Talk to the National Liberal Club

Photo credit: © John Lubbock (CC BY-SA 4.0)

On 2 September 2015, John Kersey was the invited speaker at a lunch at the National Liberal Club. Here is the talk given on this occasion:

NLC 2 September 2015 – Music in education

Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for the opportunity to speak to you this lunchtime. I am going to venture a few remarks concerning music in education. Over the years, I have had the good fortune to teach music at all levels from junior school to postgraduate, and have examined it for graded examinations, A level and degree level, so I hope I have picked up the odd point of value along the way.

I should begin by emphasising that music is arguably the most important subject that can be taught in a school. Why do I say that? Because music engages the whole person and not merely the intellect. It also calls upon the emotions and, where singing or playing an instrument are concerned, the body. Moreover, it requires us to balance and control all of these elements of the whole person at once. Some of those who encounter music in school will go on to make careers in music. But many more will continue to enjoy music as members of amateur choirs and orchestras, or playing for their own pleasure at home or with friends, or simply listening to live or recorded music as a means of enriching their lives. It is not difficult to be an evangelist for music, because its effects are so comprehensively beneficial. I believe that music is also an important way for us to process emotional and spiritual events in our lives, leading to greater well-being and fulfilment.

It is unfortunate that these benefits are not as widely acknowledged as they should be. That this is the case is due to a philosophical difficulty on the part of government. If we look back to a Liberal Party report of 1974, we find the following,

Once the basic needs of food and shelter are met, the individual’s greatest satisfactions are to be found in love, trust and friendship, in beauty, art and music, and in learning, none of which are served by the mythology of growth for its own sake.

We are no longer living in a society where politicians make statements of this kind. Indeed, they are afraid to do so. Education in the contemporary sense has become interchangeable with training, and as such it has one purpose only, and that is to produce workers who will aid Britain’s economic growth. The concern is no longer with individual development but instead with the subordination of the individual to the aims of the prevailing system through mass social engineering. Our government supports participation in higher education not because it believes that it is an aim of a civilised society that those who can benefit from a university education should have that opportunity, but because it holds that young people in higher education are less likely to commit crime and become involved in anti-social behaviour.

Furthermore, education and society in general have increasingly accepted the agenda of mass commercialism. Western art music fares very poorly when judged by commercial standards. It is expensive to perform large-scale works and difficult to turn a profit from those performances; most instruments are relatively expensive to buy and maintain; instrumental tuition costs money, and there is also the time cost involved in the many hours of practice required to gain proficiency. Against this, pop music in particular succeeds because it makes few if any demands on its audience and is designed and marketed for nakedly commercial ends. Its exponents, who rarely need to have an advanced technique, enjoy obvious success and fame, while a career in classical music, for all its greater demands, rarely garners such rewards.

Economic arguments for music education are, to my mind, doomed to failure. But for the first time in the post-1997 period, we have also lost the cultural arguments. It was bad enough in the 1980s where politicians asked why opera should receive a greater place in the nation’s cultural life than football, given that football was both self-supporting economically and demonstrably more popular among the electorate. Now we are in a position where the question is not even asked. Austerity politics means not only that Western art music has lost much of its central funding but – and I would argue more importantly – its lack of support from the establishment has led to its disappearance from our cultural agenda. When politicians and other establishment figures appear on “Desert Island Discs”, their choice of records nowadays generally centres on pop music, which is no longer regarded as the preserve of the young. And yet to experience music merely through the series of shallow three-minute formulaic commercial vignettes that constitute mainstream pop music is merely to scratch the surface of an art form that encompasses the entirety of the human experience.

This position has been accompanied by the adoption of an ideology whereby education is measured and assessed according to reductive criteria. Success or failure are subject to what is essentially a tick-box system; we see this through our public exams, and also through the league tables by which our schools are judged. This is driven partly by an emphasis on accountability and a desire to make clear that public money is being spent wisely. But it is also driven by a mindset that is fundamentally soulless. It rejects music, which is pushed to the margins in the national curriculum, because music is too hard to quantify, because music’s benefits are too difficult to assess in reductive terms, and because music, and particularly Western art music, is now culturally alien to those making policy. For years, a special case in education was made for Western art music because of its perceived benefits and cultural status. Now, a false parity is maintained in our education system between Western art music and other forms of music, where in reality there is no valid comparison.

Western art music is differentiated from other types of music, such as non-Western art music and Western and non-Western popular music by one particular aspect: it is written down, or codified. Our culture has, for centuries, regarded codification as important. It is an act of preservation, but it is more than that: it is the means by which a work of art enters the public domain. Through codification, a piece of music is replicable by others who may never have met the composer and may indeed be several centuries removed from him or her. It can thus be discussed with reference to a central written text that permits detailed analysis and comparison with other similar works. Codification matters because it constitutes a definitive statement, even if that statement may be subsequently revised.

Codification is fundamentally alien to Western popular music and those non-Western art and popular musics, such as, for example, Indian classical music, that rely upon improvisation for their source. It is also, incidentally, alien to those recent developments of Western art music that incorporate aleatoricism, or chance events. It is symptomatic of the malaise of our current culture that we too often confuse chance events with creativity, where in fact they are simply the random or idiomatic exploration of a sound medium. Why should we be confused in this way? Firstly, because we lack the critical apparatus to assess creativity, a default which is due to inadequacy in musical education. Secondly, because of our reliance on sound recording. We confuse sound recording with the process of musical codification via a score. In fact, sound recording is like a photograph of a bird in flight. It depicts a given moment in that flight, but cannot capture the mechanism by which the bird flies. By contrast, a musical score does just this. The mechanism of the given work is captured within its notation, enabling it to take flight again and again when presented to a performer of sufficient ability.

We are ultimately doing uncodified music a disservice through the way in which it is studied. Where works in a jazz or pop idiom are set for study in GCSE or A level, they are first notated into score by transcribers employed by the exam boards, and then subjected to the same kind of analysis as any other notated score. This is absolutely not the way in which jazz or pop musicians think about their music. It ignores the most fundamental element of that music, which is that jazz in particular is by essence of the moment and is dependent upon a living interaction between performers (often also composers) and audience. For all that jazz and pop are frequently recorded, they are essentially subordinate to the live experience; because they rely on improvisation, every recording is essentially a “live recording”. The decision not to codify substantial aspects of those musics is therefore entirely deliberate. As a result, all too often we are trying to understand an improvised art form not through a genuine encounter with that form itself but merely through an artificial and constructed description of it; we are re-living the dictum that talking about such music is like dancing about architecture.

I am not seeking to imply that uncodified music is not worth studying as a cultural phenomenon. Nor do I say that it cannot appeal to the emotions or provide a source of enrichment as composer, listener or performer. But I will illustrate my point with an example. What if we were to say that we would study English literature based not on books, on novels, poems and short stories that have been codified, but instead on improvised poetry, folk tales or hip-hop lyrics? Would doing so, and thus depriving the next generation of the time that would otherwise be spent studying Shakespeare and the Brontes, not be seen as the utmost folly? If that is the case, then it is the more unfortunate that we are depriving that same generation of the means to understand and to enjoy Bach, Mozart and Beethoven because we are giving them insufficient emphasis within the musical curriculum.

The reason why this dumbing-down is taking place is fundamentally because our politicians do not see the difference. They, and unfortunately some musicians who should know better, have jumped on the bandwagon that music knows no division other than good or bad, in other words whether you like it or not. This is a philistine’s approach to artistic endeavour. What you like and what is easiest to understand are generally synonymous. We do not teach mathematics or science on the basis of what pupils like about them, but on the basis that each constitutes a body of knowledge from which our curriculum selects vital information and techniques that are necessary to grasp the subject to the level concerned.

One thing that distinguishes the great works of the Western musical tradition is that they do not give everything up at first hearing. They seek to express something that requires concentration, analysis and contextual understanding. They require hard work to pick apart, and similar work if we want to write something that emulates them. It is easier to take a music lesson where the pupils are given percussion instruments and encouraged to make some noise than to teach them musical notation, structure and harmony. But if we do not emphasise those aspects that need to be taught in order to be understood, we are not teaching them anything of value, merely providing them with an extension of the playground. To return to my comparison, if we want pupils to write English and to genuinely express themselves, we must first introduce them to grammar and structure so that their writing is comprehensible and cogent. If we want to provide facilities for pop music on top of a sound foundation, all well and good. But it is worth remembering that most of our established pop musicians succeeded on the basis of a secondary education in Western art music, not in pop. Indeed, I think many of them would recall that grounding as having given them the best opportunity to succeed in their field.

