Thursday, December 11, 2008

Landscape with Olivier Messiaen and an extended rant

A belated happy birthday to Olivier Messiaen, who would have turned 100 yesterday. As many of the figures who worked around him seem to be declining in stature, Messiaen stands out as one of the greatest creative artists of his time.

I will write shortly on my trip to Montreal's Automne Messiaen festival, where I had the wonderful experience of hearing sixteen hours of his music within a two-day period. It is with some bitterness, however, that I must report the utter failure of our national broadcaster to commemorate the event appropriately - have a look at the grisly playlist for yesterday's daytime classical show, which included the following:
Messiaen: Lounge à l'immortalité de Jésus (the sole Messiaen piece)
Sibelius: Symphony No. 2
Vaughan Williams: Fantasia on Christmas Carols
Beethoven: Cello Sonata No. 3
Grieg: Holberg Suite
Tchaikovsky: Violin Concerto
Handel: Music for the Royal Fireworks
Templeton: "Bach Goes to Town"
Bach/Gounod: Ave Maria
A schizophrenic mixture of pieces which are not linked together in any intelligent way, which have nothing in common with each other except a conservative harmonic language and pretty tunes. An appalling tokenist presentation of modern music, with Messiaen's Quatuor being the only piece on the programme not to be performed in its entirety - would it have killed them to present the entire quartet, or a shorter piece like L'Ascension? And to place Messiaen's serious, genuinely sacred work alongside a piece of schmaltzy, nineteenth-century kitsch like the Bach/Gounod "Ave Maria" is so glaringly inappropriate that I cannot even fathom a sane human being making the decision.

The "trial period" for the new CBC is officially over. I am disappointed that they failed to mark the Messiaen anniversary day appropriately, but more than that: I am tired of a classical show designed to be nothing more than pleasant background noise. I am tired of the brainless presentation on the program, which tells us nothing about the pieces played except that they are pretty. I am tired of being talked down to by corporate executives who show blatant disregard for the intelligence and good taste of the Canadian public. I emphatically refuse to support radio programming designed expressedly for the creampuff classical music listener, programming that is overtly anti-intellectual and anti-artistic. Goodbye.


Alice said...

I've been listening to WNED Buffalo online -- I recommend it. Unfortunately, I can't receive it over the airwaves, so I'm left with fewer options in the car.

Hallaig said...

The entire Quartet for the End of Time was played last Sunday afternoon on Radio Two. They may keep track of what's played so as to avoid repetition (though I doubt it, actually). That said, I agree with you about the quality of the daytime show - it seems to be aimed at people who meant to take a music appreciation course someday but never got around to it. It's one step up from playing Strauss waltzes all day.

I look forward to your Messiaen report, which I hope will include having seen St. Francois d'Assise.

Osbert Parsley said...

I had forgotten they played the Quatuor on Sunday - I had concerts all day and so wasn't able to hear any of their Messiaen programming. That makes it even worse, though - have they even heard of any other Messiaen pieces? There are so many other of his works they could have played which would have been accessible to a broad public - so they have no excuse.