CULTURE SHOCK : SITTING ON THE bus on the way home from a Dublin Theatre Festival show last week, I suddenly started thinking about what happened to classical music.
Until about a century ago it was a living form, not just at its experimental edges but at its centre. Mainstream concertgoers or operagoers could expect to encounter not just the works of the great tradition, such as pieces by Bach, Mozart, Haydn and Beethoven, but also, for example, a new symphony by Mahler. They presumably would have expected this situation to continue indefinitely. But it didn’t.
Gradually, the form broke in two: a mainstream that is almost entirely historic and a contemporary avant garde that is of interest only to a minority of hardcore devotees. From time to time a new work will cross the divide, but this is an exceptional occurrence.
Just look at the main programme of forthcoming concerts at the National Concert Hall: Haydn, Beethoven, Schubert, Liszt, Verdi, Shostakovich, Rachmaninov, Brahms and so on. The odd work by a living composer, such as Frank Corcoran or James MacMillan, will sneak in, but as a side dish rather than a main meal.