Much of these developments are due to the flight from formality that characterized the past decade. Entirely wrongly, both politicians and educators have seen the formality of musical grammar and structure as a negative attribute. They associate it, and indeed they associate much Western art music, with elitism. But it is not elitist to want for our children the best of our culture and its values. In the 1920s, coal miners and their families in Yorkshire used to form amateur string quartets, choirs and brass bands so that they could hear and play the music that they valued. No-one forced them to do it, and indeed their actions were the ultimate in anti-elitism; they brought Beethoven to the working person. They said that the best things in life were rightly theirs to aspire to, and we today should be saying the same. We live in a world where commercialized music has become a mass market product. But when we teach music, we should not simply see our role in terms of producing fodder for a system that judges quality by the yardsticks of the media and the flashy materialism it promotes. We need to aspire to raise standards, not just within schools but within our society in general. As part of that process, we should not accept unquestioningly the commercial pressures placed upon our young people, often by global brands, to become consumers of a mass market product.

The irony of the current system is that because it is depriving pupils of the means to understand and appreciate Western art music, it is making that music and indeed the musical profession ever more the preserve of those educated at independent schools, where an emphasis upon classical music is seen as a very strong selling-point. Nor are those schools embarrassed to present classical music because of the cultural relativism that seems prevalent within the maintained sector. Independent schools, indeed, have an extremely diverse student body these days because of their overseas recruitment. Those students rightly view the experience and understanding of Western art music as an indication of what it is to receive an English education. We should take note of their view.

If we are to bring about a change in musical education, several things need to be done. Firstly, we need to ensure that the foundations are sound. That means teachers who are fully and properly trained in the history and techniques of Western art music. Sadly, at the moment, many are not, because some of our university music courses lack rigour and do not, for example, prepare their students to conduct a choir or an orchestra, which should be a basic requirement of a school music teacher. Secondly, we must ensure that it is part of every primary school pupil’s experience to sing in a choir and to learn to play an instrument that can be bought cheaply and played in a group. In my day it was the recorder. It could equally well be the ukulele. Thirdly, we must ensure that music regains priority at secondary level. Each school should have a good representative selection of recordings of Western classical music and offer pupils the chance to listen to them. There should be the opportunity for choirs and orchestras in which all can participate. And there should be the opportunity to learn an instrument for all who want to do so, regardless of their financial circumstances.

Posted in Talks

Review of my piano recital at Chingford

by Neil Lock

Originally published by the Libertarian Alliance

I was at John Kersey’s piano recital on Saturday May 16th 2015 in Chingford parish church, London E4. The size of the audience was disappointing; perhaps 50 or maybe 60. But I wasn’t disappointed by the experience.

Let me tell you where I come from (musically, not politically). I’m no pianistic expert, but I am a musician. I’ve played in a brass band for more than 40 years. For most of that time my main instrument has been the euphonium; but about 7 years ago, my band suffered a sudden shortage of bass players. So, these days I play the E flat bass tuba.

Oh yes, and I’m also, in my own small way, a composer and arranger for brass band. That tends to give me a wider perspective on the music I hear than most listeners.

Now to John Kersey’s recital. The echoing acoustic of the church, I thought, didn’t help the percussive effects in the opening Bach prelude and fugue. But maybe there was a bit of my own bias in play as well. For church music isn’t really my thing. And Bach, while I recognize his genius, is a little early for my taste.

I was on more comfortable ground with the late Beethoven which followed. There were moments, in the last movement of the Sonata in E major, when I felt briefly transported into another world. Few composers, and few performers, can do that to me.

With the Bagatelles, John Kersey showed us how good a technician he is. I particularly enjoyed the second and fifth of the six pieces.

After the very brief interval, two Fauré barcarolles were not my personal cup of tea. But they paved the way for what I expected to be the highlight: Alkan’s “Symphonie pour piano.” I’d heard this piece on recordings before, but never live.

In the first movement, John Kersey set himself a challenging tempo, and didn’t overdo the rubato. The result was spectacular. Even on its own, to hear that movement was worth going all the way to Chingford for. The third movement was even better. As to the last movement, just before the end I found myself writing in the little A6 book I carry with me what became the following words:

“John Kersey conveyed superbly to the audience the manic energy and sheer horror of the ride through hell on which Alkan takes us.”

I cannot praise John Kersey’s performance highly enough. And I recommend that all of you who enjoy 19th century music should look out for his next recital, and go to it.

Posted in Recitals

Piano recital at Chingford


Posted in Romantic Discoveries Recordings

Publication of “The Radical Traditionalist Today”

theradicaltraditionalisttoday“The Radical Traditionalist Today” is a collection of essays and talks by John Kersey. Deriving from his contributions to the Traditional Britain Group and the Libertarian Alliance (UK), they explore areas of culture, politics and law, as well as addressing the increasing ideological censorship of the modern British state.

Published by European-American University Press and available in paperback. 242pp. £17.95.

To purchase a copy, please follow this link.

Posted in Uncategorized

Dr Ray Steadman-Allen: obituary

The obituary of Dr Ray Steadman-Allen in today’s Sunday Telegraph mentions his service as a Patron of the London Society for Musicological Research, which I founded in 2002. Ray was always ready to give his support to musicians, and has left a rich legacy as composer and arranger. He will be fondly remembered above all for his masterly works for brass band, one of which can be heard via the link below.

Posted in Romantic Discoveries Recordings

John Kersey on Legacy

Christmas talk to the Traditional Britain Group, December 2014.

It is said that Dom Paul Neville, Headmaster of Ampleforth College from 1924 to 1954, was at a meeting of the Headmasters’ Conference. The theme of discussion was preparation for life, and the various headmasters were vying to show how their schools were at the cutting edge in preparing their pupils for Life, in various ways. Dom Paul rose and said, “Gentlemen, I have been very impressed to hear how your schools are preparing pupils for Life. I have little to add to this discussion, because my school prepares the boys not for Life, but for Death.”

I am going to talk to you today about the significance of death from the perspective of one of the key concepts of traditionalist conservatism, that of legacy. The concept of legacy is as integrated into our society as the family itself; the idea that we may have an influence on generations to come. In a number of important ways, our legacy is not simply genetic in terms of descendance, but can also have significant effects on future generations unrelated to us. If we seek to stand for positive values in our lives, we can also hope that when we are dead, those values will not merely continue (for all true values are eternal) but that our engagement with them can assist others in turn to discover and be enriched by them in various ways.

When Edward Latymer, a London city merchant, died childless in 1624, he made several important provisions in his will. The will left a sum in trust that would provide “eight poore boies” from Edmonton and another eight from Fulham yearly on November 1st with a doublet, a pair of breeches, a shirt, a pair of woollen stockings and shoes. In return for being educated to the age of thirteen at a “petty school” the boys had to wear the red cross from Latymer’s coat of arms on their sleeves. The trustees are under a duty to carry out the provisions of Edward Latymer’s will “unto the end of the world.”

The effect of Latymer’s will has been far-reaching. From the original eight poor boys, the Latymer Foundation now has responsibility for three large and thriving schools; two in Hammersmith and one in Edmonton, and it was at the latter, which is the senior school of the Foundation, that I myself received my schooling. Had that not been so, I should never have heard of Edward Latymer. Instead, as in many other schools of a similar vintage, the Founder was commemorated each year on Foundation Day, which had the notable benefit of being a half-day holiday.

The lesson of what Latymer did can be summarized in this way: he was determined that the wealth he had created would not simply die with him, but would be used to nurture something that he believed in strongly. By establishing what would in modern times be termed a charitable bequest, he ensured that his estate would neither pass to distant relatives (although they did contest his will) nor into the clutches of government. His actions are a fine example of noblesse oblige: the doctrine that holds that to those to whom wealth is given, there falls a concomitant responsibility to administer that wealth in a way that benefits the common good.

