I am, I hope, one of the least nationalistic people alive, but I could not help thinking, when seeing a Gramophone list of ‘Top 10 English Composers’ for St George’s Day, that we could do a great deal better than that. John Tavener (rather than John Taverner)? Delius, seriously? The ludicrously overrated Britten (who might make it in for The Turn of the Screw, but for little else)? Not that I expect members of the Campaign for Real Barnacles to agree, but I thought I should offer an alternative top ten, celebrating not only, in ‘nativist’ style, those born here, but those who lived and worked here.
John Taverner: composer of music of such complexity as to make most post-Schoenbergian music seem like ‘easy listening’. He saw the light, thank goodness; he seems to have become a proper Englishman and gave up on music.
William Byrd: a traitor in hock to un-English, Italianate Popery who composed for other such traitors (the politically correct might call them ‘recusants’ or even 'victims of state-sponsored religious persecution', the Muslims of their day).
Henry Purcell: the English Orpheus, whose music, alas, drew far too heavily upon Frenchified nonsense.
George Frideric Handel: a German ‘migrant’ in the service of German ‘migrant’ monarchs.
Franz Joseph Haydn: a shady ‘Croat’ who shamelessly took away ‘British jobs for British people’, even ‘sending home’ the money he purloined; Gordon Brown would have had none of that.
Felix Mendelssohn: Another temporary ‘migrant’, not only German, but shock horror, Jewish too. Still, he visited Birmingham.
Edward Elgar: composer of German music, masquerading as an Englishman.
Alexander Goehr: son of a German ‘migrant’ who, still worse, was a pupil of Schoenberg and had the temerity to introduced Monteverdi’s foreign 1610 Vespers to this scepter’d isle.
Harrison Birtwistle: composer of such cacophony that a group of common-sense Englishmen assumed their patriotic duty to ‘heckle’ performances of music closer to Stravinsky than to H Balfour Gardiner. From ‘The North’.
Rebecca Saunders: a woman, who moved to Germany. I can’t imagine why.
And I’ve still had to omit John Dowland and many others. Oh well: next year.