The ongoing claims that government support is necessary to shield true artists from the commercial world’s philistine demands is a hangover from the Romantic version of the creative genius. Certainly much great art has been produced by artists who thought of themselves as solitary geniuses, warring against an unenlightened public, and great art has at least as often come forth from masters of public relations and in response to demand.As classical music's funding crisis deepens that quote certainly provides food for thought. It comes from Roger Evans' newly published biography of Xavier Montsalvatge, and the Catalan composer - who lived from 1912 to 2002 - was a latter day master of public relations. In contrast to fellow Catalan Pau Casals, Montsalvatge chose appeasement and not exile when Franco came to power in 1936. He composed for the dictator’s political films while consorting with Catalan separatists, and balanced a career as a high profile music critic with his role as one of Spain's senior composers. Montsalvatge’s attitude to politics mirrored his approach to music which he expressed thus – “nothing can have more interest than atonality that coexists with and confronts tonality”. In his biography Evans describes Montsalvatge as “a supreme master of political manouevering… perhaps his greatest political triumph of all, besides having simply survived, was the lack of appearance of all such calculation”.
In support of the thesis that great art comes forth from masters of public relations is Montsalvatge’s music. The Spanish conductor Juanjo Mena and the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra have taken a bold step to reverse the unjustified neglect of Montsalvatge with a highly recommended Chandos CD that includes his best known work, Cinco Canciones Negras (Five Negro Songs), and his little-known masterpiece, the 1985 Sinfonía de Réquiem – outstanding sound on that disc incidentally captured in the BBC Philharmonic’s new studio in MediaCity, Salford. Montsalvatge was greatly influenced by Latin-American music and his virtuosic and tuneful sixteen minute Calidoscopi Simfònic, which is also on the CD, should certainly be in the repertoire of one of the Venezuelan boy bands.
I bought the Chandos Montsalvatge disc online, but a copy of Xavier Montsalvatge: A Musical Life in Eventful Times came speedily from the delightfully co-operative Pendragon Press, Hillsdale NY in response to my request. Roger Evans’ invaluable biography is in the same series as James Gollin’s biography of American early music pioneer and public relations master Noah Greenberg. I was disappointed at the response to my post about Noah Greenberg earlier this year. So being a practitioner - but unlike some fellow bloggers not a master - of public relations I am plugging that post again today. Xavier Montsalvatge was born, possibly of Jewish stock, in the Catalan town of Girona which I visited in the Spring and featured in A Sephardic Moment. 1912 to 2002 - see how a composer can be made interesting and newsworthy without jumping on the anniversary bandwagon?
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