Works of art often rely on support, financial or otherwise, to reach the public. Michael Berkeley, a composer and presenter of “Private Passions” on BBC Radio 3, begins a new Intelligent Life mini-series in which we ask critics and practitioners to suggest some classics that might not get a green light today.
Many of the most glorious works of art from the past were created thanks to the patronage of the court or the church. It is almost inconceivable today that a leading composer might be appointed choirmaster of a cathedral, and even more improbable that he could use that position to create masses and cantatas for liturgical and secular use. Yet it was precisely this post at the Thomaskirche in Leipzig that provided Johann Sebastian Bach with the platform, money and forces to create a series of masterpieces, including the “St Matthew Passion” and the “Mass in B Minor”—works that have led many musicians to regard Bach as God in much the same way as actors see Shakespeare. Mozart and Beethoven, the other members of the Holy Trinity, drew from Bach a contrapuntal heritage and technique that still forms, or should form, the basis of composition today. Of course towering genius is a rarity in itself, but in the church it had the fertile soil it needed to flower. This freedom to fail, to try things out, also meant that opera composers such as Donizetti and Verdi were able to get it wrong before they produced works like “Lucia di Lammermoor” and “La Traviata”. Nowadays you get one chance and if you blow it that tends to be that.
~ MICHAEL BERKELEY
Picture credit: jimmiehomeschoolmom (via Flickr)