The classical Paul
Late Thursday morning, WFCR will broadcast Ocean's Kingdom, the new ballet score by ex-Beatle Paul McCartney. More accurately, as it's put in the back of the CD booklet, it features "music by Paul McCartney, music arranged by John Wilson and Paul McCartney, orchestrated by Andrew Cottee". McCartney, you see, can't compose a classical score by himself. He needs help from professional musicians, who can do things like, for instance, read and write music, a skill McCartney lacks. Does that mean he can't be considered a real classical composer?
I could say "of course he can, if the music's any good," and leave it at that. But that doesn't do justice to the issue, especially considering the following passage from the press release accompanying the CD:
"Though the work is Paul's first ballet, he approached the project in the same way he writes all other music, driven by his heart rather than with his head and inspired by feeling rather than specific technical knowledge."
Now wait just a fuguing second, Sir Moptop! Composers and other artists work diligently to master "specific technical knowledge" not to stifle their creativity, but to enlarge it. As Vladimir Horowitz was reputed to have answered his young admirer Murray Perahia, after Perahia had said he wanted to be "more than a virtuoso": "Before you can be more than a virtuoso, you must be -- a virtuoso."
Consider the reaction to the press release from other composers, who study and practice for years to perfect their craft, only to have McCartney "waltz onto the scene and half-a-- his way through forms that have been done better many hundreds of times over, all the while celebrating his lack of knowledge of those forms and the skills it takes to realize them, and gets a reception and promotion that no classical composer would if they waded into the deep end of the pop scene with as little of a clue. "
That at least was the view of a friend I discussed this with yesterday, a composer who only now, in his mid-thirties and with some major premieres in the offing, is enjoying the payoff of his hard work and talent. Of course, you the listener are under no obligation to see this from a composer's perspective if you enjoy the music. And we'll give you that chance Thursday morning. But please, never ever take for granted how hard it is to compose a good classical piece. You too, Sir Paul McCartney.