I was surprised by some of the reactions when ABC Classic FM chose to feature Nobuo Uematsu‘s Final Fantasy soundtrack as the album of the week. The wailing and gnashing of teeth that followed would have made you think that the sky was falling. The pretentious, snarky and holier-than-thou comments were front and centre. The cascade of comments would be something you would expect from the comments section on a FOX news page and written in a tone that would rarely be heard in face-to-face conversations. It is far from becoming and far from what you would expect from the audience of ABC’s Classic FM. There were a few that stood out. Rosemary Harle, David Greco and Christopher Walsh in particular were noticeable. Their embarrassing wailing shows that it’s not just uneducated teens who can make fools of themselves on the internet. Appearing prone to hyperbole Rosemary squawked away informing the producers that their decision is, basically, the end of the station as we know it. Of course, it isn’t. But that isn’t going to stop Rosemary, who is keen to highlight her clearly superior tastes by informing the readership that anyone could have composed music better than Nobuo. She couches this comment in a reference to a slightly esoteric Beethoven composition to show how much more cultured she is.
This demonstration of snobbery shows exactly why classical music struggles to return from the fringe of the popular mind. And maybe that’s what Greco and company are after – theirs is an exclusive club and they get to control the membership. This is no doubt empowering. They, the armchair connoisseurs, determine who is in and who is out. Harry Gregson-Williams, Hans Zimmer and Danny Elfman especially should be discounted as charlatans – their work considered nothing but trashy facsimiles of “real classical” by the likes of Rosemary and friends. But the rest of us are willing to enjoy music that is genuine and heartfelt.
The tired old views of tired old people have to be heard – we don’t have a choice because they post comments on the internet – but they don’t have to be accepted. Their self imposed punishment is missing out on the remarkable hidden musical gems that lie between the realms of traditional classical music and modern video game music.
Their main thesis is that there is a big difference between “classical” and “orchestral” music. They’re absolutely right. But is orchestral music disqualified from being played on Classic FM by virtue of the word “classical” being in the title of the station? Of course not. Screen Sounds (we’ll miss you, Gordon!) has been playing movie and TV scores for years and cues from soundtracks pop up in the other programs regularly. Classical Breakfast has, at around 7:30am on weekdays, a “choc-top” moment. Is Mozart rolling in his grave? Unlikely. A relatively recent episode of Screen Sounds celebrating Beethoven’s birthday took the opportunity to highlight the use of his music in modern motion pictures. There is clearly a legitimate crossover in subject matter here. Hans Zimmer can compose bland, predictable music. He can also compose music with startling depth and feeling. I wonder what Rosemary would think of the recording of the Goldberg variations, or Danielle de Niese and Bruno Lazzaretti’s performance of “Vide Cor Meum” (which is a wrenching adaptation of a sonnet from Dante’s La Vita Nuova) from the Hannibal soundtrack? If Danny Elfman’s world-renowned tracks from Edward Scissorhands (see Ice Dance and of course The Finale) are acceptable, then why not his main theme for Fable? Clint Bajakian’s soundtrack for Lucasart’s Outlaws is right out of Ennio Morricone’s playbook. Nitin Sawhney’s work is classical enough to be played by the London Symphony Orchestra but cues from Enslaved: Journey to the West should be banned? Jeremy Soule, widely regarded as a composer of high quality classic music, has many video game soundtracks to his name. Does his music from Skyrim (see Sunrise of Flutes, Watchman’s Ease) warrant no attention? What about Windhym Anthem from his recently released Monster Galaxy score? Austin Wintory’s compositions for Assassin’s Creed Syndicate are complex, deep and are probably the best example of how the classical discipline can be harnessed in new media (see Bloodlines and The Assassin Two-step among many others). If Rosemary or David took the time to listen to them and read into it, they may be pleasantly surprised. But somehow I doubt they will take the time.
“Game Show”, hosted by Meena Shamaly, is a new show which airs on Classic FM from 3 to 4pm on Friday. His research and insight into the genre is more than welcome and goes a long way to showing the depth that can be found in music in video games. That an hour a week is dedicated to young and emerging musical talent probably makes Rosemary’s skin crawl. But it highlights an important trend.
Elitism is a term that is bandied about too frequently these days. This isn’t about elitism, it’s about being resonsable. ABC Classic FM programs content 24/7, 365 days a year. That’s a lot of airtime. So when a popular composition from a game is made album of the week, is it really the end of the world? Do we throw on another recording of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons or do we give someone else a chance?
Obviously it depends who you ask. I’d prefer to ask someone who has a diverse worldview and who can enjoy good music for what it is rather than ask someone who is cloistered, stuffy, and unwelcoming. I suspect most people would prefer the same.