12 FEBRUARY 1960, Page 19


CAIRNS By DAVID A NEW wind is blowing through our concert halls. We may not like what it is bringing with it, may wish ourselves for- ever snug in the old, safe world of the 'repertoire,' but we can- not seriously deny that it will do us all a power of good. A year ago one would have had to be delirious to imagine two well-attended performances of Le Marteau Sots Maitre, by Pierre Boulez, occurring within a few weeks of each other. Yet here we have it coming up again exactly a month after it opened the BBC's series of chamber concerts at the Maida Vale Studios. On that occasion it had the Amadeus Playing two of Mozart's string quintets (the Wonderful C major and that curious white ele- phant, the E flat) to help draw a large audience. Last Monday, when it was given in the Recital Room at the Festival Hall by the same players, the New Music Ensemble under John Carewe, the whole cast of the programme, despite the inclusion of Schonberg's Vekliirte Nacht, that rank fag-end of romanticism, was unconventional and avant-garde, with recitations of Rent Char's Poems by Harold Pinter and an open discussion of Le Marteau, led by lain Hamilton and Martin C°Oper; yet the hall was full of milling and enthusiastic people .who left with obvious reluc- tance at 10.40 when time ended a discussion that was just getting nicely under way. The avant-garde is losing its conspiratorial, agBressively minority air. It has taken great heart from Mr. Glock's new deal at the BBC; it feels that the tide of fashion is running slowly but irresistibly in its direction, and that a taste for novelty, long suppressed by philistine and narrow- minded entrepreneurs, is beginning to spread to the mass of the musical public. Its forces, which used to be divided and scattered, are better organ- ised than ever before. The days when the simul- taneous performance of a Webern quartet, a SehOnherg quintet, a Stravinsky concerto and a Searle symphony could disperse the faithful in little knots all over London are past. A new body, Contemporary Concerts Coordination (c/o the 4 St. James's Square, SW1), now sees that the various groups concerned with contemporary music plan their concerts together, and sends out leaflets which show at a glance nearly all the new Music that is to be heard in London. 'Music Today,' of which Monday's concert was the first venture, is the latest manifestation of the new spirit. It does not have much money at the moment (subscriptions—a guinea a year—and donations should be sent to the chairman, lain Hamilton, 13 Bolton Street, WI), and the works it is tackling need months of hard preparation, but it is bursting with missionary zeal and its morale is soaring. Every month or so there is to be a concert at which contemporary works and some older music are played (March 14's concert includes pieces by the thirteenth-century minstrel Adam de la Halle) and readings are given of new prose and poetry (March 14, lonesco).

It is easy to mock the young men of the new movement, and to see only the signs of a nouvelle blague which will soon weary of its own affecta- tions, but it is not very intelligent to do this. They may contain their quota of mediocrities and weak- minded parasites, but our musical establishment is hardly the institution to say so. They may irritate us by declaiming the stale old humbug about the new music's having something myster- ious and fundamental in common with classical and preclassical music, such as romanticism does not. They may make impossible claims for its infallibility. But with all their frequent absurdities, they are alive; and until established and successful musicians are prepared to commit themselves body and soul to propagating avant-garde music, they have the field to themselves. The flute and viola in the New Music Ensemble are not nearly so good as the excellent percussion; and the guitar- ist, Cornelius Cardus, was palpably floundering in the Boulez. Even after rehearsing for a year they were not always playing together in some of the more fiendishly intricate metrical complexities. But all in all it was a heroic achievement; and until someone plays it better, they have first claim on our gratitude.

The first essential of a healthy English musical culture is that the new music should be played and heard; the second, that we should honestly admit how little most of it means to us. Le Marteau Sans Maitre is one of the works in which Boulez, according to a stimulating article by Alexander Goehr in the latest number of The Score, has freed himself from the tyranny of total serialisation and the 'single note' and returned.to music that is sub- jective and expressive. But the average listener, even when the purely aural difficulties of its strange sounds have disappeared and he can begin to enjoy it, is still, as Mr. Cooper said, at a loss to know why the sounds occur in the order and shape they do, and is therefore quite unable to 'recognise' the music in the sense that he recog- nises a Bach fugue let alone to tell whether it is good or bad. For my own part, I got a good deal more out of the work at the second hearing than at the first, without yet being able to say what it was that I got. I found myself preferring the move- ments in which viola and guitar were mute or subordinate, and the fascinatingly new and beautiful combinations of xylophone, vibraphone, assorted Oriental percussion and alto flute were dominant. Mr. Hamilton made a passionate plea for our accepting the music 'in the form in which it stands,' and claimed that with 'unprejudiced ears' we could come to understand it and recog- nise it as a unity containing infinite variety. That is as may be. But whatever posterity's last word, the'New Music Ensemble has placed us deeply in its debt by enabling us at least to hear Le Marteau twice within a short time. Until we have felt this music, such intellectual questions as whether Boulez's rhythmic organisation really needs such infinitely complex and shifting notation are pre- mature and misleading.