Do not be afraid to admit that classical music is art music and that it is enjoyed by the middle classes, but do fight to keep music in school classrooms ‒ that was the challenge delivered by singer and cultural campaigner Thomas Hampson in his keynote speech at the opening of Classical:NEXT in Vienna.
The classical music congress had attracted more than 800 delegates as it got under way.
Classical music has an exact definition, Mr Hampson told the audience. ‘It is art music, which in this case should be understood as structure. The word art, is very much like Richard Wagner described it, as a verb. It should be understood as the transcendence of any style and any age.’
He went on: ‘The plurality of our society and its market place is not and never should be the raison d’être of its music. That classical music relates to the immediacy of everyday life, but not immediately, creates a significantly longer perspective which is at odds with the very values of popular culture.’
Classical music was born from the ‘revolution’ of romanticism of the late 18th century, which coincided with ‘the new phenomenon called the middle class’. That resulted in the practice of music-making at home ‒ hausmusik. ‘God forbid we should think anything went right in the age of Biedermeier.’
That revolution opened the doors of music previously the preserve of ‘very possessive and elitist societies’.
A threat to that freedom was the trend seen in many countries to erode the presence of music in school syllabuses. ‘Music banned from classrooms. What next? Burning books? This is life and death stuff today.
‘There can be no argument that the very heartbeat of the life of our educational systems across the world require the pacemaker of music to revive its vital signs.’
Not just classical, but all genres of music were essential to education, he said.
‘We must take seriously that music is evidence of the values and emotional contexts of any particular life, regardless of what the heritage of the creator may be.’
The performing arts in general, Mr Hampson said, awakened the ‘sense of self’ in every person who experienced them. The challenge facing the music industry was not only to provide ‘the next artistic expression’ but to ‘recapture the right to evolve, to flourish, to contemplate self in times of rapid change in every aspect of our lives.
The lessons of compassion and the right to express one’s views on issues ‘be they political, religious or sexual’ is ‘as much a right for our young as it is for the more experienced’.