January 31, 2020
The BBC hired Edward Gregson to hymn our exit. He has written the embarrassed refrain of a nation resigned to misery
Radio 4s Brexit music: it feels like something for a secular funeral
With rather splendid timing, on Thursday Radio 3 broadcast a live concert of the Hallé Orchestra playing Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, at the start of Manchester’s celebration of the great humanist’s 250th birthday. The Ninth ends with the setting of Friedrich Schiller’s Ode to Joy. “All men shall become brothers,” writes Schiller, words set thrillingly by Beethoven in a choral explosion at the end of the piece that has become the anthem of the European Union. One hopes there were tears at Bridgewater Hall.
Edward Gregson, the British composer charged by Radio 4’s PM programme with the tricky task of composing a piece to mark the UK’s departure from the union, uses Beethoven’s theme as the basis for his Notes Between Friends, a brief, melancholic duet for piano and cello (played by the composer and Peter Dixon, principal cello of the BBC Philharmonic). Gregson insists he has been even-handed in his treatment – the brief called on him to give “a middle-of-the-road view” of Brexit, “not too joyful, not too sad” – but in reality this is about as far from an ode to joy as it is possible to imagine. It feels like something that might be played at a secular funeral.
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