It will come as no surprise to those who have heard me talk before that G.K. Chesterton is one of the writers to whom I make frequent reference. In his book Orthodoxy, Chesterton has this to say, “Tradition means giving a vote to most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead.” He continues, “Tradition refuses to submit to the small and arrogant oligarchy of those who merely happen to be walking about. All democrats object to men being disqualified by the accident of birth; tradition objects to their being disqualified by the accident of death. Democracy tells us not to neglect a good man’s opinion, even if he is our groom; tradition asks us not to neglect a good man’s opinion, even if he is our father.”

What Chesterton refers to is the interconnectedness of human existence through the generations. All of us are the sum total of our ancestors in terms of our genetics, but we may well forget how like them we can be not only in our looks but in our character. If we look to the famous families of England these intergenerational traits can often be observed, and are aided by the ability to refer to portraiture from previous centuries that can reveal much about those who have gone before. We also share a more general commonality; not for naught did writers of past generations attribute particular characteristics to the people of the various regions of our island, or refer to the English race, or speak of us as the island stock, or indeed “this happy breed”. For those of us whose ancestry here reaches back some centuries, before the time of widespread immigration, we are each others’ kith and kin far more than is commonly acknowledged, even though it must be said that it is part of our national character to keep others at a certain distance. This shared heritage should not surprise us, since our island is not a large one, and for many centuries the English flourished unconquered.

In truth, we are living links in the chain that binds us from the dead to the unborn; we hold our lives in trust, and should be determined to pass to the next generation that which we ourselves have enjoyed, in as good if not better condition. Indeed, that concept of trust is enshrined in English law and is one of the crowning glories of that legal system. The Trustee has ownership, but his ownership is conceived exclusively as a duty. This remains the embodiment of intelligent conservatism, because it safeguards those things that are of value and prevents them from being dissipated or squandered.

How different our society is now from that which Edward Latymer knew! We should remember that in his day, there was no income tax – that would not arrive fully until 1842 – and few restrictions on what a man could do with his assets; his rights under common law were inalienable. It is still possible for someone to leave their entire estate to charity today, but otherwise there are many pitfalls that work to oppose any idea of legacy. Why should this be?

If we seek to understand how English society has been comprehensively destabilised during the past century, we need look no further than the obscenity of death duties. This Socialist measure is designed to forcibly redistribute wealth; to rob the wealthy of their inheritance, and to smash the hierarchy that is inbuilt into England’s history and character. Countless landed families have gone under; forced to sell the home that was theirs for generations and see their heritage squandered by here-today gone-tomorrow politicians who hate the established way of life of these islands and their people with a fervour I have never understood.

Many today comment on the shallowness of our society; its short-termism and the atomization of its people. Our society penalises those who save money and instead encourages everyone to live on so-called “easy” credit. It privileges two classes of people; those at the bottom who have no money and can therefore obtain the maximum in benefits that is available to them, and those at the top who have so much money that they can either engage in creative ways to hide it or simply not worry about it. Those in the middle are not merely squeezed, they are prisoners of a brutal and uncaring state machine that is designed to exploit their labour and remove their wealth for whatever vain pursuit may be in fashion at the time. Foreign expeditionary wars, High Speed Two, housebuilding on swathes of our Green Belt in order to house the ever-increasing numbers entering our country – these are the things that no-one seems to want and yet everyone is obliged to pay for.

While there is legitimacy to the Crown as a hereditary landowner and centre of wealth in the Britannic realm, there is none whatsoever in the aggregation of wealth by Parliament. The modern State is entitled to nothing; everything it owns it has gained by legalized theft from its subjects. Its sole aim is to keep its subjects in their place, so that the rich stay rich, the poor stay poor and everyone else stays worried, harassed and permanently short of money.

It is no wonder that our society should be shallow and short-termist if the result of aggregating even a modest level of wealth is that death duties of a swingeing forty per cent should forcibly redistribute it against your wishes. It is an absolute scandal that the government that maintains this robbery, backed of course by the ultimate threat of violence, should call itself “Conservative”. It is nothing of the kind: it has embraced a Socialism that Marx himself would have applauded, and it is the embodiment of the politics of envy that are so very popular with the Labour Party these days. Can we be surprised, then, that the most logical response to such measures is to resort to an empty hedonism; if you can neither take your wealth with you nor give it to whom you wish without contortions and expensive planning, it is all too natural simply to spend the lot.

I do not want to talk about legacy simply in terms of money, however. There remain personal elements of legacy that are part of living life as a traditionalist and that apply whatever the state of our personal exchequer. Indeed, these elements are considerably more important than any financial consideration, for they are not only actions taken with a view to the future but also actions that reveal and may indeed form our characters. Not for nothing is it said that success built purely on money and material goods is an empty vessel. Since we cannot immediately hope to displace the state or to abolish taxation, we should instead concentrate on what we can do to create value for ourselves.

The creation of value, of significance and of substance is something that will outlast us even if the things we have created no longer exist. Consider Socrates, a man who wrote nothing that survived him. Everything we know of his thought has been filtered through those who knew and were influenced by him, chiefly Plato and Xenophon, and also Aristophanes and Aristotle. For that matter, consider Jesus Christ, whose words were conveyed to us through his disciples. Theirs may be a barely tangible legacy, but they have created an immense sphere of influence throughout the entirety of Western civilisation. What we see here is a chain not dissimilar to the genetic chain I described earlier, but here it is a chain of ideas whereby one person influences another, and in turn builds those ideas into his worldview. The philosophy expounded by Socrates and by Jesus is not merely a set of dead ideas, confined to the distant past: it is a living legacy, debated and discovered afresh by every generation. To leave a legacy even remotely approaching this brings a satisfaction far beyond that of materialism; it is to know that something of us will remain alive when even our tomb has disappeared.

Even if our accomplishments are, of necessity, considerably more modest than those of Socrates, we can still derive great satisfaction from engagement in work of significance. Creative endeavour of any kind is an obvious means of adding value to life. But there are other ways towards the same fulfilment. Engagement in work that seeks to promote the betterment of our society and the improvement of the lives of others enables us to participate with the same spirit that inspired Edward Latymer. The raising of children who are educated to understand the importance of our core values is another crucial task, and one that must increasingly be undertaken in opposition to government.

If we are to dedicate ourselves to seeking this fulfilment, we must first realize that our lives are finite and that there is no time to waste. This is what my opening quotation means: if we prepare for death, we live our lives with a perspective that looks for the good that we can accomplish in the time left to us, and we actively consider the way we want to be remembered. We may be impelled towards that consideration by a religious belief, or we may simply want to honour life itself, for it is a gift, and one that is all-too fragile.

Whatever the case, we are unlikely to emerge from such contemplation with the view that the way forward is that of pointless nihilism. More likely, we will conclude that the values that are at the heart of us impel us towards a life of integrity. They will be values that, as we explore them more deeply, will reveal a moral code, and will moreover speak to those aspects of our character that we will want to develop. We all begin as deeply imperfect and flawed clay; we can mould ourselves into something that can transcend our past and achieve both self-respect and the respect of others.

We may find our value in a job, but there is no reason why value should be confined there. What people do when they are not at work is an area that continually surprises and intrigues me. Some people balance their lives so that their work is merely a means of paying the bills without interest in career or promotion; their passion is explored outside any environment of financial reward. And as for finance, all of us except the most impoverished can benefit from learning to live on less than we do; the consequence is greater financial freedom and in consequence greater personal freedom.

Whatever we do, its effect is to turn us outward. Spending time with others, particularly others who need us, is often one of the most valuable things we can do. What we are asked to do in such situations is not to give money, but to give of ourselves. We each have qualities and talents that can give pleasure and provide lasting enjoyment. Our lives are better for sharing them. The impact we have on the lives of others is something that will outlast us; it is the most important legacy that most of us will have the chance to leave.

It is not a coincidence that I am delivering this talk in Advent; indeed I did promise to others that it would be morally improving, and I hope it has been so without becoming a sermon. It is easy in today’s world to neglect our common humanity and I hope I have been able to counteract that impulse. Traditionalists may argue over exactly what it is that they are preserving, but I would maintain that it is a way of living in which people have context; where they feel a part of landscape, heritage, society and country in a way that binds them to their roots and enables them in turn to engage in propagation. It is, in short, the opposite of the Marxist society that promotes merely alienation and consequent misery.

And with that, I wish all of you a very merry Christmas.


