche Pop Concert (as I think it was called), which began with the opening of Tchaikovsky's 1st Piano Concerto in B Flat minor and a very lovely piece of music it is, too.
The trouble, of course, or, at least, the trouble for the musical snobs, is that Tchaikovsky's music is memorable, hummable, tuneful and generally, to use a rather cliched term, accessible. And we really can't have that, can we? Good Lord, no. If we sophisticates are to stand out from the hoi polloi, we must not only be, but must be seen to be more rarefied than your ordinary Joe. I mean, really.
That concerto is a great way to get a child interested in classical music, to lead him or her in gently, so to speak. If you want to turn them off for life, just play them anything by Schönberg. That will do the trick. Of course, the other great introduction is Prokifiev's Peter and The Wolf. And by the by, I caught his Third Symphony on the radio driving down from London the other night and rather liked it.
A word to snobs of every stripe: get to fuck.

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