Art & Music 美術と音楽


During the summer holiday I took a trip down memory lane. I went to a couple of Proms concerts while back in London. I was a regular at the Royal Albert Hall during my teens and early twenties. I even got to the Last Night of the Proms once. I always Prom in the Gallery. I find the balance of the sound better, and I like seeing what every member of the orchestra is doing at any given time. The Royal Albert Hall was one of my best composition classrooms.

Before going to England, an opinion article in The Guardian on 4 July caught my eye. It asked whether classical music is “art or status symbol” and raised the question of why audiences seem reluctant to embrace contemporary classical music in the way that people embrace modern art. Tate Modern in London had 5.87 million visitors in 2018 and according to the Association of Leading Visitor Attractions (ALVA) was the UK’s top attraction just ahead of The British Museum. Modern art seems to be doing well. Why, then, does contemporary classical music resonate less with audiences?

I have never found comparisons between modern “art” (painting, sculpture, architecture, installments etc.) and modern classical “music” convincing. Painters, sculptors and so on work with inanimate materials to produce a single, original version of their work. Consumers of modern art approach the work in a gallery/exhibition and decide for themselves how long or from what angle to engage with it. Artists have largely achieved their purpose when they trigger a reaction, whether it is thought, admiration, curiosity, respect, or even disgust. When wealthy collectors purchase artworks for exorbitant sums, they are not necessarily paying for the cost of materials + labour. They might genuinely love the artwork, but at that price they are also buying the status that they perceive comes from owning the work, and possibly something they think will be a sound financial investment.

Composers, like artists, are creative people who work in isolation for hundreds of hours to produce their work. But, unlike physical art, music requires at least one and perhaps even hundreds of musicians – who are all artists in their own right, of course – to interpret and perform the work. The composer’s score is not so much “art” as the script for “performance art”, with each new performance a chance to celebrate the skills and interpretations of the performers. By contrast, reproductions in the art world are either “forgeries” or “mass market products” of limited artistic and financial value.

And what of audiences? The classical music audience is largely passive in that people must sit quietly in their seat until the performance is over. Art gallery visitors can skip past an artwork that does not capture their imagination, but the “captive audience” in a concert hall must sit through an uninspiring piece. And wealthy concert-goers in the box seats might purchase status via their exalted seating position, but at the end of the performance there is no definitive version of the work for them to take home, to own exclusively, and to consider an investment.

Comparing “art” and “performing arts”, therefore, is like comparing the proverbial apples and oranges. Nevertheless, sometimes there seem to be overlaps. Some composers have been expert “painters” with sound – think of Ravel’s orchestration of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition or the ethereal soundscapes of Toru Takemitsu. Being less charitable, some of the more prolific Baroque and early Classical period composers were simply “painting/composing by numbers”! Other composers, meanwhile, have carved grandiose sculptures or monuments in sound: think of Bruckner. However, on balance I think that composers’ closest creative cousins are playwrights. They also write something on a blank sheet of paper for performance artists to bring to life on stage. In this view composers are primarily storytellers who take listeners on an aural and emotional journey – think of Sibelius or Richard Strauss. And like plays, music often catches on according to how manageable and enjoyable it is for the countless amateur musicians playing or singing in school, university, church and local ensembles. Amateur musicians, after all, are so often dedicated concert-goers, too.

I have always felt I was the “storyteller” type of composer. I do not try to “paint” or use complicated language, and my pieces only feel right when I have told convincingly (to me at least!) a story I wanted to convey via music. As I stood in the Gallery at the Royal Albert Hall listening to Tchaikovsky’s Sixth Symphony, I got the eerie feeling that I was hearing someone trying to tell a similar kind of story to the one I have just told in Trio Concertante … albeit with a very different ending. While writing Trio Concertante there was no conscious imitation of the Pathétique, but as I listened up in the Gallery the parallels clearly struck me. Hearing Tchaikovsky’s Sixth for the umpteenth time reminded me of the defining quality of great music (and great art …): it speaks to us in slightly different ways each time we hear it, and improves with repeated listening. This is what separates the latest artistic sensation from the work that, over time, quietly takes its place in the artistic/musical canon. We need a steady stream of new art and music, yes. But, as life marches inexorably on, it is wonderful to have the old favourites, too, enjoyed in a new way each time.

2 September 2019.



イギリスに行く前、7月4日付の英ガーディアン紙に掲載された、とある論説に目が留まりました。クラシック音楽が「芸術か、ステータスの象徴か」を問うもので、現代美術を受け入れるように、現代クラシック音楽を受け入れることに聴衆が抵抗を持っているように見受けられる点について問題提起を行っています。Association of Leading Visitor Attractions (ALVA)に拠ると、ロンドンのテート・モダン(現代美術館)の2018年の来場者数は587万人で、大英博物館にもわずかに勝る、イギリスの名所となっています。現代美術はどうやら調子よくやっているようです。それではなぜ、現代クラシック音楽は、聴衆にそれほど響かないのでしょうか。




こうしたことから、「美術」と「パフォーマンス・アート」は、”apples and oranges”という諺のように、無理な比較であるといえるのです。とはいえ、時には共通することもあるようです。一部の作曲家は、音で彩るのに長けた「画家」でした。ムソルグスキーの「展覧会の絵」を、管弦楽のために編曲したラヴェルや、武満徹の極めて優美な、音の情景を思い浮かべてください。厳しいことを書くと、より多くの作品を遺したバロックや前古典派の作曲家の一部は、単純に「数字を用いて絵を描いたり、作曲したり」していました!一方で、ブルックナーのような作曲家は、壮大な彫刻や記念碑を音で創り上げました。しかし、結局のところ、作曲家に創作面で最も近いのは劇作家だと思います。劇作家もまた、パフォーマンス・アーティストが舞台上で演じることによって生き生きとするような何らかの作品を、空白の紙に書くのです。この観点から、元来作曲家というのは、聴き手を聴覚的且つ情緒的な旅に誘うストーリー・テラーであるといえるでしょう。シベリウスやリヒャルト・シュトラウスを思い浮かべてみてください。また、多くの場合、演劇と同様、音楽作品が人気を博する上では、数多のアマチュアの演奏者にとって、学校、大学、教会、地元のアンサンブルといった場で演奏したり歌ったりする際、いかに取り組みやすいか、また楽しめるかという点が懸かってきます。結局のところ、アマチュアの演奏者も、足繁くコンサートに通っていることがとても多いのです。