Posted in Traditional Britain Group

“Music and Culture” – Traditional Britain Group Conference 2014

Why does today’s Western art music strive so conspicuously for cultural relevance? Why are many of our university music faculties more concerned with cultural theory than with applied music? Why have we lost confidence in historical and applied models of musicology, and moreover in the tonal tradition that forms the basis of the greatest musical heritage known to mankind? In this talk, I will trace the roots of this malaise over the past century. I will explore the ways in which an explicitly Marxist agenda has caused Western art music to abnegate its past, and in doing so, to render itself marginalized in comparison to popular music of chiefly African-American origin. I will also show how political influence has played a large part in the contemporary perception of the Western musical heritage as elitist and thereby culturally taboo.

What makes for good music? Until the First World War there was a general consensus that Western societies valued music that was written with cogency, formal command and structure, and that communicates the higher values of those societies – in which respect we might refer to such words as nobility, beauty and complexity, by which latter term I mean the capacity to reveal hidden levels of meaning upon greater exploration. A major work of Western art music does not merely reflect the human condition, but inspires us beyond our own limitations towards the best of which we are capable.

The experience of good music lifts the spirits, challenges the mind and opens us to the riches of Western civilization. Even works of Western art music which may be considered of lesser stature have the capacity to accord enjoyment from their craft, proportion and charm of execution, in the same way that we may derive pleasure from an Agatha Christie novel despite being aware of its formulaic nature. In the best composers we discover a capacity to surprise and constantly renew their chosen forms with a distinctive individual voice. This renewal leads to organic development and also to experimentation, sometimes with dramatic and effective results.

Although an appreciation of music is probably innate to mankind, it would be a mistake to believe that Western art music will yield up its secrets without an appreciation of its context and techniques. Certainly we can appreciate music that is strongly rhythmic, or that relies on simple repetition for its effects, without much in the way of specialist knowledge. But when encountering a Bach fugue for the first time, many of the uninitiated will be put off by what appears arcane, impenetrable and difficult to follow. To traverse the unknown region, a roadmap is necessary.

The roadmap comes in the form of understanding both the circumstances in which that piece came to be written – the details of the composer’s biography and the way in which the work in question fits into his output and the overall genre in question – and the means by which the piece makes its effect. The first consideration belongs to the realms of history and musical appreciation. The second belongs to the realm of musical techniques.

If our aim is merely to appreciate music at the level of the amateur, so that we can enrich our lives as a result, we need to go down both of these routes on the roadmap. If our aim is either to write music that is worthy of comparison with that of the masters, or to perform it in some way that does it justice, we need to travel further and explore more widely.

In doing so, we will discover that much of what we consider characteristic of Western thought as regards the melodic and harmonic components of music is in fact the product of observed phenomena of long standing. Writing in “Dimensions of Paradise”, John Michell says “Long before Pythagoras made his famous experiments with lengths of string and pipe, the relationship between number and sound had been noted, and ancient rulers specified certain lawful scales that had to be followed in all musical compositions. The reason for this was that they recognized music as the most influential of all arts, appealing directly to the human temper, and thus a potential source of disturbance in their carefully-ordered canonical societies.”

The Pythagorean method of tuning is, just like modern equal temperament, a form of syntonic temperament, in which each tuning is the product of powers of the ratio 3:2, giving us the cycle of fifths that is familiar within tonal harmony. Another fundamental of tonal harmony, the chromatic scale, originates in an equalized version of the harmonic series, and this equalization in turn owes its impetus to the just intonation established by Ptolemy of Alexandria. As was established by nineteenth-century theorists Riemann and Hauptmann there is nothing accidental or random about the basis of Western music, or indeed of what we have come to regard as hierarchical tonality. It originates in the observation of mathematical and acoustic phenomena and it is likewise a mathematical sense that illuminates our concepts of musical form, proportion and structure. Sir Thomas Browne had it correct when he said, “For there is a music wherever there is a harmony, order or proportion; and thus far we may maintain the music of the spheres.”

As may therefore be expected, the Western musical tradition places a high emphasis upon codification through a notated score and pre-composition. Indeed, the principal difference between Western and non-Western music lies in the West’s relative disdain for improvisation. Whereas Indian art music, for example, places improvisation at its heart, Western art music relegates improvisation to specific and relatively minor roles – chiefly instrumental cadenzas and melodic embellishments. Because of its codification, Western art music is concerned with music not merely as an act of the moment, to be experienced simply by those present, but as an act of legacy, whereby once a composition has been born, it can enjoy a future that is open to posterity, since its score can be interpreted and reinterpreted by successive generations. This codification is akin to the progression from the collective oral tradition of storytelling at the dawn of mankind to the individual authorship of literary work after writing was discovered. It follows that the interpretation of Western art music is therefore also a complex matter embracing distinct schools of thought and specific techniques with much scope for individual input.

We can see, then, that Western music places a clear divide between its art tradition of codified music and its vernacular tradition of uncodified or improvised folk music. We should not deny the appeal and importance of that vernacular tradition. Indeed, the interchange that occurred between national folk traditions and Western art music in the nineteenth-century brought about a renewal that was far-reaching in its influence. Composers such as Vaughan Williams, for example, not only employ actual English folk music as a basis for art music composition, but also write melodies that are inspired by the contours of folk melody, so that they sound as English as the models that inspired them. This, however, is a conscious transmutation. The use of a folk melody in Western art music is the act of the cultural observer and recorder from the world of codified music, not the act of an authentic folk music exponent for whom notation is incidental to the living improvisatory tradition of that music. Nevertheless, there is a justified claim to superiority for Western art music over that of the improvisatory tradition, in that its premeditation leads to greater melodic, harmonic and structural complexity and thereby to more profound possibilities of expression through an extended form such as the symphony.

The secure foundation established by Western art music has contributed to a flourishing of musical performance as well as high standards of music teaching and of musical literacy in the general public. Even as the growth of radio and television during the twentieth-century made concert-going less popular, the following for Western art music among all sectors of society remained strong, as witnessed by the continuation of the private music clubs (which were a leading employer of young musicians and those with a local, rather than a national, reputation), brass bands, music appreciation societies and amateur choirs and orchestras. Significantly, this was a participatory tradition. Western society viewed engagement with music, even at a modest level, as culturally enriching and as a hallmark of the educated man or woman. Further, music’s strong association with the Church was such as to mark music out as morally improving, for after all were the angels not depicted with harps?

One of the main aspects that characterizes the pre-1914 tradition of Western art music is its confidence. The majority of musicians and music educators were not generally beset by existential angst as to the justification for their art. Tonality was expanded, experimented with and challenged by such composers as Wagner and Debussy, but it would only be a small number of composers who, led by Schoenberg, would deliberately break with tonality. What has been described as the late nineteenth-century crisis of tonality is in fact an organic process that would find its logical conclusion not in Second Viennese School serialism, but instead in what might be described as tonal freedom, whereby composers such as Scriabin or Hindemith would retain a background context of tonally-derived melody and harmony while seeking to enrich that context through the extension of tonality into less familiar territory. In other words, musical renewal rested ultimately not with those extremists who sought to cast away tonality’s naturally-derived basis and replace this with an artificial construct, but with those who saw the horizons of tonality widening rather than narrowing. The music of Sibelius offers us many examples of this new approach to tonality, particularly in his Seventh Symphony. Other examples of such organic development would be the progressive tonality of Nielsen and the highly distinctive harmonic world of Robert Simpson which is firmly rooted in classicism and often based on the opposition of particular intervals or keys.

The theme of the replacement of an organic order with one that is artificial and man-made is not a new one in modern ideas. The idea of cultural struggle, in which an established order is subverted by direct opposition, is likewise familiar. These are Marxist concepts and should be seen as such. Let us be clear; the nineteenth-century crisis of tonality was manipulated for propagandistic purposes as part of a much wider cultural crisis in which Western civilization and culture and their established order came under direct attack from Marxism. The revolution that brought about atonality and serialism was the same ideological revolution that deposed Europe’s crowns and that, at its point of greatest early fulfilment, led to the Communist ascendancy in Russia. As one of its architects, Georg Lukacs, would write, “Who will save us from Western civilization?”

