A couple of weeks ago I mentioned that Trito Programma — the ‘Serious Music’ Greek State Radio station — has returned, furthermore minus the smartarses who tried to impress us with their erudition instead of just announcing the work and putting on the record. Unfortunately, after sporadic listening, I’ve found that Trito Programma has been vivaldified. That is to say, it plays mostly shortish, lightish stuff. The same happened to Classic FM, whose populist approach (it was paid for by advertising, which always goes for what is incorrectly called the ‘Lowest Common Denominator’ (they mean Highest Common Factor)) reduced the content to what the Americans aptly call ‘Elevator Music’. Now an English friend tells me that the same has happened to the BBC’s Radio Three, and so, ironically, Classic FM has got more serious to fill the gap in the market.
So what is wrong with Vivaldi? Well nothing really: I was as pleased as anyone when, fifty years ago, I Musici’s fine recording of the Four Seasons came out and everybody started listening to this hitherto obscure composer. I like Vivaldi, in small doses. But an unrelieved auditory diet of Vivaldi and similar music is like a gallery of nothing but Renoir. A very fine painter, but one also wants something a bit meatier. (Bad choice of metaphor; some of Renoir’s women are very meaty, but it’s chicken filet rather than beefsteak.)
I once offended some friends who put on Vivaldi as ‘background music’ (aargh!) over dinner by saying ‘Ah, Vivaldi; music for people who don’t really like music.’ Later one of them suggested that I didn’t like Vivaldi because his music is happy, and I insisted on being gloomy. Yes, his music is happy, as what man’s wouldn’t be if he landed the job of resident music teacher in a girls’ boarding school. But too much of it is like being put on hold when ’phoning, or eating a whole packet of chocolate digestive biscuits.