The audience of Classic FM, and those who vote in its polls, are presumably not at the cutting edge of contemporary culture (which is not in my view a bad thing).
None the less, I am struck by the latter voting a quintessentially conservative piece of music to the top of its charts – Vaughan Williams’s The Lark Ascending.
There’s evidently a lot of conservatism out there, in the cultural sense at least. (The composer’s Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis made it to number three.)
The papers today make much of The Lark Ascending‘s recent appearance in Coronation Street, but this seems to be beside the point, since it also gained the Number One spot in 2010.
Conservatism is of course as conservatism does, and the composer was not a Tory: his politics were egalitarian.
Indeed, his music was radical in the real sense of the word – going to the roots or origin – since he was the great re-discoverer and re-worker of English folk songs.
The Fantasia was described when first performed by the organist of Gloucester Cathedral as “a queer mad work by an odd fellow from Chelsea”.
This gives a flavour of how Vaughan Williams was seen at the time. (Ivor Gurney and Herbert Howells spent “much of the night walking about Gloucester, talking excitedly about it”.)
But to be radical and conservative isn’t necessarily a contradiction in terms, and the composer’s reverence for English music traditions justifies the latter label – with a small c.