What Lukacs and his fellows abhorred above all was the unique and sacred nature of the individual within the Christian worldview. Lukacs was determined to reduce the individual to a common destiny in a world which, in his words, “had been abandoned by God”. Another leading thinker of this ilk, Walter Benjamin, tells us that “religious illumination,” must be shown to “reside in a profane illumination, a materialistic, anthropological inspiration, to which hashish, opium, or whatever else can give an introductory lesson.” He goes on, “Do not build on the good old days, but on the bad new ones.” If man were to lose his connection to the divine, his only remaining creative option would be political revolt, which, according to Benjamin and his colleagues, would bring about a Marxist revolution.

Of course these developments were not without reaction and resistance. However, what was to be remarkable was the way in which Marxist intellectuals of the Frankfurt School succeeded in the post-1945 period in discrediting conservative reaction by identifying it explicitly with the Third Reich. For the Frankfurt School, creativity was impossible, anyone who adhered to universal truth was an authoritarian and even reason was subject to the shifting sands of critical theory. Culture was to be abolished; a “new barbarism” was to be created through new cultural structures that would increase the alienation of the people. Before long, from the ashes of a war-torn Europe, a surprisingly broad intellectual coalition had formed that supported and funded the Frankfurt School and its front organization, the Institute for Social Research. This gave the Frankfurt School the means to set in place its intellectual undermining of Western civilization.

The major works in which this is done include Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer’s Dialectic of Enlightenment of 1944, which gives us the concept of a manipulative culture industry, and The Authoritarian Personality of 1950 by Adorno and others. This latter work was sponsored by the American Jewish Committee and sought to connect the Freud-derived concept of the authoritarian personality to conservative and fascist ideology, and to anti-semitism. It should not be thought that Adorno and Horkheimer were writing with the intention of protecting Jews from prejudice. Rather, they, along with Marx, were opposed to all religions, including Judaism. They wanted to destroy the principles of both Jewish and Christian civilization and force the “scientifically planned reeducation” of Americans and Europeans. While the overtly politicized conclusions of The Authoritarian Personality have since been comprehensively disproven, they were not disproven quickly enough to prevent their cultural influence becoming widespread in the post-war years and even today. Indeed, they remain foundations for many of the ideas that are dominant in today’s academy.

We should look particularly carefully at the legacy of Adorno. Adorno as a pupil of Schoenberg and Berg believed that composers should relate to the past as a canon of taboos rather than a canon of models for emulation. His concept of art was also structured on that of Marxist Kulturkampf, in that he saw the duty of art to be “corrosively unacceptable” to the sensibilities of the middle class, and therefore to be a succession of shocking, difficult and obscure events.

The Adornoist concept has the advantage of wrapping music up in an impenetrable web of self-meanings. It means that music structured on these lines is likely to be theoretically extremely complex, divorced from significant cultural reference, emotionally arid and exceptionally difficult both to play and to listen to. Of the thousands of works written during the post-war years in this style, not a single one has attained genuine public popularity. They speak only to an elite, and that elite is specifically ideologically driven. As far as many executant musicians are concerned, they are indeed tolerated but not loved. Indeed, many would say that one might just as well love industrial noise as the work of  Stockhausen and the post-war Darmstadt School, for all its undoubted intellectual accomplishment. What is created is effectively non-music, non-art, because of its rejection of the musical values that I outlined at the beginning of this lecture. It preserves something of the colour, the instrumentation, the dynamic variety of Western art music, but it ignores what David Hellewell has called “music’s unique language; the dialectic of notes.” Even Adorno admitted that atonalism was sick, but as he said, “the sickness, dialectically, is at the same time the cure…The extraordinarily violent reaction protest which such music confronts in the present society…appears nonetheless to suggest that the dialectical function of this music can already be felt…negatively, as ‘destruction.’”

Moreover, Adornoism gives itself a license to view the past through its own distorting Freudian prism; for example, Adorno believed that the chord structure of late Beethoven was striving to be atonal, but Beethoven could not bring himself consciously to break with the structured world of Congress of Vienna Europe. For Adorno, an individual such as Beethoven was not autonomous and acting with free will, but was instead the prisoner of unconscious historical forces. Such arguments are merely Trojan horses for Marxism, since they can rewrite history according to an unlimited degree of political interpretation.

The effect of this movement on Western art music has been disastrous. Because Adornoist music cannot exist without significant public subsidy and is explicitly Marxist in its aesthetic, the general tendency of governments to become more controlling with regard to the arts in the post-war period has had a field-day. Without the government supporting the Adornoists, they would have failed in a blink of an eye when subjected to the popular market. When William Glock became director of the BBC Third Programme in 1959 he presided over a decade in which the Adornoist avant-garde was given public support while dissenters were consciously suppressed. Yet this support achieved nothing in terms of producing a wider popularity outside the limited circle of initiates. Rather, it furthered the fragmentation of our musical culture and an alienation of the West from its cultural heritage.

A combination of centralising tendencies and Marxist ideology with a decline in support for composers who do not fit the Adornoist and government image of what they should be, has left multiple generations without access to new music in the classical tradition which has the prospect of speaking directly to them. I can assure you that this tradition has been there – in the music of such post-war figures as Howells, Ferguson, Arnold, Lloyd and Arthur Butterworth – all of which have written vital and much underrated music – but even though all but the last are dead, their music remains largely sidelined by the mainstream today. They have become a narrowly specialist taste, and one that is nowadays increasingly dismissed as socially elitist and thus contrary to the egalitarian zeitgeist.

The concept of an official line on what composition should be – so very Soviet in its way – has led also to a situation where it is axiomatic that musicians be if not actively Marxist, then at least tolerant of working within that ideological framework. This gives us “luvvies for Labour”; it also means that those who doubt the left-wing consensus are afraid to speak out for fear of losing their livelihoods. The constraining ideological framework is not always obvious; it is often a superstructure far above the head of the individual musician, but it is there nonetheless. Orchestras, for example, are highly unionized organizations; the Musicians’ Union negotiates standard fees and terms of employment for orchestral musicians, and it in turn affiliates to the TUC and the Labour Party.

As soon as the Frankfurt School saw the burgeoning of mass entertainment and popular music they seized upon it as a means of Marxist dialectic. One of the most interesting aspects of pop music is that it is concerned largely with a group aesthetic and with the reproduction of the same experiences – musical stereotypes – that are already established as commercially successful. For Adorno, this stereotyping meant that exposure to pop music disengaged the mind, making the experience of music less sacred and increasing alienation, a process which he called “demythologizing”. In addition, pop music was largely non-Western in its origins, consisting of commercialized versions of African, Afro-American and Afro-Caribbean folk music. Adorno says, “contemporary listening…has regressed, arrested at the infantile stage. Not only do the listening subjects lose, along with the freedom of choice and responsibility, the capacity for the conscious perception of music…[t]hey fluctuate between comprehensive forgetting and sudden dives into recognition. They listen atomistically and dissociate what they hear, but precisely in this dissociation they develop certain capacities which accord less with the traditional concepts of aesthetics than with those of football or motoring. They are not childlike…but they are childish; their primitivism is not that of the undeveloped, but that of the forcibly retarded.

It is significant that every time mainstream pop music has tried to move beyond stereotype – as is the natural tendency of human creativity – there have been powerful forces dragging it back. Time and again during the 1960s and 1970s, jazz and pop music moved forward because of engagement with aspects of the Western art music tradition. The work of George Martin, Gil Evans, Charles Stepney, Claus Ogerman and those working in progressive rock drew directly on Western art music to create art music from the roots of pop music. In addition, an entire genre of music grew up – labelled “easy listening” – that presented jazz and pop music in arrangements that were considered more acceptable to those whose ears were attuned to art music. All of this resulted in a brutal record industry reaction in the late 1970s in which the nihilism and Leftism of punk and electronic music was vaunted and primitivism embraced once more. In the past two decades a further development has taken place, in which we are for the first time confronted by the phenomenon of all but the elderly having grown up in the post-1945 era and thus having been targeted since youth as consumers of pop music. This has allowed pop music finally to displace Western art music within the media and within our education system, as pop is now held by the decision-makers concerned to be culturally equal if not superior to its art music counterpart.

Those who perform Western art music have inevitably seen the landscape of their profession altered totally by this cultural shift. The former confidence in the cultural value of what they do has been replaced by an insecurity of purpose; a questioning of their very reason for existence. The contemporary focus on the physical appearance of classical artists and on short, memorable pieces as the vehicle for their success belongs to the world of pop. What it is not is the popularisation of classical music. Rather, it is the dumbing down of the Western art music tradition by presenting it with the same commercial values as pop music, with attendant assumptions of limited shelf-life and quick profits rather than long-term viability. What more can we expect when the Chairman of Universal Music Group considers that classical music is “rather unwelcoming” and “a bit like an elitist club”.

