A Response to a Response to my piece on The Lark Ascending
An Open Letter to Tom W Green, a composer and musician based in Glasgow.
Thank you for alerting me to your blogpost entitled ‘The Farts Ascending: Classical Music and the Culture War’, albeit with a rather unfriendly tweet saying that it was “partly in response” to my “nonsense article that tried to concoct a culture war from RVW's The Lark Ascending”.
I read it with interest. In responding here, I would like to address a number of factual errors and omissions you make which should be corrected.
- You call me “a right wing author”. This is untrue. I am actually of the left. I was a Labour Party member from 2010 to 2016 and still count myself of the left. My blog on which this letter is published is called A Free Left Blog. At no point have I said that I am no longer of the left. This assertion is at the core of your argument and should be corrected.
- Understandably, you use the original title of my piece, ‘Why The Elites Hate Vaughan Williams’. However perhaps you are unaware that this was changed to ‘Why progressives don’t like The Lark Ascending’ a few days before you published your response? I had no part in deciding the original title and asked for it to be changed, which it was the day after the piece was published.
- You talk about me invoking what you call “the usual pastoral nationalist platitudes about RVW’s biggest hit”. However you miss out how I was referring to such things as observation of how others receive it, which then helps to provoke some of the negative anti-nationalist response to the piece (or the ‘wider world’ of the piece as I describe it).
- You say I make “a crude comparison between the musical phrases of the piece and the rolling English Countryside”. This comparison, albeit without capitalising the countryside in Teutonic fashion, was made by the late conductor Richard Hickox. I think you should make clear that you are criticising his interpretation rather than making out it is something I crudely came up with myself.
- You mention that “Cobley has found a total of three people who dislike the piece”. This is an error. In the published piece there are mentions of/links to five people who have publicly expressed dislike, while others were edited out from the original version and still more I did not have space to include. This is an error that should be corrected.
- You say that I am trying “to conclude that the instrumental piece is an actual representation of English conservatism in sound”. This is an error. I did not say anything to this effect and indeed you provide no evidence for it.
- You say that, “to make the piece work as a nationalist symbol, every element must be reduced to a cheap signifier of the soil of England”. However I make no such claims. My conclusions about the piece have no mention of England. They are about the piece’s apparently special meaning to people experiencing or coming out of depression. I believe neither of the two people I quote on this are English, let alone invoking ‘the soil of England’.
- You say I ignore how VW “wrote some profoundly disturbing (and brilliant) music, such as his 4th Symphony.” This is because the article is about the Lark Ascending on its 100th birthday. I certainly do not ignore this symphony more generally. I listen to it regularly, indeed far more than I do the Lark. As I said recently on Twitter, it is currently my favourite piece of his.