Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Classical fashion

Classical music reputedly is immune to the vagaries of fashion. Its history suggests otherwise, Andrew Clark writes in The Financial Times.

Surveying the programming of the BBC Proms, Clark finds that before World War I, "the top 10 composers by number of performances included Gounod, Mendelssohn, Liszt, Saint-Saƫns and Sullivan, all of whom, 100 years later, are lucky to get a single hearing in any Prom season (exceptionally, Mendelssohn gets a boost in 2009, the 200th anniversary of his birth).

"Until the late 1960s Beethoven symphonies never had fewer than 40 performances in any five-year period. In the past five years there have been just 19. By the 1980s Sibelius and Tchaikovsky, previously popular, had been marginalized but Mahler and Bruckner, whose music barely featured in the first 60 years, had become a staple, reflecting a trend towards bigger, louder music. Since 2004 more Shostakovich symphonies have been played than Mahler or Beethoven," Clark notes: