Music on Radio and Television

Hans Keller

There is no area of human endeavour on which we get a greater variety of opinions than on broadcasting, for the simple reason that everybody not only is but feels involved – as a listener and/or viewer, a broadcaster, or one who hates it all and makes a moral issue of it: I know more than one respectable mind who refuses to have a television set in the house – for his family’s sake and indeed his own. With a fair measure of boredom, then, the reader will expect yet another opinion from me – or rather, not another: by now, it is impossible for any opinion to be new.

Let me hasten to start by assuring him that there will be no opinion: at this stage in the history of our culture, what is required is what is true and what is right for a new culture yet to be bred, and to hell with points of view. It remains eternally true to say that Haydn is a great composer and Vivaldi isn’t, and it is right, therefore, that the broadcaster should treat Haydn with greater respect than Vivaldi. Obvious, you might say, but is it? For one thing, there’s Vivaldi all over the place, and never mind which broadcasting station we happen to listen to or view; for another, the shallow need for Vivaldi – a deep addiction to the baroque sound, regardless of whether it carries any meaning – is all over the place too, the need to be pleasantly paralysed.

For a third thing, while every responsible music broadcaster in the world would agree that – to take one basic example – the great Haydn quartets (45 of them, on a conservative count) should, regularly, be broadcast as a matter of cultural course, there is no radio station in the world which has yet solved this eminently solvable problem – the dependable representation of greatness. For those stations which, like the BBC, France Culture or Kol Israel, have reserved full-time airtime for serious music, it shouldn’t be a problem at all: a computer could provide the answer. Yet all these stations constantly commit the unpardonable cultural crime of neglecting or ignoring or forgetting greatness. It is wrong, disgraceful, unforgiveable that the BBC should not have broadcast Haydn’s String Quartet, Op.55, No 2 since November 1978 – and I am only picking this instance amongst many because I’ve picked it before, and I am interested to see how often I have to draw attention to it until something happens.

There is no excuse for treating such an omission lightly. Here is one of the human mind’s numerable gigantic achievements, and exceptional even among them: it is the later of the two master quartets Haydn wrote in F minor, his very own, highly-charged key which meant to him what B minor meant to Bach, G minor (and D minor!) to Mozart, C minor to Beethoven, E minor to Mendelssohn, D minor again to Schoenberg ... It is one of those works which makes you realise that life is worth living, whereas Vivaldi’s Concerto Grosso, Op. 1599, is one of those which is used to make you forget that life isn’t worth living.

At the same time, no Vivaldi would have to be sacrificed in order to make room for this quartet: let alone a reason, its omission doesn’t even have a cause, for no cause is needed in order for something not to happen. My criticism is so obvious, so banal, that I feel embarrassed about having to devote space to it – but the happening of such a broadcast evidently needs a cause or two. What is more, I submit it as a paradigmatic example of what this article is intended to provide instead of opinions. My ensuing truths, my later rightnesses, may not be such obviosities, but unless they live up to this one’s objectivity, I shall accept that I have failed.

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