In 1940, my father and several of his colleagues drafted an adult education scheme for the Australian Army. Its purpose was to combat illiteracy among recruits, to educate them in the political history of Australia (thus explaining why we were involved in this war), to improve morale, foster civic responsibility, provide diversion from the tedium of military life and prepare servicemen and women to enter the workforce after demobilisation.
The scheme was accepted in 1941 and the Australian Army Education Service was established with my father as its Commander. It was so successful that it expanded its remit to include culture and the arts, which led to the moment that’s relevant to this post: the moment when Bert met Beethoven (Bert being my dad).
Not only did Bert meet Beethoven, he became a Beethoven groupie, and as a result I (born in 1943) absorbed Beethoven symphonies and concertos subliminally as I slept peacefully in my cradle and have never got over it. I can still tell you where each 78 record came to end in Beethoven’s 5th symphony, and there was a pause while the next one dropped into place.
But that aside, this is why Beethoven is indelibly etched on my soul and a Beethoven symphony can still bring that incredible burst of joy not equalled by the music of any other composer, although a few have come close. And why I really, really cannot love the atonal, discordant what-some-regard-as brilliance of modern ‘classical’ music. I like melody. I like a TUNE for goodness sake! Is that so terrible?
Judging by the number of ‘old’ classical pieces that have been commandeered for films – and even, heaven help us, for TV commercials – the answer is no. Melody is what gets us in. They want you come away humming the music from their ad or their movie, and brilliant though he may be, it would be hard to get your hum around the music of Phillip Glass. Or, indeed, the latest rap sensation.
I could get philosophical here and say ‘discordant music = discordant society’. And even ‘which came first?’
But I won’t.