22 January 2014

musical genius and its absence

● The late Sir John Tavener was a genius, according to someone writing in the Daily Mail recently. It was certainly sad to lose one of the more interesting composers of the 21st century. Some of his things, such as the Funeral Ikos, are very nice. But “genius”?
Tavener wasn’t by any stretch in the same class as Beethoven, Tchaikovsky or Debussy. Was he even in the same one as Liszt or Sibelius? Highly doubtful. How about Berlioz or Britten? Getting closer, but still – probably not.
There is of course an argument that the possibilities of classical music were exhausted some time ago, and that to express genius these days one would need to work in some other genre. I’m not entirely convinced by that, but I suppose it could explain why even the best contemporary classical composers fail to wow.
It is certainly difficult to think of any living composers who deserve the description of genius. Personally, I’d be more willing to stick the label on Lennon/McCartney, or Cole Porter, than on Glass, Górecki or Pärt.