Robin Holloway

A First for skill

A First for skill

Memory Lane circa 1900, revisited by moonlight without cars, let alone speed cameras: not since Thorsten Rasch’s hommage to late-romantic/early-modern idioms admiringly described in this column a couple of years ago have I encountered so thoroughgoing an exercise in pastiche as the gigantic string quartet that occupied most of a recent evening on Radio Three.

‘Exercise’ is the prevailing term. Except in its vast length and pretensions, Alistair Hinton’s work reminded me of nothing so much as the ‘portfolio of tonal compositions’ submitted by every music student in their second year at Cambridge. Marking these down the decades, I’ve been stirred by even the duffest efforts (no doubt reluctantly undertaken) to involve with the substance of music, by inventing material and manipulating it into purposeful journey, architecture, expression. While the ablest have sometimes been more than pastiche: genuine artistic utterance, transcending exercise to approach the quartet that Haydn, the sonata that Schubert, the scherzo that Mendelssohn, the clarinet piece that Brahms never wrote, with skill, passion, even originality. At best these exam requirements would be just as deserving as Hinton’s quintet of public performance and broadcast: often more so.

Yet I’ll have to give it a First for skill as well as determination. Filling out the texture with a double bass rather than additional viola or cello was advantageous for such a long span, whose continuity never flagged — it ‘came and came’. But who composed it? The resemblances to Schönberg’s Verkl

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