Political Music 政治的音楽



Most of the time, classical music is not very political. But, it can be. Think of Beethoven’s dedication of his Third Symphony to Napoleon Bonaparte, or Shostakovich’s symphonies depicting war and revolution (Symphony No. 7 “Leningrad”, by the way, is one of my “desert island discs”). Then there are the pieces that, while not making a specific political point, stir patriotism. As a teenager I often queued on the pavement outside the Royal Albert Hall to get standing tickets for the Proms. One year I even got to the Last Night and waved my Union Jack to Land of Hope and Glory with everyone else. When music stirs the emotions, it can be very powerful indeed.

Most of my pieces are apolitical and draw on archetypal subjects of classical music: personal experience, nature, religion. But sometimes creative people just have an urge to speak out. I waded fully into “political music” in A Christmas Carol. This piece reworks Charles Dickens’ novel in a modern setting. The Ghost of Christmas Past takes Scrooge back to World War I (with the centenary of the end of the Great War approaching I will talk about that in my next blog post), and the Ghost of Christmas Present forces Scrooge to face the burgeoning problem of homelessness. The Ghost of Christmas Future (scroll to the bottom to listen), meanwhile, reveals the course in which we are undoubtedly going as a planet: environmental breakdown. We are beyond the point of dealing with “climate change”. Now environmental breakdown is the issue. While writing A Christmas Carol, I did research into the projections for sea level rise and flooding in London if global warming continues on its present trajectory. While the scenario of the Tower of London being submerged to the point that it becomes the Lighthouse of London is at the pessimistic end of projections, it is nevertheless within the bounds of respectable scientific forecasts.

To me, environmental breakdown is the issue of our age. It is what concerns me most as I think of the decades ahead. So, I had some very particular people in mind when I wrote these words (which are sung to a variation on The Holly and the Ivy):

“No problem!” many barked, They really had some gall,
Ignoring all the warnings, And condemning us all.

There are no prizes for guessing who “they” are. The reality is that concerted, coordinated action by the political leaders of the advanced industrialized nations is an urgent prerequisite for the prevention of environmental breakdown. Instead, we have a neoliberal political culture that prioritizes growth over sustainability and fossil fuel industry profits over serious measures to cap carbon emissions. The postscript (a Native American proverb) has never been more important: “We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children.”

This year has been an astonishing weather year in Japan – a very hot May, record breaking rainfall in western Japan in July that caused hundreds of deaths, the hottest summer temperatures since records began in August, and one severe typhoon after another into September. The media keep hedging their bets about whether global warming is directly to blame for particular instances of extreme weather, but the overall trends are surely obvious by now. Extreme events are becoming the new normal. The scenario in A Christmas Carol refers to one such event: rising sea levels combined with an extreme storm surge destroy London as we know it (again, imagine it being sung to The Holly and the Ivy).

The weather grew more fickle, Then one year came that storm,
And ever since that fateful year, On Christmas Day they mourn.

The question is whether we, like Scrooge, will hear the warnings quickly enough and mend our ways before it’s too late. I know that this environmentalist message is repeated by millions of conscientious people around the world concerned about our planet’s future. But how do we get this message to the people who need to hear and heed it most? I hope that one answer can be music. Music appeals directly to our emotions. Maybe it can change some hearts when words are not enough to change minds. That is my hope for A Christmas Carol. A bit political maybe, but then again the dangers we face from environmental breakdown are not a matter of politics: they are a matter of science … and time …

5 October 2018


クラシック音楽というのは、大概あまり政治的なものではありません。でも、政治的な音楽、というものも存在するのです。例えば、ベートーヴェンがナポレオン・ボナパルトに捧げた交響曲第3番や、戦争や革命を描いたショスターコヴィチの交響曲を思い浮かべるとよいでしょう(因みに、交響曲第7番「レニングラード」は、私の「無人島に持って行くCD」の1枚です)。また、特定の政治的メッセージを含むというより、愛国心を掻き立てる作品もあります。私が10代の頃、プロムナード・コンサートの立ち見席のチケットのために、ロイヤル・アルバート・ホール脇の道路によく並んだものです。ある年は、なんとそのラスト・ナイト・コンサートのチケットを手に入れ、ユニオン・ジャックを振りながら、イギリス愛国歌のひとつであるLand of Hope and Glory(「希望と栄光の国」)を皆と歌ったこともあります。このように、音楽が感情を掻き立てるときに、確かにとても力強いものだと実感しました。




“No problem!”many barked, They really had some gall,
Ignoring all the warnings, And condemning us all.







The weather grew more fickle, Then one year came that storm,
And ever since that fateful year, On Christmas Day they mourn.