Artistic quality is now judged more on the basis of record company and media hyperbole than by an educated public, because that public has been systematically disempowered from the ability to exercise meaningful artistic judgement. The loss of the live concert experience as part of our culture has been more visible in Britain than on the Continent, but it is perhaps most obvious in the loss of community and amateur music-making dedicated to the Western art music tradition and even home listening in the form of the radio and recordings. Increasingly, that tradition is losing its hold as its exponents and enthusiasts become older and die off, being supplanted or even replaced altogether by pop music. One has only to listen to Desert Island Discs to become painfully aware that for many men and women who occupy leading roles in our society, who are otherwise educated and sensitive human beings, Western art music is something as remote to them as the planet Jupiter. Indeed, the Culture Secretary tells us that he never listens to Radio 3, and prefers Classic fM, which he finds “accessible and informal” – and this despite the fact that today’s Radio 3 falls over itself to dumb down, fetishize youth and employ announcers whose gauche chumminess must be making Cormac Rigby and Patricia Hughes turn in their graves.

Shortly after the election of the New Labour government in 1997, those responsible for British music education were essentially told that they would be compelled to embrace the Government’s educational priorities. Those priorities were towards Leftist multiculturalism and political correctness, and to the replacement of education with vocational training in pursuit of a social engineering agenda. Institutions would no longer be permitted to be determinedly exclusive in their admissions policies; the focus on excellence was seen as “disenfranchising people”.

Interestingly, this development presaged the cult of the amateur and the disparaging of expert status that has since become such a prevalent feature of the Internet. It owes its roots, of course, to the prevalence of postmodernism, itself an ideology owing much to Marx. Once the idea that there are central concepts of value or meaning that run through all good music can be thrown aside, or that critical rationalism is a basis for assessing the worth of a statement that lies outside of the realm of pure opinion, the ground is clear for all sorts of phony replacements.

Above all, what is promoted is a closed, totalitarian arts system. It is a system where government funding creates an expensive elite based on ideology, not ability. It remains dedicated to the Adornoist means whereby Western art music is to be subverted: firstly by the promotion of art music whose ideology is that of alienation, which is by definition anti-populist, and where complexity and obscurity of method are valued highly. Secondly, pop music is endorsed by the arts establishment and with it the concept that anyone, regardless of ability, can become a pop star instantly simply through winning a television talent contest and receiving media promotion. Music education now gives less emphasis to the history and techniques of Western art music and more to free expression and improvisation. Indeed, there are in our schools, according to Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, “music teachers who thought that even to teach standard western musical notation was to indulge in extreme elitism, claiming that it would inhibit the children’s creativity, and was alien to the “working class values of ordinary people”.

Increasingly, cultural relativism is a third means of attacking the West; non-Western music is given equality if not priority with Western art music both in our education system and increasingly in arts funding. Concepts such as “diversity” and multiculturalism in general are part of this trend. In his excellent book, “Cultural Revolution, Culture War”, Sean Gabb reminds us that, “In October 2003, the Association of British Orchestras organised a symposium on Cultural Diversity and the Classical Music Industry, and effectively required attendance from every classical music organisation in England larger than a string quartet. Among those addressing the symposium was Professor Lola Young, Head of Culture at the Greater London Authority. She said: “We must change the look of the classical music industry”. She was supported by Roger Wright, head of BBC Radio 3, who confessed that everyone at the BBC now underwent “diversity training”.” Practitioners of Western art music have a new-found obsession with “relevance” – they must make the case for their existence in a society that once considered them a vital element of their culture.

In a climate of austerity and cultural hostility, the vital structures that support and nurture Western art music have been placed under unprecedented stress. Local councils have discontinued elements of their music services and, driven by opposition to elitism, ended their support of assisted places at the junior departments of the conservatoires. Western art music classes and activities in publically-funded adult further education have been cut drastically. Meanwhile, the Church, once responsible for the development of young musicians through its choral tradition, has also increasingly replaced Western art music with pop. Our present Archbishop of Canterbury, who had African drummers and Punjabi music at his installation ceremony, has declined the customary office of vice-patron of the Royal College of Organists that his predecessors have held since the foundation of the College in 1864.

Let us move on to consider what is taught in our university music departments that concern themselves with Western art music – that is to say, those which have not closed under the recent funding pressures. Presaging New Labour by a couple of years came the movement entitled the “new musicology”, also called cultural or critical musicology, a jackdaw hybrid of gender and queer studies, cultural theory, post-structuralism, postcolonial studies and the theorising of Adorno and Benjamin.

What is notable in the “new musicology” is how little of originality it contains. It is as if someone were to gather up the most leftist elements of university teaching and then unite them in a single Marxist behemoth. There is psychology, of course, and pointless theorising as to whether one can tell whether Schubert was gay or not from his use of the German sixth. There is cultural theory a-plenty, the return of extended prose written in numbered paragraphs, and the meaningless, self-referential cant of structuralism and post-structuralism. Indeed, Professor Lawrence Kramer has said that in order to survive, musicology must embrace a network of “postmodernist strategies of understanding”. To appease the multiculturalists, ethnomusicology has now taken much of the space and funding formerly allocated to dead white males, meaning that the folk songs of obscure Third World tribes are now accorded the importance that the powers that be feel they deserve. Feminism of a particularly assertive kind has been allowed free rein, determining among other things that sonata form is sexist and misogynist. Here, we are no longer talking about music as music, but instead music, in the words of Professor Susan McClary, “as a medium that participates in social formation”.

What the new musicologists have done is effectively set up a straw man in order to justify their ideological lurch. That straw man is the idea that music has no meaning and no political or social significance. As Charles Rosen points out, with the exception of nineteenth-century critic Hanslick, it is doubtful whether anyone has ever actually believed this. Rather, there has always been what we might refer to as a divine fusion in the performance of music between what is deemed to be the composer’s meaning and significance and that overlaid or recreated by the performer, and then a third overlay of meaning and significance by the listener. Not only are those perceptions likely to differ between individuals, they may well differ among the same individuals on different occasions, depending on emotional state. Even the eminent may legitimately see different and contradictory things in a musical work.

The authoritarianism inherent in Adorno’s vision is equally prevalent in the new musicology. New musicologists usually seem to be telling us what to think and what to feel when we listen to music. By imposing meaning they present their opinion as dogma. By refusing to acknowledge the essential subjectivity that is at the heart of musical meaning they deny the individual the right to experience music in his or her own way and – heaven forbid – to use cultural references that are not chosen from the fashionable Left. The result is an edifice built on sand; once one does not accept the authority of the critic to dictate significance and meaning, much of what remains is merely ideological cant. Does the recapitulation of the first movement of Beethoven’s Ninth represent “the throttling murderous rage of a rapist incapable of attaining release”? Susan McClary published just that analysis, which to my mind is an excellent illustration of the way that this mode of discourse has a tendency to lapse into self-indulgent fantasy.

The aim of all this is, of course, to offer a further justification for the Adornoist position. By connecting music with other disciplines, links are created that are harder to break and that make music harder to isolate within the academy. By borrowing highly obscure modes of language and reference from those disciplines, and talking about music in terms of cultural or critical theory, new musicologists make it more difficult to discuss their work in anything other than its own terms, unless the critic stands wholly outside their viewpoint. They also fulfil Marxism’s inherent self-hatred by focussing on the effort expended in method and execution rather than the value or intelligibility of the results. And by ensuring that those disciplines chosen support the broadly Adornoist view – in other words that they support the concept of paternalistic, nanny-knows-best culture ruled by experts who tell the underclass what to like and what to think, they create a perfect ideological fit with academia’s Leftist zeitgeist and with the culture industry as defined by New Labour and left unchallenged by our present government.

