Graham Johnson: Is Music the only European Currency?

Excerpts from a talk given by Graham Johnson at the Athenaeum Club on 20 March 2001

“Not so very long ago British culture was the envy of the world, including the Germans. When I arrived in this country from Ian Smith’s Rhodesia in 1967, Jenny Lee was minister for the arts and the country was riding high as both a centre of both classical music and pop culture…..I filled in the countless gaps in my musical knowledge through the splendid record library in Porchester Road, W2. I could scarcely believe that here was a place, a local library, where one could borrow scores as well as discs. (Today in some libraries you can borrow toys easier than classical CDs: Fischer Dieskau has been replaced by Fischer Price).”

“If we are serious Europeans, if we are indeed contemplating ever closer financial ties with Europe, where is the education concerning, and support for, those European traditions which, in spiritual terms, already unite us in a far more meaningful way than the Euro? If music is an international language it has to be taught and heard and used. If music is something we have in common with other nations it is one of our greatest weapons for spear-heading the cultural integration of the future.”

“I believe that Lieder in its quiet way is one of Germany’s most powerful exports, and one of the more subtle agents of reconciliation. After all, you can drive a Mercedes or BMW, and own any number of German household appliances without being one whit closer to understanding Germany and its culture, much less loving it. But the conjunction of Schubert and Goethe, or Schumann and Heine, or Wolf and Mörike inspire respect and love in their audiences - I have seen it, I have felt it - and the inevitable result is a greater interest in, and understanding of the nations that produced that music and spoke, and speak, that language.”

“A strong belief in the greatness of the music we are performing gives focus to our studies, and our hopes of doing better next time. And it lifts us out of ourselves enabling us to see beyond the barriers and ambitions of our own little performing careers, for make no mistake, in this profession the greatest of performing careers is merely a passing phenomenon. It is the composers who will run and run.”

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