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A lifetime ago Vaughan Williams wrote an essay called “Who wants the English composer?” Then, when such an idea was little more unusual than a woman preaching or a dog standing on its hind legs, there was no very clear answer. Now, though, works by English composers from the musical renaissance that began in about 1880 and is still continuing are perhaps more popular than ever.

The vogue in the musical world to mark anniversaries is particularly helpful to our composers. Last year much fuss was made of Elgar on the 150th anniversary of his birth. This year Vaughan Williams is everywhere, 50 years after his death. Next there is a chance to mark not only Elgar again, should it be felt necessary, on the 75th anniversary of his death, but also Holst and Delius, who died within weeks of him in what still stands as English music’s annus horribilis of 1934.

Finzi and Walton had their centenaries in some style in 2001 and 2002 respectively; and if you think things are quiet on the Britten front at the moment, the celebration of his own centenary in 2013 will probably put all else in the shade. He is not just our only genius, after all, but also the only one whose music has ever travelled readily across the Channel.

Two other forces have also been brilliant in the past few years in furthering interest in and awareness of English music. The first is Roger Wright, the controller of Radio 3 and now too of the Proms, who shares none of the prejudices of some of his predecessors about the English school but understands that some of their work measures up more than equally to that of some of their European contemporaries.

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Phil Best
September 6th, 2008
3:09 AM
The English cannot get over this peculiar inverse chauvinism concerning their art music fast enough, as far as I am concerned. Occasionally, one discovers a music genre that leaves one's mind boggling at the sheer monstrosity of its having been kept in obscurity. Thus it was for me, with the music of Vaughan Williams, Bridge, Ireland, Finzi, Moeran, Bax, Warlock, Walton, Lambert, Bliss, and their compatriots, of whom there are many. This is a fertile field for exploration and the discovery of many gems and personal favourites. I would add to that, that the vocal works of these composers is capable of considerable emotional impact on account of their being in a familiar language as well as their lustrous musical vocabulary, and a disproportionate amount of my own list of "most moving moments in music" are to be found here. I think it is a disgrace that so much attention is given to the training of vocal art music students in foreign language repertoire, by rote, like a child learning "Frere Jaques"; when there is so much available to be sung in their own tongue, that they could much more naturally invest with the requisite feeling.

stephen taylor
August 28th, 2008
6:08 PM
Not two but three forces have recently been brilliant in giving English music the serious attention it deserves. The third is The new English Music Festival. Please forward Simon this link: I attended the second one this year. A wonderful event, great musicians, excellent locations and new compositions. He should have a look through the web site & if he can help the Festival Director, Em Marshall, with a plug some time , he should!!

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