What we are witnessing is effectively the continuation of the process that drove Western tonal music underground under the weight of post-war ideology. Traditional musicologists and music historians are no longer welcome in British academia unless they are willing to accept the new musicology. Indeed, Lawrence Kramer has said, “The theories that ground [postmodernist] strategies are radically anti-foundationalist, anti-essentialist, and anti-totalizing. They emphasize the constructedness, both linguistic and ideological, of all human identities and institutions. They insist on the relativity of all knowledge to the disciplines–not just the conceptual presuppositions but the material, discursive, and social practices–that produce and circulate knowledge. While often disagreeing with each other, poststructuralists, neopragmatists, feminists, psychoanalytic theorists, critical social theorists, multiculturalists and others have been changing the very framework within which disagreement can meaningfully occur.” Once you can control disagreement, there’s not much else that isn’t within your power.

I conclude, then, with an exhortation. To listen to and to play or sing Western art music is now a counter-cultural act. It is an act of profound rebellion against our politically correct Cultural Marxist zeitgeist as well as being a source of pleasure, moral and spiritual improvement and enhanced appreciation of the connection between the human and the divine. Let us not be afraid to relegate pop music to its proper place, to embrace our Western art music heritage and to resolve to make it a central part of our lives as educated men and women. Whether in our local community or nationally, let us support those who perform and teach this heritage, and let us give particular attention to the riches that are to be found in the music of our own island and culture; supporting organizations such as the English Music Festival which celebrate it, and independent record companies such as Chandos and Hyperion who have devoted much time and expense to producing first-rate recordings of it. And let us never forget these words of Bulwer-Lytton: “Music, once admitted to the soul, becomes a sort of spirit, and never dies.” If we care for our souls as we should, let us nourish them with good music, and let us then become better people for doing so.

Posted in Traditional Britain Group

Talk to the Central School of Religion Reunion

I was the invited speaker at the Central School of Religion Reunion at St Jude’s Free Church of England, Balham, in November 2014. Here is the talk given on that occasion:

Ambrose Philipps de Lisle, 1809-78

I am going to talk to you today about a nineteenth-century English pioneer of the ecumenical movement, Ambrose Philipps de Lisle, and give a brief account of his life and achievement.

Ambrose Lisle March Phillipps de Lisle was born on 17 March 1809. He was the son of Charles March-Phillipps of Garendon Hall, Leicestershire, and Harriet Ducarel, a lady of Huguenot descent. The de Lisle family of Leicestershire were originally simply the Phillipps from London. The Garendon estate near Loughborough, was inherited by Thomas March, who adopted the name Phillipps, and married Susan de Lisles. Their son, Charles, adopted the de Lisle crest and arms. Steady accumulation of landed property made him one of the ‘wealthiest commoners’ in England and a member of that class known as the landed gentry. When Charles March-Phillipps died in 1862, Ambrose took the additional name of Lisle, becoming Ambrose Charles Lisle March Phillipps de Lisle. For the purposes of this talk, I shall take the liberty of referring to him as Ambrose, not least because in doing so I will also recall the saint and Doctor of the Church after whom he was named, one who provided a model for him in his famous saying “When in Rome, do as the Romans do”.

Ambrose spent his earliest years at his birthplace and was brought up as a member of the Church of England, receiving his first religious instruction from his uncle, William March Phillipps, a High Church clergyman of the Church of England. The Bishop of Gloucester, having married Sophia March Phillipps, was his uncle by marriage, and so the boy spent Sundays and holidays at the bishop’s palace. In 1818 Ambrose was sent to a private school in South Croxton, whence he was removed in 1820 to Maizemore Court School, near Gloucester, kept by the Rev. George Hodson.

At school he met for the first time a Catholic, the Abbé Giraud, a French émigré priest. A visit to Paris in 1823 gave him his first acquaintance with the Catholic liturgy. The effect on his mind was shown on his return home when he persuaded the Anglican rector to place a cross on the communion table, but this first effort to restore the cross to English churches was stopped by the Bishop of Peterborough. He converted to Catholicism, and immediately removed from Mr. Hodson’s school, and returned home with his father, who arranged for him to continue his preparation for the university under the private tuition of the Rev. William Wilkinson. He was obliged every Sunday to attend the Anglican church, but did not join in the service.

Ambrose was admitted to Trinity College, Cambridge in November 1825, though he did not go into residence there until 16 October 1826. At the university he found a congenial friend in Kenelm Digby, author of Mores Catholici and The Broadstone of Honour, who was, like himself, a member of a long-established family of the landed gentry and a recent convert. In those days there was no Catholic chapel at Cambridge, and every Sunday for two years these two young Catholics used to ride, fasting, over to St. Edmund’s College, Ware, a distance of twenty-five miles, for Catholic Mass and Communion. It was on one of these visits to St. Edmund’s, in April 1828, that Phillipps was seized with a serious illness, having burst a blood-vessel in his lung. The doctors recommended his father to take him to Italy for the winter, and this necessarily cut short his Cambridge career, so that he had to leave the university. It should be remembered that at this point, because he was not an Anglican, he was debarred from taking a degree at the University.

On his return to England in 1829, he became acquainted with the Hon. George Spencer, then an Anglican clergyman, and his conversation was largely instrumental in leading to Spencer’s conversion to Catholicism, as the latter admits in his Account of my Conversion – he says “I passed many hours daily in conversation with Phillipps and was satisfied beyond all expectations with the answers he gave me to the different questions I proposed about the principal tenets and practices of Catholics.” The following winter (1830–1831) Ambrose again spent in Italy, on which occasion he met the Blessed Antonio Rosmini-Serbati, the philosopher and founder of the Rosminian Order, who made a great impression on him.

On 25 July 1833, Ambrose married Laura Mary, eldest daughter of the Hon. Thomas Clifford, son of Hugh, fourth Baron Clifford of Chudleigh, in the Church of St James, Spanish Place, London. Charles March Phillipps gave his son possession of the second family estate, the manor of Grace-Dieu in Leicestershire, which before the Protestant Reformation had been the Augustinian Grace Dieu Priory. Here Ambrose Phillipps built a new manor-house Grace Dieu Manor, 1833–34, and in the meantime he and his wife resided at Leamington, or at Garendon Hall. Writing a few years before his death he summed up the chief aims of his own life in these words: “There were three great objects to which I felt after my own conversion as a boy of fifteen specially drawn by internal feeling for the whole space of forty-five years which have since elapsed. The first was to restore to England the primitive monastic contemplative observance, which God enabled me to do in the foundation of the Trappist monastery of Mount St. Bernard. The second was the restoration of the primitive ecclesiastical chant, my edition of which is now recommended by the Archbishop of Westminster for the use of churches and chapels. The third was the restoration of the Anglican Church to Catholic Unity.”

According to Edmund Purcell’s 1900 biography of Ambrose, “In that early day no one did more for the Catholic revival in England, almost single-handed, than Phillipps de Lisle”. In the foundation of the Cistercian Mount St. Bernard Abbey in Leicestershire he received generous support from his friend John, Earl of Shrewsbury, but it was Ambrose himself who conceived the idea, believing it necessary that the ascetic aspect of Catholic life should be presented to the English people. Mount St. Bernard Abbey was the first monastery built in England since the Reformation. Ambrose gave both land and money, severely depleting his own resources in providing the necessary buildings. This work was begun in 1835 and completed in 1844, while, during the same period, he founded missions at Grace Dieu and Whitwick. His disappointment was great when he found that the Trappists were prevented by their rule from undertaking active missionary work, because he attached the greatest importance to a supply of zealous missionary priests who would labour in English villages; he said, “I would have them go about and preach everywhere on the foreign plan, in the fields or in the high roads even”.

In 1838 Ambrose joined his friend Rev. George Spencer in establishing and propagating the Association of Universal Prayer for the Conversion of England. In a continental tour he and Spencer made together, accompanied by Mrs. Phillipps and two of her children, in 1844, they passed through Belgium, Germany, and North Italy, meeting many distinguished Catholics and enlisting the sympathy of prelates and clergy in the cause. Nicholas, soon to be Cardinal, Wiseman was co-operating in Rome, and soon the movement spread widely through the Catholic world. Ambrose was for some time the only Catholic who was in confidential correspondence with the leaders of the Oxford Movement, including Blessed John Henry Newman, receiving them at Grace-Dieu. He saw the Oxford Movement as a step towards his desire of reconciling the Anglican Church with Rome. As his son stated: “National Conversion by means of Corporate Reunion he likened unto the Apostolic practice of fishing with a net ‘gathering in multitudes of all kinds of fishes.’ And this he considered to be his own special call from on High, to prepare the way and hasten the time when the Divine Word should again be spoken to Peter, ‘Cast your nets into the deep’.”

In a letter of 1841 to John Rouse Bloxam of Magdalen College, Oxford, who was, in the words of Lord Blachford, “the grandfather of all Ritualists”, Ambrose explained that for him, the Church of England was the true Catholic church of the British nation, despite its lack of communion with Rome. He regarded Anglican Holy Orders as valid, and the eucharistic service of the Book of Common Prayer as a true Catholic sacrificial Mass. It was the State, for Ambrose, that had impaired the Catholic witness of the Church of England; if reunion could be achieved, he saw the possibility of all churches and cathedrals being united in the celebration of the Sarum Rite in Latin, while some portions could be given simultaneously in English translation. He also foresaw circumstances in which the Anglican clergy would be permitted to retain their wives. These insights came about because Ambrose was closely in touch with European thought on these matters, in contrast to the British Establishment which was much less cosmopolitan in its inclinations. Equally, the capacity of Ambrose and his wife to offer lavish hospitality at Grace-Dieu Manor helped secure him a greater measure of support, even among the clergy of the Church of England.

As well as his Catholic works of translation and compilation, Ambrose in 1855 authored a work entitled Mahometanism in its relation to Prophecy; or an Inquiry into the prophecies concerning Anti-Christ, with some reference to their bearing on the events of the present day. This is an interesting work, and I will quote a few words from its conclusion, “If Mahomet be not Antichrist, may humanity be spared the revelation of something worse, of something still more horrible ! But if the imagination of my reader would be satisfied with something less horrible than Mahomet, let me, at least, congratulate humanity that it has already seen the worst phase of evil, while I leave it to the contradictor to adjust the balance between the statements of prophecy, and the phantoms of his own brain.” In fact, this was a longstanding preoccupation of Ambrose, who as a boy had seen a bright light in the sky and heard a voice say “Mahomet is anti-Christ, for he denieth the Father and the Son”.

Ambrose welcomed the restoration of a Catholic hierarchy in the United Kingdom in 1850, and tried to reconcile to it some of the Catholic laymen who thought it inexpedient. He saw great significance in the fact that Pope Pius IX had not named any of the new dioceses after any of the medieval Sees, since he surmised that the Pope must therefore share his view that the Church of England was the true church of the English nation. During the debates that ensued throughout the country he wrote two pamphlets: A Letter to Lord Shrewsbury on the Re-establishment of the Hierarchy and the Present Position of Catholic Affairs, and A few words on Lord John Russell’s Letter to the Bishop of Durham. The progress of events raised his hopes so high that he regarded the reconciliation of the Anglican Church to the Holy See as imminent, and to hasten its fulfilment entered on a new crusade of prayer, in which the co-operation of non-Catholics was desired. Following Ambrose’s eirenic pamphlet “On the future unity of Christendom”, “The Association for Promoting the Unity of Christendom”, (A.P.U.C.) was founded on 8 September 1857, by fourteen people including Father Lockhart and Fr. Collins; the rest were Anglicans, with one exception, a Russo-Greek priest. Cardinal Wiseman gave it his blessing.

The only obligation incumbent on members, who might be Catholics, Anglicans, or Greeks, was to pray to God for the unity of the baptised body. At first the association progressed rapidly. Ambrose wrote to Lord John Manners and said, “We soon counted among our ranks many Catholic Bishops and Archbishops and Dignitaries of all descriptions from Cardinals downwards; the Patriarch of Constantinople and other great Eastern prelates, the Primate of the Russian Church … I do not think any Anglican Bishops joined us, but a large number of clergy of the second order” – that is to say, presbyters. He gave the number of members as nine thousand. The formation of this association was, however, regarded with distrust by Cardinal Manning and a good number of other influential Catholics, who also took exception to Ambrose’s treatise On the Future Unity of Christendom. The matter was referred to Rome by Cardinal Manning and was finally settled by a papal rescript addressed Ad omnes episcopos Angliæ, dated 16 September 1864, which condemned the association and directed the bishops to take steps to prevent Catholics from joining it.

As might be expected, this was a great blow to Ambrose, who considered that “the authorities had been deceived by a false relation of facts”. He however withdrew his name from the A.P.U.C. “under protest, as an act of submission to the Holy See”. The ground on which the association was condemned was that it subverted the Divine constitution of the Church, inasmuch as its aim rested on the supposition that the true Church consists partly of the Catholic Church in communion with Rome, “partly also of the Photian Schism and the Anglican heresy, to which equally with the Roman Church belong the one Lord, the one faith and one baptism”. His own pamphlet was not censured, but the condemnation of the A.P.U.C. was regarded by him as the death-blow of his hopes for the reunion of Christendom during his own lifetime. But his own belief in it persevered and influenced his views in other Catholic affairs. Thus he warmly supported the attendance of Catholics at the English universities, and he even approved of the abortive project of a Uniate English Church. He pointed out that his prophesy of 1841 had come true, and that at least a few parish churches were now using the Sarum Rite in the vernacular. Writing in 1867, he noted that within the Church of England we could now find churches that were “restored in all their grandeur. The sweet perfume of holy incense is again inhaled in our ancient temples, the names of Mary and the Saints are again honoured and invoked, and men are once more called to the practice of sanctity, and the imitation of the Saints”, while “Catholic morality is again inculcated in pulpits that used to utter only the errors of Calvin or Luther”.

During the remainder of his life, Ambrose continued ever to take an interest in public affairs as affecting the fortunes of the Church, and in the same connexion he carried on intimate and cordial correspondence with men as different as Cardinal Newman, William Ewart Gladstone, and Charles Forbes René de Montalembert. He counted among his friends John, Earl of Shrewsbury, Cardinal Wiseman, Augustus Pugin, who provided designs for Grace-Dieu, and many other well-known Catholics, and though he differed on many points from Cardinal Manning and Dr. W.G. Ward, the professor of moral philosophy at St Edmund’s College, he remained on friendly terms with both. In 1868, he was appointed High Sheriff of Leicester, and chose Dr Frederick Lee of Lambeth, one of the founding prelates of the Order of Corporate Reunion, as his chaplain. Lee’s second son was named Ambrose de Lisle Lee after him. Ambrose’s plans for a Uniate Church continued to occupy him and his colleagues, and he was among the first to propose that the clergy of the Church of England should be conditionally reordained in order to secure their validity. This proposal, too, would eventually be adopted by the Church of England following the 1931 Bonn Agreement with the Old Catholic Churches.

On 5 March 1878 Ambrose died at Garendon, survived by his wife and eleven of his sixteen children. His achievement was to be the prophet of much that was to follow him, and that would eventually find expression in the current Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham.

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Traditional Britain Conference 2014 – The Basis of Culture?

TBG conference 2014

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Recital at the Guild of Musicians and Singers, 17 May 2014

GMS newsletter coverGMS programmeA CD recording of this recital is now available from Romantic Discoveries Recordings.

Recital at the 41st General Meeting of the Guild of Musicians and Singers, 17 May 2014
John Kersey, piano

Audio samples:
Faure: Barcarolle no. 2
Faure: Barcarolle no. 3
Faure: Nocturne no. 6
Alkan Symphony: movt. 1; movt. 2; movt. 3; movt 4

Total time: 71 minutes 15 seconds

Gabriel Fauré (1845-1924):
1. Barcarolle no. 2 in G major, op. 41 (1885) (6’16”)
2. Barcarolle no. 3 in G flat major, op. 42 (1885) (8’59”)
3. Barcarolle no. 4 in A flat major, op. 44 (1886) (4’06”)
4. Barcarolle no. 5 in F sharp major, op. 66 (1894) (6’28”)
5. Nocturne no. 6 in D flat major, op. 63 (1894) (+ applause) (10’32”)

Charles-Valentin Alkan (1813-88):
Symphonie for solo piano, from 12 Etudes in the minor keys, op. 39 nos. 4-7
6. Allegro moderato (10’14”)
7. Marcia funebre: Andantino (6’27”)
8. Menuet (5’56”)
9. Finale: Presto (+ applause) (5’28”)

10. (encore) Faure: Nocturne no. 3 and concluding remarks by Master of the Guild Dr. David Bell (6’59”)

Recorded at the concert on 17 May 2014 and the rehearsal concert preceding it.

gms 1

Membership and other details of the Guild and Musicians and Singers can be found on the Guild’s website:

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